In a short letter at the end of Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1 (Marvel), writer/artist Kaare Kyle Andrews describes the influence of Jim Steranko on his work, praising the legendary Captain America/Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist for his stylized, progressive storytelling that was unlike anything else in superhero comics at the time. He writes about how Steranko’s work on Nick Fury “seemed a little ‘off,’” but was captivating in the way it used the medium to create a unique reading experience that was more that just words juxtaposed with art. At the end of the letter, Andrews admits that elements of his Iron Fist “will feel ‘off’ and may be flat out ‘wrong,’” and while that’s certainly the case with the script of this first issue, the imagination on display in the visuals makes it a riveting start to a dark new chapter in the life of Danny Rand.
Readers looking for a more carefree Iron Fist aren’t going to find that in Andrews’ series, which spotlights a Danny Rand who is tortured by his past, bored by his present, and fearful of his future. The narration puts Danny’s troubled mental state front and center, and Andrews pushes the character’s grim, bleak personality so far that it borders on satirical. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman And Robin is a total mess if you read it as a gritty Batman story, and while it’s still messy when interpreted as a piece of satire, it also becomes a fascinating exploration of the values and attitudes of modern superhero comics, values and attitudes that Frank Miller and his contemporaries brought to prominence in the 1980s.
Exaggeration can yield intriguing results in a genre like superhero comics, and while Kaare’s characterization doesn’t necessarily jibe with what came before, it helps give this first issue a very specific tone. To help introduce new readers to Iron Fist, Andrews devotes much of this issue to Danny Rand’s origin, specifically focusing on how the trauma of losing his parents at such a young age has damaged him as an adult. It all sounds very serious, but it’s depicted with a visual flair that keeps the book from becoming too heavy.
Andrews’ story jumps between the past and present, and the flashbacks are drawn to look like old comic-book pages that have been folded, stained, and faded over time. Like a cherished comic book from his youth, Danny is constantly pulling out those memories and unfolding them so he can agonize over every minute detail, and Andrews’ layouts emphasize what aspects of the past haunt Danny the most. Everything changes for Danny on the page where his father’s business partner shoots a flare gun and starts an avalanche, and Andrews makes the sound effects a major part of the page design, suggesting that sound is the thing Danny remembers most clearly.
As evidenced by an astonishing portfolio of cover art from the early ’00s, Kaare Andrews is an extremely versatile artist who can work in a variety of different styles. His interiors tend toward animation rather than realism, and this work on Iron Fist aims for maximum motion while incorporating detailed inking to add definition. He has a sharp understanding of using color to dictate mood; the flashbacks are dominated by dull, washed-out tones, while the present-day sequences are black, white, and red, an ominous color combination that foreshadows bloodshed.
There’s a lot of atmosphere here, but the real selling point of Andrews’ Iron Fist is the action, and this first issue features an epic fight sequence that sees Danny running along the sides of buildings and punching through helicopters. Andrews has an outstanding grasp on human anatomy, and those strong fundamentals give him the ability to exaggerate proportions for added dynamism. This may be a different version of Iron Fist than what readers are accustomed to, but the action has all the speed and power Danny Rand fans should expect. It may be a little “off,” but Andrews is putting his distinct stamp on the character and creating something gorgeous in the process. [OS]
The Ultimate universe has undergone its fair share of overhauls in the last few years, with Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man serving as the sole constant while up-and-coming writers are brought on to offer fresh points of view on the other characters of this alternate Marvel reality. The creator of the brilliant Suicide Squad pastiche Copra, Michel Fiffe is an unexpected choice to take on writing duties for the latest iteration of the Ultimate universe’s central superteam, but All-New Ultimates #1 proves that Marvel made a wise decision putting Fiffe in charge of this group of teen heroes.
Fiffe’s work on Copra shows a deep appreciation for the superhero comics of the 1980s, and there’s a definite ’80s influence in All-New Ultimates, a neon-colored urban superhero adventure that pits Spider-Man and his amazing friends against gaudily dressed gangbangers that could have stepped out of a side-scrolling beat-’em-up arcade game. This issue provides the requisite backstory for anyone unfamiliar with these characters without getting bogged down in exposition, and Fiffe’s snappy dialogue combined with Amilcar Pinna’s sleek action choreography keeps the momentum moving forward at a brisk pace. While Pinna’s facial expressions could be more consistent, he brings a lot of detail in his linework and excels with action staging, delivering fight scenes that hit hard and fast.
This issue has some great combat, but its strongest moment is a short two-page conversation between Jessica Drew and Kitty Pryde, who has gone into hiding after becoming an international hero for saving the world from Galactus in Cataclysm. Fiffe’s approach to Kitty Pryde depicts her as being uncomfortable with all this love from a society that would hate her if she didn’t save their lives, and she’s having difficulty appreciating the affection when she’s aware of how warped her situation is. It’s just talking heads, but Fiffe and Pinna make the dialogue more engaging by giving the characters something to do while they talk. Little details like Kitty sweeping crumbs off the table before Jessica sets down their Dollar Pizza, Jessica opening a can of pop, and Kitty getting up to grab more napkins make these characters feel like real people, which helps make Kitty’s extraordinary circumstances more personal and understandable to the reader. The scene shows Fiffe and Pinna’s comfort with depicting the drama of these characters’ civilian lives, an essential quality of a successful teen superhero comic.
Nolan Woodard gives the book a distinct look by using a palette that Fiffe describes in the book’s back matter as “neon phantasmagoria,” and he exaggerates the colors during fight sequences to amplify the rhythm of Pinna’s choreography. For moments that are more relaxed—a team meeting in Cloak and Dagger’s run-down church hideout, Kitty and Jessica’s pizza chat—Woodard uses a single dominant shade like a warm gold or a calm bluish purple, but when action breaks out, the coloring begins to cycle through vivid neon shades of yellow, orange, blue, green, pink, and purple, often combining multiple hues in the same panel. In the pages of Copra, Fiffe has shown immense talent as an experimental visual storyteller, and the coloring is how the writer’s progressive art sensibilities are incorporated into All-New Ultimates. [OS]
Raised to be the world’s greatest explorer, Kate Kristopher has spent her life doing fantastic things that ordinary humans could only dream of, but just because her experiences have been extraordinary doesn’t mean that they’ve been fulfilling. On her 27th birthday, Kate finds herself in search of something beyond the routine she’s fallen into, and that personal crisis provides the emotional backbone of Shutter #1, a new ongoing series by writer Joe Keatinge, artist Leila Del Duca, colorist Owen Gieni, and letterer Ed Brisson. It’s a stunning debut brimming with imagination, telling a deeply personal story in a setting where giant eagles carry airbuses on their back, minotaurs ride the subway, and a dad can show his love by taking his little girl to the moon.
Tim Leong designs the book’s eye-catching trade dress, and the book’s overall aesthetic is very slick, beginning with an opening two-page splash that shows a 7-year-old Kate running across the surface of the moon accompanied by the caption: “Image Comics Presents.” After the splash, the pages follow a three-panel layout of horizontal panels with the middle panel serving as a different credit, showing the names of the creators against a backdrop of family photos. It plays out like the start of a Wes Anderson film in how it quickly establishes history during the opening credits, and Anderson’s influence is immediately evident in Del Duca’s ornate, retro wallpaper pattern and Brisson’s use of Futura font.
Shutter is Keatinge’s strongest work to date, and this debut soars by understanding the importance of perspective. Even at 7 years old, Kate isn’t particularly impressed by the moon’s majesty, and after years of wild adventures, she has trouble feeling any sense of awe despite living in a world where people can go on tours of multiversal space titans. The juxtaposition of Kate’s boredom with the spectacle of this environment gives this book an enthralling point of view, and the twist in the book’s final pages incorporates a family element that suggests there are many more layers of this narrative for Keatinge to explore.
Del Duca’s artwork is simply phenomenal in this first issue, creating an immersive world that is recognizable yet fantastic, and her use of the double-page splash is highly effective, evoking a sense of wonder in the reader that isn’t shared by Kate. The visual storytelling is remarkably clear; if this first issue was printed without any text, the emotional beats of the story would still read. Del Duca’s exquisite body language and facial expressions heighten the impact of the text, and the issue’s closing fight sequences reveal a talent for staging quick action. (For an in-depth look at Owen Gieni’s coloring, see April 11’s Big Issues.) Kate Kristopher may not be fulfilled by her present-day situation, but her life makes for a very satisfying read in the hands of Shutter’s creative team. [OS]
Jeff Parker has become the comic book industry’s go-to writer when it comes to reviving classic properties with a modern sensibility without sacrificing any of the original concepts’ charm, and Flash Gordon #1 (Dynamite) is another rousing victory by Parker, teaming him with the brilliant art team of Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire for a thrilling introduction to the space-faring adventures of Alex “Flash” Gordon and his team. Parker makes a wise choice in skipping past the full origin of the title character, starting the issue with quick glimpses at the former earthbound lives of Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov to establish their personalities, then jumping into the present where the three have teamed up and are on the run from Ming The Merciless’ henchmen on the planet Mongo.
What makes Flash Gordon stand out in a crowded comic-book market is the joyful excitement on display in every page, showing the creators’ reverence for the history of the property and their dedication to capturing the tone of those original stories. Flash’s entrance is an energetic shot of him bungee jumping from a bridge with a giant grin on his face, and he maintains that positive spirit no matter the situation. Exposition isn’t as important to Parker as creating a specific attitude and offering a tour of this universe and the limitless possibilities it presents, giving Shaner and Bellaire the opportunity to push themselves to deliver more exhilarating visuals.
Shaner’s art shares many similarities with the work of Daredevil artist Chris Samnee, particularly in the way he takes inspiration from past masters of the medium but interprets those influences through a modern widescreen sensibility. There are some truly breathtaking shots in this issue—a two-page spread revealing the forest planet of Arboria is a highlight, featuring incredibly rich colors from Bellaire—and Shaner is equally adept with subtle character work and rip-roaring action.
The scope of the art in this issue is huge, and considering the refinement and growth of Shaner’s work with each new project, the spectacle here feels like just the tip of the iceberg. (For an in-depth look at Bellaire’s coloring, see the aforementioned Big Issues.) Dynamite Comics has seen a huge upswing in quality this year with the Gold Key and Flash Gordon revivals, proving that there’s plenty of potential in old properties if the right creative team is attached to them. [OS]
The first of DC’s three new weekly series debuting in 2014, Batman: Eternal uses a team of writers to tell a yearlong story that will dictate the direction of the entire Bat-line of titles. Considering the talent involved, you’d expect them to come up with something a little more original than a mysterious villain breaking down the Dark Knight and setting Gotham City on fire, but that’s where things are headed according to the series’ opening flash-forward. Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV handle the story and script for Batman: Eternal #1-2 (DC), with Tim Seeley, Ray Fawkes, and John Layman serving as consulting writers, and they begin Batman’s descent by dragging down Commissioner James Gordon, who finds himself accidentally responsible for a deadly subway crash that lands him in prison and makes him a public enemy.
The pacing is quick and the stakes are high, but the humorless story doesn’t make for a particularly fun read. And there’s really no need for it to be so austere. After two issues, the dreary atmosphere becomes overwhelming without any sort of levity, and if things are only going to get worse, the writers need to find ways to incorporate moments that show why these characters are likable and deserve sympathy.
Artist Jason Fabok’s detailed, heavily cross-hatched style is reminiscent of creators like David Finch and Gary Frank, and while he does slick work staging badass shots of superheroes in action, Brad Anderson’s drab color palette of grays and browns dulls the visuals. FCO Plascencia and Brian Buccellato’s work on other Bat-titles proves that it’s possible to make Gotham a foreboding environment while still utilizing a wider spectrum of colors, and a varied palette would bring more character to the visuals on Batman: Eternal. While this series is off to a depressing start, a peek at the future in Batman #28 was actually quite enjoyable, so at least there’s some comfort in knowing things will pick up a bit before Gotham inevitably goes up in flames. [OS]
Many people find drawing, journaling, and nature to be soothing, and all three of these things feature prominently in Julie Delporte’s experimental graphic novel Everywhere Antennas (Drawn And Quarterly). The protagonist is an unnamed French woman in her mid-20s who is suffering from headaches and depression. She used to love to read and would devour a book every evening, but now she has trouble keeping her concentration, causing her to sigh, “I miss books so much.”
Her teacher certification examination is coming up, but she’s not at all prepared, and she’s dubious of the antidepressants her doctor prescribes. Her lover, Jonas, does what he can to help her, but she doesn’t feel he really comprehends the situation. This causes strain on their relationship. Then she hears about a theory that some people are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation and becomes convinced that this is her case as well. An opportunity arrives for her to live for a while in a cottage in Quebec, and she quickly grabs this chance. She gets rid of her computer and goes to live a more rural life, taking her colored pencils with her.
Everywhere Antennas is written as the narrator’s diary, and it’s a combination of her penciled thoughts (done in beautiful, colored cursive writing) and her drawings and sketches. The presentation of the book is sparse, with each page typically containing only a few sentences in addition to the colored pencil drawings. Some of the drawings look like quick, easy sketches, while others are done with more detail or feature a blend of both techniques. The story gains depth by tapping into larger social concepts like the refusal of modernity and an attraction to idealistic wishes for having a more simple life, if only for a brief period of time. Everywhere Antennas is fairly simple, but the way it leaves itself open to interpretation gives it its power. [DD]
Graphic memoirs can come in many styles, and with the fictionalized memoir Petty Theft (Drawn And Quarterly), Pascal Girard offers up a dry, humorous, and neurotic look at his own dating life. Girard, whose other graphic novels include Reunion and Nicolas, portrays himself as a pitiful yet sympathetic character down on his luck. He feels a need to get a “real job” so he can stop living off the kindness of other people, and the fact he just broke up with his long-term girlfriend doesn’t help. He soon becomes infatuated with a new woman, but for a very unusual reason: He watches her steal one of his books out of a bookstore. He finds this strangely flattering and tries to get a relationship going—while also doing what he can to secretly return her stolen items. The drawings are done in black and white, usually six panels to a page, and their sketchy, stylized look fits well with the story. Much of the humor comes out in Pascal’s actions, which range from slapstick to irony, and while he and the woman of his dreams may not be made for each other, they make a good graphic novel team. [DD]
First love can be a turbulent experience, and the shojo manga Say I Love You (Kodansha USA) explores the roller coaster ride of a young relationship. High schooler Mei prefers to keep to herself, but when a cruel classmate tugs at her skirt to harass her, she turns around and does a roundhouse kick to the face—on the wrong guy. Instead of kicking the perpetrator, she’s wounded Yamato, the most popular boy in school. It’s instant love on his side: He’s glad she protects herself, is impressed by her strength, and is ready to date her. Mei, on the other hand, finds all this suspicious and doesn’t know why she should trust Yamato. To top it off, she also has to deal with the bullying girls who have turned on her for daring to kick Yamato, the guy they all want. While it may at first seem that Mei and Yamato could never work, experiences find them turning to each other and learning new sides to the other character. Altogether, Say I Love You is a leisurely paced and sensitively written manga that shows how awkward and yet emotional first love can be. It’s proven so popular that an anime adaptation is also available. [DD]