Parsing The Tipping Point (Humanoids) is a frustrating experience. The anthology, a collection of 13 short stories and an attempt to point out the diversity of cartooning in the United States and Oceania, Western Europe, and Japan, contains works by some of the most audacious authors in the medium’s history. Paul Pope delivers some of his most aesthetically compelling artwork, and it sits side by side with a superhero pastiche by Naoki Urasawa. Keiichi Koike, whose work here represents his first appearance in English, delivers a psychedelic, spiritual sci-fi vignette that gleefully blends Katsuhiro Otomo and Jim Woodring. Katsuya Terada’s silent fantasy story affirms his status as one of the finest draftsman in comics. There is, without a doubt, some gorgeous cartooning on display here, and what people like Taiyō Matsumoto are able to accomplish with so few pages astonishes.
But The Tipping Point is less troubling for what it includes than what it excludes. It’s an exclusion that Fabrice Giger, the publisher of Humanoids’ parent company, Les Humanoïdes Associés, plainly addresses in his foreword. “This book,” he writes, “implicitly—and unintentionally—highlights certain shortcomings in the industry, such as the underrepresentation of female creators.” By “underrepresentation,” Giger in fact means “no representation,” and it’s a lack echoed the Angoulême festival’s recent Grand Prix nominees. With a roster of only 14 cartoonists (including the cover artist), it’s understandable that room would be scarce, but in failing to include women (Emily Carroll, Julia Gfrörer, Kyoko Okazaki—just to name a few that come immediately to mind), the book fails to achieve its goal. This, however, is symptomatic of the roster’s larger problem, which is that the book doesn’t feel fresh. The cartoonists involved are, to be sure, incredible talents, but these are not up and comers; Paul Pope has been publishing comics since 1993, and Enki Bilal (who provides the cover) since 1975. The freshest faces we see are Bastien Vivès and Frederik Peeters, but even they have both been making comics professionally for nearly a decade. The result is a collection that features John Cassaday’s Mark Twain-inspired paean to anti-racism but doesn’t feature work by a single black person (American or otherwise).
Humanoids isn’t taking any risks with this collection, and the result is something aggravatingly beautiful. Each page, each panel, each line is some of the best these authors have produced in their entire careers, but it stumbles in its autocontextualization. The Tipping Point labors to establish itself as a representation of the global breadth of cartooning (textually and extratextually), but it is constrained by length, and its content simply fails to be representative. Instead of names like Little Thunder, Kerascoët, or Jillian Tamaki (or even Richie Pope or Michael DeForge), we’re seeing the selfsame representatives of the boys’ club that we’ve seen in genre comics for years. There are no risks being taken here. Maybe this could’ve been avoided with a higher page count, maybe not; it’s impossible to tell. What is sure, however, is that, while the exigence of The Tipping Point is vital and topical, its execution here is merely disappointing—regardless of its aesthetic value. [Shea Hennum]
Though Teen Titans has had some success with the newer lineups, many readers are most familiar with the old-school team roster and frequently bemoan its loss. The Convergence event last summer tried to capture some of the magic of the old Titans team but it was tough to get any kind of momentum, despite reader enthusiasm for the long-missed characters.
Titans Hunt #3 (DC) seems to be trying to lean on that nostalgia, though it’s not exactly clear to what end, nor how much leeway readers will give when they know it’s a short-term fix. This isn’t writer Dan Abnett’s first Titan-starring title, though much of it was previously done with co-writer Andy Lanning. Abnett’s coming into a DC universe very different than when he left it, which in some ways makes the timing for Titans Hunt perfect. Dick Grayson, along with Roy Harper, Donna Troy, and an Atlantean that readers can safely assume is Garth, are being called together by some mysterious force to a place they recognize, but don’t remember. Garth and Donna are pissed about it, Dick’s just trying to figure out what’s going on without getting killed by two superhumans with powerhouse right hooks, and Roy’s fallen off the wagon so hard he didn’t bounce when he hit the ground. Lilith Clay has something to do with the snafu the not-Titans are facing and readers have been getting glimpses of a few other old friends that it’s comforting to see back in action.
Like Abnett himself, the biggest struggle the book faces are all the changes that DC has undergone since the last time these characters teamed up. The pacing is a little slow, and it’s hard to believe this is all happening concurrent to the Robin War and Red Hood And Arsenal’s weird Joker’s Daughter arc. Much like with the Convergence titles, the comfort of seeing old favorites may not outweigh the long time it took to get them back together on the page, not to mention the frustratingly uneven art.
It’s all almost painfully “house style” compared to the art on Grayson or Red Hood And Arsenal, another change to the DC universe in the past five years, and with three different artists there’s a lot of variation, though there’s no clear indication of which pages were done by Paulo Siqueira, Geraldo Borges, or Jackson Herbert respectively. Hi-Fi’s consistent, detailed coloring smooths out some of the ragged edges, but it’s still a bit strange. The pages featuring the fight between Dick, Donna, and Garth, which appear to be Siqueira’s, are by far the most detailed and entertaining, though unfortunately one of the best visual gags gets lost in the layout of the title page. The expression work is excellent and the action shots mid-fight are well done. If the entire book was like this, it would be a lot more fun to read and a lot easier to justify buying. As it is, the mystery and nostalgia alone are barely cutting it, though Donna’s new getup on the cover is almost worth the price of admission. [Caitlin Rosberg]
With the release of major Hollywood blockbusters Jurassic World and The Good Dinosaur, 2015 gave dinosaurs a big boost in the cultural consciousness, making it the perfect time for Ricardo Delgado to return to his prehistoric comic series Age Of Reptiles. Delgado has been crafting silent, beautifully illustrated comics about dinosaurs in various miniseries and short stories over the past 22 years, and Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians (Dark Horse) collects the four issues of last year’s miniseries following a loner Spinosaurus as he makes his way through swampy terrain teeming with life.
