Story: Jason Aaron
Art: Russell Dauterman
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Joe Sabino
Cover: Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Olivier Coipel, Mike Deodato, Sarah Jean Maefs, Judy Stephens
Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
Despite the #1 designation, The Mighty Thor follows up on the previous series’ final panel revelation that Thor’s longtime love interest Jane Foster had assumed the Thunder God’s mantle. More importantly, the new series retains the old creative team and the overall direction they were mapping out before being interrupted by Secret Wars. While this doesn't make it the most convenient jumping on point, there’s no lapse in quality from their work in the previous series. If anything, the team is finally settling into a comfortable groove now that the whole mystery of the new Thor’s identity has been resolved.
The issue actually feels a bit like the arrival of a Game of Thrones season premiere after a lengthy hiatus. There’s a lot to catch up on, and the story moves briskly from scene to scene. The failure of Jane’s chemotherapy treatments to stem her cancer, Thor’s evolving relationship with Earth’s superhero community, the deteriorating marriage of Odin and Freyja, the suddenly missing Odinson, the fallout from the Frost Giants retrieval of Laufey’s skull, the unholy alliance between Dario Agger and Malekith, and their secret genocidal campaign against Alfheim. Each plot point serves to increase the sense of unease as Jane’s many enemies, mundane and divine, are lining up against her.
One of the most fun things about the series is how it continues to poke fun at the more regressive features of the fantasy genre. Odin’s prejudice against the new Thor has come to negatively impact how he governs Asgardia. The realm eternal has never been a functioning democracy, but Odin’s misdirected antagonism has edged him even closer to totalitarian rule. Yet he still fails to recognize that the true enemies of his kingdom are serving it a generous helping of warmongering, corporate greed and environmental destruction, all while he imprisons or alienates its most effective protectors and hampers the efforts of its staunchest allies. If this isn’t also writer Jason Aaron making some loose reference to the demoralizing state of contemporary American politics, then what is?
What sets the overall tone for the comic is Jane’s losing battle with cancer. As she undergoes her regular treatment at a hospital, she monologues through a series of captions with almost clinical detachment the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on her mind and body. She even reveals how the enchantment of Mjolnir is actually neutralizing the chemotherapy, thus making every transformation into Thor nudge her closer to death. This sense of inevitability Aaron invokes is enhanced by the cold sterility of the hospital environment drawn by Russell Dauterman. This is the series’ first intimate look at Jane when she’s not playing thunder goddess, and it's a harrowing portrait of human fragility for a mainstream superhero comic.
But at the first sign of danger, Jane leaps into action. Her single-handed feat has her stopping a plummeting space station from crashing into the Washington DC Mall and saving everyone on board. Dauterman illustrates its physics-defying glory with his characteristic use of exploding jagged panels. He continues to excel with supernaturally-based action, and this particular issue allows him to draw more of Asgardia and the various mythological denizens of Norse mythology. But it’s the digitally rendered technicolor palette of colorist Matthew Wilson that rounds out the picture by imbuing the otherworldly setting with a warm glow, filling all negative space with mysterious, cackling magical energy.
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Adam Kubert, Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sonia Oback, Dave McCaig
Letters: Cory Petit
Covers: Alex Ross, Mahmud Asrar, Luchiano Vecchio, Jim Cheung, Jason Keith, Cliff Chiang, David Marquez, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Paul Mounts
Avengers created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The All-New, All-Different Avengers actually splits the difference between the old and the new. On one hand, virtually every character included in this incarnation of the team is based on a well-established property who does have ties with the Avengers. But more than half the members are more recent versions created within the last few years, which helps to generate a more convincing illusion of change than past team shake-ups. Their youthfulness and diversity makes for a different kind of Avengers. Instead of the usual group of self-assured veterans, they’re a bunch of relatively inexperienced superheroes looking to establish themselves within the Marvel Universe.
Even the team’s two elder statesmen Sam Wilson (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) introduce themselves in this issue by commiserating with each other about their current personal and financial woes affecting them within their respective solo titles. Apparently, Steve Rogers (original flavor Captain America) now hates them both. They run into Miles Morales (Spider-Man) while passing by the former Avengers Tower, only to get trounced by a powerful alien warrior. They're not exactly Earth’s Mightiest Heroes anymore.
Meanwhile at Jersey City, Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Sam Alexander (Nova) team up for the first time to stop a monster from trampling one of Kamala’s favorite hangout spots. They tackle the threat easily enough, but become tongue-tied being around each other since they're both insecure teenagers and all. It’s the comic’s meet cute story.
A few core members are still outstanding by the end of the issue, and there’s still the problem of how to stop the big mean alien from tearing up New York. Jane Foster (Thor) and Vision will presumably be joining Kamala and Sam in making the trek across the river by the next issue to kick alien butt, and the new team will then be officially named. Writer Mark Waid keeps the banter light and humor-laden, and makes a reasonably fine effort in juggling the different voices of every character. Artist Adam Kubert draws some spectacular action sequences for the first part of this issue, while Mahmud Asrar mostly deals with the Kamala/Sam pairing. Asrar is a much less capable draftsperson than Kubert. But at least he’s able to convey the awkwardness of the two adolescents’ interaction.
