Housekeeping // Late & Sparse

Hey everyone, just a quick note; I’ve been pretty busy recently which is why my rate of posting has dropped so drastically.

I’m also away this week so won’t be putting a review up until the weekend, but after that I’m intending to get my weekly post rate up again.

I’ve got a few interesting things planned so hopefully it’ll be worth the wait. Thanks for sticking around!

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Comics // Review // Black Canary #1

Concise

Dinah Lance sets out into the world once again, this time joined by new friends in the form of her mates from hot new ticket Black Canary! This is a fast paced, well characterised, brilliantly realised first issue that introduces new characters, an entirely new corner of the DCU, and new challenges for a much-loved character. The storytelling is wonderfully strong, in dialogue, action, and art, and the stage is set both metaphorically and literally for a long, hard and very rewarding tour.

Black Canary #1 Cover

Spoilerful

For me writer Brendan Fletcher has heralded a reinvigoration at DC. Collaborating with great artists and writers like Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl, Fletcher has stewarded two smart, young skewing but suitable for all ages books with wonderfully diverse casts into the must read spot every month, even as the rest of the DC line has stewed in fetid reboots and lukewarm continuity battles. As well as telling action packed and interesting stories Gotham Academy and Batgirl have developed strong female lead and support characters, including in the latter, former Black Canary herself Dinah Lance. In Batgirl Dinah was in a tough time of her life – after her apartment burned down (thanks to Babs Gordon) Dinah was crashing on her friends’ couch, partying hard, and singing in the band Ashes on Sunday. In Batgirl #40 Dinah and Babs fixed their fractured friendship, but this was quickly followed by the announcement that Dinah would be going on tour with her new band.

On that tour Dinah has taken to being called D.D., for the time being at least, whilst her new band has taken the name Black Canary so I would anticipate (and hope) this book will be as much about her band mates Lord Byron, Paloma Terrific, and Ditto as Dinah herself. The last of those names (and aren’t they all just great rock star names), Ditto, belongs to a young mute acoustic guitar player who appears to have a few secrets of her own. Ditto has a magical ability to craft complex music from her guitar without the aid of any technological enhancement; this power is reminiscent of Dinah’s own vocal abilities so there may also be a mentor-mentee relationship in the offing. In fact Ditto ultimately reveals the key threat at the end of the book, a group of alienoid creatures that have come to capture her for some as yet unknown reason. What exactly is the deal with Ditto’s past looks set to be a major plot point, and it certainly looks like a compelling one, but I am also hoping we get to spend some more time with the band, and the world of clubs and gigs. These characters and locations are so well realised so quickly that I hope we really get to know them well.

Even though this makes it seem like the book will be all about fighting and super heroics Fletcher actually goes to great lengths in the opening pages to demonstrate the toll, both physically and emotionally, that constantly fighting can have. Dinah is a little bruised and battered, on top of the physical demands of touring every night  she has taken a few licks from the bad guys and from the press as most of her gigs have ended in out of control brawls. The rest of the band, in particular Byron, are worried that this may have a negative impact on their ability to stick to their contract with the record label, so Dinah agrees to keep things calm. Except for those damn alienoids. Much of Dinah’s arc in Batgirl was about finding her new normal, a way of living that she could be comfortably in. Here she appears to be on the right track, with the right friends, but like for most of us things are never that easy to change.

Annie Wu is so perfect for this book; her tough, realistic, beautiful art style brings exactly the sense of dangerous punk atmosphere to Dinah’s new world, and the detail in every panel is simply brilliant. The art works to tell and enhance the story on every page, but touches like the tour bus heat signatures and the gig flyer add an extra something; it is clear from every panel that a lot of care and attention has gone into crafting this book. Lee Loughridge is also on excellent form with some electrifying use of colours throughout – particularly in the ‘Musical Marvel or Menace?’ streaming video panels, as well as when the band are introduced in their entirety at the final show (Dinah in the spotlight is perfect).

This is a strong début for a book with a high pedigree to live up to; the art is expertly on point, the narrative and characters and interesting and compelling, and the entire thing feels fresh and unique. The team have put together another book with strong and diverse female characters at the fore, but it feels different to what has come before. The issue ends with a playlist of things to come – I can’t wait to hit play.

