Friday, January 29, 2016

Recommended Reading for 1/29: The Other Side

Jason Aaron's writing seems to be haunted by the Vietnam War. Wade Rouleau, father of Dashiell Bad Horse, the lead of Aaron's opus Scalped, is a Vietnam vet, as is Earl Tubbs, the lead of the first arc of Aaron's current breathtaking Southern noir, Southern Bastards. Aaron also had a healthy run on mainstream comics most famous Vietnam vet, Frank Castle, in his Punisher MAX series. But early in his career, Aaron wrote a series set firmly during the Vietnam War, The Other Side, and it stands as one of his best works to this day.

Billy Everette is a young man drafted into the Marines to serve in Vietnam. Vo Binh Dai is a North Vietnamese villager who gladly joins his countries army to aid in the liberation of South Vietnam and the unification of his country. They are two men from different worlds, with very different motivations, but they are both bound for the same place, the muddy no man's land of Khe Sahn. The story of the mini-series follows them both from their training to their arrivals in country, to their first sights of bloodshed, and to the final moments of their time at war.

It's very easy for a writer telling a war story to tack on a very pat statement about how everyone on both sides of a war are really the same under it all and that we should remember that before killing each other. And I'm not saying Aaron doesn't explore our common humanity, but he does it with story and not grand speeches. While both of our leads are sympathetic characters, are both human, and are really the same, just young men thrust into a conflict bigger than them, Aaron never relies on cliches and stereotypes to tell his story. They might be broken by the war, and they'll never be the same, the one who lives anyway, but there's no speech about the folly of war. The book is too grounded in the way people are for that.

Billy Everette does everything that he can to not go to war, and when he gets to basic, he's awful at it. He can't shoot, he pisses off his drill instructor, and he... sees things. He is followed by a dead soldier without a jaw. And he hears his rifle talking to him, telling him to kill others or himself. And as he goes to war, this gets worse. He sees more and more of the dead who have come before him.

Vo Binh Dai marches south to war because it is what his family and his gods would want him to do. He carries the watch his father took from a French soldier at Dien Bien Phu. He marches, confident that he is doing what is right and that if he dies, he will die for a good cause. And as things get worse, as his brethren die on the march, he begins to have visions. Visions of tigers, of dragons, of gods.

The question of whether the visions of either of our leads are real or something their own minds have conjured is left to the reader. The book is gritty, realistic, and it's easy to immediately write all of it off as a mind broken by the horrors of the world around them. And that's a perfectly valid. But there are moments, moments where the line between fantasy and reality is a little thinner. Aaron plays with this kind of heightened reality in his grittier work in other places; the half-mad Catcher in Scalped also has visions, ones that prove oddly incisive and prescient. And so maybe there's something here to this, something we can't touch or understand.

I admit to an initial Western bias, as I don't believe in the gods that Dai worships, thinking that he is seeing things while Everette's ghosts, something more in my mental wheelhouse, those could be real, or at least more than simply a coping mechanism. And the realization that I was casting a cultural judgement because of my own beliefs made me rethink every reaction to Dai's statements, statements that are outside my normal cultural understanding, and to empathize more fully with his character.

The faiths of the two characters are so different, with Dai confident in his pretty much to the end while Everette questions the existence and beneficence of his god. A letter from Everette's mother that talks of the local preacher, her prayer group praying for him, and that he is doing God's work, is used as narration, and when we see Everette reading it, he is in a room filled with the horribly wounded spectres that follow him. And the reaction of the other soldiers when he asks about God are telling as well. The old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes goes right out the window, with a line that stuck in my head, "God don't live in I Corps, man...just us grunts do."

But for all their differences, there are commonalities. It's amazing to see how both the North Vietnamese and the Americans accept the non-humanity of their opponents, thinking them cannibals or worse. There are soldiers on both sides who don't want to be there, who seek some way to escape the war. And on both sides, the conditions are horrible, lonely, full of trenches, disease, and the constant fear of death, be it from a Viet Cong sniper or an American air strike.

The sheer raw visuals of the book bring the horrors of war into sharp relief. Cameron Stewart is an amazing artist, whose work shows a style that can adapt to the grittiness of Gotham City when he worked with Ed Brubaker on Catwoman, to the surreal with Grant Morrison on Seaguy, to the nostalgic and warm in Multiversity: Thunderworld. His work on The Other Side is some of the best I've seen of his, grounded it reality at most times, showing battlefields littered with bodies, rats everywhere (and lord that made me shiver, because I hate rats), and people with looks in their eyes of rage, hurt, and loss. The dead who follow Everette are horrifying things, missing parts, burned, and reminding us at all times of the cost of war. But there are strange moments of beauty as well. The tigers that Dai sees are drawn to look truly majestic, as are the gods in his visions. The scene that stands out as the perfect blend of horror and beauty is a butterfly flying through the battlefield, its lovely wings juxtaposed against all the horror around it.

I read The Other Side in trade, and I want to quickly mention the backmatter and associated essays, because there's some really interesting stuff in here. I'm old enough to remember when most trades had some sort of interesting features to stand them apart from just buying the floppies, versus the opposite now, and this book has some great features. Cameron Stewart's photo journal of the trip he took to Vietnam to get the proper reference for the work features both pictures and words that get you inside both his trip and his thoughts. Aaron's piece is absolutely fascinating, a remembrance of his cousin, Vietnam vet and writer Gustav Hasford, best known for writing The Short-Timers, the novel that became the film Full Metal Jacket. Aaron's story of his relationship with Gus is great, and it makes it more clear why this book is so powerful and important.

War comics aren't usually my speed. The Golden and Silver age ones often present a simplified version of war, while the modern ones can be so gritty and real that it's painful to read them. And The Other Side is painful. It's a story that has no winners, only losers, only those scarred and killed by war. And that's what makes it important to read. Sometimes you need to be reminded of how ugly war is, how imminent death is for those who aren't sitting and reading comics. And be reminded, as Captain Dale Dye USMC (ret.) mentions in his introduction, that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. And The Other Side presents a past that no one wants to repeat, in a way that will hold you riveted from page one.

Doing my research, I was surprised to see The Other Side is currently out of print. However, a book from two such well known creators won't stay out of print too long, and it should be easily located at most better comic shops.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 19

Today’s reading: Deadpool #23-25, Dec. 1998-Feb. 1999
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Walter McDaniel and a bunch of different inkers

In which our hero saves the galaxy by kicking Captain America in the balls.

The Deadpool-as-cosmic-savior plot that’s been building since issue #1 comes to a head in today’s three issues, collectively titled “Dead Reckoning.” Of the three issues, #23 and 25 are double-sized, much of which is dedicated to finally revealing and explaining what exactly is coming to usher in utopia on Earth, why Tiamat wants to stop it and just how much of a douche Overboss Dixon is. We also finally get the full story on Gerry the bum.

To wit, the alien entity headed toward Earth is a ball of eyes and tentacles that looks a bit like Shuma-Gorath from the Marvel vs. Capcom games. It doesn’t so much kiss and make better everything on a planet as it does render all life into a zombielike state of bliss, devoid of free will. We see this happen in multiple scenes on other planets and as the creature passes Shi’ar and Skrull warships and even the Watcher.

Tiamat, the alien creature that killed Noah in issue #22, is trying to stop what it calls the Destroyer at the behest of an alien council. Essentially, he’s the Deadpool for the other side, without the personality. He doesn’t speak Earth languages, so he can’t be communicated or reasoned with. As a result, when Deadpool and Tiamat fight in issue #23, Tiamat beats Wade near to death.

As is revealed later, however, much of what makes Tiamat so nasty-looking is body armor the same color as his turquoise skin. Without it, he’s kind of smooth and harmless. The people giving him his orders are following their own set of predictions, carved as hieroglyphics into the walls below the facility in Puerto Rico where Noah met his death. A big part of the story is showing how these predictions, and those of Landau Luckman & Lake precog Montgomery, don’t tell the complete story and are manipulated for either side’s ends.

Gerry the Bum is Gerry LeQuare, the fourth L in the intergalactic holding firm of what used to be called Landau, Luckman, Lake & LeQuare. He lives in a 1970s-chic apartment underneath Golden Gate Park, and he’s been watching Deadpool for years, nudging him toward becoming the Mithras by doing things like letting T-Ray beat the crap out of him in issue #13.

