A Train Called Love 5 (February 2016)

A Train Called Love #5

It would be interesting–and I’m a little sorry I’ve never done such a thing–but it would be interesting to look at Ennis’s best series each year, best story arcs if he’s doing an on-going. He writes a lot, he actually writes a lot of different genres, but I really do think A Thing Called Love is going to be Ennis’s 2016 highlight.

It’s his sitcom. It’s a Garth Ennis comic populated by all the great supporting characters from his other books given free reign. Dos Santos’s art gives it this absurd distance. It’s a gritty, but peppily animated New York City, which is why I always wonder if Train started as Ennis trying a TV show or film script. It’s so intricate, so precisely paced; a lot of work went into it.

This issue has quite a few funny scenes, which gives Dos Santos a lot of great expressions to draw. He gets through the outlandish to the final (also absurd) talking heads sequence and shows he can do the serious character development too.

If there is such a thing as serious character development in A Train Called Love.

It’s excellent again.


We Can’t Rewind, We’ve Gone Too Far; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Marc Dos Santos; colorist, Salvatore Aiala Studios; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.

War Stories 17 (February 2016)

War Stories #17

It’s another surprisingly bland issue. I say surprising because Ennis does have some enthusiasm for the subject–English channel gunboats in World War II–but only because it’s clear he’s put in his research. This issue doesn’t even have expository explanations. Well, maybe during the ill-advised and very awkward sex scene. I’m not sure if it’s Ennis’s fault or Aira’s fault, but the reader’s supposed to be suspicious of the woman (who’s seducing the good lieutenant of the gunboat) and one of them feels the need to foreshadow every panel. Then cutting to a scene where there’s more foreshadowing.

It’s not all Naval romance, there’s also the gunboat sequences. One battle sequence, which Aira again handles way too static. It might be the digital coloring, but there’s no intensity to the battle. When there’s a big reveal this issue, I had to go back and track it again visually. It’s just too boring.

The other gunboat sequence is just the lieutenant and his sidekick being jerks to some flier they rescue. Ennis doesn’t even pretend to be interested in the characters. They’re stock players, they’re caricatures.

Ennis can’t even muster enthusiasm for the lieutenant going after a German nemesis. It plods along. I’m not expecting Ennis to finish it well.


Send a Gunboat, Part Two: And All the Angels in Heaven Shall Sing; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

I Hate Fairyland 5 (February 2016)

I Hate Fairyland #5

I Hate Fairyland succeeds, in general, because Young is always bringing at least two things to it. He’s bringing the story–the absurdity of a pissed off princess stuck in a fairytale–and he’s bringing the art. Young’s visualizing of Fairyland, which drips with such sticky sugar you’re ready to switch to stevia forever, is a delight. It’s a perversion of the saccharine, Saturday morning cartoon fairytale land. This issue lets Young unleash the literal dragon and lay waste. Both visually and narratively, though the narrative is a lot slighter than the art, which is intense.

This issue ends the series’s first arc; it’s a fitting ending, though one has to wonder if Young’s going to be able to keep it up in the new world order he creates–it’s so nice not to have a cliffhanger. Gertrude wages war on Happy, her replacement princess. All Fairyland learns they shouldn’t have messed with Gertrude; Young delights in having Gertrude recount her tale (narration is very important in Fairyland) and brings another layer to the book. All of a sudden, he’s using video game rhetoric as a narrative device. It’s simple (leveling up, bosses, etc.) and it lets him get through the flashback efficiently.

Young’s narrative devices are maybe Fairyland’s greatest asset. It’s not just his understand of how to do a perversion of a princess in fairytale land story, it’s his understanding of how to tell that tale.

Well, wait. The devices are maybe it’s second greatest asset, because Fairyland is always going to be glorious with Young’s art. Especially an action issue like this one, which has “My Little Pony” versus a dragon at one point. Lots of double page spreads, lots of gross out visual humor. It’s not a deep comic, but it’s masterful nonetheless.


Writer and artist, Skottie Young; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.

Ganges 5 (February 2016)

Ganges #5

Huizenga. Ganges. It’s been ages. I don’t even think I’ve read the previous issue.

An issue of Ganges operates on many levels. There’s what Huizenga is doing as a cartoonist, what he’s doing with the art. But then there’s why he’s doing it. This issue has a history lesson and a science lesson. Huizenga should probably just do a bunch of science books. They would catch on. He’s great at presenting these complex ideas in welcoming, understanding artwork.

Still, it’s not just information for the reader, it’s information for the protagonist, Glenn (Ganges). Glenn is reading some of this history book to his girlfriend, he’s also just reading some of it to himself. Huizenga takes those distinctions seriously. The story whirls the reader around, even during the longer sequences. Glenn has a busy mind (the premise is he can’t sleep because he can’t stop thinking) so the comic itself has to be busy. It also has to be methodical and reasonable because Glenn’s mind is reasonable to itself. Presumably.

