A+A: The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong #7
Story: Rafer Roberts
Art: Mike Norton, David Lafuente, Brian Reber, & Allen Passalaqua
I find that there are a lot more comics that are just plane fun now then there were back in the 90s when I started reading comics, and I'm glad for it. But there are few comics that are not only fun, but completely embraces the mad absurdity of comics than A+A, the current series that stars one of Valiant's classic odd couples, Archer and Armstrong. On a quest to find Armstrong's long forgotten wife (he got drunk and forgot he got married), the mismatched pair of Archer, the young man trained to be an assassin and can summon up any physical skill, and Armstrong, the drunken immortal, have instead stumbled across a Russian circus where everyone who performs bears and odd resemblance to Armstrong. That was last issue, but this issue, now that the scientists who created the circus are attacking, we get an entire issue of crazy escapades. Archer and Armstrong fight Soviet scientists, Archer and Armstrong meet the members of the freak show, the failed experiments, learn exactly what the nature of the circus people who resemble Armstrong are (and it is neither his illegitimate descendants or clones, as Archer theorized), perform in the circus in disguise, fight clowns, and meet the scientists behind the project, one of whom is a talking bear. It's a delightfully off kilter story, but while it is utterly bizarre, it is grounded in the reactions and the well established characters of the leads. Archer is curious an wants to get answers, and his recent time with his new girlfriend, Valiant's breakout heroine Faith, has him trying to solve problems by talking rather than punching, which doesn't sit well with the more bull in a china shop style of his partner. The issue is simply a delight to read. And if all that doesn't sound like enough story, well Archer's step-sister, Mary-Maria, is dealing with a coup within the order of assassin nuns she's the head of. And in a back-up, Davey the Mackerel, an anthropomorphic fish man who escaped the confines of Armstrong's bottomless bag (and shout out to all my fellow D&D players who look at it and think of Bags of Holding), is dealing with his time as the assistant and guide to a dark god who escaped the bag without his powers and who used to work making bags, satchels, and purses. The dynamic there is just killer; picture Doctor Doom, down to the ranting, if he made purses. I know that this review contained a little more plot than I usually put in a review, but the issue is so packed with stuff that I felt like calling that out; Valiant does a great job of making their comics dense with story, and A+A is one of the titles that really takes a bit of time to read in the best possible way.
Everafter: From the Pages of Fables #1
Story: Dave Justus & Matthew Sturges
Art: Travis Moore & Michael Wiggam
Vertigo has a long history of spin-offs from its best known titles. Some, like The Dreaming, are mostly forgotten. Some, like Lucifer, have spawned spin-offs of their own. Everafter is the first spin-off from Fables since that series, a personal favorite, wrapped up at issue 150, and is a good start to this series. At the end of Fables, magic came to the Mundane world, meaning Earth as we know it, and now things there are all sorts of screwy, and the Fables are trying to help keep things straight. Two plotlines run through this first issue, introducing, or reintroducing in some cases, the characters I assume will be the principal cast. One plot features Connor Wolf, one of the cubs of Bigby Wolf and Snow White, two of the principles of the original series, being recruited into the covert ops organization of Fables that polices magic in the now not-so-Mundy world. Connor was one of the least developed of the cubs in the original series, so there's a lot of wiggle room the creators have to work with on his personality. He's a great entry character, because he's dashing but headstrong, and looking to find his place in the world. You get an idea of what this operation is, who the key players are, and what they're doing through Conner's eyes. The second, more action oriented plot, features three of the agents on a mission in St. Louis. Bo Peep and Peter Piper, former thieves and assassins who starred in the Fables novel Peter and Max, and Hansel, the former Adversary's chief Witchfinder, are hunting down something that is causing a terrifying outbreak of monsters. The art from Travis Moore is spectacular, showing all sorts of great creatures, and the character action is exciting and clear. It's not unexpected that Hansel, someone who hunts and kills witches for a living, is not exactly the most pleasant of characters, and doesn't get along with the husband and wife team of Bo Peep and Peter, but as they near the goal, Hansel's motives are more clear and not unexpected. Dave Justus and Matthew Sturges have a history with Fables, having co-written the adaptation of the video game Fables: The Wolf Among Us, and Sturges co-wrote the original Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables, and they show a deft hand with both the characters we already know and the new ones. It's really exciting and interesting first issue, and even if you don't have any knowledge of Fables, you should be able to pick it up.