Dixon, after mind-wiping Monty and setting up Noah to be killed, finally cements himself as pure evil. When Deadpool uses a belt he grabbed off Noah’s corpse to teleport away from his battle with Tiamat, Dixon has blackout troops blow up the Deadhut with Wade, Al and Zoe in it (Don’t worry; they all escape). He’s apparently been manipulating and cherrypicking from Monty’s predictions for years, which would explain the number of times M got things wrong. And he somehow manages to trick Captain America into taking Deadpool’s place as the Mithras, even though Cap clearly distrusts and dislikes Dixon.

After the Deadhut explosion, it takes Gerry and Al some time to find Deadpool. When they do, they have to drag him, kicking and screaming, from the mother of all pity parties, as if he hadn’t just backslid in issue #22. Much of issue #24 sees Gerry teleporting everywhere from the Hellhouse to LL&L in search of Wade, until he realizes in issue #25 that it’s not a question of where he went, but when (cue the Doctor Who theme).

Using Noah’s bodyslide belt, Wade had traveled through time, to his fight with Alpha Flight’s Sasquatch waaay back in issue #1. Hidden from view, he listens to Zoe and Noah – who themselves were hidden from the view of Deadpool and Sasquatch – commenting on the fight and wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t chosen to dive into the radiation vat and prevent a nuclear meltdown back then. He believes Noah didn’t believe in him at all, which he didn’t, at least not at first.

“Deadpool is a semi-talented mercenary who got lucky that Langkowski (Sasquatch) told him how to shut down the reactor. He’s not a hero simply because he didn’t irradiate the Southern Hemisphere,” Noah says.

Wait for it.

“Deadpool’s a hero because he tried to prevent disaster.”

Squeeze me? A baking powder?

“With no logical reason to think he could succeed … a self-centered killer with nothing to gain went against all of his natural instincts and tried to save the day. Not for a reward, not under orders of a waving flag, he did it because in some corner of his heart, he just knew it was the right thing. I’m not saying Wilson is definitely the Mithras. He still needs to train, to work. But from what I’ve seen today, even if, God forbid, we were wrong about him, he’s shown me he’s got the heart of a hero.”

Wade still needs convincing, though. He returns with Al and Gerry to Gerry’s underground hippie lair, where G reveals he’s been manipulating Wade since jump and that each of his defeats – by T-Ray in issue #13, Ajax in the Deadpool/Death ’98 annual and Tiamat in issue #23, were necessary for Wade to fulfill his destiny.

“After T-Ray, you figured out that playing hero and being a hero aren’t the same. After Ajax, you believed you were worthy of a glorious destiny and reached for the brass ring. Finally, after Tiamat, you’ve learned that destiny alone isn’t worth spit. You’ve learned that you’re just a mook caught in a big black tornado, with one shot left at doing the right thing.”

Wade still needs convincing though (man, for a killer, this guy is emotionally needy). Our final pep talk of the arc comes from Blind Al, who hands Wade a gold medal and relates a story about an old friend from her World War II spy days whom she called Blondie and described as “a newsreel darling, a bona fide hero” but who wasn’t afraid to admit being scared.


“Gerry, crazy fruitcake that he is, is right about you,” Al tells Wade. “You’ve been trying to be a hero all this time, so of course you blew it. ’Cause it’s not a thing you can try to be. It’s not a thing you can aspire to. Hell, it’s not even what we need. We just need a guy who’ll try to get the job done, and remember to duck long enough to finish.”

NOW Wade’s ready to go kick some ass and crack wise. He teleports to Egypt, where the Destroyer has been predicted to touch down, and finds Cap fighting Tiamat. As Wade tags in, the council that’s been advising Tiamat communicates telepathically with Deadpool and tells him everything about the Destroyer and its quest to eradicate free will. They strip Tiamat of his gnarly looking armor – which apparently wards off the Destroyer’s influence – and give it to Deadpool, just in time for the Destroyer to possess Cap.

As the Sentinel of Liberty, the Destroyer tries to sweet-talk Wade into letting him zombify the Earth while they punch each other. Part of Wade thinks being a smiley vegetable is preferable to his life of pain and suffering. But he comes to his senses and, as stated earlier, kicks the possessed Captain America square in the nards, then makes a beeline for the Destroyer, destroying it.

Had this been the series’ last issue, as was previously intended, everything would have been wrapped up pretty neatly. Deadpool saves the day, the three L’s have Dixon put away, Zoe is promoted to overboss, it’s implied that Gerry and Al may have gone off together, etc. The only truly unhappy ending appears to belong to Montgomery, whom Zoe has “decommissioned” after he finally kisses her. Overbosses gonna overboss, I guess.

But Marvel decided not to cancel the book after all, and Kelly stays on for eight more issues, which we’ll cover as this weekly countdown to the Deadpool movie churns on. See you next Thursday!

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/20

Batman #48
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia

Well, here it is: the next confrontation between Batman and the Joker, and it is honestly like none you've ever read before. As Bruce Wayne, his memory slowly returning, sits on a bench in a Gotham park, he is joined by the Joker, seemingly normal, healed, and doing fine. And they just talk. Talk about life, about peaceful places, and about life. It's a strange scenario, with the Joker now being the one who is talking about how important it is to simply be and to let your actions carry forward. There are moments where it's clear that both of these old enemies are fighting their true natures, although I think this arc has made me question of that nature is true or just a construct of what they lived through. I knew that it would be devastating to watch Bruce give up what he had built in this life to once again become Batman, and while he hasn't taken up the cowl at the end of the issue, it's obvious that's where it's going. The only thing sadder is seeing Alfred, denying, ignoring, hoping that Bruce will keep the happy ending that he has wished for him for so long. I think, when Snyder's run on Batman ends I'll miss his Alfred even more than I'll miss his Batman or Jim Gordon.

The conversation between Bruce and Joker only takes up half the issue, as the rest spotlights Mr. Bloom and exactly what his plan and thinking is. We lean exactly what Bloom believes, why he made his move now, and why he's the perfect arch-enemy for Jim Gordon's Batman. His beliefs about a twisted almost natural selection about how the city is a failed experiment, stands in direct opposition to Jim Gordon, who has always fought to keep order and keep the city alive. I give a lot of credit to artist Greg Capullo, who makes Bloom this distorted, twisted monster, whose physiology continues to morph and change, and whose minions are equally strange and monstrous. And part of the climax of the issue guarantees even more monsters by the end of the story. The last three pages of this issue are some of the most tensely paced and put together pages of any comic I've ever read, the first ending each of the plotlines running in the book on a dark note (if this were a different kind of comic, I'd think there was no going back), the second dealing with Alfred, and the final is one of the best, most exciting splash pages I've seen in a long time. He's coming back next issue, folks, and while Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are winding down their run, it looks like it'll end on a high note.

Lucifer #2
Story: Holly Black
Art: Lee Garbett & Antonio Fabela

Mike Carey's Lucifer is one of the best series ever produced by Vertigo, maybe second only in my estimation to Sandman itself, and so a new series with the character made me leery. But the first issue was strong, and this second one was as well, strong enough to want to call out for anyone else who loves Lucifer Morningstar and had my doubts. Holly Black, a writer I'm mostly familiar with from various fantasy anthologies, was clearly a fan of the Mike Carey series and hasn't thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Lucifer retains the scars, both physical and mental, from the previous volume, and he's in a buddy cop drama with the Archangel Gabriel, the same one from Garth Ennis's run on Hellblazer; we're deep in the weeds of Vertigo continuity without getting lost, and that says a lot for Black as a writer. In their quest to find out who killed The Presence (the DCU/Vertigo codephrase for God, although both of our leads just call him father) and assaulted Lucifer with a weapon of the same metal, this issue takes Lucifer and Gabriel to Hell, because where are there going to be more beings who want God dead, not to mention Lucifer suspects Hell is the source of whatever hurt him and killed God. But Hell seems to be in a state of civil war, with Lillim and some demons serving the current queen, Lucifer's former lover Mazikeen, while others seek to place a demon upon the throne again. Lee Garbett draws some great demons, and the battle between Lucifer and Gabriel against one of Hell's army is phenomenal. While Lucifer is still the star of the show, and rightly so because he's amazing, Gabriel is sort of the comedic foil to Lucifer, making glib comments and giving someone for Lucifer to talk down to; also, didn't this guy learn his lesson about consorting with demonesses in Hellblazer? Sheesh, We do get to see Mazikeen again, and Lucifer and she have a brief reunion before she gives him his next lead, sending him and Gabriel off to another famous Vertigo location for next issue. But as is the way with most comics that exist in the same world as Sandman, we also get to spend time with some mortals who are being drawn into the workings of these mighty beings. Teena Hornick has found the jar that contains the demon Azazel from Sandman with the expected malign results, and I'm curious if we find out how Azazel's jar escaped the Dreaming next issue, and Lorin Hammon, a young man who found a feather from the wing of an angel, continues to feel the pull of the feather to who knows where. Holly Black is beginning to weave a tapestry like all great Vertigo series, with threads that will intersect in hopefully unexpected and new ways, and in a way worthy of the name Lucifer.

