Short & Sweet: She-Hulk, Batwoman, Sex Criminals, and More!
Brian K. Vaughan
It starts with a blowjob.
Saga, you know you’re my favorite, right? You start with Prince Robot IV making time with some of Sextillion’s best performers, and then to throw in that splash page of Alana floating naked in space? Swoon. The art in this, people! You should go throw all your hard earned dollars at Fiona Staples. Not that Brian K. Vaughan is slacking in the writing department…
Alana and Marko are doing the best they can as interstellar criminals with a toddler, a ghost, and a cranky grandmother in tow. We catch up with some of the other characters, such as the prince and his princess, but the main action focuses on wonderfully realistic interactions between Alana and her coworkers, as well as Marko, Hazel, and a dancing instructor. The dialogue is spot on and there is an underlying sense of dread threading through even the happier scenes, until as the synopsis promises, something terrible happens.
Up until now, Sex Criminals has been having a lot of fun, dealing with sex and the thrill of a new relationship all while balancing on the premise of orgasm-induced time stopping in which to rob a bank. This issue delves deeper into Jon’s issues, while Suzie takes more of a back seat. Jon narrates the journey after their almost-foiled bank robbery up to the present, where he is drained of color and the magical time stopping sex has, well, stopped. It is a deftly handled look at mental illness and the ripples it can cause in relationships. Don’t worry, though. Wacky antics are sure to ensue, as it’s made clear the Sex Police aren’t gone for good.
Red Sonja is somewhere she’s never been before—defeated and face down in the mud! Tasked by a madman to collect the best artisans in the world, this issue has Sonja going after the greatest swordsman who has ever lived. Throughout the issue, Sonja’s yellow-green eyes contrast sharply with the red and grey of the pages, and we’re treated to a deeper insight both into how her companion, the courtesan Aneva, views Sonja as well as how the She-Devil sees herself as not quite the same species as other women. Both the writing and art are in top form, but the wait to learn if Sonja brings back all of the artisans and rescues the slaves from certain death is agonizing.
“With locks of gore, with ribsword in hand…”
Dark Engine begins with a dragon gazing out upon a landscape while devils caper around him, but the focus is on the woman he, and the other twisted, nefarious creatures are waiting for. That woman is their mother. They call her the Ivory Wolf, but the men who made her call her Sym. The story moves between the hellscape, a primordial jungle, and a tower surrounded by thorns. Sym was created by alchemists and sent back in time to right some wrong, murder some enemy who laid the world to waste. Sym doesn’t speak. She fashions her weapons and raiments out of the animals she kills, and she is in the wrong time.
The art is just this side of psychedelic, matching the tone of the story. Pretty much every panel with Sym is full of gore and weird beasties. She’s mostly naked but is not depicted in a sexual manner. Color is used to establish the different locations and give mood, so when Sym appears to two people beside a river, the sky goes red. Everything is grotesque and lyrical, and individual panels are really dynamic. Reading this felt like listening to a really good heavy metal song.
Maybe I’m not getting something. I’m trying to get it, I am, but there’s something about She-Hulk that has been bugging me from the get-go and I seem to be the only one. The art, I feel, is consistently just not good. I can’t even flip through Ron Wimberly’s pages without cringing. It’s so stylized and the angles are weird, with action jutting in and out of the back/foreground with little rhyme or reason that I can discern. Last issue’s training session with Hellcat and Tigra was just so hard to sit through and She-Hulk’s demon battle in this one is possibly worse than that. And it’s not just Wimberly. I know people are digging Javier Pulido’s work but it does nothing for me. It reminds me a lot of Michael Allred’s work and I wasn’t overly enamored with his stuff either. On the flipside, the cover art is always impressive, blending Jennifer Walters’ heroic life with her career nicely. I’d read a whole book that looked more like the cover to issue #2 but in it’s current state, I’m probably going to drop the title based on the inside art alone.
Which is a darned shame, given how much I’m loving Charles Soule’s story. I’m so intrigued by this mysterious blue file, containing some details on a case that Walters, Tigra, Wyatt Wingfoot, Electro, and others are involved in. However, anytime the lawyer, Hellcat, or Angie Huang (Walters’ paralegal) question anyone about it they are attacked. There’s a trigger causing anyone involved in the case to go crazy, making it an even more dangerous investigation than it’s already been implied to be.
