ADVANCED REVIEW: Cemetery Beach #1 by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Cemetery Beach #1 is due out Sept. 12.

By Zack Quaintance — Right from the start, Cemetery Beach by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard lets you know it’s a wild affair, very much unlike the team’s previous book, Trees. It does this with a set of instructions on the inside cover, starting with: 1. This book is valuable. Do not lose it. Whereas Trees was high concept sci-fi intermingled with commentary on social and cultural issues, Cemetery Beach is high concept sci-fi delivered via raucous adventure, steeped in shock, danger, and lunacy—you know, the good stuff.

The book’s front/inside cover starts establishing all that before readers hit the first panel. On top of that first instruction, there’s more plus also imagery that evokes escape, colonialism, Black Hawk helicopters, and early space travel. When the first panel does arrive, we launch straight into our exposition heavy yet very entertaining opening scene, in which Ellis pens some of his pithiest dialogue in recent memory. We learn in 1920 a group of industrialists and scientists found and operated a method to travel off-world. They built a colony, and our hero is on that colony now doing reconnaissance for Earth...that’s as far into the plot as I need to go here.

As you can see, this book is imaginative. It’s also light by recent Ellis standards, which feels like an odd way to describe a book with this much murder but here we are. The high-concept Ellis ideas are still here, as is the world-building. What sets Cemetery Beach apart from recent Ellis output (think Trees, Karnak, The Wild Storm, etc.) is a lighter energy and gripping plot from our start (more on that soon).

Howard’s artwork is also outstanding, a bit more kinetic than what we saw through much of trees, but just as clear and interesting. This first issue has a necessarily claustrophobic feel through most of it, seeing we start within a Mysterious Torture Shitbox, as our hero puts it. We do get a quick glimpse of the larger world, though, and I’m anxious to see more in future issues when the adventure presumably takes us to new corners of this colony.

The book’s clearest strength, however, is the mastery with which it takes a complex plot and gives us an absolutely perfect amount of information to engage with, to not feel disoriented, and to root for our protagonists. This balance, to me, is key to all great #1 issues. Creators must obviously avoid making readers feel like they’re having info forced on them, but they must also orient us within the story and make us care about characters, otherwise the cliffhanger at a first issue’s end won’t be compelling. Ellis and Howard nail all of that so hard with Cemetery Beach.

Overall: A masterful debut issue from a veteran creative team. Ellis and Howard’s Cemetery Beach #1 puts vast thematic and conceptual depth beneath a fast-paced and deceptively simple exterior, one loaded with quips and kinetically-drawn action scenes. BUY BUY BUY this comic and enjoy. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Green Arrow #43 by Julie & Shawna Benson, Javier Fernandez, John Kalisz, & Deron Bennett

As a long-time Green Arrow fan, I am absolutely freaking out about Alex Maleev doing covers for this book.

By Zack Quaintance — Green Arrow #43 starts a new chapter for Oliver Queen and company (heh), one written by sisters Julie and Shawna Benson and illustrated by Javier Fernandez. That new team follows an all-time great Green Arrow run by Benjamin Percy with artists Juan Ferreyra and Otto Schmidt. This is actually the second issue of Green Arrow for the Bensons, who teamed with artist Carmen Nunez Carnero on Green Arrow Annual #2 (a No Justice tie-in) in May.

Phew. Now that introductions are finished, let’s get to, like, is this comic still good?

In a word, yes. Green Arrow #43 is a good comic and a great tone-setter for a new run, one that makes a few things clear: Black Canary is going nowhere (and moving in!!), Roy Arsenal Harper is a big part of Ollie’s life, and DC Comics is committed to Green Arrow as perhaps the central lynchpin of its shared universe, a status first seeded in No Justice. In other shared continuity news, Roy also mentions Sanctuary (of Tom King’s upcoming Heroes in Crisis book), which Ollie is presently unaware of, although one expects that to change...