I will however complain a little about the cover art from Alex Ross. His stiffly posed photorealism is starting to look pretty generic at this point, conveying zero personality from his subjects. And the way he illuminates his figures so they all look like they’re draped in dull satin has always been a particular weakness of his style.
Story: Tom Taylor
Art: David Lopez, David Navarrot
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Cory Petit
Cover: Bengal, David Lopez, Art Adams, Peter Steigerwald, David Marquez, Marte Gracia, Keron Grant
Wolverine created by Roy Thomas, Len Wein, John Romita, Herb Trimpe
Laura Kinney/X-23 created by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost
All-New Wolverine situates the reader right in the middle of the action with no explanation given, and doesn’t let off til the very last page. There’s plenty of gunfire, explosions, car chases, leaping from great heights, hand-to-hand combat, and off course the requisite slashing with adamantium laced claws. It’s kinda awesome and exactly what any reader wants out of a Wolverine comic, although a little problematic for reasons that will be shortly made clear. But as the title suggests, this isn’t Logan beneath the mask anymore but his clone/protege Laura Kinney who has taken up the mantle. And she’s not quite as crazy as the old man. As Logan admits, “You’re the best there is at what you do. But that doesn't mean you have to do it.”
A rain-drenched Paris at night functions as the backdrop for the action set piece, the evocative setting enhancing the intrigue of the story (An unfortunately timed choice, given the horror of recent real-world events). The two artists of David Lopez and David Navarrot provide a nice balance of fine detail and rough textures. They provide plenty of excitement right off the bat with a frantically staged sequence of Laura fighting her way up the Eiffel Tower in a failed bid to stop an assassination attempt. Colorist Nathan Fairbairn offsets all the gritty detail with overlays of softer tones.
While writer Tom Taylor provides little context for the action, he does squeeze in some quiet characterization through the budding romance between Laura and the teenage Warren Worthington (Angel). Witnessing Laura become grievously injured from a fiery collision into the Arc de Triomphe (Again, not the most appropriate national landmark for the hero to be wrecking at this time due to recent events that took place in real-world Paris) and unable to do anything but wait until she heals, he expresses his concern by patting her on the head. It’s the one all to brief moment of tenderness they share before the action resumes.
The fight however confirmed what every critic has said about Rousey’s stand-up: she’s a sloppy fighter with plenty of holes in her striking game. They’ve been easy to overlook because no one had exhibited the skill-set necessary to exploit them or the discipline required to counter Rousey’s trademark aggression. That was until she literally ran right into Holm’s fists. Virtually all of Rousey’s attempts to bum rush Holm resulted in her receiving a clean shot to the face. Things only got worse for Rousey because she was unable to cut off the cage. By the end of the 1st round, it was clear that her camp had not supplied Rousey with the proper tools to either beat Holm on the feet or to trap the superior striker on the ground.
But the fight also marks a step forward for WMMA. Historically, boxers have fared poorly in grappler vs. striker matchups, and while MMA itself has moved away from such strict “style vs. style” calculations, Rousey is something of a throwback to the days when pure grappling would dominate the cage. The playbook to beat that kind of fighter already exists, so it was only a matter of time until someone would implement it. Which is what Holm successfully accomplished at Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon. Holm defeated Rousey not just because she was the better boxer, she was the better all-around athlete that day. Her defensive grappling was sound. Most significantly, her upset victory was absolutely convincing. Holm just made the division a lot more interesting.
None of this changes what Rousey has already done for the sport, in raising the profile of women athletes, or her achievements as a breakout star. But as with many other celebrities, the hype accompanying her ascent was setting her up for the inevitable fall. And it doesn’t help when someone might have even started believing in their own hype. It’s certainly nowhere near the end of the Ronda Rousey brand. She’ll need to develop those missing tools if she intends to take the title back from Holm. But the loss of her invincibility opens up some new possibilities. No matter who she faces next, any successful comeback will be marketed as the redemptive arc of a grander narrative. Though whatever happens, fans now have their permanent reminder that Rousey is as human and as fallible as anyone.
cover: Steve Martinez
design: Alexa Koenings
A meta-fictional conceit of Gilbert Hernandez’s standalone “Fritz” stories is that Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez, one of the more popular recurring characters from his Palomar series, once starred in a bunch of godawful B-movies. By adapting these movies into a growing collection of graphic novels, Gilbert can capitalize on the pre-existing appeal of this tragic, top-heavy bombshell of a figure while working on the pretense that these are new characters operating under completely different circumstances. Fritz has long been notorious for her outrageous combination of high intelligence, a voluptuous physique, light skin, voracious sexual appetite, and speaking with a “high soft lisp”, which has been alternately treated by the people around her as either endearing or deeply annoying. But she’s also been a victim of abuse at the hands of her past sexual partners, numbing the pain with bouts of heavy drinking. Love from the Shadows exploits many of those traits in Fritz’s most bravura performance and a perverse, violent, bizarre tale. I can’t really say if this is a good comic, let alone if the movie it’s pretending to be based on is worth watching. But it is strangely compelling.
