There’s a real temptation to just tell people to read Mitch Gerads and Tom King’s Mister Miracle #1 (DC) and leave it at that. This team is a solid one with a lot of skill, and after their work on The Sheriff Of Babylon it really shouldn’t be a hard sell to get this issue into people’s hands.
Mister Miracle isn’t flashy and performative, but it’s well within King’s wheelhouse, introspective and complicated. It would have been easy for a book about Scott Free to turn into a campy, over-the-top cape-and-cowl story: He’s an escape artist and messiah-slash-heir to the throne of another planet who spends his time fighting an evil alien dictator that wants to destroy Earth. That’s exactly the sort of backstory that lends itself to camp, but King and Gerads turn away from that temptation on the very first page. Fans who have only checked out King’s tentpole titles like Batman might not be as familiar with his penchant for emotionally wrenching comics that unfold slowly, with ragged stories that invite repeated rereads to really dig in. Grayson hinted at this, but Vision and The Omega Men and especially The Sheriff Of Babylon pulled far fewer punches, delivering nuanced and layered characters that embrace ambiguity without abandoning what few moral truths they do hold.
King is a master of the nine-panel page, and Gerads only makes his work that much better. The beats on every panel are sharp and well-defined, even as the pages struggle with chronology and reality. Unlike a lot of books, especially big superhero titles, Gerads is doing all of the art for Mister Miracle, from pencils to colors, which means he’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do. King isn’t exactly reserved with dialogue, but Gerads does a lot of work with facial expressions and panel composition to pack an even heavier punch than King’s words do alone. As is expected, there are a lot of similarities with The Sheriff Of Babylon, but the palette Gerads uses is brighter, leaning heavily on primary colors Jack Kirby gave to both Scott’s costume and that of his wife, Barda. There’s a lot of red, between those two and Orion, who’s hardly recognizable from his last recurring role in Cliff Chiang and Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman run. It’s immensely gratifying to see Gerads drawing Barda as hulking and thick with muscle next to Scott.
The book is a mental breakdown in print form, both frightening and irresistible as Scott Free spirals rapidly out of control and drags readers along with him. Fans of Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man might see some similarities here, a celebrity superhero suffering through something at once foreign and universally understandable. Though knowing the history of Darkseid and New Genesis is helpful for this first issue, it’s not necessary. All you need to know is that Scott Free is anything but, and trust Gerads and King to tell you an incredible story.
Between Titan Comics’ Hercules: Wrath Of The Heavens miniseries and Hamish Steele’s Pantheon graphic novel, August is turning out to be a fascinating month for comic-book interpretations of ancient mythology. These two titles are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum in nearly every way: Hercules is serious and dark, completely recontextualizes its source material in a sci-fi landscape, and has hyper-rendered artwork that looks almost photo-realistic at times. Pantheon is irreverent, bright, adheres closely to the original myths, and has a cartoony art style that reinforces the humor. These titles show how malleable mythology can be in the hands of different creators, and they’re both entertaining in their own, very different ways. (If you’re looking for a graphic novel that falls in the middle of these two, check out David Rubín’s The Hero from Dark Horse Comics, another graphic-novel adaptation of the Hercule myth.)
Originally published in France in 2012, Hercules: Wrath Of The Heavens #1 (Titan Comics) will satisfy fans of action sci-fi stories with a hard edge and detailed design sensibility. A five-issue miniseries written by Jean-David Morvan (credited as JDMorvan) with art by Looky and Olivier Thill, Hercules is atmospheric and exciting, and its intricately detailed visuals pull readers deep into the space-opera setting. Gears Of War is name-dropped in the promotional materials for Hercules, and the series has a very strong video game quality in both its story and art. The legend of Hercules fits well with video game conventions, particularly his 12 Labors, which have him going off to complete different tasks, many of them violent in nature.
