Kentucky Fried Chicken and DC Comics is one of the strangest team-ups in superhero comics, but it’s resulted in some extremely entertaining one-shots starring Colonel Harland Sanders and his multiversal doppelgängers. While last year’s KFC: The Colonel Of Two Worlds leaned a bit too heavily on the corporate propaganda, the new KFC: The Colonel Corps (DC) is far less interested in promoting the company’s business practices, offering a hilariously bonkers jaunt through DC’s multiverse.
Colonel Sanders’ evil Earth-3 counterpart, Colonel Sunder, has found a new ally to aid him with his mission of creating lackluster fried chicken (a villain whose identity is such a wonderful surprise that it won’t be spoiled here), and Sanders has to bring different versions of himself together to stop this unsavory plot. It’s a surprisingly ambitious story by the same team from the first one-shot—writer Tony Bedard, artist Tom Derenick, inker Trevor Scott, and colorist Hi-Fi—and the art team gets to show off its versatility as Sanders goes to alternate Earths, many of which will be familiar to DC fans. The contrast is intensified when Sanders visits the steampunk Earth-19 of Gotham By Gaslight, the rendering becomes more painterly on Kingdom Come’s Earth-22, and everything becomes hyper-cartoony when Sanders visits Teen Titans Go!’s Jump City.
The cover homage to Kevin Maguire’s oft-copied Justice League #1 cover sets a silly tone that carries throughout the entire issue, and doubling down on the ridiculousness of the concept pushes Bedard to do some of his funniest comics work. He embraces DC’s rich history for his variations on the Colonel, which include a Bizarro Colonel, a Colonel Lad from The Legion Of Super-Heroes’ 31st century, and the humanoid rooster Kolonel from Kamandi’s Earth-51. It’s all very goofy, but the creative team is clearly delighted to be working on such a ludicrous tale.
KFC: The Colonel Corps concludes with bonus material including fake fan mail, a comic strip about the history of the company’s “finger-lickin’ good” tagline, and a pin-up of the El Paso KFC crew triumphantly running toward the reader. That last image is a nice little tribute to the workers, and an appearance in this issue was probably used as a sale incentive for KFC stores in the space between these two one-shots. The idea of these books as annual releases fostering company pride is a fascinating one, and The Colonel Corps is a joyfully weird read that actually builds anticipation for the next chapter in the Colonel’s DC Comics adventures. Where does this creative team go from here? Can they get even crazier than “Crisis Of Infinite Colonels”? Here’s hoping that DC gives readers the opportunity to find out. [Oliver Sava]
Some of the most interesting Superman stories have been the what-ifs, from Red Son to Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? and most recently the American Alien miniseries. Gene Luen Yang has been taking Superman on a wild ride lately, and the reveal of the newest character to take on the big S in New Super-Man (DC) is very much in the spirit of those experiments. Leaving aside the twisted continuity in the main Superman book, New Super-Man reveals an all new hero, neither a version of Clark Kent nor his clone. Kong Kenan, a teenager from Shanghai, is thrust into a world that would overwhelm even a more prepared and pure-hearted young man, and it’s a fascinating exploration of something almost entirely new for Super(-)man.
Kenan is far from the Boy Scout goody-good that Clark Kent frequently defaults to. In the first few pages, he teases and terrorizes an overweight classmate. His quick rise to fame comes only because he does something heroic out of panic and dumb luck rather than any protective instinct or sense of right and wrong; it’s a firm reminder of just how rotten teenagers can be, without vilifying Kenan or deifying Clark. Yang has enough experience and talent to write an opening salvo that firmly roots this new Super-Man in his own context and lets him start his own story without forgetting the larger canon he comes from. Yang excels at writing books with a lot of heart to them, emotions bubbling up naturally and growing organically as characters pull the readers deeper into their world. New Super-Man has a lot of the same nuance and love as Yang’s other Superman titles and original work like American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, adding levity without diminishing the seriousness of the situation Kenan’s in.
The book stands out not just from cape and cowl titles but everything else on the shelf. What makes the art really remarkable isn’t Viktor Bogdanovic’s beautiful pencils, Richard Friend’s ink work, or Hi-Fi’s as-always brilliant coloring. It’s the faces. Most Western comics feature characters with sharp, chiseled jaws and cheekbones that could cut glass, not to mention the statistically improbable common appearance of dimples. But here, Bogdanovic has drawn characters that are unmistakably Chinese, with broader features and epicanthic folds, and there is a lot more body diversity in the background than in most books. There is an editor’s note that the vast majority of the text is translated from Mandarin, a real departure for mainstream comics. The book is unfamiliar and remarkable in the best way possible, a book that has something to say about both the characters in it and the readers holding it, the worlds both groups occupy. In the long fight to decide if it’s better to create new diverse characters or adapt old ones, this team has managed to do both, and it’s great to see DC making room for a new Super-Man on their roster. More people should do the same with their pull lists. [Caitlin Rosberg]
A comic that strains to be both titillating and profoundly unsexy, Wandering Island (Dark Horse Comics) attempts, with varying success, to have its cake and eat it too. It’s a beautifully drawn and precisely detailed rendering of life on the Izu and Ogasawara islands, an archipelago home to less than 30,000 people. Servicing these islands are lay mail carriers flying between them on prop planes. Wandering Island concerns one such mail carrier, Mikura, and her obsession with finding “Electric Island” after her grandfather dies. Electric Island is a floating city that Mikura’s grandfather was obsessed with, and her mania drives the book’s plot.
