Hello everybody, it’s been a while. Sure, I’ve popped in from time to time to talk about toys, movies, and other merchandise, but I haven’t talked comics since May. Heck, chances are you’ve probably forgotten all about me. And that’s fine, because these reviews aren’t about me (even though I totally ran things around here, like seriously, all me), they’re about getting folks excited about reading and there’s no finer example of that than “Break From Batman.”
This feature hasn’t been around since I stepped down as Batman News’ one-and-only reviewer, but the point was to give suggestions to Batman fans about what other great comic books are out there. It’s about branching out, not just checking in on a few other DC titles, but to give credit where it’s due no matter if it’s another big publisher like Marvel or a smaller one like Abstract Studio. If I or one of the other members of the new comic review team read a good book, we’ll talk about it here. And not just us! I encourage all readers to go to the bottom of the page and list their own recommendations in the comments section — that’ll be especially helpful this go-round because most of the review team ONLY reads Batman and I’m just now getting back into comics after a long break (I read Washington: A Life and The Corrections, I recommend Washington). So, without further delay, I’m going to offer a bit of commentary about one of the best graphic novels I read recently and then a few members of the Batman News Review Team will chime in with me to talk about terrific single issues you can go pick up right now.
Afterlife with Archie: Escape From Riverdale, Book One
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Scasa
Art by Franesco Francavilla
Just when I was fed up with zombies somebody said, “Did you know there’s an Archie comic where they all turn un-dead and start eating each other?”
Now, when I think of Archie Comics I don’t think of unsettling imagery or heart-pounding suspense. When I think of Archie, I only ever imagine cute, squeaky clean scenarios that would go great accompanied by the Happy Days theme song, so hearing that one of the most genuinely terrifying comics of the past decade featured Jughead, Betty, and Veronica… that definitely grabbed my attention. I mean, Archie‘s been around almost as long as Batman, but frankly the consensus has been for some time that the Archie series is kind of dated. Some readers might have forgotten Archie was even still around, because unlike all other long-running series, Archie can still only be found in the grocery store checkout aisle and not the local comic shop. But then Afterlife with Archie comes along and makes a hell of a debut by kicking in the door of the local Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop while shouting that the population of Riverdale are not only relevant, but they’ve got more than enough stories left to tell.
Reading Afterlife with Archie is like bearing witness as the walls separating works of fiction break down. The horrors of Stephen King’s Pet Semetary and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead spill into an otherwise wholesome teenage humor and romance series and it’s exactly as fun as it sounds.We start with a heartbreaking accident that kills Jughead’s beloved canine companion, proceed to a creepy introduction to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and then the briskly paced tale takes us dead-ahead into one of the most gripping takes on the zombie apocalypse I’ve seen. The humor and romance are still present, of course, and all of the characters are written with so much depth that I felt like I had been reading Archie for years and that just made the numerous deaths that much more impactful.
It’s a great introduction to the world of Archie, a phenomenal horror comic, and Batman fans especially will feel right at home because the whole thing is illustrated by Batman: The Black Mirror‘s Francesco Francavilla (Veronica’s father actually looks strikingly similar to Jim Gordon). The book is incredibly atmospheric due to Francavilla’s panel compositions that often feel like an homage to scenes from classic horror films and his limited color palette that paints Riverdale in deep blues, purples, and black at night, then orange and yellow in the day, and ultimately the pages are saturated in a blood red hue during scenes of violence (I highly recommend you follow Francavilla on twitter, he’s incredibly prolific and posts new drawings almost every day, many of them he does just for fun).
This is a must-read. Definitely one of the best graphic novels of 2014 that I’ve read. You can buy it HERE.
November… well, it’s a list of comics that me and a couple members of the review team read in November, let’s just stay focused on the fact that the books below are good and totally worth reading. (Hopefully it’ll be a longer list next month)
Rasputin #1 & #2
Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo
Published by Image
Blurb by Elena Carrillo
I’m a huge fan of Rossmo because of a “Break from Batman” post some years ago in which Andrew featured Bedlam. Since then I have sussed out almost every book Rossmo has worked on and this collaboration with writer Alex Grecian, colorist Ivan Plascencia, and letterer Thomas Mauer is his latest.