Black Canary #1 Panel

Black Canary #1 // Writer – Brendan Fletcher / Artist – Annie Wu / Colours – Lee Loughridge // DC

Notes and Observations:

  • Black Canary continues to exhibit a rich visual language similar to that of Batgirl and Gotham Academy, by which I mean they incorporate diegetic elements such as report cards, media players, fanzines, notebooks, and selfies. These elements are really well integrated and tend to serve two main functions; they advance the plot by giving us an insight into the characters mood or current activity, and they look cool and contemporary. It is arguable that they might age the books quite quickly, and there is no doubt that they all feel very ‘now’, but I am very keen on the approach, not least because they again serve to create a shared sense of ‘world’ between these books.
  • Gotham Academy’s Heathcliff is the road manager for Black Canary in this book; this is a great, organic development for the character (he was a major Ashes on Sunday fan) and some welcome connective tissue between the two books. I was concerned by the appearance that Heathcliff went from being a person of colour in Gotham Academy to a white character in this book, but Brendan Fletcher has described this not as a race change, but rather being down to the fact that “Lee [Loughridge]’s approach to color is super stylized“. Whilst I appreciate Fletcher’s candour and the artistic intent here I do think it ‘appears’ that there has been a change, intentional or not, which I find unfortunate.
  • The record label contract is mentioned a few times, but I don’t think the label itself gets named; is it too early to suspect there might be something fishy going on there? After all, as good as Ashes on Sunday were it seems pretty convenient that a major deal would fall into Dinah’s lap (plus there is a magic guitar player in the band). Maybe I’m just reliving Jem/Josie/Wayne’s World, but can record execs ever be trusted?!

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 / Secret Wars

Concise

Kelly Sue DeConnick has been writing a tremendous Captain Marvel book over the last few years so it is no surprise that working with Kelly Thompson on this reinterpretation of the character and her world is a great success. Introducing a new Secret Wars-ian status quo of Carol leading a squadron of female jet fighter pilots (with a WW2 home front vibe) this book doesn’t delve too deeply into the wider world of its setting, but does immediately establish a diverse cast of strong-willed and interesting women with more than a hint of political intrigue thrown in. There is no question that this is an immediate success, with what seems like the beginning of another unique and entertaining Captain Marvel adventure.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 Cover

Spoilerful

Hala Field is a female dominated society with a  uniquely blended 1940’s retro and contemporary aesthetic. Writers Kelly Sue DeConnick have taken the Carol Danvers that we know and love and placed here in a world that is different to the classic Marvel universe, but with enough hallmarks of our own history that it could have been a place that really existed if things had gone a little differently. The writing is on point, and the brilliantly distinctive art from David Lopez gives this world a feeling all of its own.

This book has the feeling of being as much about the Land Girls of the second world war as it is about a squadron of top guns flying alongside Captain Marvel herself. The all female squad are seen almost exclusively in uniform, have few personal belongings, and live on-base in shared barracks; this far from a traditional comic book superhero squad, rather it fully embraces the concept of a highly trained military team. The women of the Carol Corps draw lightly on a few ‘classic’ war movie stereotypes (smart one, sassy one, rebellious one) and although they are all quite distinctive this is as much the result of great character design as it is the dialogue. In fact, if there is a weakness in this issue it is simply that we aren’t given much of an opportunity to really get to know any of these new or reinterpreted characters (although of course there should be plenty of time to rectify this as the story progresses). The crux of this first issue comes down to questioning the existing order of things when we know they are not right and it is very well handled; as a character Carol has long had a military history and in a setting such as this, where constant defence and vigilance is positioned as a necessity, it is a compelling idea to explore. Questioning orders on the battlefield can get people killed, but following orders that are fundamentally wrong can do just as much damage (as can conforming to corrupt cultural norms). It is a bold concept to tackle in a superhero book, and the surface of it has only just been scratched, but it feels like there may be a lot more of this high calibre writing in the issues to come.

More generally I am a big fan of how this book ties into the wider Secret Wars event, especially in the way it surprisingly shares key plot elements with Old Man Logan. The termination mission that Cap is given here is targeted against a shipful of Ultrons (Ultron already having been mentioned as a particular menace in Doom’s world by Logan). Similarly taking a page out of Logan’s book the corps (particularly Bee), and later Carol herself, have some serious misgivings about the nature of Doom’s world and the limitations of his godhood. Like Logan Carol is getting set to go beyond the wall to find out what is really going on at the edges of Battleworld. Of course, this is all factored into the larger arc (where I assume Ultron will play a role and the uprising of heroes against Doom’s ‘natural’ order may well be a necessity), but rarely are these strands as well implemented in event tie in books as they have been so far with Secret Wars. DeConnick and Thompson have chosen to build the core narrative around these elements and it is a wonderfully interesting narrative choice; Carol is a professional enough soldier to trust and follow orders, but she, along with her squad, possesses an enquiring and compassionate mind and she doesn’t take suspicious events on face value just because she has been told not to ‘worry’ about them.

