Despite redesign-related Internet tantrums and the 13-month gap between appearances in Justice League #23.2 (DC) and the solo title debut, Lobo is proving to defy expectations. It’s a shame Marguerite Bennett didn’t reprise her role as writer, but understandable given the vitriol aimed at her when readers saw the pretty, recently bathed version of the trope-laden bounty hunter. Lobo #5 (DC) is in the thick of the first arc that writer Cullen Bunn and artist Reilly Brown have crafted, joined by penciller Alison Borges. Lobo is not the kind of comic that’s trying to deliver something never before seen in the genre. It’s not targeted to a particular demographic and it’s not the most complicated plot on the shelves. All that said, it’s eminently readable and just plain fun.
Bunn has a good handle on the lead character’s moral compass (or lack thereof) and the snark oozes, well placed, where it’s needed. The art is clean and easy to follow without sacrificing color and texture: Weaponry and Lobo’s glowing features are particularly eye-catching without being distracting. After reading other books with more experimental art, Lobo is relaxing. It doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is, like a summer blockbuster that’s intimately aware of its purpose: to entertain people.
This month’s issue introduces Lobo’s foil, a female Xrexian who apparently knows more about our reluctant lead’s past than even he does. She brings along with her a prophecy that frankly isn’t interesting yet, and the promise of a lot more violence than the literal evisceration she gives Lobo before exiting stage left. She flirts with Lobo shamelessly, but it’s while they’re beating each other to within an inch of their lives and it’s clear she’s his match when it comes to physical altercations and perhaps even smarter.
Lobo’s team, begrudgingly accepted in an earlier issue, is composed in part of two women of color, one of whom is a child whose abilities with technology far outclass Lobo’s own. Every single thing in this book points towards a completely different take on Lobo. The character he most looks like now is Dick Grayson, and one of the panels in this issue mirrors one of the most well-known views of Nightwing’s infamous asset. He’s a antihero you hope might have a heart of gold, an archetype that’s attractive to a lot of women.
It makes sense that some will continue to bemoan the loss of the burly biker version of everyone’s least favorite Czarnian, but Bunn and Brown are showing us a world that’s drenched in the female gaze, full of smart capable women who are stealing the spotlight. And while that’s a lot for a summer blockbuster title to take on, they’re doing it a lot better than some of the titles that are lauded for their attempts. If nothing else, do yourself a favor and at least check out Ben Oliver’s covers for #4 and #5, they’re damn near edible. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Boom Studios puts out a lot of licensed comics based on Cartoon Network series, but it could use more original titles that take the bright, colorful, all-ages appeal of those TV shows and apply it to new stories and ideas. The Boom! Box imprint has been the primary source of these creator-owned works with titles like Lumberjanes, The Midas Flesh, and Teen Dog, and that lineup gets even stronger with Help Us! Great Warrior #1 (Boom), a delightful Tumblr import that blooms into something magnificent when put on the page.
Written and illustrated by Madéleine Flores with colors by Trillian Gunn, this eight-issue miniseries follows Great Warrior, a chartreuse, bean-shaped, bow-wearing young woman who is regularly called upon to save the world from extra-dimensional demons. But her name belies her true character, which is a lot lazier, selfish, and self-conscious than you’d expect from a slayer of demons. When Hadiyah The High Chancellor wakes Great Warrior from sleep to send her on a mission, the heroine shirks her responsibilities, because she has other plans and groggily flees Hadiyah’s crystalline chamber. Her escape is given extra impact with a splash page detailing her free fall from Hadiyah’s cave into the murky water below, combining the lush natural spectacle of the environment with the silly physical comedy of Great Warrior’s descending body.
Great Warrior is part of the cuddly, rounded design tradition of characters like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Kirby, and Big Hero 6’s Baymax (among many others), but her immensely huggable exterior hides a ruthless warrior within. The expression of Flores’ characters is what pulls the reader into the story, and she mines a huge array of emotions from the simplistic design of her lead heroine. Flores’ facial expressions and body language make the humor hit harder, like the moment when Great Warrior gets a whiff of her non-showered, non-deodorized armpit in the middle of a fight. The fact that Flores includes this moment at all says a lot about her comic sensibility, and each beat of the gag is detailed clearly in the artwork.
Help Us! Great Warrior’s visual style shares a lot of similarities with cartoons like Adventure Time and Steven Universe in that it’s full of clean lines, cute characters, and vibrant colors, but the book has its own distinct flavor thanks to Flores’ sense of humor, which gives the lead character an attitude that isn’t far off from that of a jaded college graduate that just wants to nap instead of work. Like a lot of the Boom! Box titles, there’s a youthful energy to this series that makes it ideal for child readers, especially girls looking for something cute, funny, and action-packed. The three lead characters are all women, two of whom are people of color, and that kind of expanded diversity is one of the big reasons why Boom should make an even stronger commitment to new projects from voices that are eager to take those steps to make comics a more inclusive industry. [Oliver Sava]
There’s no good reason for Sweatshop (Fantagraphics) to exist, and yet exist it does. In the first years of the new millennium DC published a handful of unexpected books, largely at the insistence of editor Joey Cavalieri. He pushed through the first Bizarro Comics anthology in 2001, which featured some of the era’s best alternative cartoonists playing around in the DC sandbox. The volume won some awards, spawned an even more unlikely sequel, and served as the model for Marvel’s Strange Tales project a decade later. Given that book’s unlikely success, Cavalieri had the clout to push through Sweatshop two years later.