The title indicates the importance of the setting in Delgado’s narrative, and while the content of the plot isn’t very different from previous Age Of Reptiles works, the attention to environmental detail has been enhanced. The depth of Delgado’s panel composition has intensified as he finds dramatic new angles to depict the setting and the brutal dinosaur action, and the coloring by Ryan Hill accentuates the textures in Delgado’s linework while providing lush natural lighting that makes everything come alive.
Ancient Egyptians begins with four pages of widescreen panels that set a firm pace as the Spinosaurus enters the swamp; each panel is like another step, and he is focused on moving forward in these opening pages. Establishing that rhythm in the layout makes the environment more inviting, and when the Spinosaurus starts to get situated, the layout changes to heighten the atmosphere even more. After he submerges himself in the swamp, the horizontal rectangles are slashed diagonally to become triangles, changing the structure of the page so that it reads on an arc rather than straight down. The eye travels counterclockwise down the page as the artwork pulls back to show the Spinosaurus in relation to different elements of his environment, and Delgado changes the flow of the layout to reflect the dinosaur’s immersion into the place he’ll call home for a while.
Delgado has worked primarily as a storyboard artist, character designer, and illustrator for films and animated TV series, and those roles that have helped make his comic-book artwork impeccably clear. The sharpness of his moment-to-moment storytelling allows him to tell rich narratives with nonverbal characters driven by the most primal impulses, and he mines considerable emotion from these dinosaurs’ struggle to survive in treacherous territory. Through his prehistoric cast, Delgado explores themes of isolation and self-reliance, and comments on how communities instill violent ideals in younger generations by showing how these impulses have driven behavior since the time before man. There’s substance behind the spectacle of Delgado and Hill’s stunning visuals, and the merging of meticulous paleoart with dynamic storytelling makes Age Of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians a must-read for dinosaur fans. [Oliver Sava]
New Mutants #98 hit shelves in December of 1990—happy belated birthday!—and although it took him a while to pick up steam following that first appearance, Deadpool is undoubtedly the most popular new comics character of the last 25 years. The only contender is Harley Quinn, and even then it’s not particularly close. He’s even got a movie coming out next month.
Even though Deadpool premiered as Rob Liefeld was transforming New Mutants into X-Force, right at the epicenter of the (second) most lucrative period in mainstream comics history, Marvel didn’t push the character. When Liefeld left the company in 1992 it’s fair to say Deadpool languished. Despite appearing semi-regularly in X-Force and a few other titles, Marvel waited until 1993 to give him his own book, a miniseries written by his co-creator Fabian Nicieza. Another mini followed the next year. It wasn’t until 1996 that Deadpool received his first ongoing solo book.
Whatever heat Deadpool had back in the early ’90s had almost entirely dissipated by then, but the book succeeded by dint of actually being good. Joe Kelly didn’t change the character radically, but solidified his voice and changed the tone of his stories. He realized Deadpool worked best in a largely comedic milieu. Although the guy had been around, this was the birth of Deadpool as we know him today. The first Deadpool series lasted a while as a fixture of the company’s mid-list, but it wasn’t until a relaunch in the mid-’00s that he finally caught fire. Kelly was gone by then but the tone he established remained the foundation for what followed.
Even though he didn’t create him, it’s nonetheless an event when Kelly returns to Deadpool, as he does for Marvel’s new Spider-Man/Deadpool miniseries. He’s even brought his original Deadpool collaborator Ed McGuinness. Kelly’s voice still fits Deadpool naturally, a testament to his overwhelming influence. Kelly’s grand insight was that despite his grim history Deadpool sees himself as a cartoon character in a Looney Tunes universe. He makes a great foil for Spider-Man, whose flippant attitude masks an almost pathological sense of responsibility. Spidey detests Deadpool, whom he sees as a dangerous psychotic with delusions of heroism, whereas Deadpool genuinely admires Spider-Man for his virtuousness.
Kelly’s story takes advantage of the current status quo shifts in both heroes’ books. Deadpool is on the upswing as a popular hero despite the dismay of many in the superhero community, while Spidey is busy pulling double-duty as both Spider-Man and the newly minted CEO of his own company. Deadpool, being a generous guy, reasons that Spidey probably doesn’t like being Peter Parker’s personal bodyguard and decides to offer his “pal” a job. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t go over well.
Kelly has a talent for spinning out character-based conflict. Spider-Man’s distrust of Deadpool forces him into the unwelcome role of a dismissive authority figure, whereas Deadpool’s elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque job interview process—featuring a horde of Mindless Ones and the Dread Dormammu (sort of)—makes a virtue of the character’s tendency to warp story logic for his own benefit. McGuinness’ art is pleasantly elastic, highlighting both characters’ cartoony tendencies. Considering both protagonists wear full masks, he gets a lot of mileage out of their facial expressions. Although some older fans reject the guy on principle, Deadpool can be a lot of fun when done well. This is as well as he’s ever been done, by the guys who know him best. [Tim O’Neil]