The Radar: Dark Engine, The Squidder, Robin Rises: Omega, and More

Image Comics repeatedly delivers some of the most interesting, quirky, creator-driven books, and this week is no different with the publication of Ryan Burton and John Bivens’ Dark Engine #1.

Dark engine 1

The main character of this series is the product of alchemists, an instrument of destruction, but what happens when she decides to cleave out her own destiny in the world, rib-sword in hand? The art for this series is terrifying and gorgeous, crooked lines and undulating textures providing a creepy Lovecraftian atmosphere (if Lovecraft had set his stories in the rainforest, rather than the arctic tundra and Boston).

Dark Engine 2

My one concern with this book is the press release’s description of the main character as a “savage woman” – an unfortunate choice of words that suggests brainlessness more than it does brawn, which would seem to be at odds with the representation of the main character as  struggling for freedom. That being said, the series promises to feature a struggle between individual autonomy and control by outside forces, suggesting that there is plenty of room for complex character development and fascinating world-building. (For those of you who live in Minneapolis, MN, John Bivens will be doing a signing at Comic Book College on August 6 from 4pm to 7pm.)


Squidder 1

Of course, one Lovecraft-inspired book couldn’t possibly be enough to satisfy your longing for occult mysteries. Thankfully, IDW has put out a new mini-series this week, written and drawn by the immensely talented Ben Templesmith: Squidder #1. As the title suggests, this book draws on the Cthulhu mythos, but instead of being set in the lead up to the tentacular apocalypse, it occurs after the squid overlords have already gained control.

Squidder 2

Templesmith’s art is the real draw, here. The line-work has a quirky expressionistic quality, its stark edges resembling wood cuts, and the colors are washed out but with a kind of glimmer. I was disappointed when Templesmith left behind his art responsibilities on Ten Grand, so it’s good to see him back on a book.

Robin rises 1

Also, for those of us who have been patiently waiting for the arrival of the new Robin, this week DC releases Robin Rises: Omega, a one-shot by Peter Tomasi with art by Andy Kubert and Jonathan Glapion that kicks off the rise of whoever will take over the mantle. (Will it be Damian, again? Seems likely… but who knows?!) This issue will be followed up by the Batman and Robin ongoing series by Tomasi.


Finally, Uncanny X-Men #23 (Marvel) is entitled The Last Will and Testament of Charles Xavier. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has already said that this issue will change the dynamic of both of the main X-Men book (Uncanny and All New X-Men), while keeping his lips sealed on the exact details. This X-Men book has been my favorite, with its moody and conflicted Cyclops, interesting reflections on politics, and brilliant artwork by Chris Bachalo.     



The Radar: Rocket Raccoon, Tech-Jacket, Legendary Star-Lord

The big story of this week is Guardians of the Galaxy, as Marvel releases two spin-offs featuring the solo adventures of characters from the team.


Rocket Raccoon #1 (Marvel)

Skottie Young


This new series features the wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon – an alien who resembles a raccoon, but, as he never tires of repeating, is certainly not one – on the run from intergalactic authorities. This series should be a lot of fun, mixing cosmic adventure with sarcasm and screwball humor. There couldn’t be a better choice for writer and artist than Skottie Young (Marvel’s Oz series). His unabashedly cartoonish style embodies the wackiness of the best Saturday-morning cartoons, making it tempting to describe the series as Star Wars meets Looney Tunes.


Legendary Star-Lord #1 (Marvel)

Sam Humphries, Paco Medina


Of the two new series, this one is perhaps slightly more serious in intent, or at least less cartoonish and more action adventure-oriented. Star-Lord is a rascal who enjoys flirting and swashbuckling – often at the same time. If you’re enjoying the new Guardians or the new Cyclops series but you haven’t had your fill of cosmic adventure, this series should be a great addition to your pull list. Sam Humphries is best known for his work on Uncanny X-Force and Ultimate Comics Ultimates for Marvel, while Paco Medina’s work – which features a toned down Manga influence – has been seen on Ultimate Comics X-Men and Nova.