It’s a wonderful comic. Huizenga always delivers. Whether it’s the history lesson, the science lesson, the physics lesson, Glenn and his girlfriend almost fighting, a funeral, whatever–Huizenga delivers magnificent scenes and sequences. Ganges. Huizenga. Phenomenal.


Writer and artist, Kevin Huizenga; publisher, Fantagraphics.

Cinema Purgatorio 1 (February 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #1

I wonder what Cinema Purgatorio is going to be. The first issue has five stories, all by different creators. It’s Alan Moore’s idea, it’s an Avatar horror anthology. The writers are Moore, Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, Kieron Gillen, Christos Gage. Avatar guys. The artists are Kevin O’Neill, Raulo Caceres, Michael DiPascale, Ignacio Calero, Gabriel Andrade. In other words, Kevin O’Neill and some Avatar guys.

Moore and O’Neill contribute the opening frame. There’s a demented slapstick short, then some musings on film and pop entertainment. I can never tell if Moore knows how strange it is to have him talk about film–when his public comments on film are always about a negative interaction with film–or if he really does just like talking about it grandiosely. It’s a strange kind of grandiose though. Moore’s setting up the concept of the book–demented Saturday matinee.

The other writers approach the matinee differently. With the exception of Ennis and Caceres’s Code Pru, which is sort of sitcom gore, everything else is in some way zeitgeist pop. Gillen and Calero do something with fantasy beasts, cyberpunk and Fury Road villains called Modded (get it, gamer stuff). Brooks and DiPascale do A More Perfect Union, which is probably going to be Civil War vs. zombies because Max Brooks (only with historical “accuracy” for Civil War buffs). Gage and Andrade have The Vast, which is fighter jets versus kaiju and what not.

The Ennis story and the Brooks story are writer pieces. But Gillen and Gage are just setting up their artists for awesomeness. Both Calero and Andrade excel in the black and white sort of horror, sort of fantasy, sort of sci-fi realm. The black and white brings out all the little details, focusing the reader on the violence of the situation. Without color, the fantastic element is gone. The same thing happens with Caceres’s art, but that one is still all about Ennis’s dialogue and scene pacing.

The Brooks and DiPascale story is the least successful. I’m most excited for whatever Moore and O’Neill come up with, but also Code Pru and Vast. Modded will be a fine read with good art.

Cinema Purgatorio is, conceptually, a success. Now they just need to ship it on time.


Cinema Purgatorio, The Fatal Officers in “Hushed Up!”; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, You’ll Never Forget Your First Time; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Ignacio Calero. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Publisher, Avatar Press.

Johnny Red 4 (February 2016)

Johnny Red #4

It’s a bridging issue of Johnny Red, which is sort of fine, sort of not. Ennis concentrates on writing really good scenes–he has them for his leads, he even has one leading up to the cliffhanger (so a good setup scene with some German pilots)–but he lets the plot get very, very loose.

Ennis doesn’t even spend any time on his framing narrative. There’s a page with the modern-day storyteller explaining the found plane isn’t interesting, but what Johnny does next in the flashback. Presumably next issue because nothing’s interesting here. It’s engaging because Ennis knows how to write the comic, but it’s not interesting. It’s a distracting transition, actually, with Ennis apparently using the present-day frame to setup whatever’s next in the flashback. Then he doesn’t deliver anything major.

Instead, good scenes, nice character moments, not much excitement. It’s texture, but it’s also just a bridging issue. Johnny Red, which I think runs six issues, could have run five.

Some nice art from Burns, who has a great sense of movement for the planes in the air, though he gets bored drawing the talking heads parts.

It’s a perfectly solid bridging issue.


The Ghost Lands; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.


Letter 44 23 (February 2016)

Letter 44 #23

Soule has turned Letter 44 into a metaphor for space Jesus. It’s not a subtle metaphor. There are no subtle metaphors in Letter 44 anymore. There’s nothing subtle. And, as I read it from that resignation, the issue does amuse. Soule doesn’t push me off the book. He’s not too lazy, he’s not too obvious.

Because there is a lot going on in Letter 44 and Soule does keep it organized in a very understandable way. Soule’s storytelling techniques are still on display, just no engaging plotting ones. There’s nothing fresh about the series anymore. The plot developments no longer surprise.

Alburquerque’s art actually manages to be ambitious when Soule’s script doesn’t. Alburquerque tries to have the characters give performances. It’s not entirely successful but it’s energy. Letter 44 is on autopilot.

As usual, autopilot or not, I’ll be back for more, because Soule can impress. He can do excellent work. He’s done it on Letter 44. I want to read more of it because it’s good; I want it on Letter 44 because I miss being excited to read this book. It used to be a thrill and now I dread it.

And then end up not minding it as much as I thought I would.


Writer, Charles Soule; artist, Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque; colorist, Dan Jackson; letterer, Crank!; editor, Robin Herrera; publisher, Oni Press.