Anyway, those are all big picture story strokes. Green Arrow at its best, however, is a book that lives in smaller moments, in pretty bird pet names and the dichotomy of a family-monied corporate exec dual-lifeing it as a bleeding heart crusader. Thankfully, issue #43 takes aim at the endearing minutiae and nails its target dead-on (arrow joke, get it?…sorry). From panel to panel, this book brims with small but telling characterization: Ollie donning ear guards before going down to see Canary, the banter between Roy-Ollie-Dinah over chilli, Ollie’s posture and demeanor and cool-boss-guy garb at his office—it’s all just so quintessentially Oliver Queen.

Nailing the characterization was something Percy did incredibly well (he brought back the goatee!), and as such this transition to a new team is as smooth as an expertly-nocked arrow slicing through the air toward a bullseye (sorry again!). Fernandez’s clean linework and frenetic action sequences are also a treat, and the Alex Maleev covers bring a fantastic savagery to these proceedings before we even hit page one. The emerald archer, in other words, seems to be in good hands.

Oh! A closing thought...what if the box Martian Manhunter gave Ollie that can destroy the Justice League (the one Ollie gives Roy directions to as an insurance policy...should something happen to me) factors into Heroes in Crisis? That box is the Chekhov’s gun of the DC Universe right’s obviously going off by act three.  

Overall: The Bensons and Javier Fernandez pull-off the difficult double task of redirecting Green Arrow’s larger plot while keeping the book’s characters grounded in the telling moments that marked Ben Percy’s run. This is a great jumping on point for new/returning readers plus a smooth transition for those who never left. 9.0/10

For more comic book and movie reviews, check out our review archives here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Hot Lunch Special #1 by Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornes, & Taylor Esposito

There is a very personal feel to this story about mafia debts and severed appendages.

By Zack Quaintance — To join in on the food motif of Hot Lunch Special #1, let me start by saying this comic book feels like a main course of generational immigrant success story with a healthy side of Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir, plus just a taste of a cautionary mafia power struggle. That’s a big meal (end of the food references, I swear), but it’s one that writer Eliot Rahal and artist Jorge Fornes serve up (damn it) expertly.

I liked Hot Lunch Special #1 quite a bit, and the main reason why is that there was a compelling level of realism here, one that at times made it feel almost like a memoir, although not quite because readers are never that far removed from a cops or crooks scene, or gasp a severed finger in a sandwich (that’s page 1, actually). Credit for this realism is, of course, due in large part to Rahal’s script, which I’m fairly certain was heavily informed by his familial history, but it’s also due to Fornes artwork, which strives for and achieves an immersive and intricate level of detail in even the book’s quietest moments—especially in the book’s quietest moments.

Fornes also does some great work with his colors, using them as so many masters have to make clear which scenes were set in the distant past for an older generation (one word: sepia) and which are in modern times.

There’s certainly a lot to pack into this debut, yet the book doesn’t fall victim to a frequent first issue pet peeve of mine: over exposition. No, there are no lengthy exchanges between two talking heads filling in how grandma met grandpa or how the family business first became entangled with organized crime (not a spoiler...all of that was in the solicit). Instead, Rahal and Fornes expertly careen this story through space and time, sparing us any over-inflation and keeping the narrative tight. It works so effectively that I halfway wondered if this was an oversized issued as I read. Put simply, a lot goes down.

But it’s all manageable and the hands of the creators go largely unnoticed. By the time the third act here came to its excellent cliffhanger of a conclusion, I felt like I knew who our main stakeholders were (especially the fantastic antagonist) and, more importantly, I felt like I had a reason to care about the story’s central family. I am—groan—ready for a second helping.  

Overall: Hot Lunch Special #1 takes a very personal generational story and mashes it up with  Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir. It’s a quiet and grounded comic mostly, one that also feels taut and dangerous by its end. This first issue is promising, an excellent start for what may prove to be a unique book. 9.0/10

For more comic book and movie reviews, check out our review archives here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Her Infernal Descent #3 by Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson, Kyle Charles, Dee Cunniffe, & Ryan Ferrier

By Zack QuaintanceHer Infernal Descent is the story of Lynn, a mother literally marching through hell in search of her recently-deceased family. Put simply, it's one unique comic. A loose retelling of Dante’s Inferno, it stars a fairly typical mom plus a host of dead celebrities, from Jimi Hendrix to Homer (Odyssey not Simpson) to Kafka, ironically serving as a judge.