Tech-Jacket #1 (Image)

Joe Keatinge, Khary Randolph, Dave McCaig


We may as well round things off with yet another series featuring an intergalactic guardian. Zack Thompson is a college dropout who lives with his parents – and “Galactic Guardian of Earth.” The tech jacket – a “powered exoskeleton” – gives Zack a host of powers including super strength and energy blasts. This series, a previous incarnation of which was written by Robert Kirkman (of Walking Dead fame) and a part of the Invincible comic universe, now features writing by Joe Keatinge, whose work deserves plenty of praise. Keatinge’s still new creator-owned series Shutter is a brilliant cross between fantasy and Indiana Jones. The art by Khary Randolph has a touch of manga style to it, especially in character faces, but is also very detailed and beautifully complimented by Dave McCaig’s vibrant yet subtle colors. At $2.99, it’s certainly worth a try.

The Radar: Outcast, Superman #32

Apologies for the hiatus, but major life events have made updating the blog impossible until now!

Outcast #1 (Image)

Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta


Outcast #1 is the first issue of Robert Kirkman’s new horror series in which possession and exorcism are center stage. Of course, the continuation of the world itself is at stake. Kirkman excels at long, complex narratives – his Walking Dead and Invincible have both been running for over a decade – with nuanced character development. Paul Azaceta’s art is stark and shadowy without being simplistic or muddy, setting the perfect mood for a comic that promises to blend inner turmoil with metaphysical rumination.

Outcast 2

In addition to being only $2.99 (a steal when you consider that most comics these days are $4.00), this first issue is also over-sized. It’s definitely worth checking out.


Superman #32 (DC)

Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr.

Superman 1

Superman #32 has been getting a great deal of attention, including a write up on the New York Times’ website and a number of multi-page ads in DC’s comic books. With a new creative team, the issue in many respects could be a #1, especially in an age when Marvel sees fit to relaunch and renumber series every year or two. Geoff Johns, of course, has a long list of works to his name (notably his paradigm-shifting run on Green Lantern and his Justice League stint), but it is recent work on Aquaman that deserves mention, since Johns managed to put new life into a character that many had written off (if they ever cared in the first place). Much like in his run on Green Lantern, Johns contributed a number of new elements to Aquaman’s world and mythology, turning the ruler of Earth’s oceans into a nuanced character with tragic overtones and an interesting supporting cast (the Others, now with their own book by Dan Jurgens). Johns has already promised to introduce new characters into Superman, as well as new plot strands, so hopefully we can see him take what has been one of DC’s more lackluster books and make it something more worthy of its titular hero.

Superman 2

I’ve dwelled on Johns, because Romita Jr.’s art has been what most people have been discussing – and fair enough. Romita has done very important work for Marvel Comics over the past 30 years and his style is deservedly well known. The preview art for the issue is stunning, if jarring in its angular quality. Romita revels in the sheer strength and kinetic energy of the emigrant from the planet Krypton. What can certainly be said is that DC is doing everything it can to give a boost to Superman at a time when Batman tops the sales charts.

The Radar: Cyan, Amazing Spider-Man, and Southern Bastards

Vertigo Quarterly #1: Cyan (Vertigo)



This year Vertigo (the publisher and now imprint that brought you Sandman, Y: The Last Man, Transmetropolitan, and many other brilliant series) is releasing four anthologies based on the four colors used in comics coloring: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. This first anthology features work by Jock, Fabio Moon, James Tynion IV, Joe Keatinge, Amy Chu, and others. The color serves as a point of departure for each story in some way.


While this anthology has a relatively abstract and perhaps even random unity to it (Vertigo’s recent anthologies – all quite good – have had a genre or theme, such as time travel, lending them cohesion), the talent gathered for this issue deserves plenty of attention. You can expect a mix of science fiction, horror, and observational studies in life all done with an eye towards experimenting in what the medium of comics can do.


Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Marvel)

Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos


Peter Parker swings back to action, more than conveniently timed to reappear before the new Spider-Man movie. I have to admit: I was a fan of the Superior Spider-Man, which carried out one of the most startling transformations of a superhero comic series in some time.


That being said, we always knew Peter would return and Doc Ock had plenty of time to experiment with all the powers and responsibilities that come with the suit. The good news is that Dan Slott continues to write the adventures of Spidey, so I’m sure we’re in for some more surprises. On top of al that, Humberto Ramos’s art is sleek and dynamic


Southern Bastards #1 (Image)

Jason Aaron, Jason Latour


I’m not really sure to expect from this comic. The solicit describes it as “a southern fried crime comic” and also mentions a high school football coach with bodies buried under the bleachers. The story focuses on Earl Tubb as he returns to his hometown of Craw County, Alabama to deal with the ghosts of his past. Aaron has promised lots of B-movie elements integrated into a suspenseful crime drama.


Even if you’re not a fan of the culture southern-style, Jason Aaron (Wolverine and the X-Men, Scalped) knows how to write a complex and compelling plot, one that develops characters in a rich manner without ever letting the narrative pace go slack. Jason Latour’s art looks amazing; it’s dark and brooding, gritty but detailed, and ugly – or should I say grotesque – in exactly the way the story’s material demands.


Brief Mentions

I’ve decided to do no more than three picks for the Radar each week in order to make it more manageable and also make time for doing other kinds of posts, including mini-reviews and highlights of past series in trade. That being said, this “brief mentions” section will indicate in short form other issues to be on the look out for.

J. Michael Straczynski (Ten Grand) and Sid Kotian bring a story about police officers who patrol the realm of dreams in Dream Police #1 (Image). The series promises to deliver a complex fantasy world, on the flipside of the ordinary, with a noirish police procedural framing things.

Valiant adds (or, rather, resurrects) another character for its quickly expanding superhero universe with Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and Clayton Crain’s Rai #1. Set in 40001 AD, in a Japan that now orbits the earth, the series includes elements of martial arts action, dystopian science fiction, and crime drama, as the title character struggles not only to track a murderer but also to rediscover his own humanity.

Finally, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’s Pretty Deadly (Image) has its first trade paperback volume coming out and for only $9.99. Rios’s art is amazing, a kind of dirty surrealism lifting elements from old spaghetti Westerns, while DeConnick writes in a mode more lyrical than realistic. A magical realist, surrealist Western: there’s really nothing else like it on the stands!



The Radar: Solar, Translucid, Genesis, and More!

Solar: Man of the Atom #1 (Dynamite)

Frank J. Barbiere, Joe Bennett


Dynamite’s revival of Gold Key characters (an old imprint from the 1960s under Western Publishing and Whitman comics) has been a strong effort, with such titles as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (by Greg Pak and Mirko Colak) and Magnus: Robot Fighter #1 (Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith) garnering a good deal of praise.


Solar: Man of the Atom features the old trope of a scientist exposed to radiation gaining marvelous powers, forced to confront questions of responsibility and what it means to be hero. The premise is certainly not startlingly original or new, but what makes this title exciting is Frank Barbiere, whose work on Five Ghosts (Image) has been very good, as well as the art by Joe Bennett, which is more than solid. If you’re looking for a sincere but complex take on the superhero genre, you can’t do much better than this.


Translucid #1 (Boom)

Claudio Sanchez, Chondra Echert, Daniel Bayliss


At this point, there are so many comics that “deconstruct” the superhero genre that they have effectively become part of the genre, rather than a challenge to it. There is, in other words, nothing all that startling about a title that calls into question what makes a superhero tick. (Translucid #1 seems to know this fact, comparing itself to Irredeeemable in its marketing.) That being said, recent “deconstructive” titles such as Joe Casey’s Sex (Image), J. Michael Straczynski’s Sidekick (Image), and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (Marvel) manage to still be interesting precisely because they do not so much dismantle the superhero as present facets of the genre we seldom get to see.