Authored by the notoriously slow Kenji Tsuruta, Wandering Island appears to be the first in a serial, though it’s unclear when, or even if, that second volume will arrive. But as the first in an apparent series, there is no impetus to conclude the story, to solve the mystery, or for Mikura to achieve her goals. The page count is occupied chiefly with Mikura looking at maps, plotting courses, and reading her grandfather’s old journals; she stares wistfully out at the ocean; she flies from island to island. Tsuruta’s lines are elegant and precise, though, and these quiet scenes are engaging. His figures are elongated, their extremities are thin, every hair on their head visible. His buildings, towns, and machinery are all rendered with incredible detail, and his hatching is thick and scratchy. The way he draws water, though, is particularly breathtaking, and he renders it as a series of curvilinear, uneven, and seemingly haphazard brushstrokes. The book is beautiful to be sure, but it’s subject matter is quotidian and mundane. Mikura spends most of the book mourning, reminiscing, and investigating. The whole thing is rather chaste. In fact, in its content, it is devoid of sexuality or even romance. The closest it comes to invoking either is a scene wherein Mikura’s friends chastise her for her middle school crush on their teacher.
It is surprising, then, that Tsuruta chooses to draw Mikura in underwear or a bikini for much of the book. He even takes the time to devote a scene to Mikura rooting around for a pair of underwear, her wet body covered in nothing but a towel. What’s more, she is constantly contorting herself, jutting her butt out and bending over—posing for some unseen audience. The posturing and framing of her body is bizarre, and it sticks out in the otherwise dry narrative. It isn’t that Tsuruta draws awkwardly or poorly, or that Wandering Island is boring or uninteresting; quite the contrary. The fact that Tsuruta draws so well, and that he devotes his talent to these extraordinarily precise landscapes, seascapes, and drawings of airplanes ebbing and flowing into one another, is why the book works so well. These innocent images, and this innocent syntagm of images, though, draws attention to the more prurient interests of some panels. They grate, and they stick out, tonally, from the rest of the book. Overall, however, the experience is more bemusing than disastrous. [Shea Hennum]
Cartooning without words is working without a net: Whereas speech bubbles and narration allow a cartoonist to communicate more efficiently, silence pares back story until all that’s left is pure technique. At its most basic, silent cartooning (obviously a redundancy) forces both the creator and the reader to exercise their imaginations by filling in whatever gaps may exist. There’s no way to cover up deficiencies in storytelling when you can’t just tell the reader what’s happening. The cartoonist must show what is happening precisely or they have failed.
Lucas Varela’s The Longest Day Of The Future (Fantagraphics) isn’t completely silent. There are signs and some sound effects. But the story offers no exposition. An alien crash-lands in the desert before being taken prisoner. The corporation that finds him decides to use his “suitcase”—in reality a portal opening up to various alternate dimensions—as a weapon against a rival corporation. The world is split between two rival firms: there’s the piggy company and the bunny company. The bunny company sends a hapless drone into the corporate HQ of the piggy company carrying the briefcase, ready to be opened and in so doing to unleash a strange force composed only of writhing pink tentacles. This kind of corporate espionage appears to be de rigueur in Varela’s frightening future. The two megacorporations control each aspect of the lives of their subject populations, and even just drinking a cup of coffee branded by the other faction is considered a punishable offense.
Although Varela is Argentinian, the book is the product of a residency at Angouleme. The book is thoroughly European, with a classic clean-line style that should please fans of Jason’s deadpan animal adventures, to which Varela is clearly indebted. The colors are attractive flat pastel throughout, with noxious pinks threatening to burst through the page at any moment to devour the narrative. The use of color throughout is one of the book’s greatest assets, with different shades of pink and peach used throughout to indicate an organic stuffiness. The overall mood is highly reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, whose dystopian Brazil is the closest thematic blueprint for Varela’s work here. This is an unpleasant future, made more so by the fact that no one at all, even the men in charge, seems to be enjoying themselves. Everyone is unhappy and clearly just going through the motions so they can spend as much time as possible watching TV. It’s not their fault that the two biggest companies on the planet keep using their employees as pawns in an elaborate system of futile corporate warfare.
There is a great deal of delight to be found in Varela’s cartooning. Although the storytelling is clear and lucid, the reader will nonetheless want to read the book more than once in order to see how all the myriad pieces fit together. Without words to signal connections, narrative details can often be found hiding in plain sight, and need multiple readings to be properly uncovered. This would be a problem if the book weren’t so fun to read. [Tim O’Neil]