By Matt D. Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the Supervillain Field Manual, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week’s comic book releases.
The biggest news to come out of San Diego Comic-Con, for me, had to do with a licensed comic about an animated TV show (“Bob’s Burgers”), an animated TV show (“Legend of Korra”), and superhero movies (“Superman/Batman” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”).
What’s missing from that equation? Comics. Sure, two of those things are movies based on comics and one is a comic based on a TV show, but none of it is just comics created for the sake of being comics. This is pretty much the story of Comic-Con every year.
Not that there wasn’t any comics news. For one thing, Nightcrawler is coming back. That’s a huge deal. Monkeybrain Comics announced some exciting new projects. It’s just that the comics stuff tends to get subsumed in your Harrison Ford interviews and your Matt Smith haircuts and the like.
I get that. Who doesn’t want to hear Indiana Jones talk answer questions from people who love those movies more than anything else on the planet? Or see what Starlord’s costume is going to look like in “Guardians of the Galaxy?” That stuff is super-cool and worth a big event that celebrates it. But I feel like that event shouldn’t be called Comic-Con.
Because it’s just not about comics, folks. Comics publishers have all but admitted this. With the exception of a few announcements actually made at the con, all the big publishers actually made their announcements for new series, characters and concepts in the two weeks or so before Comic-Con. They knew and know full well that anything they put out there about a miniseries or an annual was going to get stomped on by a new trailer from “Batman: Arkham Origins.”
Comics are used to being a small fish in the big pond of entertainment media, but it’s pretty much official that they’re even a small fish in an event called Comic-Con.
So let’s stop calling it that. We have Heroes Con and Emerald City and C2E2 and New York Comic Con for comics (to varying degrees). The thing in San Diego? It’s Nerd Culture Con or Geek Entertainment Con. Because it just ain’t about the comics.
And now the comics of the week!
“Young Avengers” #8
(Marvel Comics, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton)
The comics story in which a group of heroes hop through different dimensions and encounter all manner of insanity isn’t a new concept, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great when it’s pulled off with great creativity and cleverness. That’s the name of the game in this issue, which gives McKelvie and Norton even more opportunities to show just how visually inventive they are, particularly in the penultimate reality in which the heroes find themselves. Add some top-notch characterization to the mix — I loved seeing Marvel Boy come face-to-face with some memories of the miniseries in which he debuted, and Miss America is an ever-more-fascinating mystery — and you’ve got one really wonderful book.
“Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus” #1
(Dark Horse Comics, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Sebastian Fiumara)
I’ll meekly cop to the fact that I haven’t been keeping up with “Hellboy” and “BPRD” like I should. I love those comics, but I fell into a “needing-to-catch-up” mode with them a few years ago and have been behind ever since. Luckily, those books have always been pretty accessible, which means it’s no real problem to pick up this Lobster Johnson two-parter, about Intrigue Abounding in New York’s Chinatown, and follow it just fine. If nothing else, it’s worth reading just for the noirish mood it does such a great job of setting, which makes the doozy of a last-page reveal that much more surprising.
(Valiant Comics, by Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans and Trevor Hairsine)
Of all the Valiant books, “Harbinger” is the one I’ve been the most ambivalent about, but I do feel like the “Harbinger Wars” event has done a lot to breathe life back into the book, really defining the renegades at the core of the book and bringing them together as a team. This issue in particular is pretty messy in how it wraps up “Harbinger Wars,” but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just acknowledges that conflicts like the one in this event — where everyone has a pretty good reason for what they’re doing if you let them explain it, which never actually ends up happening — never wrap up neatly. Good people can fight and never have that “hey, you’re a good guy!” moment. I love that. This issue maybe hits that button a little too hard — there’s some narration that I don’t think is needed — but I admire its twist on the old trope.
“Justice League Dark” #22
(DC Comics, by Jeff Lemire and Mikel Janin)
To put it diplomatically, I wasn’t crazy about the first two parts of “Trinity War.” This issue wasn’t perfect by any stretch — DC really has to get over the characters-talking-to-the-camera-making-obvious-pronouncements trick it keeps using — but it explained some of the happenings from the first two parts in ways that made them a lot more understandable, while escalating the conflict with what I could accept as believable character motivations. That’s really all I ask. Also, Janin’s art is pretty doggone great.
“Batman: The Dark Knight” #22
(DC Comics, by Gregg Hurwitz and Alex Maleev)
If “Batman” hadn’t had a story all of two months ago that did exactly the same thing this issue does, I maybe would have put it in my “winners” section. Maleev is a pretty doggone good fit for a Batman book (and I admire him for apparently just deciding not to draw the New 52 version of his costume) and Hurwitz offers some nice characterization. But I just can’t deal with another Clayface switcheroo this soon after the last one. It’s lazy. Not to mention that this time, it was Clayface posing as Gordon for Batman’s sake, while last time it was vice-versa. So we’re not even adding new characters to the mix. This issue even mentions the Clayface appearance from two months ago! Let’s maybe put a moratorium on Clayface for a while, guys, or at least figure out something else to do with him.