For someone with decades of experience in the trenches of mainstream comics, Cavalieri has surprisingly good taste in cartoonists. He wanted the chance to work with Peter Bagge (Hate, Woman Rebel) on another project after Bizarro Comics. Bagge, antipathetic toward superheroes and so already at odds with the company culture, had a track record following the release of his short-lived kids comic Yeah! (with Gilbert Hernandez) for DC’s late Wildstorm imprint. It wasn’t a good track record, mind you, seeing as how Yeah! had been canceled after only eight issues. (That series has also been reprinted by Fantagraphics, and is also worth tracking down.) Somehow Cavalieri managed to push through another pitch from Bagge, this time featuring the adventures of a motley crew of frustrated artists working (“ghosting”) under the aegis of an aging, demented cartoonist in the production of the world’s most derivative newspaper strip, Freddy Ferret. The rest is history: Sweatshop was even more of a rousing success than Yeah!, achieving the honor of being canceled after only six issues.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone at DC thought the book would sell with such an inside-baseball premise, but given its creator’s pedigree it should come as no surprise that it’s nonetheless good. Mel Bowling is a bitter old crank, a tireless worshipper of Rush Limbaugh, and a cartoonist far more likely to pick up a golf club than a pencil. His assistants are a group of aspiring cartoonists hoping to use Freddy Ferret as a springboard to bigger and better things, even as it becomes increasingly obvious that the strip is a dead-end job, and that Bowling has neither the influence nor the desire to advance the careers of his protégés. The team is a cross-section of depressed wannabes: a vaguely competent superhero fan, a flighty autobiographical mini-comics maker, a frustrated political cartoonist, and a creepy misanthrope who spends his spare time drawing pictures of suicide. If you’ve spent any time with comics you can probably envision the character types already.
Bagge is himself abetted by a rogues’ gallery of alt-cartooning mainstays—Bill Wray, Jim Blanchard, and Johnny Ryan all appear, providing finishes over Bagge’s distinctive layouts. It isn’t difficult to see Bagge’s own experience shining through in the stories: there are riffs on the general uselessness of cartooning awards, the embarrassment of aging features experimenting with regrettable “new looks,” and the humiliating experience of trying to “adapt” your work for television. The series hits its targets’ bull’s-eyes with unerring precision, but it’s difficult to imagine how the relentless insider’s perspective plays to readers not already well versed in the history and practice of comics as a business. Nevertheless, it’s good, nearly forgotten work from one of the most significant cartoonists of his generation. [Tim O’Neil]
French cartoonist Winshluss returns with another uniquely conceived adaptation after 2012’s tour de force, Pinocchio, this time with his sights set rather loftier with In God We Trust (Knockabout), which sees him take on the Bible. Guided by the beer-guzzling Saint Franky Of Assisi, ”patron saint of hops and comic strips,” the reader is given a behind-the-scenes, faux “what actually happened” look at significant events from the holy book. Originally slated for release last year, the delayed English-language publication will no doubt prompt at least a few essays on how the production of such works may be curtailed following the Charlie Hebdo shooting, although it was released in its original French in 2013 without event.
It begins promisingly, amusingly enough: “Before, there was nothing!” declares Franky. ”But then there was nothing at all!!! And suddenly… TADAM! GENESIS”—that last word popped up on clouds and sunshine, in large rainbow block letters, the harps and heavenly singsong all but audible. It’s a nice little moment that segues into a passage of a blonde, rather pudgy God in his dungarees building the earth, putting down the turf and piping, smoking spliffs on his breaks, and quickly getting tired of his project.
The first quarter’s excellent: Winshluss splices the absurdities of religious literalism with the entertaining and the acerbic; a pin-up on how the dinosaurs disappeared (Noah’s flood), a bombastic Conan cameo as Moses receives the commandments, a pithy piece on the function of an assembly line of robotic popes, going in sharp with some faux adverts for priest-endorsed lubricant, and anti-masturbation kits comprising metal-spiked hand mitts with parental codes, and the exploitation of vulnerable people by the church in exchange for rewards in the afterlife. Winshluss’ textured, thick alt-comix style is peculiarly fitting with the blood and thunder of ye Olde Testament vibe, and the critiques here—while not new—are engaging and strong, supported by the strength of the narratives in which they’re interposed.
However, the rest of the book feels somewhat flaccid. A riff on Jesus as a posturing, himbo surfer bro extends for too long into his reunion with a reluctant God, not best pleased to be encumbered with his bastard child for the rest of eternity. From that point onward, the humor sags and the barbs become blunter as it relies heavily on a lads mag ”sex and booze = pushing the envelope in edginess” mentality. There’s a faint reading of what could have been a smart parallel of how that boorish machismo, the dominant male perspective reflects the Bible itself, but it’s never alluded to in a significant enough manner.
It begins to read like a tired, extended editorial cartoon: God slamming tequilas, going on benders with Gabriel, Jesus’ attention-seeking daddy issues- familiar iconoclasm, one-note stuff that feels superficial, and lazy, losing the balanced complexity, the sense of getting at something more of the opening third. These less pointed passages would work fine if the jokes were funny but the weighted inconsistency of that success rate lets it down, rendering the majority of what comes after samey and ineffectual. [Zainab Akhtar]