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat #2
Story: Kate Leth
Art: Brittney L. Williams & Megan Wilson

After Dan's sterling review of issue one, I couldn't resist picking that issue up, and loved it so much I added the book to my pull list, and I'm very glad I did, as issue two is just as fun as issue one. So, Patsy Walker now has an idea, to set up a temp agency for super powered folks who don't want to be either superheroes or supervillains, but she needs capital to start it. So she gets a job. A retail job. A retail job at a mall. I don't know how many of you out there reading this have done that, but I worked for a year and change at the Borders Books (remember Borders? I miss Borders) at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, and boy howdy does Kate Leth capture the nightmare of mall retail.  But this is a superhero comic, so Patsy has bigger problems than being recognized by Millenials as Patsy from the comics or her painful 17 year old manager (I never had that problem. I was the 17 year old shift supervisor! Take that establishment!). When a superpowered shop lifter shows up, Hellcat gives pursuit, and not only doesn't catch her, but she hears that a mysterious "she" has ominous plans for her. But one of the charms of the book is that supervillains don't seem to be the biggest pain in Patsy's life. No, that's Hedy Wolfe, the Veronica to Patsy's Betty in the comics Patsy's mother wrote about Patsy's teen years, and the current publisher of those comics. Patsy dealing with Hedy is the highlight of the book, as Patsy reads Hedy the riot act and Hedy doesn't care. I like that Hedy doesn't seem to be supervillain evil, just mean, selfish person evil, which is way more difficult to deal with, just like it is in real life. But Patsy doesn't just have enemies. We get some more time with Ian Soo, Patsy's new roommate, and he's a great guy, and an excellent entry point into Patsy's world; she's been a superhero for so long now her life is super crazy and Ian reacts like most of us would when she casually mentions having been dead. And after the crappy day at work, Patsy calls a bunch of her friends, who all happen to be superheroes (they're all on that cover above), and they go out for burgers. I would love to see a series that as just superheroes hanging out doing normal stuff if Kate Leth wrote it; even f it's only two pages before crazy superlife interferes, it's absolutely fun. I'm glad that Marvel continues to publish these kind of fun, all ages titles, and Patsy Walker is a great addition to the bunch.

Star Wars #15
Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Mike Mayhew

After the "Vader Down" crossover, it's nice to get a little break from the main action of the Star Wars ongoing, so going back into the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi is an excellent choice  for Jason Aaron. Making the issue even more exciting is the choice of Mike Mayhew, best known to Star Wars fans as the artist on The Star Wars, the comic mini-series based on George Lucas's original draft of the Star Wars screenplay. Mayhew's art, which he colors himself, looks painted, although as I'm no expert, I'm not sure if it's done with actual paints or digitally. Still his character look phenomenal. He's doing a great job transitioning Kenobi from the Obi-Wan of the prequels to the Old Ben of A New Hope, and the same can be said of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru Lars. I will say the artistic high point of the issue is two pages of Obi-Wan going toe-to-toe, unarmed, with a raiding party of Sand People. It's a reminder of the great Jedi Obi-Wan was before the dark times sent him into hiding. The story has Obi-Wan trying to help young Luke Skywalker in a way that isn't just stopping thugs from interfering with his life or saving him from sand storms, which is a nice touch. It's not like Obi-Wan had much to do for the nineteen years he was on Tatooine other than watch out for Luke. The highlight of the issue for me, though, is a scene where Owen shows up at Ben's hut with some parts that Ben acquired for Luke's skyhopper (picture a flying go cart) and had Jawa's give to the boy, telling Ben to take them back and leave Luke and the Lars family alone. For a character who appears in three of the first six Star Wars films, Owen has very little story of his own. And while this scene is still just him talking about Luke, it really cements something that was strong subtext in A New Hope; Owen really cares about Luke and honestly thinks he's protecting him. Sure, he's gruff, but when you see things from his perspective, you can sympathize more with him. I'd like to see a similar small spotlight on Luke's more patient Aunt Beru in an upcoming issue. And from the end of this issue, I assume we have at least one more of these Obi-Wan stories in the future, as we get an appearance by the Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan without the facial scar he has in the present, a scar that could easily have been inflicted by a lightsaber. Jedi vs. Wookiee, huh? That's an issue I look forward to seeing.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Special Advance Review: Faith #1

Faith #1
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage, & Andrew Dalhouse

Valiant's new launch, Faith, has been getting a lot of advance buzz, and all that buzz is earned. It's a delightful comic, with a warm, hilarious hero, a solid supporting cast, and a mystery at its core that will keep readers wanting more.

I've read a fair amount of Valiant comics, but most of them center around the brother Anni-Padda, better known as Ivar the Timewalker, Armstrong of Archer & Armstrong, and Gilad the Eternal Warrior, so Faith, who was a cast member of Harbinger, is a character I'm not too familiar with, mostly having seen her in event comics as part of her former team, the Renegades. But the opening page has a brief background, and that's all you really need going into the issue, and even that is just to fill in some terminology. Jody Houser is pretty much giving you a Faith 101 here, giving her a new home base, a new supporting cast, but the same superheroic mission.

Faith Herbert, also known as the superheroic psiot (that's Valiant term for mutant or metahuman) Zephyr, and currently with the new civilian identity of Summer Smith is an optimist. Just from one issue I can tell she's irrepressibly cheerful. And she's also a fangirl. And she wants to be a superhero because it's the right thing to do, and because she's watched a lot of sci-fi movies and read a lot of comics. So she's pretty much how I'd like to think I'd be if I suddenly could fly and had limited telekinesis, and I think a lot of other readers would have the same feeling,

The first issue spends most of its time establishing Faith's status quo. She wants to have the traditional superhero secret identity, that of the reporter so she can be informed of all crises the minute they happen. But, well, journalism isn't as easy to crack into as all that, but since shes be an on-line fangirl for years, she is able to get a job writing listicles for Ziplne, which is nothing like Buzzfeed at all. Out of the gate, her supporting cast seems to be her coworkers, who aren't fleshed out much this issue beyond their seemingly standard templates of passive aggressive boss, whiny Millenial, and snarky Gen-Xers, but what can you expect from one scene? There's plenty to work with from those tropes to build the characters over the course of the series.

There are definite ties to the rest of the Valiant Universe, but none of them hinder the enjoyment of the comic; I like that they're there so you know Faith is a character with history in the world around her. There are references to her former team, which included her ex-boyfriend, Torque, and big bad Toyo Harada, but in both cases what little you need to know is explained right there. The best connection to the rest of Valiant's heroes, though, is Faith's webchat with Obadiah Archer, the naive assassin half of my favorite Valiant duo, Archer & Armstrong. Archer was raised in a religious cult, so he has no frame of reference for pop culture, something Faith has in spades, and she's a better mentor for it than Armstrong, whose idea of pop culture is beat poetry and a good microbrew. Their dynamic is cute, and it's funny to watch Faith tease poor Archer, who, for being as powerful as he is, has little experience when talking to women.

While I said this first issue does a lot of set up, there are also a couple of very solid action scenes, one of Faith dealing with a ring of puppynappers, and a couple that deal with the mystery that seems to be the driving plot of the mini-series. We see people fleeing a mysterious group of identical men in suits, and Faith finds out that psiots are disappearing. And since my exposure to writer Houser is mostly from her wok on the tie-in comic to the best conspiracy show currently on TV, Orphan Black, I'm excited to see where she takes this conspiracy.

I also want to briefly address something. A lot of the advance press in the mainstream media about Faith has been focused on the character's body type, which is not what you usually get in comic books for a female superhero. And I'm all for that, and I think it's great she's getting a spotlight. But what I really like? It's not mentioned once in the comic. Not once. Faith goes about her business, she never thinks about losing weight or about her body, and no one brings it up. When she's facing down a group of thugs, I braced myself for one of the bad guys to make a body-shaming comment, and... nothing. Faith is written as if no one notices her body because it's nothing out of the ordinary, and I think that was a wise choice.

