The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen

Sisterhood

CREDIT: Quirk Books

Rating: 5/5 –  A Valuable Resource for Fans of Heroines – both Super and Otherwise.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

My name is Al Sparrow and I love superheroines. I began a recent review with those same words, no less true now than they were then. Where that review covered a manga more concerned with the overly titillating aspects – pun intended – of all things super-powered and feminine, this time around we’re examining a book that covers comic book heroines throughout history. From the super-powered to the strong willed. From the spandex-clad to the fashionably (and perhaps more sensibly) dressed. From “good girls” to “bad girls” and all points in between, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History covers it all…okay, almost all of it all…and belongs on any comic book historian’s shelf.

Quirk Books has been knocking it out of the park lately with their examinations of all things simultaneously brilliant and bizarre regarding comic book heroes and villains of eras bygone. The League of Regrettable Superheroes and The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains (both by Jon Morris) are invaluable tomes for anyone curious about the comic book also-rans of yesteryear, or anyone who just wants to win at obscure comic book trivia. This third book, with writing chores taken on by Hope Nicholson, doesn’t follow that same formula. It may even be a mistake on my part to call it a third book in the series, as it really does stand apart from those other two books not only in content, but in its approach to said content. Superwomen takes a more serious look at the role women have played not just as comic book characters, but as comic book creators, writers, artists, inkers, colorists, letterers…look, it basically proves a point that some comic lovers always knew and that some did not know: Women have always been an important part of comic books, they just haven’t always (ever?) received the same level of acknowledgement their male peers have.

Each chapter covers a decade, with individual write-ups on those female characters who helped define that era. Nicholson does a great job not sticking with one particular type of female heroine – plucky reporters with a lot of gumption from the 40s share the pages with bikini-clad modster models from the 60s and dental floss costumed bad girls straight out of the 90s. She does not judge – although she doesn’t shy away from making her opinions known – but instead tries to paint a broad picture of the zeitgeist of a decade, and how these female characters and their creators helped to define it. Every chapter ends with the one heroine who best helped define it – Hope calls it the “Icon of the Decade” – and you can imagine who might be chosen for each one, depending on how well you know your comic book history.

A really nice inclusion is the “Essential Reading” at the end of each character’s entry. Sure, it’s easy enough to find Barbarella collected editions, but good luck trying to find Starr Flagg, The Wing, or Maureen Marine if you don’t know where to look. Fortunately, Nicholson points out places either online or in print where you can do further research – when it’s available of course. So many of the characters in this volume are sadly lost to history, with reprints unlikely. Even still, astute back-issue bin divers or collectors of vintage books will perhaps find some new treasures to hunt.

Books of this nature invite comparison and possibly complaints. After all, how scholarly can this book be when Nicholson left out xxx character from xxx book, right? When you’re done reading this book, I have little doubt you’re going to have a list of personal favorites she left out of this book. I know I had mine. And you know what? That’s great! How cool is it that these women have made enough of an impact on our lives – whether we knew it or not – that we’re coming up with our own lists of who should be considered influential. Thing is, this is Hope Nicholson’s list, and it’s a damn good one. If you love comic history, you should make plans to buy this book. If you love superheroines, you should own it already.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (al@comicspectrum.com)
https://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Fu Jitsu #1 (AfterShock)

FuJitsu1

CREDIT: AfterShock Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – James Dean, an Atomic Katana, and the Enlightenment of Whataburger.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I read a 5-page preview of Fu Jitsu #1 in AfterShock’s Dark Ark #1.  I liked that preview more than the main story, which wasn’t bad, but it was dark and downbeat while Fu Jitsu was light and fun.  Co-creators Jai Nitz (writer) and Wesley St. Claire (artist) are telling the story of a Kung Fu master born in 1897, who is just coming out of a 3-year period in sensory deprivation under the ice of Antarctica (to “forget about a girl”).  There is talk of rebirth and he has the appearance of a teenage boy, so it’s unclear if he never ages or if he periodically regenerates… or perhaps he uses his “cellular kung fu” to keep himself from aging.

The villainous Doctor Wadlow has just reacquired the Atomic Katana, a “Spear of Destiny” level mystical weapon he had his zombie blacksmiths forge for him in the atomic fire of Nagasaki at the end of World War II.  He’s going to try to use it to take over the world, but he needs to deal with the one thing that could stop him… our hero Fu Jitsu.

