comics, comics criticism, writing

Making Meaning Across Dimensions in Radiant Black #24

Some of you might remember that Urbane Turtle launched with a review of the first issue of Radiant Black, which I praised for its clear and unique POV. In the intervening two years, I’ve gotten to write about the comic a few times for CBR, speak with writer Kyle Higgins, and have featured it in my year-end list in both ‘22 and ‘23.

I continue to dig this book and its total commitment to being inventive in both its storytelling and the way that it has worked to expand the storytelling experience beyond the pages of the comics. We’ve gotten gift boxes with Radiant Bath Bombs (very relaxing, from personal experience), 2 dope black light issues, and an animated short tie-in. 

Now, Higgins and the team are asking readers to get directly involved in the story. Following one of the most shocking superhero moments of the decade, the lead character Nathan seemingly died in battle, leaving his slacker best friend Marshall to take up the mantle. It was a bold move, and recontextualized the first few months of issues into an origin story for an unexpected character. 

Radiant Black # 10 by Higgins, Costa, Carey.

Near the end of the first year, Marshall traveled into the Black Hole that provided him his Tokusatsu-like powers and discovered that Nathan’s essence was still connected to the “Radiant”. In a dramatic Black-Light adventure into “Existence,” the heart of the Radiant, Marshall was forced to face and accept difficult truths about himself in a cosmic, introspective and emotional journey the likes of which only superhero comics can provide. 

<there is only truth in existence>

Marshall was able to survive and rescue Nathan, having learned something new about himself and his own capabilities. Over the next few months, Nathan recovered and watched as Marshall took over the superhero mantle that he once believed was his second chance to make something of himself. Vocally supportive but internally resentful (despite his best efforts), Nathan was frustrated at Marshall’s inability to take the power seriously–and his occasional violent outbursts. 

We also learned that Marshall holding onto the power could potentially lead to the destruction of Earth.

Radiant Black #10 by Higgins, Costa, Carey

 But Nathan was not out of the game yet. When Marshall was overwhelmed by a team-up between his growing rogues gallery, Nathan discovered he still had access to the powers of Radiant Black. But transforming meant taking the powers from Marshall temporarily, and vice versa. The two would-be heroes now had to figure out how to operate as a unit–and learn how to respect the other ones’ approach.

Again, the series recontextualized itself. It was not Nathan or Marshall’s story. It was both of them. Two characters who, for different reasons, viewed themselves as 30-something failures, were suddenly granted superpowers and an opportunity to do something meaningful with their lives. Now they were forced to reckon with that responsibility and how to use it and reconcile their very different ideas of what heroism means. 

But Higgins, artist/cocreator Marcela Costa, editor Michael Busuttil, and the rest of the creative team have already shown they are not content to let any status quo stay too long. In the latest issue, the dual heroes were presented with a choice–and it falls to the readers to decide who will be Radiant Black.

In the final page, the giant Radiant Robot that acts as the sort of spiritual guide for Nathan and Marshall, tells them,

<you must decide>

Radiant Black #24. Written by Kyle Higgins. Art by Marcelo Costa. Colors by Igor Monti. Letters by Becca Carey.

But really, it is speaking to us–to you, the reader. Marcelo Costa’s final image of the issue is the robot staring directly forward, beckoning the reader into the narrative. The future of Nathan and Marshall’s story, perhaps the future of this world’s entire fate, rests in the hands of the readership. Readers have been invited to vote on who should get to retain the powers of the Radiant directly.

This kind of meta-interaction with readers is part of a long tradition in comics. The most obvious callback is obviously the infamous call-in vote for readers to decide whether Jason Todd, the second Robin, should live or die. While there’s no doubt about the Jason Todd influence, Radiant Black is also tapping into another superhero tradition–the breaking of the fourth wall.

Fans were asked to take part in Jason Todd and Batman’s story in that vote but the invitation was outside of the text of the book itself. Here, the invitation is explicitly a part of the narrative.  A character is reaching through the page and speaking directly to readers.

Fourth wall breaking has become a bit of a tired gimmick in some ways, particularly when used for comedic effect by characters like Deadpool and She-Hulk. In fact, calling it “Breaking the Fourth Wall” feels like a cop-out, given the specific origin of that phrase on the stage. Comics have no walls but borders and pages.