This first issue features two artists, one on the scenes in the real world, and one for Faith's daydreams. Francis Portela, who draws the main story, is an artist I'm familiar from his work on Ivar, Timewalker, one of my favorite Valiant series, and he has a solid style for superhero storytelling. He not only draws great action, but distinct characters and excellent faces. Marguerite Sauvage is a name I was most familiar with as a writer, as she is co-writing the DC Comics Bombshells series right now, but as it turns out she 's a great artist with a style that is a little less realistic than Portels'a without being too cartoony, and suits Faith's heroic, and romantic, dreams.

Faith #1 is a fun superhero comic with a hero who you can easily root for. I like that she is a hero through and through, without any of the anti-hero tendancies of so many comic book characters. If you've been enjoying any of Marvel's female led titles like Ms. Marvel, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, or Patsy Walker, a.k.a Hellcat, and have  been looking to try a super hero series from outside the Marvel Universe, I can't think of a better place to start than Faith.

Faith #1 comes out this coming Wednesday, January 27th, wherever comic books are sold.

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 18

Today’s reading: Deadpool #21 and 22, Oct.-Nov. 1998
Story by Joe Kelly
Art by Walter McDaniel and John Livesay (#21) and Anthony Williams and Andy Lanning (#22)

Back before Marvel decided to chronically renumber all its titles, every 25th issue was treated as a big deal. There was an epic battle, or a key character was killed or brought back to life, or at the very least a holofoil or gatefold cover.

Issue #25 of Deadpool, for a bit, was also supposed to be the series’ last issue, making it doubly important.

But we’re not at issue #25 yet. We’re at issues #21 and 22, oh-so-close to the final story arc, “Dead Recknoning.” And the producers are off-camera, telling the talent to stretch to fill time.

Last issue gave us a nice breather and some quality bro-time between Deadpool and Montgomery, Landau Luckman & Lake’s chief precog. The next two issues see Wade being groomed to take on a just-introduced alien creature named Tiamat who is apparently the only thing standing between Earth and a Mithras-conceived utopia. Wade’s orders: Kill.

So, Zoe Culloden’s spent 20-some issues telling Wade he can be a hero, a good guy, not a piece of human garbage, and what does he have to do to save the galaxy? The one thing he’s been trained to do all his life that he’s been trying to get away from for months now – except for that one time with Ajax; he had it coming.

Wade reacts to this news by falling into old habits. He gets stinking drunk on a park bench while toggling through the options on his image inducer (Pre-cancer Wade! Barrio gangster! The doctor who tried to have Weasel committed in issue #6!). He freaks out when someone teleports into his house and sees him without his mask on. He socks Zoe in the stomach. He stalks Siryn. He gets in a fight with Cable (perhaps his oldest habit). Call it “Drowning Man 2, the Re-Drown-ening.”

By this point, everyone’s a little sick of Wade’s self-pity schtick. Fortunately, his oldest enemy – who at this point is six years out from co-headlining a series with Wade – knows a thing or two about fulfilling destiny … and, um, taking out the trash.

“No one thanks the garbage men, Wilson … It’s part of the job. But everyone still needs us. Without us, the world drowns,” says the man whose sole purpose in life prior to 2000 was to kill Apocalypse. “I ain’t dead yet (at this point, Cable has been poisoned by the techno-organic virus within him, so he thinks he’s dying), and the trash still needs to be picked up.”

By issue’s end, Deadpool is back at LL&L and ready to drag the cans to the curb save the day. Just in time for the overbearing Overboss Dixon to deliver some bad news.

Noah is dead.

You guys remember Noah, right? He’s the other guy who works at LL&L who has a name. Works with Zoe but takes his orders directly from Dixon? Well, yeah, he’s dead, killed by Tiamat while scoping out a facility in Puerto Rico.

Because Dixon sent him there to get killed. Noah apparently had begun to grow a conscience and a spine, questioning the overboss one time too many. And Dixon remains so convinced Deadpool will fail his mission that he will kill and mindwipe his own people to ensure that happens. To make the matter more of a shame, Dixon had apparently just recommended Noah for enrollment in the overboss program, which must be the LL&L equivalent of “He had two weeks till retirement.”

Oh, and guess who’s back? Gerry the bum! Last seen giving an unconscious Wade a pep talk in issue #14, everyone’s favorite burned-out hippie who’s more than meets the eye shows up in issue #21 floating and sipping tea in the Sanctum Santorum of Doctor Strange, who’s having a hard time coping with the fact that DP, whom he describes as “a living maelstrom of negative energy,” is being trusted with the fate of humanity.

“You know as well as I that sometimes destiny just points his finger and chooses someone … He’s very stubborn that way,” Gerry says as Strange drops his teacup and saucer in shock.

Finally, let us wrap with another Great Moment in Pool-o-vation! When Wade returns to LL&L at the end of issue #22, ready to do what needs to be done to save the Earth, he offers the following words to Zoe and Monty:

“You wanna scare a Girl Scout, do it yourself. You want to see a grown man cry like he’s just seen Bea Arthur naked? You leave it to me.”

Ladies and gentleman, I do believe this is canonically the first in what will be a long line of Deadpool’s patented Bea Arthur references, although in the future they will betray more of Wade’s fondness for the de facto leader of the Golden Girls.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, Deadpool faces his destiny as “Dead Reckoning” is at hand. See ya then!

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Two Caps for the Price of Two

There’s a scene in December’s Deadpool #3 in which the villain-posing-as-mercenary Madcap tries to boop Steve Rogers – a grizzled old man who used to be Captain America – on the nose. Rogers grabs Madcap by the index finger and says:

“You know what happened to the last man that tried to ‘boop’ me? He died screaming in the Ardennes Forest.

To escape Old Man Rogers’ fingerhold, Madcap cuts off his finger with a pair of scissors and jumps out a window.

I quite like this version of Steve – drained of Super Soldier Serum, showing every year of his age but oddly fit for a 90-something-year-old and still wearing skintight clothes and going on missions. But he’s not Captain America.

At least not for a few more months.

If you blinked toward the end of Marvel’s Captain America 75th anniversary special Tuesday night, you might have missed the company’s announcement that it is launching a new “Steve Rogers, Captain America” title that will de-age the character and return him to full superhero duty. The book is being marketed as a companion to “Sam Wilson, Captain America,” which will remain on Marvel’s schedule. Nick Spencer will write both books, and a preview of the cover to Steve’s first issue features Sam in his current Cap costume, alongside classic Team Cap members Bucky and Sharon Rogers.

I’ve made my love of Captain America pretty clear since I started writing for this site. Writer Ed Brubaker’s run, which reintroduced Bucky to the Marvel Universe as the Winter Soldier and saw him replace Steve as Cap for a time, is one of my favorite in superhero comics.

But I also love Sam as Cap. I was excited to see Steve’s longtime partner and friend take up the shield. It felt like a natural fit when it was announced back in 2014, and while writer Rick Remender didn’t get the job done for me, I really like what Spencer is doing. On the one hand, Sam is beset by the current divisive political climate, floundering public opinion (they love the bird, though) and a lack of funds and resources, having cut ties with SHIELD. On the other hand, the book is a love letter to Mark Gruenwald’s run in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Spencer brought back CapWolf, for Christ’s sake! And D-Man! Even Brubaker didn’t do that, and his run touched on nearly Cap’s entire history.

Technically, Sam has been Cap for almost two years, but there’s a huge gap of time missing in that period due to Secret Wars, which interrupted the entire line for four months. So we’ve gotten far more time with legacy characters who have been around just as long, such as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and Jane Foster/Thor. To me, Sam needs more time to stand on his own, and I would gladly make due with more of Steve as Clint Eastwood in his Commander Rogers Action Figure outfit.

But of course, there’s bigger forces at play. Captain America: Civil War, will be out in May, and Marvel likely believes if they put out a book with a face familiar to moviegoers, a few dozen extra people might buy it. Maybe. But as someone who works for a newspaper, I’ve been made to understand that our online product and our print product are two different animals with two different audiences and should be treated as such. Yeah, it was weird in 2000 when the first X-Men movie came out and the teams in the books looked nothing like what was on the screen (Cable? Thunderbird III? No Cyclops?), but the industry was still figuring out vertical integration then. We know more now than we did 16 years ago, and for character’s sake, Sam could probably stay the One True Cap for a little while longer and not hurt Marvel’s bottom line.

