In Panel Panopticon, Nick Hanover talks about the comics he’s picked up for the week, good, bad or otherwise.
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Goran Parlov
Colorist: Ive Scorcina
Letterer: Marko Sunjic
Published by: Image Comics
Few figures in comics are as divisive as Mark Millar. The Scottish writer known for The Ultimates and Kick-Ass as well as a rockstar zeal for branding and self-promotion occupies a role in comics not unlike Kevin Smith and Michael Bay do in films, happy to chat with their fans and equally happy to talk shit about their haters. But critics of Millar largely agree that when the man is focused and telling a story that genuinely means something to him, he’s an impressive writer with a surprising amount of heart. Millar’s new Image series Starlight is a testament to that, as it shows off Millar’s more sentimental side, free from the brash posturing and desire to offend that populates too much of Millar’s modern work.
Essentially an update of the gorgeous sci-fi serials that dominated the early comics world, Starlight is the story of Duke McQueen, an amalgam of Flash Gordon and John Carter who saves an alien world he accidentally arrived on, only to return home to general disbelief. The first issue of Starlight masterfully sets up Duke’s entire story as economically and emotionally as the start of Pixar’s Up, and it’s not surprising that Starlight also shares with Up a golden age escape for its protagonist in its second issue.
Even though this is looking to be one of Millar’s best scripts in ages, Starlight truly excels on the strength of Goran Parlov’s art, which has the majesty and wonder of the work of Winsor McCay and Moebius, but never feels overly referential or uninspired. Parlov is probably best known for his work with Garth Ennis on MAX titles like Fury and The Punisher, but Millar provides ample opportunity for Parlov to show off a more imaginative edge than those grounded storylines provided. That said, Millar’s script is just as domestic as it is alien, and Parlov’s background in that grounded realm of Marvel enables him to make the quieter, suburban scenes as effective and interesting as the interplanetary moments.
That’s particularly important in the second issue, which is more dependent on lengthy dialogue scenes and features fewer flashbacks to Duke’s planet saving past. Parlov and colorist Ive Scorcina largely avoid the brightness and flash of issue one until the last moments of the issue, and instead create a dark, blue and green hued mood to reflect Duke’s inner conflict. The series’ debut essentially introduced Duke as a character who had given up on adventuring and was content to settle in at home with his wife, without concern for the naysayers who forced him out of his military career after his grandiose claims of alien worlds. But with Duke’s status quo disrupted and the most important element of his life removed, the second issue is left to focus on a dilemma that both Duke and the audience already know will end with him leaving Earth behind to join the young alien who has fled to Earth to retrieve Duke and convince him to save an alien world once again.
Issue two of Starlight may be less fanciful than the first issue, but it proves that Millar and Parlov and company are just as capable of crafting excellent, heartfelt quiet moments as they are providing golden age action. Like Up, Starlight appeals to all-ages and while it doesn’t provide Millar’s trademark nastiness and wanton violence, it doesn’t hold its punches either. Starlight is a story with heart and imagination, and if it remains consistent, it could wind up one of this year’s best series.
Written and Drawn by Various Creators
Published by Dark Horse
Any modern horror anthology that begins with yet another take on The Ring is bound to be a let down. Creepy #16, the latest issue of Dark Horse’s resurrection of the old Warren mag, is no exception, with Ted Naifeh’s “Do Not Click” serving as the unfortunate Ring clone. Naifeh’s twist on the fatal chain letter story is the insertion of a website featuring a Slenderman-like fiend, who has the face of an anteater and is known for whistling to his victims as he gets closer and closer to him. In typical Warren fashion, there’s a revenge angle and the use of the cursed site as a method for that revenge, but “Do Not Click” represents the more disappointing end of the spectrum of stories Dark Horse has included in this series, from the dated dialogue to Naifeh’s half-tone crazed backgrounds and unimaginative character designs.
Rachel Deering and Vanesa R. Del Rey fare better in “Like Clockwork,” which is similarly derivative in concept but has solid writing and art that makes the story click. Constructed like a take on Frankenstein and the questionable romance of Deadgirl, “Like Clockwork” offers excellently expressionist art by Del Rey that matches Deering’s impassioned script note for note. Deering is an avowed Warren obsessive, as the backmatter and interviews with her attest, and her love for the Warren style is clear throughout, though she manages to inject it with her flair for clever dialogue and subtle commentary on sexual dynamics. “Like Clockwork” is slight, and could use more of a narrative arc, but Deering still sneaks in sharp jabs at a man’s desire for women to be brainless, silent partners and the way relationships can fall apart because one partner is constantly trying to fit into what they feel their partner desires most.