Pretty Deadly 8 (February 2016)

Pretty Deadly #8

Pretty Deadly has become a book I savor. DeConnick and Rios have lost their Western setting–though it does still play a part visually and thematically–and gotten into World War I. The trenches. Deadly has become a war comic.

Except the magic is different. It’s still evil, bad magic, but it doesn’t affect the war comic’s protagonist in the same way it did in the series’s first arc. He’s far more the subject of the plot than an actor in it. That narrative distance works because of both DeConnick and Rios’s individual contributions.

When the comic moves between subplots, Rios has subtle changes in style. Sometimes in the level of detail, sometimes in figures’ fluidity. There’s a flow to Deadly, weaving between the subplots.

Pretty Deadly is a confusing, dense read. DeConnick relies on Rios to help make it easier to read while also contributing to the density. DeConnick doesn’t want any grounding to the supernatural. It’s not science, it’s not quantum physics, it’s supernatural. Accepting it–and not dwelling on it–is one of the series’s agreements with the reader. DeConnick doesn’t allow any alternatives.

And, yet, she isn’t hostile about it. Pretty Deadly goes out of its way to be welcoming. It’s endearing–and even makes the really disturbing villains endearing.

It’s really good. This issue isn’t one of the best either. And it’s still really good.


Writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick; artist, Emma Rios; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Sigrid Ellis; publisher, Image Comics.

Velvet 13 (February 2016)

Velvet #13

Epting gets a little loose this issue, but it’s some great action art. The thing about Velvet is how well the creators understand what they’re doing. Brubaker occasionally pushes too far–The Rock Sean Connery thing–but Epting never does. His seventies action is perfect.

Brubaker does a talking heads book, mixed with some stylized action and dramatic–but uniquely underplayed–story beats. It’s a strange book–the situations aren’t spy movie, but spy novel. There’s no way, CG or no-CG, you can do some of Velvet’s stunts. So, instead, Brubaker and Epting have figured out how to perfect the spy comic. Same basic genre, only they get to take advantage of the comic book medium’s particularities to further the tale.

Velvet’s potential successes are limited–it’s pulp, there’s only so much anyone can do with just pulp–but Brubaker and Epting take it seriously. They’re pushing at the boundaries of the genre. Seeing them take it seriously is part of why Velvet is so much fun to read.


The Man Who Stole the World, Part Three; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.

Kennel Block Blues 1 (February 2016)

Kennel Block Blues #1

Prison comics are, often from Boom!, now a thing. Ryan Ferrier and Daniel Bayliss’s Kennel Block Blues is an animal kennel–a cross-species animal kennel–as a prison. It’s one of those books I sort of wish I’d see from Vertigo. Well, Vertigo a few years ago. Something media-friendly without being prepackaged for other media. It’s mainstream pop culture, but the more erudite varieties.

It’s also excellent.

Ferrier’s protagonist, whose name I don’t remember–Buddy, maybe–is freshly incarcerated. He’s the entry point. Through him, we meet the other canine inmates–the cats are the dominate species in Blues. There’s male and female inmates together. Not even a thought, presumably because they’re all spayed and neutered.

There’s funny pet stuff, there’s depressingly bleak prison stuff. Ferrier’s got the right tone and he’s got the right artist. Bayliss has been kicking around for a while and Blues has his work the tightest I’ve seen it. He gets to be busy but still restrained, still focused on moving the story forward.

Knowing Ferrier, the ride will be rocky but rewarding–or maybe he’s got a better plot line this series. Blues is a confident, assured comic. The creators, the editors. It’s deservedly slick. Ferrier’s gotten to be a writer I look forward to reading. And Boom!’s brand comes with some built-in respect these days.


Writer, Ryan Ferrier; artist, Daniel Bayliss; colorist, Adam Metcalfe; letterer, Colin Bell; editors, Mary Gunport and Eric Harburn; publisher, Image Comics.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 3 (February 2016)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #3

There’s something so great about Dr. Doom as buffoon. Maybe because Dr. Doom as loquacious villain gets boring fast. But does anyone actually use him as anything but a buffoon anymore? Squirrel Girl marks the second thing I’ve read from Marvel in the last year featuring Doom–and I’m pretty sure I’ve only read three Marvel series–so he appears, as comic relief, in two-thirds of the Marvel comics I read.

And they’re better for it.

The thing about North is he loves his characters. He loves Doreen, he loves Nancy, he loves Tippy. He loses track of himself with the characters, even when he has this rather complex time travel story with Doom. It’s not present Doom, it’s past Doom, going into even further past, pre-Marvel Age era. I’m not even sure I get it all. But it’s cool North has this much thought for his time travel paradox. It’s care. Squirrel Girl is made with care.

Henderson’s art does a great job with the flashback setting. She initially conveys the era just through clothing (before opening up to exteriors for the fight scene) and it’s awesome.

Squirrel Girl is a good comic.


Writer, Ryan North; artist, Erica Henderson; colorist, Rico Renzi; letterer, Travis Lanham; editors, Chris Robinson and Wil Moss; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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