Hello, comic book adventurers! It’s me Rosie, back once again with your regular Dynamite comics roundup. We here at Women Write About Comics are dedicated to unpacking the complex parts of the industry and unwrapping the underwhelming gift that is comics so we can all enjoy/despair about it together! So here we are with another of our monthly collections of all things that are going on at Dynamite Entertainment, home of the sexy variant cover, unexpected creative team, and occasionally great licensed comics.
It’s been a couple of months since I last dared to dip my toes in the Dynamite pond. After months of previews with barely any female creators I realised that I had to change the way I wrote this column. After my November segment, I called Dynamite out online for attempting to launch a line called “The Women of Dynamite” in a month which of course had less than ten women actually working on the books and a whole lot of sexy variant covers. After an intense exchange with their social media manager on Twitter, Dynamite acknowledged that the banner was irresponsible and ended up as far I can tell scrapping the promotion entirely.
In other bad business-centric Dynamite news, the company recently ran a week-long Kickstarter in order to sell fans t-shirts and sexy J. Scott Campbell busts. It’s an odd campaign that as I write this has forty-eight hours to go and is fully funded, with around $1,800 against the $1,500 that the publisher wanted. I’m intrigued by the decision to run this campaign at all, as it raised under $2,000 and has only helped Dynamite sell more merchandise, which is surely the one thing they don’t actually need help selling. It was hardly advertised, which I would assume is due to the fact that historically most fans don’t react well to “proper” publishers attempting to raise money to put out books via Kickstarter—as Archie Comics discovered a couple of years ago.
The Kickstarter does deserve some of our attention though as it was just so thoroughly strange. The campaign consisted of multiple tiers, from one digital graphic novel for $5+, to the “Fanpacks” that were apparently at the center of the Kickstarter and which include a t-shirt, trading cards, prints, or a button and a digital comic download, to an Everything tier for $199 which included three Fanpacks: Vampirella, Control, and Grand Passion, a print collection of each of those books, and two sexy Vampirella statues. Of all the tiers, the Fanpack managed to get ten backers whilst the Everything tier came a close second with six, raising almost $800 of the total from that one reward. Sadly for Dynamite, apparently no retailers were interested in their very oddly designed t-shirts as the retailer tier remains unbacked, as well as five other completely unbacked tiers.
Even Dynamite doesn’t seem desperate enough to run a Kickstarter for $1,500 to keep the electric running, but this campaign also doesn’t appear to have reached many fans with a total of twenty-four backers and less than two days to go. So what does Dynamite think Kickstarter is for? Surely they sell more than twenty-four busts and t-shirts in a month through Diamond? Or maybe they’re moving offices and needed to get rid of some stuff? Whatever the reason, it was another strange business decision from a company whose stock and trade is making weird business decisions.
For the first time since I started this column—thanks to my powerful editor Claire Napier—I have access to Dynamite’s preview copies instead of simply limited-page book previews, which means that instead of just looking through Dynamite’s solicitations, I’ve been able to read some of their books and can relay my feelings about them right here. As you can probably guess I’m going to attempt to focus on the few and far between books that Dynamite put out which have interiors done by anyone who isn’t a white dude, which since I started receiving review PDFs from January 16th encompasses a total of nine issues. Full disclosure; there was also a reprint trade of old Swordquest comics that included one female creator credit, but as it was just one in the collection, badly listed, and a reprint, I decided to leave it out of my review roundup.
I have to say that though some of these titles have lived up to my sour estimations, a couple have completely leapt over the very low bar that I had for Dynamite and have honestly surprised me. If Dynamite can keep hiring radical female colourists who aren’t scared to stray from the dull tones of what most of us see as Dynamite’s house style then they might be able to craft a place as an exciting licensed publisher with some really solid output.
James Bond: The Body #1 (out now) – Ales Kot, Luca Casalanguida, Valentina Pinta, and Thomas Napolitano
The concept of James Bond comics is far more appealing to me than the real thing, especially as I know the long and storied history of them being brought into existence by one of my favourite comics uncles, Mike Lake. He fought for many years to bring these comics to life. In this new miniseries penned by Ales Kot, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida, and coloured fantastically by Valentina Pinta, I’ve finally found one worth the years of struggle it took them to get here. This gorgeous first issue does a lot of things I think usually don’t work in comics: it begins in medias res, it’s about James Bond, it includes a racial slur—which I still don’t really like though understand contextually—but it manages to be an engaging first issue with a great narrative structure. It’s Bond recounting his evening to the doctor fixing his body. It’s the best part of Batman and Alfred’s relationship transferred to Bond and a young kind man. Kot’s writing is wonderfully stark and simple here, creating an intimate and engaging story. But the book really belongs to Casalanguida’s cartoonish yet serious linework and Pinta’s astonishing colours, which manage to get away from Dynamite’s draining house style to create a beautiful book that actually left me surprisingly excited to read the next issue.