It may be more apt to call this comics tradition something like peering through dimensions. It has a proud history in superhero comics, one of the most famous being The Flash #163.

The cover is a memorable and attention-grabbing image, particularly for 1966. The bright-colored Flash, contrasted by the stark black background, stares out in horror from the page, his hand reaching out, pushing against the 2-dimensional transparent barrier between himself and the viewer. 

The Flash #163 cover by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella

“STOP!” It says in bright, blocky capital letters. “Don’t pass up this issue! My life depends on it!”

Clever marketing, sure, but it is also a moment of creators trying to bridge the artistic divide between content and reader. Grant Morrison describes this cover as, “the first time a superhero looked out from the flat picture plane into a theoretical higher dimensional space he could not see, only intuit, to ask his readers for help.” Morrison, of course, is one of the most prominent devotees of this particular cross-dimensional rapport between reader and content.

Within the pages of the comic itself, The Flash discovers that his very existence is in jeopardy as he slowly fades in and out of existence as the memory of the Flash wanes. The image on the cover is repeated inside. Flash reaches out from a panel to shout at a passerby to read a pamphlet about him. Of course, just like the cover, Flash stars directly forward, his hand prominently poised outward, as if reaching for the space beyond his panel borders.

Within the story itself, the plea is a straightforward element of the plot, the implied call to the reader a fun little wink.  But by calling to the reader on that initial cover image, the creators make an intimate connection with the audience. This story’s meaning is defined by YOU. Flash might be reaching out to a passerby in the next panel, but his plea exists on its own as a single image itself. There is no denying the dual meaning. The break between images is intentional. With the cover’s desperate cry for help evoked on the page, the reader has become a part of the narrative. 

Flash #163 interiors. Written by John Broome. Art by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella (colors not credited)

The Flash’s fate is tied to his being remembered. So long as his exploits remain in the consciousness of the public, he will never die. It’s a solution to a temporary plot complication, but it is also a statement on the nature of superhero stories and narrative as a whole. Stories live on in memory. So long as a spark of that memory lives on, they exist in perpetuity.

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 cover by Doug Mahnke and David Baron

Grant Morrison’s oeuvre of metatextual superhero storytelling was highly influenced by this issue of The Flash, most conspicuously in their Multiversity series, which had at the center of its premise the living text ULTRA COMICS which drives its readers mad and uses their minds as a gateway to new realities to tear apart. On the cover to Ultra Comics, a mysterious hero warns readers AGAINST opening the pages of the book, intentionally refracting Flash 163. 

By reading the book, we take part in the ensuing destruction by the very act of reading itself.

There are other examples of this metatextual tradition, of course. It is a superhero trope in its own right, and has taken various forms. But speaking directly to readers is rarer, and is always done with the purposeful intent of engaging readers in the creation of the story. But they trace their roots back to the Flash, which demonstrated how effectively superhero narratives, with their broad concepts of science and reality, can bridge the gap between the real world and the imagined.

Higgins and Costa’s cross-dimensional invitation traces its lineage directly to The Flash 163 in that playful and  Morrisonian school. By staring out directly toward the reader, we are invited to take part in the meaning-making and storytelling process itself. Whatever happens next in the story, the events quite literally will be defined in part by readers.

In this way, Radiant Black continues to fulfill its promise of creative risk taking and its firmly postmodern approach to superhero storytelling–All influence is fair game, and the experience of reading the title is not limited to the issues themselves. The experience of storytelling exists not in the printing of words or images but in the magical alchemy between text and reader. Not every form of storytelling lends itself to this kind of personal outreach from the thing itself, but superhero comic books, in their niche audience and quick production turnaround, have the rare ability to speak directly and intimately to their audience. It’s exciting to see a comic take advantage of that relationship in such an intentional and creative way.

Now, you may have read this article and be left with the question: “Who will you vote for, Tim?” 

 Allow me to ask you, who would make for the more interesting story?

My vote goes to Marshall. Part of what I loved about those first few issues with Nathan was the way the character reflected my life experience and reflected the realities of being 30 in the here-and-now. Apprehension over student loans and credit card debts, the sense of dreams attempted and failed, of the return to mom and dad, embarrassed about what you hoped to accomplish and now believe you never could. Nathan viewed Radiant Black as a second chance to do something that mattered and make a difference in the world. But that is just one experience of what it means to be coming into adulthood in the 21st century.

