Jeff Smith established himself as one of the top cartoonists in self-published comic books with his all-ages fantasy epic Bone, building a sprawling, immersive narrative over the course of 55 issues. Smith moved in a drastically different direction for his follow-up, RASL (Cartoon), shelving the adorable Disney tone of Bone for a fringe sci-fi noir about a scientist-turned-art-thief who steals famous works from alternate dimensions. This new hardcover collects the entire 15-issue series in full color for the first time, with Smith acting as art director to colorist Steve Hamaker, and it’s a beautiful package perfect for Bone fans who have grown up and are looking for something sexy and suspenseful with a hell of a high concept.
Smith’s noir-inspired aesthetic is striking in black and white, and color adds even more visual punch to his linework. The toxic neon hues of the Drift emphasize the dangerous, unnatural power of Rasl’s technology, and the generally muted palette keeps the focus on the thick shadows. Smith shows a talent for violence in this title, and the reader gets a real sense of the toll Rasl’s journey has had on him through the shift in his body language and facial expressions as time passes. While there are some truly spectacular sequences, Smith’s attention to detail keeps the story intimate as it grows in scope. The recurring image of a rock entering a pool of water is a serene picture that helps Rasl focus, and those shots provide brief moments of calm for the reader as the tension increases.
The Comics Panel review of RASL #1 lamented the inevitably long wait for the story’s conclusion, but the finished title shows Smith tightening his plotting and delivering regular reveals as he introduces lizard-faced hitmen, Nikola Tesla, government conspiracies, and multiple love triangles into the narrative. It’s an incredibly ambitious project, and while Smith could have spent more time exploring this world, particularly the motivation and backstory of antagonist Agent Crow, the accelerated pacing makes for a thrilling read and leaving some questions unanswered keeps the mystery alive after the final page. [OS]
In his 2002 miniseries Global Frequency, writer Warren Ellis teamed with a different artist for each issue as he spotlighted the various members of an international peacekeeping organization. That creative format hasn’t been replicated on any mainstream ongoing series, but Ales Kot is looking to change that with Zero, which finds the up-and-coming writer collaborating with a new artist each month to explore various moments in the life of a secret government super-soldier. (Permanent colorist Jordie Bellaire will help establish visual consistency.) Zero #1 (Image) partners Kot with artist Michael Walsh for a story set in the Gaza Strip in 2018, and it’s not only a phenomenal start to the series, but the strongest work of both creators’ careers.
Zero is tasked with retrieving a stolen piece of technology from the chest of a bio-modified Hamas combatant, but first he has to get the man to stop fighting his similarly augmented Israeli opponent. As Zero makes his way through the warzone, the men beat the tar out of each other, and reading the two threads side by side is like watching The Hurt Locker and Rocky at the same time. The fight is brutally staged by Kot and Walsh, and the men become increasingly monstrous in appearance as bones break and lips are ripped off. Walsh’s stark style captures the full impact of a brick slamming into a spine, but he also does remarkable work with more emotional storytelling. When Zero witnesses the collateral damage of his actions, Walsh stretches the moment across multiple panels to detail how it lingers in Zero’s mind before he resumes his mission.
With each new project, Kot has become more economical with narration and has given the art more responsibility in the storytelling. The result is a comic book that reads smoothly while delivering lots of information, and Kot’s sense of humor adds extra contrast to his hard-hitting plot. Zero is a superior specimen, but he’s not perfect, as displayed by a slapstick moment where he slips on the edge of a rooftop and slams his face into concrete. There’s a fairly gratuitous sex scene in the middle of the issue, but it’s an effective way of diffusing tension as the stakes escalate on the Gaza Strip. Kot’s work is only going to improve as he works with talents like Mateus Santolouco, Tradd Moore, and Tonci Zonjic, and this impressive first issue shows the massive potential in this concept and gives plenty of reasons for readers to come back for more. [OS]
Batman is a character that works exceptionally well in black and white, thanks to his crime roots and gritty urban environment, and the original Batman: Black & White series even scored a Best Anthology Eisner award in 1997. DC revives the series at a time when much of its output has become creatively stagnant thanks to The New 52, and Batman: Black And White #1 (DC) shows how important diversity is in keeping these old superhero properties fresh. The art in this issue is phenomenal, featuring work from Michael Cho, Neal Adams, Joe Quinones, Sean Murphy, and Chris Samnee, showing a broad array of dark knight depictions that highlight the character’s versatility.
Cho teams with Chip Kidd for a bright, Golden Age-style team-up between Robin and Superman, Quinones and Maris Wicks craft a Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story that reads like a lost episode of Batman: The Animated Series, and Murphy is joined by John Arcudi to expose the hero’s gearhead side as he chases Roxy Rocket through Gotham. The writing drags down the remaining two stories; Adams gives himself a hilariously preachy tale about how Batman can’t fight home foreclosures, and while it’s the strongest of Howard Mackie’s recent DC work, his verbose script for Samnee encroaches on the recent Eisner winner’s gorgeous linework. DC’s current anthology series (Adventures Of Superman, Legends Of The Dark Knight) feature some of the publisher’s best work, and the return of Batman: Black And White continues to showcase how these out-of-continuity books give the creators freedom to tell unique stories. [OS]
It would be easy to dismiss Cole Closser’s book-length debut, Little Tommy Lost: Book One (Koyama), as a pastiche of Depression-era comic strips. Instead, it should be celebrated for it—and for using the pastiche concept to underpin nostalgic innocence without making a crutch out of it. On a strictly technical level, Closser lines up his influences in a row: Like Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, Closser’s Tommy is a waif stuck in an orphanage, but his dreams and destiny seem pointed toward grander things. Keeping with that period motif, the installments are laid out like four-panel newspaper strips, faux-faded newsprint and all, as if these were clipped from 1930s dailies and glued into a scrapbook.
Every seventh installment features longer, full-color Sunday strips, and those are where Closser shines most. Where the daily strips can veer toward wordiness and repetitive exposition, the Sundays are where Closser experiments, layers in atmosphere, and exhibits his modernist streak. In particular, his Halloween Sunday is a phantasmagoric wonder; in another, he pays homage to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo when a proto-psychedelic dream concludes with Tommy falling out of his bed and waking on the floor, wrapped in his bed sheets. Signifiers aside—including the villainous Skullface Duggery, a baddie straight out of the rogues gallery of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy—Little Tommy Lost embodies the rich heritage of bygone American funnies while keeping an edge that’s both gripping and grim. And this being Book One, there’s still plenty of adventure to be had. [JH]
Previously available in Europe, but released in the U.S. for the first time, is Jérémie Dres’ We Won’t See Auschwitz (SelfMadeHero). Besides being the debut of a European creator (In Dres’ case, French), the subject matter is as Continental—yet universal—as its title would imply. In a sketchbook travelogue style, the book follows Dres and his elder brother Martin as they move through episodic sequences, a diaspora in reverse that takes them through the Polish cities and countryside where so many Jews (including their relatives) suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.
The narrative structure is deceptively complex, much like Dres’ linework; fluid and uncluttered, his vivid renditions of himself, his brother, and those they encounter in Poland float in unframed panels across the page like untethered memories. The parallels to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated are clear, but it isn’t just the graphic-novel format that sets Dres’ book apart; it’s his ability to more fully ponder the dimensionality, and the baggage, of his own identity. Ultimately, it’s the double meaning of the book’s title—the brothers’ anticlimactic avoidance of Auschwitz, plus the idealistic hope that a holocaust on that scale will never happen—that We Won’t See Auschwitz most poignantly probes. [JH]
The X-Men turn 50 this year, and the mutants are having a crossover to celebrate. Granted, they have one every year so it’s not that special an occasion, but X-Men: Battle Of The Atom #1 (Marvel) comes at a particularly prosperous time for the X-titles. There are a lot of characters in play across the four core books, and this one-shot introduces even more as X-Men from the future appear in the present to send the X-Men of the past back to their original time. It sounds more confusing than it is, and writer Brian Michael Bendis does admirable work catching new readers up on the Marvel Now! mutant landscape. Time travel is the cause of many a comic book headache (see Bendis’ Age Of Ultron), but Battle Of The Atom balances personal character development with the more fantastic genre elements to keep the story grounded. The X-books have some of the strongest artists in superhero comics, and the team of Frank Cho and Stuart Immonen deliver outstanding visuals in this one-shot. Cho handles the majority of the issue, and his extravagant action sequences are complemented by the nuances of his character work. Cho is famous for drawing buxom women, but he’s an artist with an excellent understanding of anatomy, and he populates this book with diverse body types and faces. Crossovers often seem unnecessary, but the talent involved with Battle Of The Atom makes it a strong tribute to half a century of mutantkind… [OS]
In response to a frightening increase in crime during the years following World War II, the Los Angeles Police Department went to desperate measures to keep vice in check, creating hit squads that secretly killed unsavory figures before they became too big of a problem. Hit #1 (Boom) is a riveting entry point into the seedy world under the glitzy 1955 Hollywood surface, following one of these police-officer hitmen as he gets pulled into the shit by a gorgeous femme fatale from his past. Writer Bryce Carlson has a skill for heightened noir dialogue and creates a strong hook with the dire situation at the end of this first issue, but the main draw of Hit is Vanessa R. Del Rey’s atmospheric, expressive artwork. The environment is realized in meticulous detail, and there’s clearly been plentiful research done on the fashion, vehicles, and architecture of the time. Her art is reminiscent of brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon with its clean lines, smooth action, and sharp character work, and her art does as much to create the pulpy tone as the hardboiled story. Boom has started to shift from licensed properties to more original titles, and Hit #1 is a captivating crime comic that suggests good things as the publisher diversifies its content… [OS]
Although it’s been out for just a couple months, Mimi And The Wolves Act 1: The Dream (self-published) has not been easy to find. Limited to 200 signed-and-numbered copies, the opening issue of Alabaster’s ongoing series has been selling out from zine merchants left and right—but its scarcity (and gorgeous production) isn’t what makes Mimi so good. After a tantalizingly mythic prologue, the story proceeds mundanely as the human girl Mimi and her canine friend Bobo—charmingly reminiscent of the anthropomorphic milieu of Norway’s Jason, but with a manga twist—make the rounds of their small-town world. Things begin to slip into less childlike territory as Mimi and Bobo are revealed to be lovers in a trans-species domestic partnership, and Mimi’s lucid dreams turn graphically grotesque—not to mention possibly prophetic. In other words, it has all the makings of a classic fairytale, especially when that most potent of symbols, the wolf, makes its resonant, mysterious presence felt. A reprint of Act 1: The Dream—plus the arrival of Act 2: The Den—is on the way soon, according to ala-bas-ter.tumblr.com, so hopefully the promising series will remain accessible to the larger audience it deserves. [JH]