Dan Braun and Peter Bagge’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft “The Cats of Ulthar” is an interesting twist on the world of Lovecraft, mostly due to Bagge’s trademark style, but there’s not much to the story. Personally I would have preferred if Braun and Bagge had taken more liberties while adapting it, as there’s an inherent silliness to this particular Lovecraft short, but the duo basically play it straight. The reprint of Bill Warren and Mike Royer’s time travel story “I Hate You, I Hate You!” is maybe even more silly, but there’s a campiness to it that makes it one of the more entertaining shorts in this issue. All told, not a particularly great issue of Creepy, but such is the fate of anthologies.
Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two: City of Courts #3
Writer: Douglas Wolk
Artist: Ulises Farinas
Colorist: Ryan Hill
Letterer: Tom B. Long
Published by IDW
Over on Facebook, Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two: City of Courts artist Ulises Farinas swore issue three of the series was the best issue he’d ever drawn. After reading it, I’m inclined to agree.
If you haven’t been following Mega-City Two you’re missing out on one of the single best comics on the market. Though it’s set in the IDW Dredd universe, and writer Douglas Wolk has an encyclopedic knowledge of Dredd lore (which is showcased in the backmatter), Mega-City Two is pretty new reader friendly. The story has found Dredd sent over to the titular Mega-City Two in order to investigate the judge system out west and each issue is devoted to a specific case he works, all of which add on to the overarching investigation he’s doing, X-Files style. Dredd has a high profile these days, anchoring both 2000 A.D. proper and a new, solo series at IDW, but Mega-City Two is arguably more a showcase for its creators than its characters.
Wolk is best known as a comics and music critic, and when he was first attached to this series, some fans were worried he would take too academic of an approach with Dredd. Luckily, Wolk is a writer in the vein of Mark Waid, confident enough in his knowledge to pull up intriguing, underutilized tidbits from character lore but also smart enough to make the best use of his collaborators’ skills and goddamn does Farinas have a lot of skill to use. Farinas first came to my attention with his Dark Horse one-shot Gamma, which he also co-wrote with Erick Freitas, and since that series he’s only grown stronger. Just as promised, issue three of Mega-City Two is some of Farinas’ all-time best work, thanks to a script by Wolk that hits every single one of Farinas’ artistic sweet spots.
Where issue two of the series was more constrained and focused on Dredd going undercover as a biker known simply as “The Man” in order to bring down a Mad Max-like doomsday motorcycle club, the third issue heads to the coast, as Dredd must investigate immigration issues while also battling gigantic man-eating shrimp. If that last half of the sentence doesn’t appeal to you, you’re already a lost cause. Farinas is one of the most exciting artists to have emerged in comics in recent years, not just because of his skill but because of his desire to disrupt the comics status quo. Following him on social media means witnessing a comics artist who isn’t afraid to butcher sacred cows and talk with the swagger of a buzzworthy hip-hop act and while that rubs some people the wrong way, there’s no denying that he puts his pencils where his mouth is.
Throughout issue three, Farinas sprinkles in innumerable visual references to his influences (my favorite is the skywriter spelling out “I’m sorry Geof Darrow”) and brings every one of Wolk’s gonzo ideas to vivid life. The second issue was by design a little more drab, the color palette sticking to the night tones of standard biker wear, but there’s a lot of playfulness to this issue, as Ryan Hill goes full neon with the fatal aquatic environments Wolk and Farinas have dreamed up and even road maintenance robots that are strangely important to the story get to be flashy. If your vision of Dredd is gritty, stoic urban warfare, then it’s vitally important you pick up this comic and have your assumptions boiled in fusion energy infused waters.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Facundo Percio
Inker: Sebastian Cabrol
Colorist: Hernan Cabrera
Letterer: Kurt Hathaway
Published by Avatar
Avatar has rightfully earned a reputation as a publisher for exceedingly gory and violent comics, but lately it seems to be making a bid for more respectability, eagerly publishing series by unexpected creators like Jonathan Hickman and Kieron Gillen. But if anything is going to win over nontraditional Avatar readers, it’s unlikely to be lackluster works from creators like Hickman and Gillen but instead unexpectedly good works by Avatar vets like Garth Ennis.