Radiant Black #5 by Higgins, artist Eduardo Ferigato, colorist Matt Iacono, letterer Becca Carey

When Nathan was comatose, Marshall stepped into the role, full of anger and a desire for vengeance. As he took on the power, he quickly fell into a trap of selfishness and self-promotion. He’d use the power to help, sure, but also to cash in and use it to his personal advantage. Not necessarily maliciously. Life was hard for Marshall. Where Nathan had a loving mom and dad to fall back on, Marshall lived alone and his mother views him as little more than a burden. There is still so much about his backstory that we don’t know, but his home was a broken and abusive one. He never had the opportunity to take a risk and fulfill his dream. He never even had the freedom to dream about what his life could be. He never left his hometown, and saw Nathan as someone free and brave enough to pursue a different, better life. It might not have worked out, but it took bravery. Bravery that Marshall has never seen in himself.

For Marshall, Radiant Black is not a second chance. It is the only chance he’s ever had. And he’s made plenty of mistakes as he’s tried to use this power. Almost every decision he makes is the wrong one. But it makes for a compelling story. How does this lifelong slacker, who has never believed in himself or his worth, step up to being a hero, defy expectations, defy the future itself, and save the world? 

Higgins, Ferigato, Monti, and Care

Nathan has a support system that can help him make a new life for himself in the wreckage of his first attempt to live his dream. But Marshall, alone, with no family, no one to support him except his best friend, who, frankly, does not seem to consider Marshall nearly as close as Marshal considers him, has to learn what it means to be a hero, to take responsibility and put the greater good ahead of his own security. What does Marshall want? What drives him? 24 issues in, we still know so little about his interior life beyond his resentment for people who managed to make something of themselves. How he handles that resentment with superpowers, how he manages to take control of his own story, how (or if) he grows into a truly selfless hero, that’s a comic I want to read.

comics, comics criticism, dc comics, marvel, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the Week of May 3

Nothing on shelves this week feels particularly exciting as I eagerly await the upcoming AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 25. But let’s explore some books I’m not reading and see what they have to offer until next Wednesday comes.

Yoda # 7

Marvel. Marc Guggenheim, Writer. Alessandro Miracolo, Artist. Annalisa Leoni, Colors. Joe Caramagna, Letters. Mikey J. Basso, Danny Khazem, and Mark Paniccia, Editors.

We open in a swamp down and Dagobah, where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated Soda…S-O-D-A, Soda. There’s the little runt in his house, talking to a ghost in this comic about Yoda. Y-O-D-A, Yoda.

What a disappointment, man. I love Yoda. This comic gives us nothing of anything that makes the character interesting. This is the second Guggenheim Star Wars title I’ve read and I’m not thrilled by the trend.

As far as accessibility goes, this issue is easy to follow but that’s because it feels like a random episode of a cartoon. There are no stakes to be seen. The big shocking major threat revealed toward the end of the issue is that Count Dooku is going to build a big droid, which just menas more cannon fodder for lightsabers to tear through. We know what happens in the Clone Wars. We’ve got a hundred episodes about that conflict. It’s well-trod territory. 

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comics, comics criticism, dc comics, rearview mirror, writing

Green Arrow: Hunting For the Past in The Longbow Hunters

In the last few years Green Arrow as a property has become as much about the mythology of his extended cast and family as much as or more than the man himself, Oliver Queen. Whether in the CW television show where “The Arrow” is part of a larger team who assists him, or in Joshua Williamson’s new #1 which is squarely about the character’s legacy and family. But the seminal 1987 miniseries The Longbow Hunters is about Green Arrow as a man, and what it means to live a life of violence. The series becomes something like Green Arrow’s Dark Knight Returns. But writer/artist Mike Grell doesn’t have his hero saving American democracy or starting a revolution. This is a story about aging, mortality, and defining a legacy to be remembered by. And unlike Dark Knight, Longbow Hunters has become an indelible part of canon, a defining story about how Oliver Queen views himself and operates within the world.