This issue is three of five, and in it, the qualities that made the first two installments so interesting have been upped: dry humor, surreal encounters with departed artists, and the melancholy motivating Lynn to traverse literal hell. There’s quite a bit to be impressed with, both holistically as well as within this singular issue, but let’s start with the writing.

The duo of Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson are on the rise, catching much buzz with their work on Marvel’s Cable, taking over Valiant's Bloodshot, and writing the excellent body horror book Come Into Me. Although it’s early in their careers to brand them with a regular motif, I’d still say this book seems like a departure, at once under and overstated—understated with its characterization of Lynn and overstated with the absurd hell unfolding around her.

The cover of Her Infernal Descent #3 is an excellent summation of what this book's art does so well, juxtaposing the protagonist's outward normalcy with her madcap and macabre surroundings.

The mom-ness of our hero is so well done, especially in interactions with deceased members of the intelligentsia. She’s unimpressed but tolerant of William Blake yet thrilled to meet Agatha Christie. When Andy Warhol tells her he’s trying to be nice, she replies Try harder. She uses old school mom-typical expressions like Hey buster, Oh for Pete’s sake, or ...that time I smoked the danged reefer. Obviously these writers aren’t mothers, but they seem to be working hard to see and convey their own moms' perspectives. The result is a character who is utterly relatable.

The real heart of the book, however, is Lynn's regret over her lost loved ones. In this issue, hellions try to torture her with her own memories in a poignant spread that nearly brought me to tears. We also see Lynn recall that normal life had perhaps pushed her to drinking. Like the earlier charm, these tragedies are never belabored, and that's a credit to the scripting.

The visuals, of course, also deserve much credit. Kyle Charles and Dee Cunniffe are a versatile team, capable of both quiet emotions and of depicting hell. They bounce between these modes, often integrating them into shared environs. The cover to issue three is a great example. We see Lynn with her practical haircut and dress navigating a labyrinth of the macabre. Within this cover, Charles and Cunniffe so thoroughly convey her driving mission so well that ifI think about it too long I’ll get emotional.

On that note, I’ll conclude by noting this book is built to hurt your heart, badly, the moment she reunites with her family, and I for one am there for the devastation.

Overall: In Her Infernal Descent #3, the qualities that make this comic so enthralling are ratcheted up, resulting in the best issue yet. This is a literary comic of the highest order, a well-constructed story rich with melancholic moments, intelligentsia in-jokes, and a layer of subtle charm. 9.0/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Outpost Zero #1 by Sean McKeever, Alexandre Tefenkgi, & Jean-Francois Beaulieu

Outpost Zero #1  is out July 11.

Outpost Zero #1 is out July 11.

By Zack Quaintance —  When I start an original series, I usually have preview text handy to orient myself and keep from wondering questions that might bog down the narrative. I’m sure some purists would say a comic should stand by itself, but I’m fine with this. Comics is a serialized medium informed by its past arguably more than any other storytelling format. Spider-Man has decades of audience familiarization; I'm cool allotting new books a few sentences.

Anyway, with Outpost Zero #1, the preview talks of a small town where people work the land, spend Fridays watching sports, and often lack grand aspirations because survival is so demanding. As a result, I expected this book to be analogous of modern small-town America. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that while there are hints of that, the book’s aspirations are much broader.

It’s actually not the plight of resource-poor regions this book is concerned with, not entirely, but rather grander philosophical questions about practicality versus ambition, both as applied to the individual and to society. Do you keep your head down and focus on your day-to-day, or do you fight to change the world? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with in my life, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

A preview page from  Outpost Zero #1.

A preview page from Outpost Zero #1.

And it’s actually a question the creators float early in this first issue, before later applying it to a familiar debate about science. Do we push our economy forward in brief spurts, or do we invest in a culture of innovation and knowledge? As someone whose day job is to write about how local governments deploy innovation and technology, I found this all especially compelling, but I’m sure for those outside my (incredibly) niche industry, it will be of interest as well, given our current national climate.

