ArchieVolume1-1

Kind of a big deal

I know what you’re thinking: why on Earth is Archie being featured on a Batman site? I can understand the question. The last thing I expected to read or enjoy this past month was the first volume of Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ new Archie series. I got into comics for superheroes; and, in spite of my having read some excellent work in other genres, hero books remain my primary interest–and the only sort of book that gets any of my monthly comics budget.

So why Archie? Why a book about relationships and high school hijinks–drama, jerks, and Jughead? Because it’s really, really good. You can find other books with great characterization–books with people that ring true because the dialogue is well-written, and characters operate according to some discernible logic. The magic of Archie, at least for me, is that Waid and Staples have taken that sort of authentic characterization and put it to work in the most ordinary, familiar setting imaginable. Without the distraction of a fantastical world or cataclysmic events, the simple, human drama (and comedy!) of a few good teens in the middle of life has a chance to shine all by itself. And boy, does it shine.

I would never have given this book a second look. If Batman News hadn’t received a review copy, I probably would never have given it a first look. Don’t be like me. Don’t assume that this has nothing to offer just because it’s so different from what you’re used to. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

But what else are you reading, Brian?

I thought you’d never ask, Abstract Audience That I Address As Though It Were A Real-Life Single Reader!

Plutona-4

If I have a persistent complaint about Jeff Lemire’s work, it is that he seems a bit unsure about what he should or shouldn’t tell the reader. Maybe it’s that–as a visual artist himself–he has trouble depending on others to convey his vision. Or maybe he just has too much on his plate (he’s writing pretty much everything right now).

With Plutona, however, Lemire knocks it out of the park; and in a sense, he does it by going small. Drawn by Emi Lenox and colored by the incomparable Jordie Bellaire (who will be joining her Vision teammate Tom King on DC’s new Batman in June), Plutona exists in a world of superheroes, but zooms in on four very ordinary children. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I still remember what it was like to be in school, and Lemire’s dialogue feels so authentic that at times it hurts. The kids are in one sense archetypes, and yet they never feel flat or easy to pin down; Lemire explores the home lives of each, forcing us to see that even the most unlovable characters have pain worthy of our compassion.

Lenox’s pencils are precisely what Plutona needs. Its beautiful simplicity manages to make the book feel a lot closer to home for me, in a way that a highly-detailed, highly-polished style could not. Bellaire’s colors are similarly understated, eschewing blends and lighting effects in favor of contrasting solids and subtle textures. I’m not a visual artist, or a proper critic, so there are probably better observations that do these two artists justice, but I hope I’ve at least conveyed how much I admire what they’re doing, and how effective I think it is in the book.

And lest I under-credit Lemire, he adds his own art to the backups for each issue, which tell the story of the last day in the life of the book’s title character. His style is similar to Lenox’s in its simplicity, although I prefer her aesthetic. Regardless, the differences in their work nicely separate the backups and the main story, and I think it was a great decision for Lemire to handle these shorter portions of the book himself.

Lemire’s ideas are always worth checking out, even when they don’t end land perfectly. With Plutona, Jeff’s big idea was to get smaller, and the result is a book that any fan of comics–or any person who’s lived life, for that matter–would do well to check out.

And speaking of checking out…

That’s all for this month’s installment of Break from the Bat. I hope you’ll check out Archie and Plutona, and let me know what you think if you do (even if you hate them!). Until next time, keep reading comics, and don’t be afraid to branch out and see what’s happening beyond Gotham.

But that’s not all…

I’m not the only one exploring the wider world. Here are some books that other folks on the team have been reading lately. Remember to hit us up in the comments and share what other comics you think we ought to know about.

Elena: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1

Poe_Dameron_1_Cover

Set prior to the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this comic includes familiar characters from the film, including the titular x-wing jockey, his adorable astromech BB-8, General Leia Organa, and members of his newly assembled team such as Snap Wexley and Jess Pava.

The writing from Charles Soule is nothing extra-special, but he tells an able tale in which Poe is tasked to hunt down Lor San Tekka who may have information about General Organa’s infamously missing brother, Luke Skywalker. If you’ve seen The Force Awakens, you know where this is all headed, but for the moment the premise seems to focus on tracking San Tekka across star systems and meeting interesting alien obstacles along the way (including the sinister First Order, which we only get a glimpse of in this issue so far, but with a promise for more in the next).

As an opening issue, this is a little bit low key, but the characters are nicely in-voice and the fact that there is Lucasfilm Story Group oversight means this stuff is technically canon (like all of the Marvel Star Wars titles). Phil Noto’s art is crisp and generally on-model, though his environments feel like they lack depth and definition (which is a shame for a book in which you have a guy flying around for most of the pages). Even so, this was a fun read and I’m going to pick up the second issue for sure. As a bonus, there’s also a short comic-strip-style feature at the back featuring BB-8 which is silly and fun, but not really the meat and potatoes of the issue.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars and especially the new Sequel Trilogy, you might want to check this out.

Jay: Superman: Grounded, Vol. 1

superman-grounded

Less a recommendation and more a window into what I’ve been reading lately, this is the story that detailed Superman’s infamous walk across America. It’s a decent enough idea: have Superman get in touch with the common folk he doesn’t normally interact with and help them with problems that super-powered beings aren’t normally called upon to address. Under J. Michael Straczynski’s pen, though, it comes across as condescending, heavy-handed, and even a little mean-spirited. The issues are easy targets (I doubt anybody is upset that Supes hates child abuse), and most of the resolutions almost have him coming across as a bully. What could have been a morality play or even a parable is instead a largely self-important exercise in tackling “real problems.” It’s almost cheating to include it here as Batman is in a handful of pages, but it’s Dick Grayson under the cowl and he’s just another member of the peanut gallery for Superman to lecture to.

It’s not all bad, though: Eddy Barrows’ pencils are ok; there are a few scenes that are genuinely great, especially one dealing with suicide (though the famous scene from All-Star Superman did so much more with less); and the closing chapter that focuses on Perry White is genuinely fantastic and worth the rest of the volume if you can get it at a fair price. I wish it was better, though it’s not as bad as I’d been led to believe, and in the end it’s at least worth it for the few moments of brilliance.