In today’s DC Universe, Green Arrow will be remembered by his extended family and adopted (spiritually if not legally) children . But in Longbow Hunters that family is nonexistent and closed to him completely. Dinah Lance, Ollie’s longtime girlfriend and the superhero Black Canary, rejects his proposal to start a family and tells him she doesn’t want to bring children into the world just to make them an orphan. Ollies believes himself to have failed his ward and former sidekick Roy Harper, who struggled with addiction and eventually moved on from him. Being Green Arrow has cost him nearly everything.  

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comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 4/26

Happy birthday to me, your illustrious guide to the comic books I don’t read, Urbane Turtle. As always, life finds a way to interfere with this hobby. Thank you to the haters who continue to make Spider-Man and Mary Jane a perennial click-machine.

In celebration of my 34th birthday, I’d like to see the site churn out some real work this week. I’ll be working on a new Rearview Mirror piece in honor of the new Joshua Williamson Green Arrow series. I’ve never read Green Arrow before, but have just read through The Longbow Hunters and have thoughts. Something arrow-related should be up by the end of the week. Patreon supporters will get it a bit early.

This last week of April and first of May are fairly light weeks in terms of books out from the big publishers, which made finding issues that fit my admittedly loose criteria kind of difficult. We might hit a point soon where I’ll need to revisit some series that I touched on previously.

What’s the Furthest Place From Here? #12

Image. Matthew Rosenberg, writer. Tyler Boss, artist. Roman Titov/Shycheeks, colors. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, letters.

Here’s what I know about this book: it’s written by Matthew Rosenberg, who I’ve never read but had a controversial run on X-Men, with art by Tyler Boss, who drew an extremely cool issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe. Also Bendis drew a variant cover for it and they wear pig masks maybe?

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comics, comics criticism, marvel, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 4/12

Hello Urbane Turtle faithful and newcomers who may have seen this after rage-clicking my last post about the Spider-Man marriage!

Welcome back to another NO CONTEXT COMICS! My semi-regular column where I take a look at 3 new comics I don’t read. Should every comic be written to be someone’s first comic? Does context matter? Is there a good way to lure new readers while catering to longtime fans? These are all the questions one must answer when you’re a big shot comics critic like me.

 As I have shared in recent Turtle Club newsletters, it has been a difficult few months to make time for any writing. I am hoping things begin to clear up and I am able to keep doing this more regularly.

But in the meantime, enjoy my rambling about three books I picked at random.

Continue reading “No Context Comics: A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 4/12”
comics, comics criticism, marvel, spider-man, writing

The Spider-Marriage and Starcrossed Tragedy

Have you been reading Amazing Spider-Man over the last year? If you haven’t, Dark Web aside, you’re missing out on some of the very best Spider-Man comics to be published in well over a decade.

You’d never guess that by going on Twitter, where the conversations around the title center completely around whether Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are married or not. Let’s put it out there—I’m pro-Spider-Marriage and am still angry that One More Day happened and that the marriage was thrown out via a deal with the literal devil. But moreso, angry at how it was thrown out, which was among the worst and least thematically appropriate Spider-comics ever made.

One More Day is almost old enough to drink now, and frankly, we’ve all got to move on sometime. I jumped around and floated in and out of Dan Slott’s historic run on the title, which ranged from baffling to excellent, but never good enough to reel me in. I also felt like there was never a good jumping on point. (Do jumping on points even matter? I explore that question in my regular No Context Comics column, hopefully returning soon!) I dipped my toes back in with Nick Spencer’s and Ryan Ottley’s relaunch, which got me very excited after a great debut issue. Perhaps part of what got me to buy in on that issue was its ending, a triumphant kiss between Peter and MJ. They were back together!

But Spencer’s run quickly became a convoluted, senseless, disastrous mess (read more about that here). I was ready to give up on Spidey altogether. But after reading the first arc of Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr’s (along with letterer Joe Caramagna and colorist Marcio Menyz) run, an exceptionally personal and emotionally taught crime thriller with Tombstone, I was back on board, despite being sad to see MJ shuffled back out of Peter’s life.

Most frustrating of all was the “Mystery Box” approach to those first few issues of the run. The book opened with a page of Spider-Man screaming in a crater, holding a strange device and his costume torn up. The marketing asked us “What did Peter do?” After a six-month timeskip, Peter returned to NYC after being away for undisclosed reasons. He was isolated and had seemingly pushed everyone out of his life including Aunt May, his roommate, and The Fantastic Four. Worst of all? MJ was apparently with a new man named Paul, and seemed to have had children with him. Why would they separate Spidey and MJ after the last run spent so much time retconning so many old stories to clean the slate for them?