That said, I’m not gonna not buy Steve #1 when it comes out. So well played, Marvel, you got me.

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Greetings from Battleworld: Week 37

Hey, look, it's Secret Wars! Yes, three months after its original ending date (and with one issue added), Marvel's universe changing crossover has ended, and we're here to talk about the last issue and some issues we skipped earlier on. First, Dan Grote gives a review of that big final issue...

Secret Wars #9
Story by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina

Wait, so are the Richards clan effectively the Beyonders now?

Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s eight-month, nine-issue summer 2015 crossover ends with the Molecule Man and Reed and Franklin Richards re-creating the Marvel multiverse, one sphere of energy at a time. Reed, Sue, Valeria, Franklin and the rest of the Future Foundation then set off to explore all those universes, explaining away their absence from all Marvel books in perpetuity. Super-Scientist Heaven is real, you guys!

But seriously, if the FF are creating whole universes, then that effectively makes them the gods of the new multiverse, which is what the Beyonders were prior to Secret Wars. And if all things are cyclical, what’s to say the Beyonders from the previous multiverse weren’t actually Reed Richards and his brood, and that eventually, after billions of years, they will get bored and collapse their creation? Doesn’t that mean Doom really was a hero all along? Maybe that’s why Reed let Doom live again on the new Earth, restoring his face in the process, in case Reed et al get too carried away in their new role as gods.

But that’s just the end. The book opens with a Battleworld-rattling fight between God Emperor Doom and Black Panther, armed with the Infinity Gauntlet. Meanwhile, the two Reed Richardses – 616 and 1610 – pay a visit to the Molecule Man, the source of Doom’s power. 1610 Reed - aka Ultimate Reed, aka the Maker, aka Evil Reed, aka Big Baby Jesus - doublecrosses his doppelganger, surrounding him in a makeshift temporal bubble in an attempt to devolve him, but the Molecule Man slices Evil Reed apart like so many pizza toppings.

Doom realizes the Panther fight is a distraction and finds Richards with the Molecule Man, who strips Doom of his omnipotence, allowing for a fair fight with Richards, because, c’mon, like Doom’s last fight wasn’t going to be with his mortal enemy?

As the two bump egos, MM lets Battleworld blow up, leaving the be-Gauntlet-ed Panther to restore reality. After a flash of white light, he finds himself in a restored Wakanda on what is now Earth Prime, celebrating the launch of the African nation’s space program.

“And this is our very first one,” Panther tells his pupils as they watch the first rocket lift off. “Our Alpha Flight.” WINK!

Before we leave, a final question: Why did the Molecule Man help our heroes? In the end, it may have been because Miles Morales gave him a hamburger in issue #6. That either makes Molecule Man the Jughead of the Marvel multiverse or Miles Morales the Neville Longbottom of Secret Wars, the background character who actually saves the day.

As finales go, and considering how sprawling and complex Secret Wars was to begin with, I’d say issue #9 is the perfect combination of a satisfying ending and a generator of new questions that won’t be answered anytime soon, if ever, considering Hickman is now done at Marvel. If nothing else, this issue serves as a love letter to Reed and Doom and puts a bow on everything Hickman has written for the House of ideas dating to the start of his FF run in 2009.

And for more on my feelings on Neville Longbottom as the true hero of the Harry Potter franchise, let me corner you at a party sometime.

And with all that extra time, I was able to read one of the more important tie-in mini-series, and it turned out to be one of my favorites...

Story: Kieron Gillen
Art: Filipe Andrade & Rachelle Rosenberg, plus various artists on double page spreads

Many of the Secret Wars tie-ins were just fun what if sort of stories revisiting classic eras and storylines throughout Marvel history. Some of these turned out to be about as relevant to the main series as Countdown was to Infinite Crisis (see Age of Apocalypse and Future Imperfect, both which ended with their primary antagonist, Apocalypse and the Maestro, dead and caught in a permanent Black Mercy-esque fugue state respectively, despite showing up in the main series towards the end leading their armies at God Emperor Doom's request). Siege, though, interestingly enough, has no relation to the crossover for which it is named, and instead fills in some important gaps in the main series.

When I wrote about series that ended too soon, one of the series I included was S.W.O.R.D. Kieron Gillen's book starring Abigail Brand, the half alien head of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s alien threat response team. Siege is Gillen's return to Abigail Brand, who he also spent time with while he was writing Uncanny X-Men which picked up some of the plot threads from S.W.O.R.D., and I gotta tell you, he writes Brand like no one else. He took that snarky, Whedon creation, mixed in some Warren Ellis type drunkenness, and his own flair, and made Brand sing like no one else. This series's Brand in the leader of the troops guarding The Shield, the big wall that keeps out zombies, Ultron robots, and Annihilation Wave bugs from the rest of Battleworld, and she actually wanted the job, because her family was slaughtered the last time there was a breach in The Shield, and she has sworn never again. 

The rest of Gillen's cast includes Leah, an Asgardian Shield-Maiden, who serves as Brand's second at the beginning of the series; A Leonardo Da Vinci right out of Jonathan Hickman's Shield series; Miss America from A-Force and Lady Kate Bishop from Secret Wars Journal, who were banished to the Shield in their respective titles and whose story picks up here, Kang the Conqueror, who is as much a jerk as ever; Ben Grimm, the Thing, who is a physical manifestation of the wall; and not surprisingly, my favorite character in the book aside from Brand, Major Summers, the leader of a massive group of Cyclops clones called the Endless Summers that Mr. Sinister was done experimenting on so he sent them to The Shield.

There's a lot to love in this series. It reflects more connectivity across Battleworld than pretty much any book except for Secret Wars itself, which makes sense, due to the clever plot device where Doom says you can't cross domains, thus keeping people from asking, "Why are there are dozens of Wolverines?"and raising eyebrows. It's got some amazing visuals from Filipe Andrade, whose art I was unsure of early on and who really grew on me. But mostly, it's that Gillen packs a ton of character into four issues, all while working under a clock. The Guardians of the Shield find out at the end of issue one that the Shield will fall in twenty days when Thanos comes. It could have been easy to spend the next two issues having the cast make journeys beyond the wall to find Thanos, and just cram in action scene after action scene. Instead, we see Abigail deal with the possible inevitability of her failure. We see Kate and Miss America grow closer. We see Kang angle for control of the Should so he can win this battle that Brand could not. You care about these characters so that when Thanos appears, you feel bad that you know they have to lose,

Each issue also has two to three gorgeous double page spreads by different artists. These not only serve to give us Abigail Brand's War Journal narrating major battles in the history of the wall, but they allow some phenomenal artists to go to town. My favorites included James Stokoe, known for drawing Godzilla and other monsters, showing Pym-Phalanx, giant techno-organic ants, attacking the wall, and the legendary Michael Wm. Kaluta drawing Leah's triumphant return from beyond the wall with her lady love, Magik, riding a giant Colossus and temporarily breaking the momentum of the final push against The Shield. Sadly, a great two pager from Juan Jose Ryp of the Infinite Summers fighting Ultron drones and another big bad is interrupted by one of those gatefold adds that Marvel put into their books for All-New All-Different numbers ones, so it didn't have the impact I would have liked it to have in singles. It will probably look great in trade though,

In the end, if you read Secret Wars, you know The Shield fell, and Ben Grimm, now using much of its mass, went to fight Doom. But this series not only gives us more of an understanding of what Thanos did and said to make Ben choose this, and we also see a group of valiant heroes make a classic last stand. It's the Alamo with monsters, robots, and bugs, basically, which is as awesome as it sounds. Oh, and if you ever wondered why no one ever connected Nick Fury (Brand's predecessor as commander of The Shield before being lost beyond it) and Alan Moore's superhero killing monster The Fury from Captain Britain, well, your wait is over.