There is a lot going on in this issue.  A lot of backstory is only hinted at.  Our hero is 120 years old, he’s been doing this for a while.  That all this information coming at me made me want to learn more instead of being off-putting is a credit to Nitz and St. Claire. The dialogue was informative while not feeling stilted and St. Claire made even the most mundane scenes hold my visual interest.  The story kicks into high gear when James Dean (!!) shows up at the Antarctic base with every intention of taking out Fu.  The art follows suit and St. Clair brings the reader through an action sequence that takes up most of the second half of the issue with some great visuals and Nitz/St. Claire showcase some very fantastical kung fu powers that border on the mystical/super-heroic, which just added to the fun for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fu Jitsu from beginning to end.  It was a welcome relief to both the from reality I see on the nightly news every day, as well as to a lot of other comics that have a darker take on storytelling.  I liked the title character immediately and I want to know more about him and his world.  That’s 100% all the creative team needed to do to get me to come back for #2, but they added onto that with engaging dialogue and kinetic art that drew me into the world.  Fu Jitsu is one of my favorite new series of the past few months and I’ll definitely be back for more.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Dark Ark #1 (AfterShock)

DarkArk1

CREDIT: AfterShock

Rating: 4/5 – The Flipside to Noah’s Ark…It’s Eeeevil!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

Most people know the story of Noah’s ark (which I’ll paraphrase and I am admittedly NOT a Bible scholar).  God decided to destroy the world with a flood to destroy wickedness but tasked Noah build an ark and save two of all the natural creatures so they can ride out the flood and start the world anew.  The high concept of Dark Ark is “What if the Devil also tasked someone to build and ark and save all the unnatural creatures?”  Creatures like vampires, harpies, maticore, unicorns, dragons, etc.

That’s the story writer Cullen Bunn and artist Juan Does are telling here, the tale of the “Evil Ark” shepherded by an evil sorcerer, Shrae, and his family (as opposed to by the pious Noah).  Bunn’s story contains infighting and conflict among the evil creatures that would pretty much be in their nature and he throws in a few twists and turns along the way, including a cliffhanger mystery that caps off the issue, hopefully getting readers to come back for more.  Doe’s art is blocky and angular, a good match for the ‘evil’ portrayed, including his use of blacks.  The color palette (Doe doing his own colors, I assume as there is no colorist in the credits) is heavy on reds, greens, and purples, another good match for the ‘evil’ characters being portrayed, and certainly helping to establish the mood of the story.  Nothing about this book felt cheerful to me.

At 20 pages, Dark Ark #1 felt short, I was left at the end thinking “Is that all there is?” and flipping the page to see if I had missed a few pages of story (alas, no, but there was a 5 page preview of Fu Jitsu, out next week from AfterShock that intrigued me).  Bunn set up the premise, introduced characters, and a few potential points of conflict to play off of in future issues, but nothing that I drew a strong attachment to.  This is a problem I have with stories that focus on characters that are ostensibly the bad guys: I tend not to identify with bad guys and I personally have a hard time being drawn into a story where I can’t relate to or root for any of the characters.  For instance, one of the main characters in this issue was a Manticore named Kruul, not someone I gravitated towards, though there is potential for the evil sorcerer’s daughter Khalee to be that ‘touchpoint’ character for me, but the connection didn’t click for me in this issue, another reason that a few more pages could have been valuable.  Ultimately I’m going to give this another issue or two to see if the story and characters can connect with me.   That said, the exact point that failed to grab me (not having a good character to relate to) could be the one that is a compelling plus to another reader.

 

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Angelic #1 (Image)

Angelic1

CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Flying Monkeys vs. Flying Dolphins… Need I Say More?
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

Angelic is why I love comic shops that stock new comics series “on the rack” and not just in the pull boxes of subscribers.  This comic didn’t get a “pre-order” thumbs up from me when I saw it in Previews a couple of months ago, I’m not really sure why.  But being able to take a look at it when it came out?  SOLD!  Let’s call it post-apocalyptic and we don’t yet know what happened to humans, but they’re not around in this story.  What we do have is a society of winged monkeys living in the ruins of what looks to be a human city… there is reference to ‘the mans’ as the Devil’s doers, perhaps making them the architects of the apocalypse.

Angelic is good news for fans of futuristic argot (slang/jargon made up, in this case, to show the evolution of language over the years)… these guys say stuff like “Pray your sorries to the Maker!”.  Perfect meat for people who loved reading the Nadsat dialect in Anthony Burgess’ ‘Clockwork Orange’ or the speaking pattern of the Valleypeople in the 6th storyline of David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’.  In comics we have the futurespeak of the humans developed by Alan Moore in ‘Crossed +100’, or that used by the characters created by Brian Azzarello in ‘Spaceman’ as examples of argot.