Philosophy aside, this is just a well-done comic, as I’ve come to expect from the Skybound imprint. The art is top-tier, the character’s faces emotive, and the sci-fi outpost a perfect blend of familiar Earth trappings and tools of futuristic survival. The dialogue accomplishes the heavy scientific and philosophical lifting, and it rarely seems contrived, stumbling a bit during the talk between teenagers (something 98 percent of comic writers fumble).

In the end, though, it's a surprising yet logical character-driven choice that has me coming back for issue two. To say anymore would risk a spoiler.

Overall: This issue does what Skybound books do best: leaves you badly wanting to know what happens next. It seems outwardly simple, but this book is layered, character-driven, and deceptively complex. The creative team behind Outpost Zero #1 has planted some compelling seeds. 8.0/10

Outpost Zero #1 will be available July 11.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Euthanauts #1 by Tini Howard, Nick Robles, & Aditya Bidikar

Euthanauts #1  is an intriguing comic that lives up to its incredible cover art.

Euthanauts #1 is an intriguing comic that lives up to its incredible cover art.

Tini Howard and Nick Robles’ Euthanuats #1 first caught my attention weeks ago with its title and cover. In tandem, the two evoke thoughts of a woman journeying through death, body withered to bones as her head and mind are protected by a glass bauble, one that glows with life and attracts insects like a light bulb. My interest was bolstered further by the books presence on IDW’s imprint, Black Crown, from former long-time Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. I’ve enjoyed all Black Crown offerings (more here), but it was another book by Howard that really stood out to me: Assassinistas, a collaboration with the legendary Gilbert Hernandez that applies complex modern family dynamics to an archetypal femme fatale death squad.

Whereas Assassinistas is more of a character study, one laced with appropriate bits of humor and modest bouts of action, Euthanuats is better-described as an abstract and surreal walk through our fears, expectations and attitudes around death. Our protagonist is an alienated receptionist who works in a funeral home and is dissatisfied with her life and friendships. For the first two-thirds of the book, the story grounds us in this struggle, functioning well as a slice-of-life comic.

Howard’s characterization is strong, with effective interior monologue lines like, “I was thinking about how weird it is that I don’t like my friends and they don’t really like me—when I first saw her…”, as well as snappy character banter, such as, “It’s like, communism works just fine, you just have to really, really likeable.” Robles art is also wonderful, detailed and realistic, glazed over with a fitting color palette that manages to be forlorn without tipping into morbid or noir.

Nick Robles' art in  Euthanauts #1  depicts a non-conventional side of death.

Nick Robles' art in Euthanauts #1 depicts a non-conventional side of death.

It is, however, the plot point that catapults us into the third act that really establishes this book as something special. Not to give too much away, but reality blurs into a world of ethereal surrealism, seemingly a realm of death, or near death. It's unclear, and the book makes a wise decision to keep readers disoriented. I’ve been reading comics for two decades and change, and as such I’ve seen an excessive number of visual depictions of death, limbo, the afterlife, etc. I’ve rarely seen one as intriguing as in Euthanuats, which I take as a testament to both the imagination and research that went into this story.

This has already been a fantastic year for comics as unfettered explorations of nigh-universal fears, concerns, or hang ups (see Eternity Girl, Mister Miracle, and several inward-facing horror books), but Euthanauts charges headlong at the most towering concern of all—death—and emerges with a fascinating and beautifully-told story. I barely have a guess for where this book is headed next, and I love that.

Overall: Engrossing and complex, Euthanauts is the best book yet from former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, Black Crown. Howard’s script dives confidentiality into a universal concern—death—as Robles' ethereal visuals blur reality. An intriguing and gorgeous comic, this one is highly recommended. 9.0/10

Euthanauts #1 is out July 18. Learn more about it here!

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Top Comics of May 2018

May was huge for superhero comics, with both Marvel and DC locking their futures into place for the next 12 to 18 months. This resulted in some of the best #1 issues of late, as well as in one truly-epic finale for a long run on a flagship character (more below).

May was, in short, fantastic for fans of action and superheroes, and for those of us who like to feel like a kid again by leaving the office to eat lunch on Wednesdays in a sad Subway on Blue Ravine Road in Folsom, CA, where the sandwich artists are generous with the veggies and that one Ed Sheeran song (I’m in love with your body, Oh—I—oh—I—oh—I—oh—I, etc.) is always always playing. Ahem. I’ve gotten oddly specific and way off track, a good sign it’s time to start our list.