After a crossover has ended, especially one that takes place in a reality that no longer exists, there are often the question from readers about why they should care about those stories because they "don't matter." Well, the reason when it comes to a story like Siege is that all stories matter because they are full of rich character and great art, that they allow a creator to return to a favorite character and get in a new story of that character in a new setting, and because it's fun and exciting. And if that doesn't make a story matter, I don't know what does.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/13

Abe Sapien #30
Story: Mike Mignola & Scott Allie
Art: Santiago Caruso & Dave Stewart

Abe Sapien is the darkest of the Mignolaverse titles. While BPRD has a lot of adventure to it, Lobster Johnson is a pulp action book, and even Hellboy in Hell has a spooky, supernatural vibe, Abe Sapien is a soul searching story of one man who doesn't know his place in the world. But occasionally, the series has these interesting one off issues that take us away from Abe in the present and let us see some of his past. This issue is one of those, and it is a sight to behold. Back in 1983, Abe is spending the night talking to Professor Bruttenholm, the father figure of the various B.P.R.D. agents, and Abe stumbles across a book of spells and magic by a mage named Gustav Strubl who lived in the nineteenth century and has since returned from the dead and, unbeknownst to Abe, been on his trail and in his orbit for some time in the present. Bruttenholm brushes it off and heads to bed, but a Dr. Malloy comes in and tells Abe the story of Strubl, a story of dark schools, witches, trips to Hell, and prophecy. It's a delightfully classic horror story, Strubl being a Doctor Faustus-esque figure who wanders the world trying to gain a position in the world to come when Hell rises. And the story ends with a classic end of horror movie/story disappearing act. The pleasure of what Mignola and his various collaborators do when telling these kind of stories is that they take tropes and twist them into a slightly new formation, often with the help of an able artist. This issue's artist is an artist new to the Mignolaverse and to American comics: Santiago Caruso, whose art is absolutely astounding. His art has a very European style, which makes sense being he;s a European artist, with soft lines and inks that make for eerie shadows. His devils and demons have proportions that are large and just a bit off, adding to their sense of the unnatural. And his version of Hellboy is excellent: I'd love to see him do a Hellboy short at some point in the future. Generally, there's an almost Hieronymous Bosch vibe to the issue that really adds to the horror of the issue. If you're looking for a fun, one off horror story, this issue of Abe Sapien is a great choice.

Gotham Academy #14
Story (Framing Sequence): Brenden Fletcher
Art (Framing Sequence): Adam Archer & Sandra Hope

After Olive Silverlock's encounters with Hugo Strange and her family history, and the Robin War, Gotham Academy takes a break from the more serious plots for a light-hearted anthology arc, "Yearbook." When Maps Mizoguchi is turned down to join the yearbook at Gotham Academy, her best friend Olive gives her a scrapbook to make her own yearbook, and so Maps begins making yearbook pages around some of the wilder adventures of the year we haven't seen yet. In "Animal Science 101" (Story: Derek Fridolfs. Art: Dustin Nguyen), Colton, the school's second story man, breaks into the  science lab during prank week only to find that Dr. Langstrom's experiments aren't so easily taken; "Queen Glee" (Story & Art: Katie Cook), sees Olive and Maps trying to find out why Dyllin, head of the Glee Club, has suddenly made the Glee Club more popular than ever; and "Scottie Dog" (Story: Hope Larson. Art: Kris Mukai) follows an adventure of history teahcer Professor MacPherson when she was a student at Gotham Academy, and her meeting with another student with a special power. The stories are charming and fun; each with a slightly different flavor. The first, from Fridolfs & Nguyen, has an action tone, with Colton and his friend Eric being chased by a genetically altered goat. Katie Cook's is a mystery with a high school vibe and cute cat videos, and if there's something Kate Cook draws better than anyone, it's cute cats. Hope Larson and Kris Mukai's story is one of teen angst and accepting yourself for what you are and not letting other's opinions matter. They each hit a different genre, but all feel perfectly in line with what we've seen in Gotham Academy. A gem of the current Batman line, Gotham Academy works in so many different ways, and it looks like the Yearbook arc with spotlight many of them. I'm curious to see whether the stories will remain whimsical, or take on a more serious edge as the arc continues.

Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jim Calafiore & Jason Wright

After Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore's dark super hero graphic novel, Leaving Megalopolis, was published beyond it's Kickstarter backers by Dark Horse, I reviewed it; it's a great, dark superhero story that doesn't deconstruct the genre but embraces its darkest aspects. Now, in Surviving Megalopolis, a new story that opens a month after the original series ended, things have not improved in the city of Megaloplis, which remains in the control of the superheroes who have been turned into monsters. But while we do spend time with the still evil heroes as they retrieve the body of Overlord, the hero who turned on the rest at the end of Leaving Megalopolis, and see just how depraved they are, the focus of the story is again on the normal people who live in the world around them. Mina Gutierrez, the chief protagonist of the original graphic novel, has spent the month getting ready to make her move against the evil heroes, as she remains in Megalopolis. We get more of her backstory, and meet another hero through her flashback, the Crimson Shadow, this world's Batman analogue, and she confronts the current Crimson Shadow with a surprising revelation if his identity. Harold Lamb, who Mina helped escape, is tracked down by a man who is working for a wealthy sponsor seeking to make a trip into Megalopolis to find her missing husband and needs a guide. As with any Gail Simone project, this issue nicely blends action with character. Mina and Harold are both great, layered characters, and Bennet Tanner, Harold's handler and new love interest, is one of those men of seemingly casual violence, who claims to not like violence but easily takes out two large men. And I am very curious about the origins of this new Crimson Shadow and how his background ties with Mina's. And credit goes Calafiore for his excellent designs; Crimson Shadow and Amphibonaut, who is an underwater hero, have these designs that are both fresh and still hearken back to classic superhero aesthetics. If you haven't read Leaving Megalopolis, that's fine; Surviving Megalopolis gives you everything you need to understand the world, and provides a superhero story tinged with horror and great characters.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"I've Had an Interesting Life," The Ballad of Jonah Hex

"Cold blooded killer, vicious, unmerciful hellion without feeling, without conscience... A man consumed by hate, a man who boded evil...That was... Jonah Hex." Those were the words that ran over the masthead of All Star Western Vol.2 #10, the first appearance of DC Comics most famous Western character, the bounty hunter Jonah Hex. And while the creation of John Albano and Tony DeZuniga has been fleshed out by many creators over the years, it's still pretty accurate. And since it was just announced that Hex would be appearing in an episode of DC's new Legends of Tomorrow series, I thought it would be a nice time to talk about Hex, his origins, and what makes him great, and make it clear to the uninitiated why the most public appearance of the character isn't something he should be judged by.

While Western comics have been a genre that hasn't really been popular for decades, Jonah Hex has been a character who has appeared pretty regularly since his inception forty years ago. That's because Hex isn't your typical cowboy hero. He's considerably closer to Eastwood's Man With No Name than he is to the Lone Ranger. Scarred, both physically an mentally, Hex is a bounty hunter without a heart of gold. He might have a personal code, and he might occasionally do the right thing for the right reason, but nine times out of ten? It's about the money. Hex pre-dates the superhero anti-heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher by two years and the 70s was a time, like now, when the anti-hero was on the rise, and so Hex remains a timeless character.

Hex's life is one where he was always on the wrong side or at the wrong place. He was sold by his sleazy father for safe passage through Apache territory. He did eventually become a member of the tribe, but was betrayed by his foster brother. He joined the Confederate army because they stood for individual rights, but when the North granted emancipation to all slaves, Hex decided it was time to leave the Confederacy, as he clearly had no love of slavery. But he didn't want to betray his soldiers, including his good friend Jeb Turnbull, so he simply surrendered to the Union. The Union soldiers were able to find his fellows, and they blamed Hex before they were all slaughtered, except Hex, who survived bu was wounded. He eventually returned to the Apache, and declared his foster brother, the chief's son, and it was decided that to settle the dispute, there would be a trial by combat. But Hex's foster brother sabotaged Hex's tomahawk, and so Hex had to resort to his knife to save himself, which was considered cheating. So Hex's face was branded with the Mark of the Demon and he was cast out again, That's the short version of the origin of Jonah Hex, but you can tell that this is a guy who's lived a rough life.

As for his publication history, Hex debuted in the second volume of All-Star Western Vol.2 #10, and he headlined that title when it changed it's name to Weird Western Tales with issue #12. He was the main feature in that title until issue #3, when he was given his own self-titled comic, which ran for 92 issues. The title ended around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's first major crossover that streamlined continuity and while other characters went back to basics, Hex starred in a new title, simply called Hex, where he was time tossed into the 21st Century and the comic was basically mad Max with Jonah Hex, which is an odd concept, no doubt. The title only ran eighteen issues. With the advent of the Vertigo line, Hex was one of the characters handed over to the mature readers line, and three mini-series written by novelist Joe R. Lansdale and drawn by Tim Truman were released throughout the '90s. These were supernatural stories, as this was in the era where most if not all of Vertigo's comics had to have some fantastic element to them, and they're enjoyable stories.