Ennis has been at Avatar basically since it’s start and is in many ways the creator most associated with the company, but the newly launched Caliban is honestly the first Avatar work of his that I’ve been hooked by. The concept shares DNA with the Alien films, as it focuses on what is basically a space trucking outfit, but the first issue goes in an unpredictably headier direction that hints at the possibility of the series ending up closer to 2001 than Alien. Facundo Percio’s art is in the house Avatar style, slightly cartoonish features and plenty of digital effects, but Ennis works that to his advantage, exploiting the glossy feel of Avatar works to add to the grimy futurism of the setting. Ennis wants you to acknowledge the otherness of the tech heavy setting, but he likewise wants you to acknowledge that it isn’t so different from our own era and people still just want to do their jobs and go home.
Percio works in some warp space scenery that recalls the concept of The Bleed from The Authority, but for the most part the space of Caliban is a space of emptiness, stocked by “one hundred and nineteen planets and moons, and not one habitable.” That makes any alien intrusion on that space particularly notable and even more so if it happens during warp. Similarly, even though this is an Avatar comic and it’s got gore, this is a surprisingly tasteful Ennis Avatar work (so far); the violence that occurs isn’t excessive and given the sparseness and quiet of the rest of the issue, that gives it all that more of an impact. Other than the first part of Fear Agent, there are unfortunately few comics out there that explore the kind of grimy space horror that made Alien such a success, and I’m eager to see where Ennis and company take Caliban.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Toni Fejzula
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse
Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker have shared parallel careers for a while, so it isn’t too surprising that as Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ horror-noir Fatale continues to be a hit, Rucka now has his own counterpart, the equally simply titled Veil. Fatale is notably a horror-noir work that spans centuries and countless locations but Veil is a study in contrasts even as it shares a similar tone and hook. Centered on the eponymous Veil, a mysterious young woman who woke up naked and amnesiac in the first issue, the series takes the femme fatale trope to its extreme, shining a light on the nonstop fear that comes with being the object of men’s desires, building from there to detail the violent response that can come from that unwanted attention. But where Fatale’s femme fatale is more indirectly involved in the destruction she causes, the titular Veil get her hands dirtier, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. The urban location of Veil is delightfully filthy, a green, mildewy constrast to the often open spaces and chic, vintage setting of Fatale; they’re both works about the evil that men do and the dangers of desire, but Veil’s aggressive tendencies and spontaneity are echoed by the anything goes nature of her surroundings.
In Toni Fejzula, Rucka has a more than capable artistic partner; full of sickening colors and a washed out painted style, Fejzula’s art is urban gothic, shadowy and dangerous. As Rucka has made clear in his backmatter, the story of Veil is one that could easily have gone wrong the way since it hinges on sexual desire and vulnerability but isn’t intended to exploit the main character. That Veil succeeds in staying on the right side of that fine line is do in large part to Fejzula, who does a phenomenal job depicting Veil’s wide eyed wonder, fear and power all at once. In Fejzula’s hands, a character that could have been tastelessly depicted is instead sympathetic even as she’s destroying the people around her.
The first issue of the series threw the reader into Veil’s situation without explanation, utilizing that confusion to build narrative stakes and while the second issue fills in a few of the gaps, that air of confusion continues. Where the first issue found Veil mostly capable of merely repeating what others had said to her, this time out she’s able to ask questions and appears to be more capable of investigating her situation. Veil is also revealed to not just be capable of controlling men’s minds but can also destroy them by putting them in a ghost-like state. The core mystery of Veil is of course the question of who she is, but that goes beyond just identity and extends to what she’s capable of and why she is here.
For the moment, Rucka is taking his time doling out those details, but Fejzula’s art makes it easy to take it slowly, as even dialogue heavy issues like this one are full of twists in perspective and playful uses of panel structure and background details. Fejzula’s expressive style also helps the series stand out from Rucka’s other femme fatale series Lazarus, which features the more minimalist, stark work of Michael Lark. With Veil, Fejzula and Rucka seem eager to move at a deliberate pace, and when the work is as beautifully haunting as this, I’m happy to take it slow with them.
Nick also reviewed Ed Brisson and Simon Roy’s Image series The Field earlier this week.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover