Gotham Academy #1
Story: Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Karl Kerschl
High school isn't easy, and especially not if you live in a city like Gotham. Gotham Academy is the new Batman family title that mixes the DC Universe, high school drama, and the kind of mysteries you only get in spooky old buildings. The first issue does what a good first issue does: introducing the reader to the characters and the setting. Writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher cleverly use new student orientation to show us the lay of the land. Olive Silverlock, in her second year, is assigned new student Maps Mizoguchi as the student she must mentor. This sounds simple enough, except Maps is the sister of Kyle, Olive's soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, or so Olive thinks. It is a typical high school plot, but the book never sinks into the overblown, hand wringing that someone who doesn't know how to write teenagers thinks teenagers sound. There is something going on with Olive that is mysterious, as their are numerous references to how much she changed over the summer, and her own mysterious aversion to Batman and the Bat Signal. She is distant and angsty, but not in a way that makes someone who is an adult want to roll their eyes and throw the comic away. Maps, on the other hand, is a big ball of energy and positivity. They seem to be polar opposites, but they get along well and play off each other brilliantly. We get glimpses of some of the other characters, including Headmaster Hammer, who looks like he could be a horror host out of EC Comics, Kyle, who I'm curious to get to know more, plus a couple of classic high school tropes, including the mean girl and class clown/prankster. Oh, and I'm pretty sure Aunt Harriet from Batman '66. While some of these characters seem cookie cutter right now, the talent shown in the crafting of Olive and Maps makes me pretty sure they'll get more defined personalities once they get more pages. The action piece of the issue, with Olive and Maps climbing the decrepit belltower to get a view of some of the supposedly haunted parts of the Academy is amazing, both showing the bond between our leads and the ingenuity in Olive. Karl Kershl is an artist I've liked for a long time, and his style is dynamic and full of energy, perfect for this comic. With a brief appearance by Bruce Wayne to more firmly ground the comic in Gotham City, creepy eyes looking out through walls, and a vibe completely different from everything else coming out from DC, Gotham Academy is a something new and fun, and worth checking out for anyone wanting a break from the grim and gritty of much of The New 52.
Men of Wrath #1
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Ron Garney
Jason Aaron writes some seriously dark comics. His superhero stuff can be dark, but admittedly I haven't read much of it, so my experience is more connected to his other work; I'm a fan of his creator owned crime comics. Stuff like Scalped and Southern Bastards are my Aaron. So Men of Wrath, his new book from Marvel's creator owned ICON imprint was something I was going to check out one way or the other, and the fact that he's working with Ron Garney, who he's done a lot of super hero work with and who is one of those great comic utility artists, was icing on the cake. Men of Wrath starts out with the story of the protagonist's great great grandfather, who killed a man in an argument over sheep (a story, Aaron reveals in his text page after the main story, that is from Aaron's own family history). From there, we see Ira Rath at work, and that work is killing people. Hitmen are usually shown to have hearts of gold, or at least tarnished silver, who have a code of honor. That is NOT the case with Rath, something made very very clear by that first sequence; as a matter of fact, he performs an act so cold and repugnant I wouldn't be surprised if it turns some readers right off. From there, we see that Rath is dying of lung cancer, and he seems to feel little need to make any amends for a life of murder. And when a new contract comes his way, we don't know if he's going to take it or not, but we know it's something that will effect his last days. It's not hard to figure out the twist at the end; this first issue is very much Aaron playing in a lot of tropes that are common to stories that center of hitmen. But it's about how Aaron tells the story, how he crafts his characters and how the story flows, and does it flow. Aaron's dialogue is crackling as ever, with Rath and his compatriots sounding like the hardcases they are without sounding like stereotypes. Add to this Garney's art, and you get a great first issue. Garney draws a craggy, old Rath, the lines on his face seemingly carved there, and crafts the gritty world that Aaron's crime comics inhabit as well as any other of Aaron's collaborators; while Garney might be known for superhero work, he clearly has a taste for crime comics.. There is a softness in the coloring in the opening that sets it apart from the harder, bleaker later scenes, and colorist Matt Milla does a great job with that. It's a great launch to the series, and looks to be another gritty hit from Aaron.
Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini #1
Story: Anthony Del Col & Conor McCreery
Art: Carlos Furuzono
The same week we get the final issue of the new Kill Shakespeare mini-series, The Tide of Blood, series creators Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery debut their new series for Dynamite, Sherlock Holmes Vs. Harry Houdini. For those of you who don't know, the real life Houdini had something of a rivalry with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, as Doyle was an avowed spiritualist, and Houdini went out of his way to debunk psychics and spiritualists (it's interesting to me then that Conan Doyle, a devout believer in spirits and fairies, would create possibly the single most rationalist character of the 19th century or after). The issue immediately establishes a rivalry between Holmes and Houdini, for the reason that the arrogant Holmes can't stop from rudely revealing how Houdini's escapes are performed, as Houdini performs for Scotland Yard and Holmes sits in the drunk tank, having been brought in for winding up out on the streets in a drug addled haze. It's well within the bounds of Holmes's more antisocial behavior to be so rude, and Houdini, as you might imagine, does not take it well. But the mystery gets under way when spirits appear and threaten Houdini. Neither Holmes or Houdini believe they were real ghosts, and Houdini puts on his public show with Holmes as a witness, and while Holmes cannot figure out the trick, the spirits return to make a dark turn. I don't know enough about Houdini to determine if the writers have captured his voice properly, but they've made him an interesting character, and they have captured Holmes well, giving him the right amount of bite. Houdini's wife and Dr. Watson serve as sounding boards for our leads, and both are not taking the guff from their respective opposite numbers. Holmes is in one of his drug addled downward spirals at the beginning of this story, something that, while a minor element in the original texts, has become a major part of Holmes pastiche after Nicholas Meyer's famous The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, where Holmes met Sigmund Freud, making it a nice parallel to have Holmes using drugs heavily in a story where he meets yet another famous late-nineteenth/early twentieth-century figure. With these two characters as our leads, I'm sure the supernatural aspect of the story is a fraud, but I am very curious to see exactly how the magic is being faked. Del Col and McCreery have shown in Kill Shakespeare that they have a talent for merging different literary figures into one world, and now they've taken this a step further, merging the fictional world with the real world in this first issue. So the game is afoot, readers, and it's up to these two great rationalists, the detective and the escape artist, to solve case
And now, a review from Dan Grote of Jason Aaron's new Thor #1
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dautermann
I'm not gonna lie, folks: I bought this one specifically to spite the butt-hurt side of the Internet complaining about “forced diversity” and “my Thor has a weiner” (made ya look!).
Thor is the latest Marvel Now book to get rebooted with the same writer, following in the footsteps of Daredevil and Hulk (so basically just Mark Waid). And, of course, as you’ve heard everywhere from The View to the Wall Street Journal, this Thor has lady parts and is not actually the Odinson.
But before we get to lady Thor, there’s about 20 pages of story to get through.
The book opens with a Frost Giant attack on an undersea Roxxon facility armed with attack sharks that makes me miss Sealab 2021. The big guys from Jotunheim are led by Malekith the Accursed, fresh off his appearance in Thor: The Dark World. Artist Russell Dauterman draws some damn-fine Jotuns, reminding me of some of the creatures Fiona Staples has drawn in Saga.
Meanwhile, on the moon, which is apparently now orbited by Asgard, which is apparently now called Asgardia (Forgive me; the last time Thor and I hung out was during the J. Michael Straczynski run), original-recipe Thor is still trying to pull Mjolnir up off the ground, where he’s been since original-recipe Nick Fury whispered him unworthy during the Original Sin crossover. And Odin, like any loving All-Father, decides to berate his son and blame his wife for making the boy soft. Odin then tries to outmacho all of Asgardia and lift the hammer himself, remembering, “Hey, I put the enchantment on this thing in the first place,” but no dice.
Asgardia’s internecine strife is put on hold for the moment when Odin’s ravens arrive to report the Jotun attack on Midgard. Thor charges off into battle sans Mjolnir, while mother Freyja strokes her chin and has a think inspired by Odin’s verbal abuse. (Seriously, this issue makes me wish Odin had stayed dead.) Without spoiling, the battle with Malekith does not go well.
Back on the moon, as the book winds to a close, a mystery blond woman says “There must always be a Thor,” picks up the hammer and poses for a splash page. Obviously, who this person is – her winged helmet covers half her face – is a mystery for another issue.
So the book’s big controversy is actually its C-plot – some first-issue, not-enough-time-to-get-to-everything ish to be sure – but that’s most like because what everyone on the Internet is worried about and what more-than-competent writer Jason Aaron has planned are two completely different things. And if that’s the case, good.