This issue begins with a chilling prologue where Hercules kills his family after being manipulated by a malevolent alien deity, setting him on the path to his first labor: slaying the cybernetic lion that is terrifying the people of Nemea. A mohawked hunk of rock-hard muscle covered in tattoos, Hercules radiates machismo, and that carries throughout the book. The male gaze is strong in the depictions of women, most of whom have exposed breasts, and at least in this first chapter, there aren’t any female characters with any actual dimension. This is an aggressively masculine world, and while I would love to be proven wrong, I foresee not much changing with regards to the women in this story.
Looky is responsible for laying out pages, composing panels, and creating the general character and environment designs, which are converted into 3-D models by Olivier Thill. Using digital 3-D rendering for comic-book artwork can be very tricky, and while it significantly cuts down on the workload after all the models have been completed, it can look very stiff on the page. Looky and Thill have clearly spent a lot of time working out how the character models look in action and incorporating small details to enrich the environments, and it allows them to mostly overcome the major obstacles with 3-D artwork in sequential storytelling.
There are a few instances when the characters look a little too posed, but overall the moment-to-moment transitions are smooth and dynamic. The coloring plays a major role in that, with meticulous rendering that adds texture to make the final art look organic. Most of the book has more neutral blues, grays, browns, so the pops of color hit hard, like the searing red when Hercules has his body taken over and the acidic green radiating from a stasis pod in an alien diplomat’s home. Hercules: Wrath Of The Heavens is a striking book, and it’s an especially compelling example of how beautiful 3-D artwork can look when it’s executed with precision and clarity.
There is something almost admirable about the work of writer-filmmaker Makoto Shinkai. Running throughout his work, the author—probably best known in the United States for directing the anime film Your Name—remains primarily concerned with the human condition. Specifically, Shinkai is very interested in exploring the human condition as an opaque sequence of infinitesimally minuscule gestures. What beauty exists in his work is principally found in the movement of eyebrows and hands, the fleeting glances of lonely twentysomethings, or the deep sigh that’s equal parts relief and longing. Tsubasa Yamaguchi’s She And Her Cat (Vertical Comics), which adapts Shinkai’s short animated films of the same name, reflects this fascination with the quotidian, though it can’t quite capitalize on some of its keenly observed frailty.
Though Shinkai receives a “story by” credit on the book, it’s difficult to determine the actual extent of his involvement. That said, She And Her Cat does feature all the qualities of Shinkai’s work—both the good and the bad. The story is told from the perspective of Chobi, the cat of the title, and it takes place over the course of a year, with chapter titles having names like “Spring Rain” and “Winter Landscape.” Chobi, being a cat, doesn’t understand the daily goings-on of ordinary human life, and a sort of bemusement inflects his observation of his owner, the otherwise unnamed “She” of the title, and his expository narration.
Yamaguchi makes the best out of the material given, drawing beautifully throughout—particularly in the book’s lush first couple of pages, which are printed in full color. There is one moment in particular that evinces Yamaguchi’s skills as a cartoonist; it’s a simple eight-panel sequence that features the woman taking a spoonful of soup. It’s not a spectacular moment, or even one that takes up the entirety of a page, but it does demonstrate the subtly of Yamaguchi’s cartooning, and the nuance of acting and emotion brought to bear on the book’s many silent, reflective moments.
Unfortunately, the book is replete with the cloying sentimentality endemic to Shinkai’s body of work, and its saccharine pablum is enough to induce diabetic shock. Like his film, Your Name, which attempts to earnestly wring tears from its viewers by farcically misappropriating the conceit of The Lake House, She And Her Cat drastically overplays its hand. The central conceit of the story quickly grows tired, and the ironic distance that seeks to make the familiar alien makes it impossible to take seriously a seemingly well-observed look at the minutiae of life. It attempts to glam up the ordinary, which deflates the satisfaction of simply watching a character go about her life, but it does so in the most ham-fisted and winking way. Unfortunately, this eye roll-inducing self-satisfaction isn’t even the most egregiously facile bit of melodrama. The book climaxes with a sequence wherein Chobi’s mere existence shocks his owner out of a seemingly severe depressive state, apparently curing her of the malaise that has plagued her throughout the book. Ultimately, Shinkai’s interest in unfurling the subtleties of human expression and emotion just can’t overcome his inability to approach those emotions without pretense or self-sabotage.