The story in Angelic #1 follows Qora, a female monk who longs to fly with the scrap packs that defend the monks from the dolphins with jetpacks (?!?!?!?) who make sport of hunting them!  (writing that last sentence was kind of mind blowing…)  The dolphins have their own argot that is just as fun as the one used by the monks.  Back to Qora… she longs to play a role that monk society has forbidden to females.  In fact, monk society is fairly sexist with the females highest honor being to be wed to the king, subsequently to be made ‘with child’.  It’s a grim society in many ways, especially for a female monk with high aspirations.  The uplifting silver lining to the story is the character of Qora, writer Simon Spurrier makes it pretty clear that she’s a nonconformist, it not only gets her into a situation by issues end but will also serve to drive the story moving forward.  Spurrier has created a very rich and intriguing world in 25 pages, ably assisted by the enchanting art of Caspar Wijngaard whose crisp angular style packs a lot of characterization into a minimum of linework leaving a lot of nuance to the colors that he is also providing.  Wijngaard doesn’t get too fancy with page design, but varies the panels and layouts enough to keep each page visually appealing and the story moving forward.

People who read my reviews know that I’m a big fan of “different” and Angelic #1 certainly ticks that box on the checklist.  I’ve never read another comic quite like this one, it stands out on the rack if you pick it up and flip through it and in stands out in my mind; this is a series I won’t have any trouble remembering month to month, it absolutely won’t blend into anything else I’m reading.  A winged monkey fighting the oppressive mores of monk society whilst also embarking on an adventure of discovery in Spurrier & Wijngaard’s post-apocalyptic world.  I’m looking forward to whatever new discoveries Qora makes on her journeys as Angelic marches on.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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ADVANCE REVIEW: C.H.E.S.S. #1 (Powerverse Comics)

CHESS1 cvr

CREDIT: Powerverse Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Classic Covert Operative Team Action!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

If you’re a fan of the action genre that has a team of operatives banding together to fight threats that jeopardize the world, this new Kickstarter campaign is introducing a team that may be right up your alley.  This follows the tradition of teams like Checkmate and H.A.R.D. Corps but strikes out on its own, not feeling directly derivative of any of the teams that have gone before, while displaying a kinship with other similar comics.  Add in the “alphabet soup” name (Command Headquarters of Espionage and Strategic Strikes) and it will bring a smile to the face of any fan who can rattle off the meaning of any of the multiple versions of Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. acronym, or even DC’s A.R.G.U.S. or Tower Comics T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents…

Created by Alfred Paige with a plot by Paige & Alex De-Gruchy, and written by De-Gruchy, C.H.E.S.S. #1 is set in a world not that different from the one outside our window and this saves Paige & De-Gruchy from having to do a tremendous amount of world building.  The bad guy reveals his nefarious plot early on and this moves the story into team building mode.  We’re introduced to the members of the squad, and each has a codename: Heart, Pinpoint, Blowtorch, Airborne, Footpath, and the mandatory “enigmatic team member” Infrared.  Mission briefing, personality building team banter en route to engaging with the bad guys, and then the story kicks into action mode.  It’s all a bit by-the-book for this kind of story, but I’ve seen this structure many times and it works well enough here, covering the ground that any new book in a new universe must; introducing the characters, their personalities, and the point of conflict that will drive the story moving forward.  Ultimately, I found the story to be pretty good, as long as I accept one key plot point that could, for some readers, be a bit hard to swallow.  I’m kind of on the fence about it, and don’t want a spoiler in the review. It’s something that if various key individuals thought the way I do, they could easily just sidestep the entire problem that is staring them in the face, but sometimes as a reader you just need to suspend your disbelief on that crucial point that kind of bugs you, because it will cripple your enjoyment of the story if you can’t just accept it.

The art by J.C. Fabul was generally pretty good but had some story flow problems like points where it seems like an extra panel could have been used to fill in a gap between point A and B of the story with more clarity and a tendency to rotate the art also (by this I mean overuse of stuff canted at a 45 degree angle or even almost rotated full horizontal in one case) and the last couple of pages lacked the crisp lines and facial detail present in the rest of the issue, almost looking like Fabul rushed to complete those last couple of pages.  The colors by Jorge Cortes had some challenges for me as well, including lighting effect highlights that made a Japanese character with black hair appear to have light brown/blond hair in several places.

I’m glad I was given an opportunity to read the pre-release copy of C.H.E.S.S. #1.  The first issue is complete and the Kickstarter to get it printed and into the hands of fans is live now, though fans who back to get a PDF should get it before the print copy is available.  I’m a fan of this type of team comic, I liked the characters, and was left with a feeling that I’d like to get to know them better.  The art, while not the most compelling part of the comic for me, shows promise and I’ll be interested to see how it evolves in issue #2 and beyond.  If you’re a fan of covert action teams with acronym names, or good guys saving the world action comics in general, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Hi-Fi Fight Club #1 (BOOM! Studios)

HiFi1

BOOM! Studios / BOOM! Box

Rating: 4/5 – Slice of Life Intro with a Big Payoff on Last Page
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

The last page “reveal” is given away in the solicitation and every interview for this new series but that doesn’t lessen the fun of taking the ride from page 1 to 22.  Heck, it’s given away in the title of the series.  Vinyl Mayhem, the New Jersey record store that serves as the main setting for the series is a front for a teen girl fight club….but with a twist that moves it away from merely mindless mayhem.