And as an apparent rebuke to those fans who’ve dismissed Gilbert for his particular propensity for drawing buxom women, the graphic novel’s cover is his most confrontational yet. Painted by Steve Martinez, the pulpy, lurid quality of the bikini-clad pin-up lounging on a beach next to the ominous shadow of an unseen individual hovering behind her promises to supply all the cheap thrills expected of a clunky matinee movie, not to mention satisfy the reader’s prurient interests. It probably helps catch the eye of the prospective customer given how it's largely unconnected to the events within the book itself.
The story within certainly contains copious amounts of violence and sex, though they feel grafted on top of a grim and elliptical psychological drama. It begins with a forlorn Fritz standing inside an empty house. She slowly wanders from room to room, examines her breasts in front of a mirror, calls her dad on the phone, only to be cruelly rejected by him. It’s a simple action sequence drawn with Gilbert’s usual black and white minimalism. But one that’s fraught with emotional weight due to his mastery of composition, time, facial expressions and body language. Every line exudes both anguish and desperation from the character. But the scene also conveys just how Fritz’s own sensuality seems to weigh heavily on her entire existence. It’s practically impossible to distinguish her history from the character she’s now supposably playing.
Fritz responds to her father’s rejection by calling on an attractive young man. But as they walk to her house, she’s accosted by a group of mysterious, visor-wearing individuals called “monitors”. “How come you look like that? How come your skin is like that? How come you talk like that?” they ask while blithely invading her personal space. After they reach her house, Fritz engages her impassive partner in vigorous love-making. But as she tries to engage him in conversation, he quietly leaves when she goes to the kitchen to prepare a meal for him.
What happens afterward is difficult to summarize and makes little sense except as some kind of fevered dream. Fritz spots the monitors outside her house and flees to the basement, only to enter a mysterious cave. when she emerges on the other side, she’s somehow acquired a new identity (complete with new hair color) as a woman named Dolores. Actually, it’s even more complicated as Fritz also plays Dolores’ brother Sonny and their estranged father, who happens to be a famous novelist. At one point Dolores becomes involved with a trio of spiritualist hucksters, Sonny has a sex change operation and impersonates Dolores. A ghost delivers a prophecy which Dolores fulfills in the most brutal manner. There are two recurring motifs: the monitors continue to hound her like a creepy Greek chorus. And the cave continues to lure characters in with promises of secret knowledge and in some cases, drive them insane. Gilbert draws it as an inky black abyss. An absolute void. Could any other metaphor be so infuriatingly on-the-nose while being so open to interpretation? Death, the Underworld, Nirvana, the Subconscious Mind, Wisdom, the Wellspring of Creativity, the Primordial Universe, the Heart of Darkness. Or maybe it’s just a game Gilbert is playing with the reader to see what they can come up with?
If so, it is an abstruse game. Gilbert is a prodigious storyteller whose powers have diminished very little. But he’s made a sharp left turn away from the humanism and diverse cast of characters found in his Palomar stories towards something a little more austere, baffling, less compassionate.
As with any comic created by Renée French, The Ticking’s strength is found in her inimitable visuals. French draws these flat, super-deformed cartoon characters, but renders them not with solid black lines but with soft graphite. The resulting three-dimensional quality of the art makes their presence on the page ambiguously disturbing, like a barely remembered vision or nightmare. There’s just a slight hint of the “uncanny valley”, which actually helps enhance the strangeness. But this isn’t done in the service of satire or social commentary. French’s gaze is trained inward, and her sympathies clearly lie with the ugly and the disfigured.
The preciousness of the art is further enhanced by the stark presentation. Most pages contain one or two square panels, stacked vertically. Any dialogue is displayed in handwritten script below each panel. This organic minimalism is exquisite, but very effective, and makes for a quick read. It lends the simple story within a modern fairy tale quality.
The book starts shockingly enough with the birth of its hero Edison Steelhead, a baby possessing a grotesquely large head with beady eyes so far apart they’re located at the side rather than the front of his face. His mother dies on the kitchen floor from the act of giving birth, and his grieving father Calvin raises Edison in isolation on a remote island lighthouse. While this may seem like Calvin is protecting from the outside world, the reader is clued in early that it’s as much an expression of self-loathing as it is of loving concern. Calvin blames himself for his son’s physical imperfections.
Raised in such a nurturing but stifling environment, Edison learns to cope by observing everything and drawing in his sketchbook. He catalogs the smallest details of his world with diagrammatic line drawings, which French reproduces as one page spreads. They serve as important story beats, pausing the narrative and letting the reader into Edison’s developing mind. As his imagination and curiosity grow, Edison slowly comes to chafe under his father’s tight control. When Calvin unexpectedly brings home a little sister named Patrice, a chimpanzee wearing a dress, Edison begins to realize the need to explore the wider world on his own terms.
That is the heart of The Ticking - the dynamic between parent and child. How parents tend to see themselves in their children, how children have to struggle to establish their own identity, and how this relationship is ultimately inescapable. It’s a very old story, but one told in French’s offbeat style: full of understated emotions, long silences, and warm but surreal imagery loaded with symbolism, both obvious and not so obvious.