My real experience with Hex in comics began in 2006, with the launch of his new monthly title. Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, the series ran for seventy issues. It was an excellent comic, focusing mostly on one off stories, which was a change for comics at the time and still today, and while the vastly under-rated Luke Ross kicked off the series as artist, it didn't have a regular artist, with new artists coming in every issue or so, whose styles worked with the kind of stories Plmiotti and Gray were telling. The series drew on Hex's rich history, pulling aspects of his history together. The series didn't take place in chronological order, with flashback and forward issues popping up regularly, although that phrase isn't exactly right;it felt more like Starman's "Times Past" issues where we'd get a glimpse of when Jonah tried to settle down at some point in the future, or get a three issue arc that detailed Hex's origins.

Because of Hex's habit of, well, killing his opponents, and regular rogues gallery wasn't common, and because he isn't exactly the friendliest sort, a supporting cast wasn't in the works either. But there were a few characters who would return again and again. As nemeses go, if Hex had an arch enemy it would be Quentin Turnbull, the father of Hex's friend, Jeb, who was on an endless quest to revenge his son's death upon Hex. Throughout the most recent Jonah Hex series, various classic Western heroes would pop in and out, most notably the supernatural avenger El Diablo and the dandy Bat Lash. And it was in that series that Tallulah Black was introduced. A woman who was brutally scarred by men who killed her family, Jonah taught her to shoot and helped her on her revenge quest. Tallulah would eventually become a bounty hunter in her own right, and she would often pop up on Jonah's adventures, and the two developed something akin to a romantic relationship.

The artists who worked with Palmiotti and Gray throughout that run were absolutely incredible, featuring many of my favorite artists. Darwyn Cooke drew issues 33 and 50. J.H, Williams III drew issue 35. Eduardo Risso, famous for 100 Bullets, drew issue 62. Phil Noto drew half a dozen issue,s including the inaugural Tallulah Black arc. Tony DeZuniga returned to draw issue 5 and 9 and an original Jonah Hex graphic novel by Palmiotti and Gray, No Way Back. Ryan Sook drew the final issue of the series, number 70. Famed Spanish artist Jordi Bernet was the closest thing to a recurring artist the series had after Ross left, drawing sixteen issues, including the three issue origin story that ran in issues thirteen through fifteen, Legends like Russ Heath and Dick Giordano came in and drew an issue each,and rising stars of the time like Fiona Staples and Jeff Lemire also came on board for an issue. And that's only who I remember off the top of my head! I'm a story guy when it comes to my comics, but the murderer's row of artists that worked with Palmiotti and Gray on this series is undeniable, and remembering it makes me want to go back and reread them all.

Most recently, Hex headlined a new All-Star Western series, part of DC's "New 52" initiative. The series took Hex to Gotham City in the 1880s, where he teamed up with Jeremiah Arkham, founder of Arkham Asylum, for various adventures. The series was deeply tied into the new DC continuity, featuring Vandal Savage in one arc and the Court of Owls in another. The stories, still, were by Palmiotti and Gray, and Hex was still the Hex they had been writing, the cold, darkly funny at times, bounty hunter. The series had longer arcs than Jonah Hex, and a regular artist throughout most of its run, the excellent Moritat, although Darwyn Cooke came in to draw the final issue. The series ran for 34 issues, plus a zero issue. And while Hex hasn't appeared since the end of that series, where he was given an oddly hopeful ending for Jonah Hex, I have no doubt he'll appear again soon, because you can't keep a good bastard down.

For a Western hero, Hex has had a fairly decent presence in DC comics animated media. I first encountered the character in "Showdown," an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where an aged Hex hunts a man named Arkady DuVall who is working for Ra's al Ghul. It's a brilliant episode from Hex writer Joe R. Lansdale, with one of the most touching endings of any episode of the series. Hex would appear in a couple episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, because why not? The creators of that show did a great job not softening Hex's persona while still keeping him in line with the series all-ages dictate. And in the excellent two-part season one finale of Justice League Unlimited, "The Once and Future Thing," Hex appears in the first part, an episode with the line that is in this post's title, where he observes that he thinks Batman is a time traveler, and when Bruce asks him why his thinks that, his response is simply, "Experience. I've had an interesting life." That dry response and matter of fact attitude sums up Jonah Hex to a tee. And Joe R. Lansdale returned for one final animated tale of Hex with one of the short films that used to accompany DC direct-to-dvd animated movies, in a darkly animated and gorgeous short that came with Batman: Under the Red Hood and was collected with the other shorts in the collection Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam!

Since I am talking abut Hex's history and appearances, I would be remiss if I didn't briefly mention the 2010 Jonah Hex feature film. The mission statement for this blog is to talk about good comics and the things we love about them, and so while the film has its fans and defenders, it simply didn't click for me. However, Josh Brolin did a great job as Hex himself and he looked the part, so I am curious of how the look and the casting will be for  Legends of Tomorrow. I will say, if you get the chance, the Blu-Ray of the film has a great ten minute documentary that talks to many of the creators who have been deeply involved with Hex over the years.

Jonah Hex is a character who is a portrait in contrasts. He's a former slave who wears a confederate jacket. He's a mean s.o.b. who still maintains a strong personal code of ethics. And its these contrasts that have kept readers fascinated with him for years, and will keep them coming back. Legends of Tomorrow will hopefully open up a new generation to the scarred old west bounty hunter, and I look forward to seeing Hex stride the screen again.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thursdays With Wade: Revisiting Joe Kelly's Deadpool Part 17

Today’s reading: Deadpool #20, Sept. 1998
Story by Joe Kelly and James Felder
Art by Pete Woods and Walden Wong

We haven’t had a pure, honest-to-goodness breather issue in a while. Much of Deadpool’s second year has been pretty dark, full of Death, elder abuse, rape, and little guys whose heads explode.

Wade’s overdue for a palate cleanser, so he does what anyone in his position would do: He kidnaps Landau, Luckman & Lake’s preeminent precog, Montgomery, and takes him to Monte Carlo to make a fortune gambling. He also gets to fight Batroc the Leaper. Yay!

All selfish gains aside, Deadpool wants to thank Montgomery for pulling him out of his funk by giving him a glimpse into his future in issue #17. Monty made three vaguely worded predictions that more or less came true: He closed up The Box, his personal torture chamber, and freed his prisoner/roommate, Blind Al (though she doesn’t seem to want to leave); he kissed Death and was brought back to life after Ajax fatally suckerpunched him; and he watched his former tormenter, Dr. Killebrew, sacrifice himself to save Wade from Ajax, proving beyond shadow of a doubt that villains can become heroes.

So yeah, it’s time to party. Deadpool uses his image inducer to disguise himself as Ricardo Montalban and covers up Monty with a flimsy poncho and sombrero. They make their way through the casino, absorbing slot machine jackpots till Deadpool decides to try his luck at the table games, which is how he comes to win the private suite of one Georges Batroc.

Montgomery initially expresses misgivings about using his abilities for fun and profit. Then the stereotypically snooty Batroc calls him a cripple, and all bets are off. Watching Deadpool dive, Scrooge McDuck style, into a pile of money on what used to be Batroc’s bed, Monty feels like he’s starting to get Wade’s whole deal.

“These feelings … This blurring of morality and ethics … I think I’m beginning to understand how you must feel sometimes. For example, who wouldn’t think himself a monster after the way you were forced to abandon Vanessa or what you were tricked into doing to …”

Now, for all the strides he’s made since “Drowning Man,” Wade Wilson is still a guy who does not like other people poking around in his business, so he threatens to kill Monty and then marches outside for some air and to complain about how horrible his life is ... to a freak in a wheelchair who can’t be surprised and can’t bring himself to confess his true feelings to Zoe Culloden.

Having made his embarrassing confession, Wade rewards Monty by getting him sloppy drunk, at which point Monty proves what a horrible precog he actually is:

“And then he’ll do Titanic Two, cause he needs the money to support his plastic surgery habit,” he says of James Cameron. And then, “Mikey Jordan winsh the Mastersh in 2005! Place yer bets!”

Wade responds to this pish-posh prognostication with “Man … where were you when I bought all that stock in Marvel Comics? Sheesh.” Marvel had declared bankruptcy in December 1996. You’ve come a long way, baby.

The topical humor is interrupted by Batroc, who comes a leapin’ for vengeance. He pushes Monty out a window 15 floors up to the hotel pool below. Monty predicts a 6 percent chance of survival and lives, the rush giving him a new lease on life and the wherewithal to pitch woo to Zoe when he returns to the LL&L offices.