Kill or be Killed #2
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
I was on vacation when the first issue of Kill or be Killed was released, and so I didn't write it up, which I regret, because it was one of the best debuts in recent memory, but I will try to make up for that with a glowing recommendation of issue two. This isn't surprising, since the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been pretty much flawless in everything they have ever done together. Kill or be Killed exists in a the gritty world of a Brubaker and Phillips comic, a place that exists almost entirely in shades of moral grey to black, and explores the idea of vigilantism and how it effects people in a real world setting. This issue follows our lead, Dylan, on his first kill. If you didn't read the first issue and don't know the set up, Dylan survived what should have been a lethal fall only to be visited by a demon that says he is living on borrowed time and must commit an evil soul to Hell each month to keep on living. While I think we're supposed to take on faith that the demon is real, there's enough ambiguity to leave us questioning whether this is real or not, especially as the demon doesn't appear in this second issue; it's just Dylan systematically looking for a gun and a person who deserves to die. The issue is narrated by Dylan and is the usual tremendous character work that Brubaker does; it's hard not to sympathize with Dylan as you see that he doesn't want to die himself, and after all, he's only killing bad people. And Brubaker gives us the worst of the worst here, as Dylan tracks down the elder brother of a childhood friend of his that Dylan only realized too late was molesting his friend, who eventually died from drugs and depression. This is a person (and I use that term loosely) that no one would have sympathy for, and you feel yourself cheering for Dylan when he puts him down. But should you really? Is it right? These are the questions I think Brubaker wants us to contemplate. I'm just scratching the surface of the issue, a comic that explores Dylan's childhood and his father's life, and continues to lay out his present. Sean Phllips is at the top of his game, not just in the sequences in the past and present, but in a beautiful slash that shows the art that Dylan's father made for *ahem* gentlemen's pulp magazines. It's the kind of piece, painted by Phillips himself, that might be a little too good for those trashy porno mags, a really beautiful piece of art, which is just right for the art of a man who felt his dreams being crushed by doing art for a place that is beneath him. You don't buy a comic by Brubaker and Phillips for a happy trip; you read it to be entertained, certainly, but it will also make you think, be challenged, and to watch the idea of genres be broken, as nothing is off limits. Kill or be Killed is another gem in Image Comics crown, and in the constantly evolving and breathtaking work of these two amazing creators.
And after that more bleak review, something lighter and more fun from Dan Grote...
Story by Ryan Q. North
Art by Derek Charm
Let’s be clear: Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson’s run on Jughead was a ton of fun and used some of the sillier aspects of Archie history (Jughead’s Time Police, anyone?) to its advantage. They will be missed on this book.
But Forsythe Pendleton Jones III has been passed on to the best possible hands.
Writer Ryan Q. North (Henderson’s partner on Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and artist Derek Charm roll fast and heavy with the comedy in Jughead’s solo series, right from the opening splash page featuring a sculpture of our hero composed of burgers, hot dogs and pizza, which he made to win an art contest.
Zdarsky’s Jughead was canonically asexual, but North has him questioning that identity after a girl takes the form of his favorite thing: a burger. Pop’s Diner has employed a mascot who stands outside and hands out coupons and menu advice to passing prospective customers, her costume changing based on the day’s special (that’s a hefty budget to be pouring into wardrobe, Pop Tate).
Jughead discovers he has feelings for this walking, talking all-beef Patty, and so he turns to his friends for advice on love, all of which is naturally terrible (Reggie: “Love is possession. It’s seeing something really cool that someone else has, and knowing if you had it, you’d be just as great as they are, and then they’d be worse, because they wouldn’t have it anymore.”).
Except for Betty’s. Betty’s advice about how to approach a woman is mandatory reading for every teen and adult male alive and takes into account things like consent and how to properly compliment someone while acknowledging that romance is complicated. Be like Betty. Don’t be like Reggie.
If we lived in an age where covers and solicitation text didn’t instantly spoil endings, it’d be spoiling things to say Jughead’s burger babe turns out to be none other than Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but c’est la vie. It will be fun to watch them interact more next issue.
And kudos to North for giving us even more comedy between the panels. Additional narration boxes accompany the bottom of half the pages in the book, rightly pointing out that Zdarsky was ripping off the reader by not providing the same, touting the importance of self-care and poking fun at Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory.
A new creative team on a book can often be a cause for concern, but at least for me, “Jughead” retains its Most Favored Comic status.