Translucid appears to be a wonderfully weird investigation into the superhero/arch-enemy relationship. It is told from the perspective of the arch-enemy, The Horse, as he notices that his superhero nemesis’s moral compass seems to be faltering. On its own, I find Sanchez and Echert’s premise interesting, but it’s the art that pushes it over to the category of must check out. Bayliss’s line work is detailed with a heavy dose of noir grit and his use of color is stunning, the pinks and purples not so much lightening the tone as sending it in spirals bordering madness. (The Ming Doyle variant cover – seen above – doesn’t hurt either…)


Genesis One-Shot (Image)

Nathan Edmonson, Alison Sampson


Nathan Edmonson is a great writer, best known for his work on covert ops comics such as The Activity and Who is Jake Ellis? Recently, he has branched out with an interesting run on The Punisher and a brilliant fantasy mini-series (which still has me waiting for its completion…) Dream Merchant. Genesis is a graphic novel length one-shot described in the solicit as a “trippy journey of creation and destruction as one man finds himself with the ability to manifest anything by thinking it – only to learn that with seemingly unlimited power comes unstoppable terror.”


The art is a gritty, sketchy style, not unfinished exactly but tentative, as if the Sampson’s line work was mimicking the story’s understanding of cerebral creation. I think this will be a strange and fascinating comic – definitely check it out if you’re looking for something different!


Hulk #1 (Marvel)

Mark Waid, Mark Bagley


If you’ve been looking for an excuse to read Mark Waid (and you should be, because his work is amazing) or if you have a spot for the old green guy with an attitude problem, then pick this relaunch up. Waid knows how to make jump on points that are smooth and informative (see his recent relaunch of Daredevil) and he also knows how to probe the depths of a character, to really explore the possibilities of what a character can be without betraying what makes him or her so compelling and singular. Bagley’s art looks great, a perfect balance between realism and cartoonishness.


The storyline itself should be exciting, with issue #1 seeing Bruce Banner knocking on death’s door because of a gun shot wound. With yet another promising first issue from Marvel Comics, I’m sure I’m not the only one making tough decisions about my pull list…


Other Notable Titles:

The controversial and wildly exciting Superior Spider-Man (Marvel) series comes to a conclusion in issue #31, wrapping up the Goblin Nation story and SPOILER ALERT bringing back your friendly neighborhood spider-man, Peter Parker, in the new Amazing Spider-Man.

The smash hit Sex Criminals (Image) has its first trade paperback coming out, collecting issues 1-5. This is a clever series dealing with sexuality, love, and, well, criminality… Matt Fraction’s writing and Chip Zadarsky’s art have earned a well-deserved Eisner nomination. And it’s only $9.99!


The Radar: Caliban, Inhuman, and Detective Comics #30

Caliban #1 (Avatar)

Garth Ennis, Facundo Percio


For some, Garth Ennis’s name alone is enough to make them buy a comic – and there’s good reason for that. Ennis has proven that he can weave complex narratives out of provocative – and sometimes perverse – ideas. No series demonstrates that better than Preacher, in which a small town preacher, Jesse Custer, comes to be inhabited by a divine force and decides to challenge God himself. Add to his creator-owned work his runs on Punisher and Hellblazer and what you have is an author who has no problem taking on difficult material without ever reducing his story to cheap thrills.

Caliban places itself squarely in the genre of the science fiction horror à la Alien. A space flight crew crashes into a seemingly abandoned alien spaceship and havoc ensues. The drama is as much about the crew members’ interactions with one another as it is about the encounter with the aliens. The art by Facundo Percio is very clean, even as it is very detailed. If you are looking for a comic that combines psychological complexity with horrific suspense, then this is for you.


Detective Comics #30 (DC Comics)

Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato


Detective Comics #30 sees the creative team from the Flash take over the cape crusader. The team has promised that the series will focus – as its title suggests – on Batman as a detective, which is to say as the crimefighter who can not only fight but also use his intellect.