Deadpool, meanwhile, returns the favor to Batroc, tying him up and dropping him out the same window in a panel laid directly on top of the letters page. The fall – which does not end in a dip in the hotel pool – breaks both Batroc’s legs, his purple-pantyhosed meal tickets.

Wade and Monty part ways, having successfully bonded and taught each other a thing or two about a thing or two. Monty returns to work, where Overboss Dixon is waiting for him with a pair of the company’s finest brain surgeons. Y’see, Dixon hasn’t taken too kindly to “his property” going AWOL, and so he feels a punishment is in order.

“Wipe him clean. A 48-hour increment should do it,” he orders. The issue ends with a close-up shot of the flowers Monty was to give to Zoe.

Next time on Thursdays with Wade, in issues #21 and 22, Deadpool learns what he needs to do to fulfill his destiny, and when that freaks him out, he gets a pep talk from an old frenemy and future series co-headliner. See ya then!

In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/6

The Fade Out #12
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser

People throw around the term "noir" to describe gritty crime stories a lot, and while all noirs are gritty crime stories, not all gritty crime stories are noirs. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips get that, and their stories are noirs: nobody gets a happy ending, nobody gets to ride off into the sunset, and their heroes have feet of the softest clay. And the final issue of their Golden Age of Hollywood mystery, The Fade Out, leaves us with a protagonist who is no one's definition of a hero. After everything Charlie Parrish has seen, the deaths of people he cares about, the perversions, the horror of the Red Scare... Charlie does nothing other than continue on. As readers we get answers to the questions that have been asked in the series, who and hows on the mystery, but there's no justice to be found for any of the victims. And in many cases that would be frustrating; if you're used to superhero comics, or many more traditional mysteries, the bad guy gets it in the end. But here, Charlie goes to the movie premiere of the film he was working on back in issue one, whose first star was murdered, whose real screen writer, Charlie's friend Gil who he was fronting for, is also dead, and its as if it were any other day to everyone else there. We see where everyone winds up, with Maya, the poor girl who stepped into the dead Valeria Sommers's role, engaged to Tyler Graves in one of the Hollywood marriages of convenience that were such a part of the studio system. And Phil Brodsky, the studio fixer, just watches, knowing the truth and knowing there's nothing anyone else can do about it. It's a haunting ending to a series that scratches off the veneer of Hollywood and shows nothing pleasant beneath it. Brodsky's final lines to Charlie sums up what we learn about Hollywood and the world at large, "But that is how it works, Charlie. Girls die for nothin' and old men cry about it... And the business just keeps on going... Christmas still comes every goddam year, right on schedule..." Don't come looking to The Fade Out for a bedtime story about how things were better back in the day. No, this is a story about people who are lost, about corruption, about the dark. And that's what noir is; the dark, especially the dark in human hearts. Charlie hasn't learned any lessons. He started the series coming out of a drunken black out, and he ends it drinking himself towards another. The Fade Out is a perfect twelve issue series that will read perfectly in one long sitting as a great noir, so if you haven't read it, now's the time to dig in. Just don't expect to walk away as unchanged as 1940's Hollywood.

Hero Cats of Stellar City #9
Story: Kyle Puttkammer
Art: Marcus Williams, Ryan Sellers, & Omaka Schultz

When it comes to charm and originality, few all ages comics right now can touch Hero Cats of Stellar City. And the end of the current arc, The Crow King Saga, has all of the in spades. Trapped in a dream created by an extra-dimensional being called the Crow King, the Hero Cats are all in human form, with only the guidance of Bandit, the brother of Hero cat Cassiopeia, who was trapped in the Crow King's realm in his own form. What this, and the previous issue, have allowed the creators to do is use all the work they've done to build these characters over the first two arcs, and still have completely new designs and a completely new setting. It's a medieval setting, with Cassie as an intrepid explorer, Ace, the Hero Cats leader, as captain of the Queen's fleet, Rocco, the world's strongest cat, as a barbarian champion, and Belle, the beautiful telepathic cat, as the queen. But these new forms allow for character work, as Rocket, who is afraid of humans, has this bleed through into this world, where he is an inventor who is a bit eccentric and nervous because he is not comfortable in this form. The story is a classic resolution to a fantasy quest story, with the Hero Cats and their allies storming the Crow King's castle, and it's there that artist Marcus Williams really takes the ball and runs with it. There are a couple of truly impressive double page spreads, one of the Hero Cats fighting the Crow Kings armored Crow soldiers, and another of Midnight, the final Hero Cat, in conflict with the Crow King himself. But it's all the detailed design work that went into building the Crow King's world that really impressed me, all the locales and the characters. The end of the issue teases a new group of Hero Cats, led by Bandit, who are still in the Crow King's land, and I'm hoping, with this arc wrapped and the tie-in mini-series for Midnight wrapping as well, we might get to go back and see this new band of heroes in their own adventure.

Nailbiter #19
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Mike Henderson & Adam Guzowski

Wow, if you come from Buckaroo, you can't get a break. Even when you're trying to escape the stigma of being from the town that spawns serial killers, the stigma finds you. And with the revelation that the Devil Killer stalking Atlanta is killing people who have escaped Buckaroo, well, there's something else for these poor folks to fear. The issue, in the middle of an arc, does a lot to push the story forward. We see Agent Burke continuing to unravel, continue to have the visions of murder that were caused/triggered/something by her time in Buckaroo. Finch continues to distrust Edward Charles Warren, the Buckaroo Butcher known as the Nailbiter, because, well, he is a serial killer. Sheriff Crane has a conversation with Reverend Fairgold where it looks like they put most of their cards on the table. And we find the Devil Killer's next victim and his identity. Or do we? This is Nailbiter after all, and what is on the surface is rarely what is really happening. But mixed in with all the plot are some really great character moments for Warren. There's a fantasy sequence as he tells Finch about what happened after the last time they were together, about his death and his journey through Hell to reclaim his life, which is splendidly drawn by Mike Henderson and is a different window into Warren's psyche; for all his violent tendencies, Warren has always been rooted in reality, so something interesting is going on here. And the revelation that Warren, during his walkabout after leaving Buckaroo, when he was killing, was also helping people who left Buckaroo because he was in pain and wanted to help others so they wouldn't hurt like he did continues to show that Warren, while a monster in many many respects, has a strange conscience of his own, or if not a conscience at least a sense of empathy lacking in most serial murderers. That's one of the key strengths of Nailbiter for me; I know its lead is a nightmare in many ways, but I can't keep myself from liking him.

Totally Awesome Hulk #2
Story: Greg Pak
Art: Frank Cho & Sonia Oback

My shop got shorted the first issue of Totally Awesome Hulk, so by the time I tracked one down it felt a little late to review it. Fortunately, the second issue is just as much fun as the first and as worth a review. One of the things that comics do better than pretty much any medium is allow for a fusion of two creators. When a writer knows his artist's strength, he can write a story that plays to those strengths. And Greg Pak, a writer who I've written about many times before and knows what he's doing, knows what Frank Cho draws well: dinosaurs and buxom women. So the new Hulk, boy genius Amadeus Cho, runs up against Lady Hellbender, the Monster Queen of Seknarf Nine, a warrior queen riding a T-Rex like dinosaur monster. And before the issue's over, we get some other Kirby-type monsters, along with the king of all Kirby monsters, which all just seem made for Cho to draw. But the issue isn't wall-to-wall combat. There's clever banter between Amadeus and his sister, Maddy, who serves as his mission control and travels along with him in a flying food truck and stays close with a flying droid. We also get to see Amadeus interact with a couple other heroes, classic Hulk character She-Hulk and newcomer to the main Marvel Universe, Spider-Man Miles Morales. And Pak continues to play out the two mysteries at the core of the book: what happened to Bruce Banner and what exactly is going on with Amadeus. As confident as Amadeus is in how he can control the Hulk inside, there are clearly moments where the Hulk is the one in charge. Greg Pak introduced Amadeus ten years ago, and if you've been following his development through World War HulkIncredible Hercules, and Incredible Hulks, you know Amadeus is a pretty dumb smart guy, lacking a lot of forethought, so I'm wondering if his decision to become a Hulk isn't biting off more than he can chew. We'll see next issue, when he fights a big monster who may or may not be wearing little purple pants of his own (that's a hint if you've ever read Nextwave, folks, and if you haven't, well what are you waiting for?).