This is a book that isn’t afraid to show strong female characters who question the status quo, stand up to authority, have the strength to fight for their beliefs and their country, and who know when those in power have twisted the world into a mess. Plot-wise things have only just gotten started; can the military be trusted, what is Doom’s deal, what is beyond the wall? But the subtext of this series is already clear. This is a book about the women who stepped up to save the world during the second great war; who broke free of gender defined roles and proved that they could do whatever it took to protect their families, their friends, and their countries. This is a book about women who look at the world and see that it is broken and want to find out why and how they can fix it. This is a book about superheroes, and it is already pretty magnificent.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 Panel

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1 // Writers – Kelly Sue DeConnick & Kelly Thompson / Artist – David Lopez // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • I wonder if Bee pretending to be sick and bunking off drills is a nod to classic military barracks comedy hijinks like Sgt. Bilko and Blackadder or if it is part of a bigger story (I get that she was using the time to investigate stuff, but this seems like a bold move to make just out of curiosity)
  • I am very interested to know who was really on that ship and why the ‘higher ups’ passed them off as Ultrons

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Years of Future Past #1 / Secret Wars

Concise

Writer Marguerite Bennet offers up a great quality retro adventure that despite taking place in one of the darkest possible X-Men futures is somehow fun and full of hope. There are plenty of nods to the classic story and some effective Claremontian writing, with interesting and exciting new takes on the original plot points. There is also a suitably strong and engaging new lead with the introduction of Chrissie Pryde. This is great as a nostalgia tinged reinterpretation, but it also stands up as a brilliant new story in its own right.

Years of Future Past #1 Cover

Spoilerful

This book offers up a wonderful opportunity; a chance to revisit a much loved X-Men story/world as well as bringing some interesting takes on X-Men characters into the ongoing Secret Wars event. Much like the other event tie-ins this story takes place on an alternate version of the alternate reality in question. In the original 1981 Days of Future Past two-parter the X-Men of the future died trying to infiltrate the Baxter Building. Here they live on as Kitty never psychically travelled back in time to prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly. Instead, she and Colossus remain in the internment camp alongside Magneto, Rachel Summers, and a new character in the form of her daughter Chrissie Pryde.

Bennett and artist Mike Norton do some sterling work weaving in elements of the original work through story beats and plenty of fun visual nods. We open with young Chrissie clad in prison overalls and marked “M” (for mutant) making her way through the rubble of Sentinel controlled New York just like her mother did all those years ago. This New York is immediately given a sense of place, time, and background; technology has gone backwards (not withstanding giant killer robots) as vehicles are towed by horses, there are destitute civilians on the streets, gangs on the prowl, overgrown and collapsed buildings, and a complex political environment – might the tide of public opinion finally be moving against mutant oppression and towards integration?

Future Past Comparison

When Chrissie gets into a bind with the local wildlife Logan makes an appearance, still running free and as sassy as ever. The relationship between Chrissie and Wolverine is quickly established and is a neat call back to some of his mentoring relationships of the past like those he developed with Kitty or Jubilee. Chrissie is not the naïve young Kitty of the original, she is strong and independent (with a hint of uninformed youth), but it is nice to see that she can also allow herself to rely on her friends and family too. When Kitty herself arrives to face down a Sentinel (Norton’s Sentinels look as grand and imposing as ever) reference is made to her helping to detain two mutants, we quickly discover the mutants in question are the Blob and Mystique. This is a nice touch, it further mirrors the original story where Mystique was the antagonist in the ‘past’, and allows us to see that same cast of heroes and villains through a new and perhaps more sympathetic lens (they’ve been experimented on for over a decade after all).

Once our heroes have made their escape from the internment camp we learn what the core narrative of this story will be – rather than make a run for freedom the team are going to attempt to foil an assassination attempt, the target being President Kelly. A rogue Sentinel is intending to kill him whilst he gives a speech at the Baxter Building, essentially bringing the past and future stories of the original to the same place and time, one that has dark connotations in this story. There are other arcs in play too: Cameron is a apparently a merciless killer, which may be a necessity in this world but no one else seems so readily violent, Storm is somewhere in the city, and Magneto is slow to help save civilians (it’s not clear yet if that’s due to politics or age).

Even in this dark vision of the future the X-Men are still the X-Men. They are friendly and optimistic and courageous. They are a family. They will put their lives on the line to save a man who hates and oppresses them because that selfless act might change the hearts and minds of their oppressors. This is the very spirit of the X-Men, the idea that they would come together in even the toughest circumstances and try to do the right thing through virtuous deeds. It is a vision of the team that has been sorely lacking in recent years and it is more than welcomed back. Bennett really captures that sense of hope and bravery that pervaded the best of Claremont’s work. This is a great book because it reminds of the classics at the same time as bringing new ideas, new interpretations, and new characters to the page. Let’s hope they survive the experience.

Years of Future Past #1 Panel

Years of Future Past #1 // Writer – Marguerite Bennett / Artist – Mike Norton / Colourist – FCO Plascencia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

    • I wonder where Franklin Richards is in this version of this reality? I hope we get to see him (and Storm too who was name-checked at least).
    • I wonder who Cameron’s mother is!
    • Where would Air Force One be flying to/from if the Sentinel Controlled Territories only exist as a part of Battleworld (is it the entirety of this version of the US)?
    • The various nods to the overall Secret Wars events were great too with some Doom-related phrases and images making their way into this society’s culture and history.
    • DoombotSentinels!

All art belongs to the copyright holder