Let’s do it!

Shout Outs

One of many fantastic and creepy panels from  Abbott #5.

One of many fantastic and creepy panels from Abbott #5.

Abbott #5: Abbott concludes with this issue, and man was it a killer series, laden with social commentary and supernatural chills, plus some of the prettiest panels in any comic this year. I highly recommend this book and even thought it could have used a sixth issue to let some of the ideas in its finale breath, but this is a small complaint.

Action Comics Special #1: This one-off conclusion for Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics run was heavy on Lois and Lex, which is enough to get a thumbs up from me. Extra points for the backup from Mark Russell (more on him below).

Avengers #1 - #2: Mark Waid did an admirable job on Avengers while we all decompressed following Jonathan Hickman’s all-time great stint, but I’m ready for the team to be leading the Marvel Universe again, which is where Jason Aaron has it in these early issues.

And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are  DC's  best art team...

And all of a sudden, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are DC's best art team...

DC Nation #0: Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez are the best artists working in superheroes today, as shown by the Justice League preview here.

Doctor Strange #390:  Cates-Zdarsky Spider-Man two-page vignette alone lands it here. Hi-larious.

Flash #47: Flash War is brewing. A lot of Rebirth books slowed down after the first two years, but Josh Williamson’s Flash is peaking. Also, more Howard Porter art, please!

Man of Steel #1: Needs more Lois, but I’m giving Bendis time there. Aside from that, his take on Superman started well, with deep understanding of what makes the character admirable, inspirational, beloved, etc. More here!

Marvel 2-in-1 #6: This continues to be Marvel’s best and most consistent comic, doling out laughs, action, and heartfelt moments in equal part. Chip Zdarsky is a criminally underrated superhero writer.

Spider-Man #240: Bendis farewell to his 18-year Spider-Man run almost made me cry. I read #1 when I was 15 (a scientifically ideal time to read about Spider-Man) and grew to adulthood with this writer and this book, which is all a poignant reminder of life’s inherent and unstoppable capacity for change.

Top Comics of May 2018

More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on  Super Sons .

More Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez on Super Sons.

5. Super Sons #16 by Peter Tomasi, Art Thibert, & Carlo Barberi: I’d be taking a far more somber tone about this book had Peter Tomasi not announced that he would write a 12-issue series, dubbed Adventures of the Super Sons, about Jon Kent and Damian Wayne in August, but it did, so here we are. Super Sons is my favorite book that hasn’t yet made our monthly Top 5, and I think the reason is it’s just so reliable and consistent.

The dynamic between Jon and Damian is the heart of this book, which has also boasted wonderful art during its run, most of which was done by my aforementioned favorite superhero team, Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez. Tomasi’s plotting keeps to a modest yet exciting scope, and the guest spots from the boys’ parents are always delightful.

4. Barrier #1 - #5 by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, & Munsta Vincente: I first read (and loved) Barrier a couple years back when it ran on Brian K. Vaughan’s digital comics site, Panel Syndicate, but I used May’s print run to collect the issues and re-visit the story. As I did, I detailed some of my thoughts in reviews, and I noticed that many folks I knew were reading the book for the first time.

Simply put, good on you! Barrier is a beautifully-illustrated story about the constructs that have come to divide humanity, including language, nation states, natural resources, or misunderstandings. With this fertile ground, the surprising story goes on to tell a tense and poignant tale about two unlikely allies brought together and forced to bond.

I can’t say much past that without spoiling things, but I want to note the last panel of Barrier #5 is one that has stuck with me for years and was reopened in my mind this month like a trauma I haven’t fully processed. Barrier is truly my favorite type of story, one that asks hard questions without forcing pedantic answers.

From recent issues of  Amazing Spider-Man .

From recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #800 by Dan Slott, Stuart Immonen, & Team: Dan Slott and his many artistic collaborators really tell a story here worthy of milestone status, playing on an old Spider-Man trope that never fails to feel compelling—imperiling the many meaningful friends Pete has made over the years. The core concept for Peter Parker is he’s a lovable loser gifted with superpowers and doing his best to satisfy the responsibilities that come along with them. This makes the stakes for Pete always intriguing. After all, it’s his value to the world in question, and who hasn’t contemplated that?

But when the danger comes to his supporting cast, Spider-Man really turns compelling. Slott knows this, clearly. He also has a decade of stories to draw friendships from. That combination makes for one of the most taut over-sized comics in recent memory, one that eschews the multiple vignette thing similar issues resort to in favor of a grand finale for Slott’s landmark run on Marvel’s flagship comic, Amazing Spider-Man.

2. Nightwing #44 by Benjamin Percy, Chris Mooneyham, & Team: I have a documented love of Benjamin Percy’s run on Green Arrow, which concluded earlier this year, so I was looking forward to this issue as soon as it was announced Percy would on Nightwing. I was not, however, prepared for how much I’d like this book. Simply put, Percy wrote his fingers off (gross, I know), crafting a comic rich with clever turns of phrase, great interactions between characters (especially Babs and Dick), and a sprinkling of the odd factoids that make Percy’s narrations in comics (and novels/short stories) so compelling. This is also a timely story, with much to say about mankind’s accelerating reliance on tech.

My other major point of praise is Chris Mooneyham and team’s artwork. Be it a subway or junkyard, the art depicts Bludhaven as a gritty, hard-boiled place, more late 70s/early 80s New York than the absurdist alternate Atlantic City it had become under other recent writers. It’s a choice that contributes much without detracting from character or narrative, and it has me hoping this team remains on the book for a good while.

1. Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 by Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, & Sean Parsons: As unlikely as it sounds, I have been made to laugh, cry, and consider about my place in society by a comic book about the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Snagglepuss. And this just a few months after the book’s writer, Mark Russell, inspired me to say this aloud to a friend, “The most cutting satire about 2018 is a comic book about The Flintstones.” Yes, it’s all very strange.

One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

One of the best comics of 2018 is about Snagglepuss. Weird, right?

The unlikelihood of such poignant work being done with licensed characters is an easy talking point when describing Exit Stage Left. What’s much harder is articulating what Russell and team have done with these comics to make the source material so relevant. In The Flintstones, each issue was a different vignette with a loose through-line to future installments, a fragmented narrative about how the military industrial complex and tribalism has shaped mankind. Exit Stage Left is just as smart, but here Russell has crafted a more linear and complete story, one that better enables him to kick the bottom of your heart out.

This fifth issue is the emotional climax of the series, within which the ill fortune Russell had planned for our hero finally catches up to him. He does the right thing and is punished by a misguided and unjust political society. This comic is not as direct a commentary as The Flintstones was, but in many ways it is the superior book—an emotional ride that makes readers contemplate many facets of humanity, from authenticity to artistic value to the mental gymnastics we perform to justify our points of views. There’s one issue left, but Exit Stage Left has already established itself as one of the best of 2018.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Wasted Space #2 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, & Jim Campbell

Wasted Space #2 cover by Marguerite Sauvage

Wasted Space #2 cover by Marguerite Sauvage

Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman’s Wasted Space #2 brings more of its central protagonists’ backstories into focus, putting the duo at a bar, getting them drunk, and having them share tales of mutual prescience. One of these characters—Billy Bane—acts as a stand-in for the audience, voicing a question inherent to the first issue, namely how legit are the future-predicting/God-seeing powers that are in play here? He then posits that his abilities may be a product of his own insanity.

As a result, I’m not sure whether we learn if Billy’s powers are legit, not just yet, but I think the structural choice is a solid one for this second issue, one that lets readers know Moreci is aware of what they’re wondering and also that they can trust him to deliver a satisfying payoff eventually. So, I’m very much with all of that. Another choice I enjoyed in this issue was Moreci continuing to pose capital B Big, sweeping questions about humanity, specifically asking whether the species is doomed to forever war and jockey for position because that’s what it took to get us to the top of the evolutionary chain.

Without giving anything specific away, one of the plot developments here also seems to make a statement about political extremism, specifically about the merits of having a predictable and intact system versus moving toward anarchy by forcing norms and structure to die and crumble. It’s the best kind of surprise twist, at once thrilling and meaningful.

