Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
A project stopping and starting since 2003, this compilation of romance comics by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby is a work of love in more than one sense. Michel Gagné selected the 21 stories included here (reprinted for the first time), scanned them, painstakingly restored them (without making them look exactly new, thus giving the book the feel of a vintage compilation that just happens to be in amazing shape), and finally worked with Fantagraphics to produce this beautiful volume. It’s most interesting as a work of nostalgia, as both its stories and its aesthetics suffer a bit from comparison with the present day or with other genres. Clearly, Simon and Kirby tried to bring as much excitement to primarily psychological and interpersonal goings on as to punching and flying, but the action can’t help but be more grounded and, therefore, limited. It’s impressive that any of the stories manage to sweep one up, and a few do, pulling the reader in rather than leaving him/her assessing art and writing from an appreciative distance. The variety on display here is impressive as well. Pre-code, the range of narratives was clearly wider (something Gagné deliberately demonstrates), but the book shows achievements both before and after 1954. (HB)
World War II was a legendary event in myriad ways, but Hitler took it to a literal level with an alleged obsession of occult relics. Various accounts portray the Nazi Fuhrer brandishing the magical Holy Lance while blasting Wagner in a fit of dictator pretend time. It’s surprising this teenage fantasy was never expanded to recast the Greatest Generation as supernatural adventurers, especially since mainstream fiction has painted their defining event in almost every other hue of fantasy. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra don’t raid Hitler’s enchanted antique attic in the first issue of The Manhattan Projects, but it wouldn’t be a big shock as the duo behind last year’s miniseries The Red Wing envision a 1940s Defense Department obsessed with mythological artifacts, pan-dimensional space and other unearthly pursuits. This introduction follows real-life nuclear bomb creator Robert Oppenheimer and grizzled not-real-life roughneck General Groves as the pair tour a surreal weapons think tank. Hickman uses the setting as a display case for his hyper-scientific big ideas, like sentient origami (“Paper cuts are no way for a man to meet his maker”). It all feels like a repository for beats that might have been too sinister for Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, but still retain a lot of the same zany fun save for a very dark subplot that explodes at the end. Pitarra’s layouts are more exaggerated and cartoony than his previous work, keeping realism as far away as possible. The Manhattan Projects sets the stage for another cult romp from two creators with a history of innovating on traditional comic templates. And just like their past work, this looks to be just as cool and crazy. (SE)
Boom! Studios, 2012
Superhero comics are basically just soap operas, but few are as upfront about that as Supurbia. Of course that’s the reason this new series exists – it’s Desperate Housewives with capes. The Meta Legion, an ersatz Justice League full of blatant stand-ins for Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman and the like, all live alongside one another in a subdivision full of McMansions. Their spouses are the focus here, as we meet fake Superman’s trashy ex-supervillain trophy girlfriend, the stay-at-home dad of Mongolian Wonder Woman’s children, and the hard-charging, pantsuited business lady who runs the charities founded by her billionaire vigilante husband. Randolph combines standard soap opera tropes (including infidelity and a Reva Shayne-esque bad girl struggling to fit in) with obvious superhero parody. Sovereign, the non-Superman, is bored and distant around his girlfriend because he’s constantly eavesdropping on more interesting people, like the Pope. One of the husbands is closeted, of course it’s the Batman stand-in, and obviously his lover is his Robin-ish sidekick. None of the humor or observations are particularly original, but they’re largely truthful to the genres that Randolph is playing with. Supurbia could just be a pro forma exercise or a high concept TV show pitch in comic book form, but at least this appealing first issue isn’t nearly as smug or self-impressed as it could’ve been. (GM)
DC Comics, 2012
The biggest upshot to the rise of digital comics: absolutely pointless downloadable comics like this will no longer waste paper and clog up longboxes at comic stores and conventions for decades to come. At least that’d be true if DC hadn’t collect them into this print edition. Fringe’s parallel realities and convoluted mythology might endear the TV show to diehard sci-fi fans, but it’s the acting and the tangled relationships between the different versions of the main characters that keep the rest of us watching. Of course the horrible ratings this year make me think I might be the only person left in this camp. Most surprising is how much of that appeal is provided by Joshua Jackson. Somehow the unbearably smug and obnoxious teen from Dawson’s Creek turned into a charismatic adult. That might just be due to better writing, though. Jackson takes a turn at the writer’s desk himself with this collection of digital comics that premiered alongside the show’s fourth season. It’s more of those sideways stories that supposedly “matter” even though they’ll never be referenced in the show itself, focusing on Jackson’s character, who apparently blinked out of existence at the end of the third season. Jackson doesn’t embarrass himself as a storyteller, but this is the very definition of inessential. Walter Bishop is just a garden variety mad scientist without John Noble’s sonorous voice and ability to switch from flashy to subtle at a moment’s notice, and just because Jackson wrote these words doesn’t make it any easier to imagine them coming out of his mouth in an episode. Beyond the Fringe is only for the most dedicated of Fringe fans, but then it will take only a very small number of the already miniscule (by network TV standards) Fringe viewership to turn this into one of the better selling entries in the TV and videogame tie-ins that DC inherited from the now-dead Wildstorm imprint. (GM)