Red Sonja Vol. 4 #12 (out now) – Amy Chu, Erik Burnham, Carlos Gomez, Mohan, and Simon Bowland
Gotta love these Ben Caldwell Red Sonja covers, they are truly a fun and joyful wonder to behold. Sadly, Red Sonja Vol. 4 #12 is not. It’s not that Amy Chu isn’t a great writer—she is, and this is a serviceable fantasy story, even if it’s a bit heavy on the lore for a new reader—but it’s almost impossible for me to read or care about the story when all I can see on the page are Sonja’s gravity-defying breasts in a bikini that appears to get smaller in every panel. I do have to say I’m infinitely impressed by the commitment that Gomez and Mohan have to making Sonja’s breasts a living, breathing character in the book. In each panel they’re always the focus, always glowing, growing, and moving. They have different expressions as they shift and squeeze together; it’s almost admirable, but also completely distracting. It’s a shame as during the final battle against some rad undead skeletons, I almost enjoyed the comic and forgot the sentient boobs. But, anytime you manage to see beyond them, Sonja’s drawn on abs will surely knock you back off balance. It’s a no from me, lads.
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #5 (out now) – Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo, Maria Sanapo, Ceci De La Cruz, and Thomas Napolitano
This is definitely the Dynamite book which has the most women on one issue that I’ve ever come across. But, sadly again, from the cover I felt lost in the proverbial jungle. Why does Sheena look so confused? Why does she have the the visage of a flat-faced teenager? Are there parrots in the jungle? For me, this book leans too heavily into the exploitative sins of the past, with the main action appearing to be Sheena stabbing some monsters who look too much like racist stereotypes of black people from years past. I’ve also wondered why Sheena isn’t a woman of colour? Especially when everyone she comes across in the jungle are indigenous cultures? Anyway, this book is depressingly routine, essentially a twenty-two page problematic action scene. I’m also not a fan of Sanapo’s art in this issue, which gives the feel of photo traces with a lot of digital airbrushing. However, Ceci De La Cruz’s colours are vivid and exciting enough that Sheena doesn’t just look like another Dynamite house style mess.
Deja Thoris #1 (out now) – Amy Chu, Pasquale Qualano, Valentina Pinto, and Thomas Napolitano
So my first question is why did they throw a J. Scott Shambles cover on this book? It has really nice interior art by Pasquale Qualano and colours by Valentina Pinto, who’s apparently Dynamite’s secret weapon and my new favourite colourist! The first page of Deja Thoris is a statement of intent as it shows not only our protagonist in a sexy Hutt Slayer Leia-esque costume but also her hot silver fox grandad, so some rare good ridiculous hot-costume equality from Dynamite here. Deja Thoris #1 is essentially fun techno-barbarian smut with sexy muscled bods for everyone. If I have one problem with the book it’s simply that for a book set in outer space every character is very white, and that’s a shame as this is actually a fun bit of pulpy sci-fi that manages to engage and entertain without being exploitative.
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle #6 (out now) – Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo, Maria Sanapo, Ceci De La Cruz, and Thomas Napolitano
The number one book I want to support but can’t is back, with another disappointing issue. Sheena #6 is arguably better than #5 though, with less problematic casually racist character designs, though I still wonder why Sheena is white. The highlight of this issue is undoubtedly the fact that it focuses on the friendship between Sheena and a local village leader, and we get to see them explore the jungle together and fight some rad monsters. But Sanapo’s art just doesn’t connect with me. I hope there’s an audience out there for it, as I love that this book has so many women on it, but there’s no life in Sanapo’s art. Each panel seems like a frozen separate thing with no fluidity of movement between panel or page turn. Sheena just isn’t a book that appeals to me, even though I think there could be a version of this book that subverts the basic male gaziness of it to create a fantastic female led action story. Unfortunately, this isn’t that comic.