If you’re only into action/adventure comics with costumed characters whooping the tar out of one another, this is probably not going to be your cup of tea (I can hear someone on the internet decreeing that this is “boring”).  I beg to differ.  If you’re like mean and you are enthralled by well written characters, crisp dialogue, and personal interactions that feel like you’re standing just to the side out of sight watching them unfold in real life, then this should be your jam.

This is film & TV director Carly Usdin’s first foray into comics and she does a great job.  The setting is New Jersey in 1998; since Usdin grew up in Jersey in the 90s she is seemingly following the credo of “write what you know”.  It felt genuine to me and has that one key that will always get me to come back for a second issue: I immediately took a liking to these characters.  From the lead (tomboy Chris) to the rest of the staff at Vinyl Mayhem and the store manager Irene.  The art by Nina Vakueva on pencils and Irene Flores on inks supported the story nicely.  The character design, clothes, body language, and facial expressions kept the story interesting, even with it mostly being people talking in various locations.  While they skipped background detail in a lot of panels they included enough where needed to give the story a definite feeling of “place”.  It never felt generic to me, it captured the essence of the settings.

Hi-Fi Fight Club stands out for me as unique among the 140+ comics I read each month.  There’s nothing else like it on the stands and that in and of itself is enough to get me to come back for more.  Add in the crisp art and dialogue, captivating characters, and the touch of mystery with a real possibility for a unique take on how that mystery will be investigated and solved and I was sold.  I’ll definitely be back for more!

 

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Inhumans: Once & Future Kings #1 (Marvel)

Inhumans-OaFK1

Rating: 4.5/5 – Great Backstory for the Inhumans Royal Family
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

The Inhumans are getting a lot of press lately, Marvel is pushing them in the comics with a lot of new series and mini-series and on TV with their own show debuting at the end of September.  It seems as though Marvel wants them to be the “new X-Men” who are not optioned to Fox.  All that aside, the attention is a good thing if we get some good comics out of it and I certainly think this new series by writer Christoper Priest with art by Phil Noto is a very good tale recounting the early years (late teens?) of Black Bolt, Maximus, and Medusa.

I cannot claim to have read every comic featuring the Inhumans, in fact I’ve been kind of actively avoiding them lately.  But when I flipped through this one on the rack at my Local Comic Shop the Phil Noto artwork lept off the page at me.  No great surprise, he is one of my favorite artists and his style is very distinctive.  He does a great job portraying the future leaders of the Inhumans as young adults.  They don’t look like adults, they don’t look like children.  Their faces, body language, and scale to adult characters all look appropriate to the age they are supposed to be.  The writing is very “Priest-like”.  By this I mean I was flipping through the book without having explicitly noted the creator names.  Noto’s art was identifiable at a glance, but I usually need to do more reading to note a writer’s particular style… Except every scene as I flipped through the book had a “title card”, like: “In Memorium” Alpha Primitive Barracks.   This is something Priest does in most (all?) of his writing and it got me to flip back to the credits to confirm his name.

Priest and Noto keep the story moving throughout the issue introducing characters and plot points in an even flow from the beginning to the end of the issue.  Priest seems to have a really good grasp of the characters “voices” (even the typically silent Black Bolt).  These are characters I have “known” for many decades and they felt right to me.  We’re even treated to a whimsical 2 page backup story featuring Lockjaw and Ben Grimm by Ryan North and Gustavo Duarte.  This issue was a winner for me.

There is seemingly a minor continuity conflict with Lockjaw, the giant teleporting dog who is a fan favorite.  The conflict is between Once & Future Kings #1 and Black Bolt #5, both of which shipped to stores on September 6th and both edited by Wil Moss.  In this comic, Lockjaw is shown to be a puppy (albeit a very large one) when Black Bolt & company are in their late teens.  In Black Bolt #5 a much larger Lockjaw is seen to be watching over an infant Black Bolt. Maybe there are multiple teleporting dogs that are all named Lockjaw; as each one passes on into dog heaven he is perhaps replaced with a cloned replacement of the same name.  This might be hinted at by them mentioning Lockjaw is an “experiment” in Black Bolt #5.  If there is only one Lockjaw, then the 2 issues contradict one another and it is something that the editor should have had fixed.

Inhumans: Once & Future Kings #1 gets a big thumbs up from me.   Priest sets up some nasty politics and court intrigue surrounding Black Bolt & Maximus’s Father (not the nicest guy) and the obligatory evil court advisor, as well as budding revolution and a moral conflict surrounding the Alpha Primitives.  A lot of story packed into a first issue that did its job in selling me on this series that I had previously passed over.  That makes it a 100% successful 1st issue for me and a series that I look forward to reading more of.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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