I’m going to stick with it, at least until I figure out what this blue file business is all about but unless there’s a new art direction for the series, I’m not so invested in the title that I’m going to keep paying for a book I don’t like to look at.
Jeremy Haun & Scott Kolins
Sadly, this is another series with art I’ve been growing steadily less impressed with. I mean, Batwoman has had some pretty big shoes to fill with the exit of J.H. Williams III and Trevor McCarthy, but there’s been a definite decline in recent issues. In issue #32, I’m pretty sure we saw more of Batwoman’s head than we did anything else. With issue #34, there was a lot more front-facing but now I can kind of see why they were avoiding it. Yikes. I’m not a fan and if I didn’t know that Georges Jeanty, whose work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer I’ve been a huge admirer of, was coming soon, this would be another book like She-Hulk that is facing my pull-list chopping block.
Also like She-Hulk, the story is going a long way to keep me from ultimately giving up the title. Batwoman remains one of my favorite comics and I’ll weather what I consider to be subpar art to keep reading tales about my favorite member of the Bat-family. Admittedly, it’s probably more my emotional attachment keeping me along than anything else. I’m disappointed that Kate Kane’s former flame from her military days made an appearance in the last issue but didn’t even get mentioned in this one, the plot instead focusing on Batwoman’s ongoing battle with Nocturna and sort of edging around Kate’s relationship with Maggie. In reality, though, it feels like all of this is building up to something that might result in a breakup that will have Dan DiDio cheering from wherever he hides when he’s not out claiming that superhero marriages aren’t compelling enough to fit into his DC universe.
I’ll hold out for the better art and hopefully be proven wrong about where all of this is leading but I’m telling you now, if Kate and Maggie’s relationship gets sacrificed in the name of Kate trying to protect Maggie’s relationship with her daughter, it won’t matter that Jeanty is coming to save the day. This martyr complex Andreyko seems to be painting over Batwoman’s sense of duty and honor does not do the character justice.
Joshue Hale Fialkov
The Life After starts out with a distinctly Truman Show vibe to it. Every day Jude wakes up and goes through the motions of his life. He gets up, brushes his teeth, goes to work, rides the bus home … day after day. What the reader knows and Jude doesn’t is that there is someone there, behind the scenes, manipulating how the day will go. They regulate the temperature, add or subtract traffic from the road etc. Everything goes just the way they want it to. Until the day that it doesn’t.
Every day on the bus home a woman gets off before Jude and drops her handkerchief. And every day Jude wills himself to go after her, to introduce himself and find out more about her. But he’s too self-conscious and nervous and he simply watches her get off the bus and walk away. Until the day he doesn’t.
One day Jude decides enough is enough and he picks up her handkerchief and goes to follow her. This is when this comic gets truly weird. Jude falls out of the system and life as he knows starts to get a little fuzzy. The scenery begins to flicker back and forth and when he touches people (presumably something he’s never had cause to do before) he can see how they’re going to die. Or is it how they’ve already died? And then Ernest Hemingway shows up, happy to find someone else who has fallen out of the system and takes Jude on a tour of his new life.
The first issue of The Life After is ambiguous and bizarre. It will definitely leave you with more questions than answers. But it will also pique your curiosity and make you want to know what’s going on in this strange world Jude lives in and what role Ernest Hemingway will be playing in it. I hope now that Jude is out of his Truman show-like existence his character will become more three-dimensional. In this issue he is a rather dull every-man archetype. His days are monotonous, his self esteem is low, he hates his job. Ideally, now that his eyes have been opened to reality, he’ll develop a little more pluck.
The real standout of this issue is Gabo’s art. There is a fantastic splash page right at the beginning that illustrates the repetitive, dull nature of Jude’s day. It’s an impressive page made up of 50 different panels. It’s detailed and eye catching and makes a dull life fun to read about. There’s also some great use of colours and neat shading, particularly in panels where Jude has come into physical contact with another person. This art combined with my need for answers is what will keep me coming back for more of this series.