The subject should be obvious: a walk on the wild side with Grigori Rasputin, the “mad monk” who some believe single-handedly destroyed the Russian dynasty. And while it seems like a historical comic about a political figure might be a lot of talking and pontificating and just a history lesson you avoided in high school by doodling on your textbook cover, this book boasts storytelling in a fine, keenly spare script and an epic visual feast of art. And if you know anything about Rasputin at all, you know that it’s also going to be chock-full of murder, intrigue, and magic.
There’s a real danger of maybe empathizing too much with our titular “hero” (the story thus far has just been thatcompelling), so I anticipate with each new release that a fulcrum might begin to swing against him–and you should to! Out this week is the second issue, but it’s not too late to catch up with issue no. 1 still in stores.
Slightly more expensive at $3.50 and printed on demi-matte paper (rather than standard comic-book hyper-glossy), it’s an all-around different reading experience. Placsencia’s colors contribute to that sensation as well. His palette is both subtle and then suddenly dagger-sharp; the kind of tonal shift we don’t see executed often enough in most mainstream books. So if you like to back creator-owned projects and want to see something really divergent from the Batverse, I couldn’t recommend this one more.
All-New Captain America #1
Written by Rick Remender
Pencils by Stuart Immonen
Published by Marvel
Blurb by Andrew Asberry
The likeability of this comic went up and down for me like a roller coaster, but the last few pages ended it on a positive note that’ll bring me back for more in issue #2. First of all, bless Marvel for sticking with the recap page! All I knew going into this was that Falcon is now the new Captain America but a quick and concise recap page summed recent events up for me nicely and I was able to jump right into this brand-new series. The opening pages even gave a lovely introduction to Falcon and detailed what his childhood was like, which was enlightening for a newbie like myself. However, once we got into the action I found myself in familiar territory that I did not expect. The hero who first wore the mantle was barking orders and offering advice to his replacement via headset while the young, somewhat reckless replacement soared in a flying suit above enemies and cracked-wise. Yeah, this felt an awful lot like poor man’s Batman Beyond and very little like Captain America. My interest waned little by little until the appearance of Nomad — he’s also explained in the recap page, thankfully — who proved not to be a typical sidekick. The dynamic between Nomad and Falcon is definitely going to make for a captivating conflict in the future and the final page reveal of this new story arc’s villain(s) will certainly have longtime fans of Captain America excited. Yeah, I’ll be back for more.
Superior Iron Man #1 & #2
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Yildiray Cinar
Published by Marvel
Blurb by Andrew Asberry
Who better to write a series about an evil Iron Man than Tom Taylor, the author of Injustice: Gods Among Us. From what I gathered in the recap page, a psychic-powered Red Skull was defeated recently and in the aftermath of that battle the personalities of all the heroes who triumphed were drastically changed by a psychic discharge and a menacing Tony Stark was the result. Now Stark’s gone back to drinking, he’s more arrogant than ever before, he’s got a shiny new suit with a frightening new component that Spider-Man fans will quickly recognize, and, most importantly, he has a sinister master plan that involves San Francisco and a phone app far more addictive than Candy Crush. The book is full of shocking surprises, plenty of humor, and watching the far outmatched Daredevil (San Francisco is his city so naturally he’s the one to rise up against Stark) confront Iron Man makes for great conflict and an entertaining read. I went through issues one and two in a single sitting and just like Injustice, I can’t wait to see what happens in the next chapter!
Deathstroke #1 & 2
Written and Pencilled by Tony S. Daniel
Blurb written by Josh McDonald
In case you’re wondering, Deathstroke is great! I’ve enjoyed the character for years, but wasn’t fond of his solo series. It seemed like DC kept trying to turn him into an “anti hero,” and because of that, we seemed to get a “watered down” version of Slade Wilson. This series looks to be the exception.If you’re familiar with Daniel’s work, then you know there are at least two things you can count on: a dark, gruesome story, and amazing art! This entry is no different. In fact, to say that Daniel’s Deathstroke is brutally violent would be an understatement. But I enjoyed it. It seemed fitting for the character. Slade is an assassin. Debatably the best assassin. And we get to enter his profession, the people he works with, how he works, and the details of his lifestyle here. But before you think this will just be a boringly violent “mission-of-the-month,” rest assured that Daniel introduces an intriguing twist by the end of the first issue.
If you were hesitant to pick up this title because of the New 52’s previous attempt, then put those reservations aside. This book is completely different, and worth your time and money if you can deal with the extreme violence. Then there’s the art, which is some of the best you’ll find in comics today!