Xena #1 (out now) – Meredith Finch, Vicente Cifuentes, Triona Farrell, and Cardinal Ray
Often in comics, women are the uncredited workhorses who only get credited if they’re artists who do some inking or maybe the odd variant cover. So it’s nice to see that trend subverted here as writer Meredith Finch’s husband David delivers a very nice cover, which I have to say is probably the first thing Finch has drawn that I’ve liked in a very long time. The most important thing to say about this book is it’s fucking splendid to look at, like truly a pleasure, and alongside James Bond: The Body is seriously giving me hope for Dynamite’s future titles. Whilst the art is gorgeous, Cifuentes occasionally has a problem conveying the motion and movement that an action comic needs, but this is only the first issue so I’m not going to judge too harshly. Following Gabrielle and Xena as they sass some guys and beat them up is really all I need in a Xena comic, but once again the true star here is the colourist. I’ve long avoided Dynamite due to their awful brown-tone house colours, but Triona Farrell is a revelation, as she drenches this issue in a dramatic sunset that begins on the first page and ends on the last, a technique I have honestly never witnessed before. Also, I’m giving a supreme shoutout to Farrell and Cifuentes for a Xena full-page splash reveal that I would happily buy as a poster or get tattooed on my body. This is a good and fun comic.
James Bond: M One Shot (Wednesday 21st) – Declan Shalvey, PJ Holden, Dearbhla Kelly, and Simon Bolland
Reading a James Bond book tends to fill me with a certain kind of boring dread, but after my pleasurable experience with James Bond: The Body #1 earlier this month I was a little less apprehensive about this one shot. And rightly so, as though overall like most of Shalvey’s work I found the book to be slightly overwritten and over-serious, it was a really solid read. It follows M—who in this version is an older black man, which is always nice in the homogenous world of Bond—on a mission as he heads to Belfast to settle an old score. Whilst the storytelling is pretty pedestrian, Holden and Kelly create a really visually engaging book. Kelly’s colours give the James Bond: M One Shot (lol) a fantastic atmosphere, and the pairing of Holden and Kelly elevates this book above what most readers have come to expect from Dynamite. If you enjoy a hardboiled noir story against a backdrop of war, you’ll be in for a treat with this visually sumptuous one shot.
James Bond: The Body #2 (Wednesday 21st) – Ales Kot, Antonio Fuso, Valentina Pinta, and Thomas Napolitano
James Bond: The Body #2 is about as different a book from The Body #1 as you can get. The Body #1 had a soft bro edge to it, a sweet, regretful, tired Bond. A Bond as Bruce Wayne, weary with his place in the world. But the Body #2 switches that up on us with an artist change that’s visually jarring, as Fuso replaces Casalanguida and gone are the former’s soft yet severe lines which matched so well with Pinta’s deep colours. Here we find a new Bond, one who’s less defined in features, a blur of a man whose moral compass is just as smeared. Fuso’s art paired with Pinta is a perfect accompaniment to Kot’s narrative vision for the second issue, with the trio working together to tell the story of a traitor and the person sitting across from them. I feel like this is a great Bond book because it showcases the horror of what Bond actually is, what he does, and what he stands for. Pinta showcases her range here as she paints the cell as stark and bleak as it needs to be, whilst Bond shows us just who he really is. I loved this story, and in my mind this is how a Bond series should work: short vignettes that showcase different sides to the concept of James Bond, rather than trying to make us empathise with a whole man who never truly exists.
Red Sonja Vol. 4 #13 (Wednesday 21st) – Amy Chu, Erik Burnham, Carlos Gomez, Mohan, and Simon Bowland.
Hi Ben Caldwell, I love this cover so deeply. It’s essentially Tank Girl cosplaying as Red Sonja and I am here for it.
I have to say the opening page of this issue is also pretty great, a two-third splash page full of action where Sonja states that she’s “been to hell before . . . and more than once,” which is badass and gave me slight hope for this continuation of the story of the sentient boobs. Alas, on page two the boobs are back, almost mocking me with their close-to-realistic sag. Guessing Gomez had a good image to photo trace from, ’cos those boobs practically look like mine!
Sadly that empathy wasn’t to last, as the boobs explode onto page three, taking up a good chunk of the top right hand side of the page and looking like someone inflated them with a bicycle pump. They’re full of so much personality that I’m starting to wonder if they didn’t somehow read my first Red Sonja review earlier in this blog post and are now just grumpy at me. The boobs, not the creators. There’s actually a great panel below where you can’t see Sonja’s face, just her sideboob, and due to lettering placement it looks like her breast is talking rather than the people asking for help in the distance.
There is a lot of good skeleton-killing action in this issue so if you love seeing a giant pair of boobs wielding a sword then then this book is surely for you. But honestly I can’t enjoy or take a book seriously where the artists are more interested in giving life to a pair of tits than the protagonist’s face. Do love that red hair, tho!
Anyway folks, join me next month for the new and improved Rosie’s Dynamite Round-Up, where I’ll still be calling out the lack of inclusive creators, whilst rounding up news, reviews, and apparently enjoying some Dynamite books!