All those misgivings colored my enjoyment of what has been a tremendous run of stories. After Tombstone, there was a great two-issue fight with The Vulture, followed by a Hobgoblin story that evoked the best of Roger Stern and JRjr’s original stories with the character. And even the hints of what we see of MJ throughout this story, her explanation to Peter that her relationship with Paul and to the children was “about responsibility” showed a clear understanding of MJ’s character and her background as elucidated by Tom DeFalco.

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comics, comics criticism, writing

The 2023 Urbane Turtle Year in Review

Well here we are. Another year in the books. Time for another best-of list. In year 1, the Pandemic Year, I looked back on the various media and stories that impacted me and got me through the global disaster. In Year 2, I counted down my favorite comics of the year. We are focusing again on the best comics of the year. Partially because it’s most of what I’ve consumed this year (my Goodreads has recorded 80+ comics, which doesn’t even account for ongoing monthly reading) but also because that’s where the focus of this site and my writing has really narrowed in on.

With some of the SEO bait out of the way (I do not know how SEO works) I wanted to reflect on this year, personally, a bit before we get into the list. It’s been an exciting year for your old pal Urbane Turtle. I can’t say it’s been a profitable endeavor, but it has been a prolific year with a mostly-regular weekly column, contributions on new sites, surreal interview opportunities, and even regular scripting for a YouTube channel.

I don’t know if writing will ever be a real career–but it has certainly become a vocation. And the thing keeping me from completely melting down about my general “professional life.” If you’ve been with me on this journey–whether you read everything (who are you??), read one thing, or shared something on social media (Especially the comics creators who have said nice things!!)–I thank you from the bottom of my heart. 

Personally, the most rewarding thing that started this year is the NO CONTEXT COMICS column. That’s an idea I had for a little while and wanted to see out in the world, so I just started doing it myself. It’s been a blast and introduced me to a lot of new creators and books I might have missed otherwise. I look forward to working on it every week. When reality gets in the way and I can’t get to it? It’s a gut punch every time! Especially when I’ve done the reading. I’ve not seen anyone comment on any of these and analytics don’t show much engagement, but I like it darn it! 

Too much preamble? Yeah, okay. Some final words before we get to the list.

In 2023, I have a few goals. I’d like to engage in a bit more fiction and prose, like this story. I’d like to take more photos. I’d like to see a more regular update schedule. has seen some steady and small growth in audience, and I think I can make things even better in this next trip around the sun.

And, finally, I resolve to become a Ghost Rider Guy.


As I said before, I’ve consumed a lot of comics this year. And I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. However, I feel pretty confident in my picks this year. There are so many wonderful stories and creators out there in the industry–and even more outside the industry making webcomics and underground zines–that it seems impossible to do justice to the hard work and creativity on display every single week. I enjoyed so many books this year that will go unmentioned here. The business side of the comics industry may be questionable–with late payments and bankruptcies and corporate consolidation–but the creative energy is off the charts. Comics, more than ever, really are for everyone.

Continue reading “The 2023 Urbane Turtle Year in Review”
comics, comics criticism, dc comics, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read From the Week of 12/14

What’s up everybody? Twitter tells me that comic reviews are bad, folks. We don’t know how to write about art. So I guess you probably shouldn’t even be reading this.

But if you are reading, welcome to the regular column! We’re taking a look at 3 books I do not read! The only rules are that these books are something I don’t read every month, it’s not a number one, and (if I am aware of it before reading) it’s not an anthology.

Any comic I read right now has a lot to live up to…I’ve been reading Fullmetal Alchemist which is among the best comics I’ve ever read. I watched the original anime but this is my first time with the actual source material. Hiromu Arakawa can DRAW.

This might be the last No Context of the year. But here’s to many more! And more Urbane Turtle, in general. Viva la tortuga.

I Am Batman #16

DC Comics. John Ridley, Writer. Christian Duce, Artist. Rex Lokus, Colors. Troy Peteri, Letters.

I have not spent any time trying to understand what the deal is with I Am Batman or Jace Fox. It seems weird to me that there’s a mostly unrelated Batman in New York. I guess it isn’t unprecedented given Batman Inc. but seems weird. And after reading this issue I still don’t know how this fits in the larger world of the Batman mythos.

