Unwilling soldiers aren’t exactly a new idea in comic books. Marvel especially enjoys mining that story over and over again, from Wolverine(s) to Black Widow to the Winter Soldier. But there are all sorts of stories that revolve around people forced into horrific training to do the unthinkable. With Savage Things #1 (Vertigo), Luther Strode’s Justin Jordan dives into the idea with both feet, fully embracing many of the tropes that other creators might avoid in an attempt to keep their comic on the right side of believable. This isn’t new for Jordan: The story arcs for Luther Strode leaned heavily on absurdity, gore, and violence. Rather than pushing for convincing violence of a book like Sheriff Of Babylon or Briggs Land, Jordan embraces ridiculousness, and pushes past suspension of disbelief into conspiracy theory that sounds so unbelievable you can’t help but wonder if there’s a hint of truth to it.
This first issue is well paced, walking the fine line between not enough information to capture interest and too much, making the reader want to come back for more. A shadowy organization has spent years kidnapping and indoctrinating children into a violent group of impeccably trained soldiers. Years later, as adults, the soldiers have turned on their handlers under mysterious circumstances, and the consequences of their actions are only starting to become clear. The story unfolds in carefully crafted layers, out of chronology so that characters are revealed and developed just as carefully. The plot itself isn’t very subtle, but much of Jordan’s skill is.
Artist Ibrahim Moustafa is a relative newcomer to big publishers, but he’s a good fit for this book. He drew High Crimes for MonkeyBrain in 2013, but otherwise has mostly worked on covers and single issues, most notably teaming up with Sonny Liew for several Doctor Fate covers. His style is clear and detailed, with a helpful habit of switching up the perspective on panels to give the reader a better sense of the power differential between characters. He’s just as good at facial expressions—both subtle and overblown—as he is with gore, all but a requirement for working with Jordan. Colors by Jordan Boyd are washed out and grim, with small shifts to denote flashbacks, and it makes the book feel like an action movie in all the right ways.
Fans of Luther Strode will definitely see some similarities in Savage Things, but this is no Tradd Moore book, which is a good thing. It lends an air of credibility to the story, shifting it toward the “what if this is real” feeling of 100 Bullets and the Bourne movies instead of wading into the Tarantino end of the pool. By framing this first issue in part around two people who aren’t inoffensive-looking white men, Jordan keeps the book from sliding toward the pile of otherwise unremarkable spy stories, and if Savage Things has half the philosophy and adventure Luther Strode did, it will be a fun ride.
It’s very easy to make unreadable autobiographical comics. Oftentimes, authors tell uneventful life stories in uneventful ways, or they tell their interesting stories in clumsy and boring ways. There is a unique art to the memoir, and few take the time to master it. In fact, it’s rare that an author strikes the balance required to relate their lived experiences in a compelling and engaging way, and most entries in the genre lean on the facile or inconsequential. Gabrielle Bell, however, puts in the work, and her latest, Everything Is Flammable (Uncivilized Books), acts as a fine example of her skills as a memoirist and a cartoonist.
Mostly concerned with Bell traveling to Northern California to help her mother recover from a devastating fire, Everything Is Flammable sees Bell confronting her past traumas and her relationship with her mother. Delivered in simply composed panels, and with copious amounts of dry exposition, the vignettes and scenes contained within take on a matter-of-fact tone. At times they feel as though they may be delivered without affect. But where a lesser cartoonist may arrive at this voice through rushed and amateurish fumbling, Bell does so (or seems to, at least) by calculation. She makes her drama feel intimate, as though she is speaking directly to you, and her experiences feel mediated and obscured in much the same way they do when one person relates their story to someone face-to-face. Her perspective is limited, and she makes her readers acutely aware of those limits. As a result, the interiority of others is veiled—though Bell, through the nuances of her cartooning, provides the space for readers to speculate and ponder.
An uncommonly astute and compelling recollection of the minutiae of a relatively ordinary life, a prosaic mode appears to dominate Everything Is Flammable. Bell makes heavy uses of text, and it is here that nearly all of the exposition is found. But a closer read reveals the inextricability of her linework from that flat-footed tone. For example: The book sticks to a six-panel grid, which Bell uses to establish a consistent, reliable rhythm. Her individual panels consist of thin lines, expressive acting, and simple compositions; these images are easy to take in, and their drama can be understood at a glance. Her figures, never crossing into melodrama, emote in understated but understandable ways. Combined, these two things—the rhythmic pages and deceptively simple panels—make for a reading experience both engaging and rewarding. It compels readers to continue on, and it prevents the large blocks of text from feeling overwhelming the way they otherwise might. The panels allow you to glide over them, but re-readings reveal their subtleties.
Taken together, the text and imagery of Everything Is Flammable interacts to affect a milieu that seems like it shouldn’t work—creating an almost paradoxical reading experience. It appears cold, but its drama remains moving; it appears simply drawn, but its thin lines belie a complex and rich aesthetic. Bell demonstrates her inimitable skill as a nonfiction storyteller and her talents as a cartoonist, proving how rightly earned her sterling reputation is.
The release of IvX #6 (Marvel) represents the closing of a regrettable chapter. Despite their pedigree as peak-era Lee & Kirby creations, the Inhumans have never been headliners. Like fellow Kirby creations the New Gods and the Eternals, sweeping ensemble casts in far-away locales always make better supporting characters than marquee players. Trying to make a franchise out of a setting has proven to be a mistake.
Matt Fraction came on board to spin the concept out of Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity—the Hickman crossover that came before Secret Wars, so a while ago. Fraction left very early. Soon after Fraction left, Charles Soule picked up the premise and did his best to shepherd the franchise. But the Inhumans never caught on, and their continued presence has proven a thorn in the side for readers who resent the multiple opportunities given the franchise. Persistent rumors regarding backstage machinations at Marvel created the perception that the Inhumans were being forced on the readership. The company decided to goose the franchise by using fan anxiety at the idea that the Inhumans were sidelining the X-Men to tie the two properties together, by putting the groups into direct conflict. It didn’t work. Pitting the X-Men against the Inhumans—in fact as well as rumor—backfired tremendously.
The storyline has been immensely unpopular. The idea that the Inhumans’ sacred Terrigen Mists were fatal to mutants and would eventually lead to the extinction of the race was a dead end that manufactured a conflict that was both unavoidable and unwanted. So Marvel gives us a six-issue wrap—for the storyline, written by Soule and Jeff Lemire in advance of Soule’s upcoming X-Men run—a good reward for years of service on a thankless book. Leinil Francis Yu pops back in to draw the finale after leaving for the middle stretch of the series. It’s a better wrap-up than the story deserves.
Longtime readers might be reminded of the rushed resolution of the Legacy Virus storyline in the run-up to Grant Morrison’s early-’00s run of New X-Men. An old, unending plot line needed to end, and the only way to give the event some gravitas was to sacrifice an X-Man—so Colossus died for a few years. Now they needed a quick fix to the Terrigen plague, so another couple characters had to die (or be written out) to appease the storyline. No spoilers (although it’s kind of on the cover), but they’ll be back.
Marvel’s actual motivations are unknowable, but extrapolating backwards from the evidence of IvX #6, it wanted this storyline wrapped up very quickly to allow its upcoming re-re-revamp of the X-books to launch unimpeded. Yu provides sketchy art that struggles to convey basic action. A tendency in his recent work to minimize backgrounds at the expense of overly rendered foreground figures lend the book a disembodied, rushed feel, superheroes floating on a sea of color gradients.
Soule cuts the Inhumans out of the X-Men’s story cleanly and precisely. The mutants discover the remaining Terrigen cloud is about to break down, killing every mutant on the planet. In response (but only after five issues of fighting) Queen Medusa conveniently presses a literal big red button deus ex machina that ends the conflict instantly by destroying every last trace of Terrigen on the planet: “No more Inhumans.” Everyone goes their separate ways. As much as readers have not warmed to the Inhumans as a concept, a few good characters have arrived—namely, Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl, and the revamped Karnak. They each get a few moments in the book, advertising that a few good things will continue forward from an otherwise regrettable detour. Moon Girl even manufactures the deus ex machina. The Inhumans were never necessary to sell her or Kamala Khan.
Despite a bumpy transition from webcomic to first printing, Cosmic Scoundrels still delights with memorable characters and environments
Cosmic Scoundrels debuted as a webcomic in 2014, introducing two space-faring rogues who go on thrilling adventures with their talking spaceship and superpowered baby. Written by Homestar Runner co-creator Matt Chapman with art by Andy Suriano—an animation veteran who has worked on series like Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack, and Mickey Mouse—the comic emphasizes action and attitude above all else. Now it’s making the jump to print courtesy of IDW. The selling point of Cosmic Scoundrels #1 is Suriano’s artwork, and his bold designs, blacklight poster coloring, and dynamic action staging make for some striking visuals. Readers looking for frantic fisticuffs and an irreverent sense of humor will find plenty to enjoy in these pages, but on a narrative level, this first issue is very slight.
As a free webcomic, Cosmic Scoundrels is a fun exercise in playing around with ’70s-inspired sci-fi action-comedy elements, but as a $4 printed/digital comic, it doesn’t quite satisfy. The story drops readers right in the middle of the action, and while that gives the first issue an exciting energy, there’s not much to grab onto in terms of plot or character. A page of expository text at the start gives readers the background information that is largely sidestepped in the rest of the issue, but it would be nice to see Chapman delve further into who these characters actually are in the script.
The lead scoundrels, Roshambo and Love Savage, are flimsy bro caricatures at this early point, but the final reveal promises to peel back new aspects of their personalities as they become caretakers to the aforementioned baby. Homestar Runner fans will be familiar with the goofy comedy in this first issue, and there’s a juvenile quality that makes the book feel like it’s been pulled from the imagination of teenagers that just discovered glam rock and 2000 AD. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and it gives Cosmic Scoundrels an exuberant, impulsive tone that allows the creators freedom to take the story in whichever direction they please.
Granted, that direction is pretty much always toward action. Suriano’s extensive experience in animation has given him a deep understanding of bodies in motion and how to present those bodies for maximum impact. Intense angles and exaggerated anatomy amplify the action beats, and his vibrant colors add an extra layer of spectacle. This first issue relies a bit too heavily on splash pages, which make it easier to hit webcomic deadlines, but he knows how to compose a dramatic full-page image. An Emmy Award winner for character design, Suriano fills Cosmic Scoundrels with memorable characters and environments, and the main joy of this series is seeing what Suriano can do when he’s given free rein to create whatever his heart desires.