The art by Buccellato looks gorgeous, a wonderful blend of washed out colors and shadowing giving it noir overtones. The first story arc is a mystery involving a deadly new narcotic in Gotham City. This is a great place to jump on, and it should satisfy fans who have been longing for Batman outside of the Zero Year events in Scott Snyder’s Batman book.


Inhuman #1 (Marvel)

Charles Soule, Joe Madureira


After a series of delays, Marvel’s new series featuring the Inhumans has finally arrived. While they haven’t revealed much, we do know that the series will follow the events following the events of Infinity (the Avengers event of 2013), in which a Terrigen mist bomb caused the powers of many new Inhumans to awaken. The series is going to take on not only the lives of Inhumans new and old but also the reactions to the proliferation of new superpowered humans. (FYI: The Inhumans are a subspecies or offshoot of the human species, the product of experiments by the alien Kree. An advanced and hidden civilization resulted, a tight-knit society with a royal lineage at its head and a single city as its center.)


Charles Soule replaced Matt Fraction on writing, which is certain to mean a very different tone for the book. Personally, I am fine with the shift, as much as like Fraction’s work on Daredevil, as Soule’s work on Swamp Thing, She-Hulk, and his creator-owned Letter 44 has been very impressive. Madureira’s art is dynamic, capable of shifting from bright and expressive to dark and brooding from panel to panel. There are lots of rumors going around that the Inhumans are Marvel’s next big thing, so we’ll see…


The Radar: Avengers Undercover, Stray Bullets, Captain Marvel

Avengers Undercover #1 (Marvel)

Dennis Hopeless, Kev Walker


Avengers Undercover serves as the sequel to last year’s Avengers Arena. Arena was one of the big surprises of last year, turning what could have been a Hunger Games rip-off full of B and C list characters into a perfect blend of action and drama. The solicit for this new series indicates that several of the survivors of Murder World will be going “deep undercover” into the Masters of Evil in order to “take them down from the inside.” The real promise of this series lies in the exploration of ethical ambiguity: How do you stay good while pretending to be evil? At what point does the mask become the person?


It’s unclear whether or not this issue will be a good starting point for those who have yet to read Avengers Arena. Hopeless’s writing is excellent, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he succeeds in making this an accessible jump on point. I highly suggest picking up the first issue, giving it a chance, and then, if you’re at all confused, rush to your store to pick up Arena – you won’t be disappointed!


Stray Bullets: Killers #1 (Image)

David Lapham


Stray Bullets is a cult favorite with a long 40+ issue history behind it. A noir series, with a particularly grisly bent, it’s not for the weak of stomach. Each issue reads like a morality tale gone awry, dredging up the darker areas of human existence and lingering in them for an effect of maximum discomfort. If you are looking for a crime comic, with a realistic but quirky take on human society, then this comic is for you.


Captain Marvel #1 (Marvel)

Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez


Marvel Comics is doing at least two things really well right now: street-level, humorous takes on superheroic life (Hawkeye, Daredevil, Superior Foes of Spider-Men) and cosmic sagas spanning far-flung star systems (Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy). Captain Marvel has already been a part of the latter trend as an important member of the Avengers, but this month sees her own book restarting at issue #1 and “going cosmic” in the process. It also sees David Lopez on art, with his crisp, clean lines and wondeful ability to pace action.


So far, Kelly Sue DeConnick has put Carol Danvers through the proverbial wringers, fracturing her life into traumatic fragments. However, throughout, Captain Marvel remains a strong hero, a nuanced woman defying reduction not only to damsel in distress but also to some stereotypical version of a strong woman. She is complex and complicated, tough and thoughtful, resistant to any simple conception of gender roles. With a number of titles – Pretty Deadly (Image), Ghost (Dark Horse), and Captain Marvel – DeConnick is doing a wonderful job challenging anyone who would want to let comics remain a boy’s club.