I see a rich kid who feels guilty, fighting some crooks. Ridley has plenty of words throughout this issue but it tells us very little about who Jace is or what he wants out of being Batman. There’s less Batman here and more Iron Man or, in DC terms, Green Arrow. Less justice and more atonement. Jace wants to make right having killed someone when he was young. 

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comics, comics criticism, dc comics, marvel, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the Week of 12/7

Here we have a somewhat belated entry into the semi-weekly No Context Comics! I’ve been busy outside of Urbane Turtle dot com, lately. You can find my spotlight review for this week’s thrilling new series, ALL AGAINST ALL, over at The Comics Beat. I also had the chance to interview TMNT writer Tom Waltz and editor Charles Beacham about the super fun event series, THE ARMAGEDDON GAME.

I also had a couple days off from the day job, but spent them doing nothing productive whatsoever other than watching a few movies and the Rise of the TMNT series on Netflix. You see, I am teetering on the brink of ~*~ burn out ~*~ and some days of total vegging were paramount.

This week we’ve got a new superhero, fantasy misfits, and a longtime pro hero. So let’s get into it, shall we?

Monkey Prince #9 

DC. Gene Luen Yang, Writer. Bernard Chang, Artist. Marcelo Maiolo, Colors. Janice Chiang. Letters. Jessica Chen. Editor.

Gene Yuen Lang has written some of my favorite superhero stories of the last few years, and DC has seen a dearth of new superhero creations in the last ten years. So I should be excited by the prospect of the Monkey King, which draws from Chinese mythology to introduce a new player into the fold! Yang’s authentic voice deserves to be heard above the din of the corporate cape books. And yet I have been remiss in even looking twice at Monkey Prince, Yang’s latest mainstream series.

Despite Marvel’s reputation as being more “grounded” or “street level,” it has no shortage of characters pulled right out of mythic pantheons. In that way, Monkey Prince as an idea feels more at home in the Marvel U. DC has plenty of godly beings but most of them are DC originals, not pantheons or public domain heroes. Marvel is much more willing to do that kind of thing, historically.

There’s a LOT going on in this issue, and it feels very disorienting as a new reader. There are general ideas that feel familiar–Metropolis, Lexcorp, Bizarro Clones, and even the “Journey to the West” iconography (thanks, Dragonball!), but a lot that took a bit to put together. But everything needed to get caught up is here on the page.

Marcus, the main character’s, parents are two-bit henchpeople, and Marcus has to deal with that while juggling being a normal kid and also learning how to be a hero. His encounter with Supergirl here gives the reader a firm idea of his character, impetuous, petulant, and frankly, kind of unlikable!

There’s a big twist on the last page that gave me a big laugh. The villain of this piece is genuinely creepy and his attack that starts the issue is unsettling.

I get the point of making a young male hero kind of a jerk but it does make it hard to root for him, even if he is trying to learn. I’m certainly willing to give Yang the benefit of the doubt that Marcus is growign and learning, after all, his parents are crooks. It’s not like he’s had a strong role model.

Crossovers can get exhausting but I did get a little bit of a thrill to see this tie-in to the Devil Nezha and Mark Waid’s work over on World’ Finest/Batman vs. Robin/Lazarus Planet. It’s not ridiculously intrusive (yet, anyway; the next issue seems to be a full tie-in) but it makes all of these new elements feel important and tied into the larger DCU. Something a lot of new ideas in superhero universes fail to do authentically.

The art is serviceable if unremarkable all around. There are flashes of inventiveness and humor, particularly toward the end when the hero is transformed, that play into the Monkey Prince’s irreverent personality. I also really liked to see that most of the creative team is of Asian descent and their names credited in script as well as English.

Overall–this felt like a standard issue of a monthly comic book. Neither particularly good nor particularly bad. A perfectly serviceable diversion, with the bonus of introducing new representation.

Least We Can Do #4

Image. Iolanda Zanfardino, Writer.Elisa Romboli, Artist.

A caveat that I think is important here: I have never played Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop RPGs. I have passing familiarity with some of the concepts, which let me generally understand some of the ideas here. I don’t know that the extreme number of word balloons here are specifically referencing Tabletop games but they certainyl seem to be. And boyoboy are there so many words here. And references to concepts that are not explained. And explaining powers and how powers work like it’s a gosh darn encyclopedia.