Hayden Sherman is establishing himself as one of the best sci-fi artists in comics.

Hayden Sherman is establishing himself as one of the best sci-fi artists in comics.

And this is all heady stuff, especially considering the thematic and philosophical weight introduced in the first book, which basically opened with a drug dealer arguing that the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus—fated to forever push a boulder up a hill that just rolled back down again later—actually had a great life free of confusing distractions and filled with focus. Oh, and the first issue also took a David Foster Wallace-esque stance on escapism, painting it as the author did in his opus Infinite Jest as at once incredibly dangerous but also possibly mankind’s natural and necessary state.

There are a lot of massive ideas here, so many that this story falls a bit into a common trap of second issues, lacking action in parts as it dispenses exposition left out of the previous issue. Sherman and Wordie’s art, however, makes the flashbacks and contemplations visually engaging, so much so that Sherman again furthers his case as one of the premiere sci-fi artists in all of comics (shout out to his other ongoing book, Cold War), both in terms of his technology and cityscapes.

Overall: This issue sought to meet a huge bar set by its predecessor, which as I wrote in my Wasted Space #1 review did an incredible job balancing action and ideas. The second issue falls just short of the first, but it’s still fantastic, doing the difficult yet necessary work of familiarizing us with our leads. I will for sure get wasted again next month. 8.5/10

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Justice League of America #28 by Steve Orlando and Hugo Petrus

Justice League of America  #28 by Steve Orlando (w) and Hugo Petrus (a).

Justice League of America #28 by Steve Orlando (w) and Hugo Petrus (a).

After the previous issue of Justice League of America setup Chronos as one of the most dastardly villains in the DC Universe, this one went ahead and solidified his terror. What really did the trick for me wasn’t Chronos’ typical villain dialogue, which was well done and included both taunting the heroes and telling henchmen to shut up. It also wasn’t the way Chronos took the fight to the JLA via a literal army of sycophants from throughout history (a classic move used often at Marvel by Kang the Conqueror). What made Chronos so compelling to me was the triviality of his motives. He seemed to embrace and own his status as a straight up bad guy (a fitting motif given our current political climate but that’s another discussion…).

As I noted in my review of issue #27, Steve Orlando is a writer who really lives in the heads of characters he writes, giving his books a more well-rounded feel than most, a sense that even small lines and brief actions matter, even if it’s just to create a more robust picture of what’s happening in this world with these people. There have been signs that Chronos was a petty man from the start, that his motives were entirely vindictive, and that he was messing with the God of superheroes, Ahls, simply to humble the League and take them down a notch for being altruistic, which has been a recurring motif in this run.

By the end of this issue, Chronos all but confirms as much, with Ryan Choi subsequently noting that Chronos had started as a petty thief, a dim man with a chip on his shoulder for being degraded by the superior intellects of first Ray Palmer and now Choi. This is all very much in keeping with behavior we’ve seen from Chronos, and it’s yet another example of what I’ve often said about Orlando’s JLA: it’s a well-wrought and complex run that rewards readers for investing deep levels of focus and attention.

Another thing I’ve really enjoyed about this current arc is that it leans in to being a story of superheroes. Orlando is also a writer with real passion for the tradition of his work, often taking close consideration of continuity when scripting character interactions. This passion shows in the lack of cutesy winking found in JLA. This is a book that takes story very seriously, and, as a reader, it’s hard to not follow suit. Of the talented artists Orlando has worked with throughout this run, Hugo Petrus’ work best embraces this total buyin. There are some truly fantastic superhero panels here, including one of a battle in which Black Canary lunges from the foreground at a foe, giving us a glimpse at an immense and impressive depth of field.

Overall: Justice League of America #28 is the penultimate issue of a book that has been a real treat, and I’m sad that things have to end. Not many of the characters from this team have been teased as part of the League moving forward, with the exceptions being Batman (of course) and Lobo, who is at least involved with No Justice. Still, getting nearly 30 issues with this eclectic and disparate group has been a treat, and issues like this illustrate why. 8.8/10

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.