I found this book so hard to get through that it was a wonder to me that it exists? There is no compelling character within these pages, or even a plot that I can decipher. These characters seem to exist to talk about going on quests and to research magic we mostly do not see. It’s a real slog. 

The art is mostly okay with a few truly standout moments. There is a page in here where a character stops time and speeds past other characters that displayed the idea of superspeed or time manipulation better than almost anything else I’ve seen in comics. The first panel is a shot of three characters.  That is then cut through by a second panel with another caracter’s face in profile. In the third panel, the one who interrupted is suddenly standing behind the others, far in the distance. The way Romboli depicts the character slicing through the gutter where we usually read the passage of time is shockingly effective. The fight scene on the train toward issue’s end is well-staged and easy to follow (a trait not to be undervalued in comics!) with a dynamic sense of movement.

But beyond that there was nothing much here to draw me in. Romboli does the best she can with some exhausting exposition, giving the characters plenty of emotion as they shout about things I didn’t understand.

By issue’s end I just can’t help but wonder who this is for. I would like to see more of Romboli with something more to work with, though.

Captain Marvel #44 

Marvel. Kelly Thompson, Writer. Sergio Dávila, Artist. Arif Prianto, Colors. Clayton Cowles, Letters.

Kelly Thompson is a writer I have heard a lot of good things about that I always intend to look more into. But there’s always more books to read and I never get to it. She’s maintained an impressive run on this Captain Marvel series, which I am sure speaks to the quality of her work. 

At 44 issues of a character older than me, I don’t expect to know all the ins-and-outs of what is going on. Particularly when it seems to be a spiritual sequel to an old Claremont X-Men story. I am sure X-Men fans are happy to see this (or maybe not, X-Men fans are never happy). Ever since becoming Captain Marvel it has seemed like Marvel has tried to distance her from the mutants, despite her having had significant relationships with them during Claremont’s tenure.

I’m not an X-Men aficionado, but I am familiar enough with the broad strokes to appreciate Carol’s opening monologue here, about enjoying getting to bust on Rogue and the Brood simultaneously, in another life. I’m also able to appreciate how Thompson effectively builds this grand space drama around decades of publishing history to effectively tell a story of growth and empowerment over past trauma.

In many ways, this issue is a stellar example of how to tell superhero comics in a long-running shared universe. Just enough mentions of the past to orient newer readers while spurring interest in the old stories. It doesn’t spend pages explaining those events in detail, boring die-hards. And it moves Carol forward as a character forward and illustrates how she has grown and changed since she was Binary and Ms. Marvel. She’s no longer the B-List side character in a team book. Now she’s a blockbuster headliner, and how does that change how she approaches the things that have harmed her? 

I really enjoyed this, despite being years behind on Captain Marvel. Thompson has a clear vision for who Carol Danvers is and where she has come from. The art from Sergio Dávila is standard superhero fare. I particularly like how he illustrates Carol’s powers and the almost Super Saiyan way it blows her hair around.

Perhaps I need to stop overlooking Captain Marvel, and get down to finally reading more of Thompson’s work in full.

comics, comics criticism, no context comics, writing

No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 11/30

Welcome to another No Context Comics! 

No commentary or preamble from me this week. Enjoy the reviews.

The Boogyman #3 

Ablaze. Mathieu Salvia, Artist. Djet, Artist. Nathan Kempf, Letters. Kevin Ketner, Editor.

Respect to the creators here on opening up on several wordless pages of action in a row. It would be easy for that to not work but Djet’s manga-influenced action is fluid and balletic. A rush of fluid lines and dramatic, impressionist color that gives an explosive sense of motion and depth.

For my money, Djet is the star of the show here. He makes this spooky world of nightmares and monsters come to vibrant life with rich colors and cartoonish and expressive characters. There are plenty of incredible colorists out in the world but there is often something special when an artist is able to control all aspects of their work. By having total control over all of the art, Djet’s lines and colors work together to blend into something incredibly rich. There’s a dreamlike quality to the brush strokes that make up the backgrounds and panel lines that perfectly suits this surreal world.

Continue reading “No Context Comics – A Look at 3 Books I Don’t Read from the week of 11/30”