This week’s lead review for Wednesday Comics is Saga #61, the start of the latest arc from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. In addition, the Wednesday Comics Team has a rundown of the new #1s and finales from non-Big 2 publishers, all of which you can find below … enjoy!
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Saga #61 marks the start of a new story arc for one of the highest-profile books in monthly comics, a major hit both within the direct market as well as in trade at bookstores nationwide. While not as long-waited a return as last year’s new Saga arc (almost four years in the making!), this does mark the book’s return after six months off. And, as was the case with last year’s return, I am once again impressed with this book’s ability to stay interesting and maintain momentum.
This is a separate thing, but I really thought Saga should have ended up on more Best of 2022 lists. It’s no easy feat for a creative team to take several years off and then pick up their same story in a way that satisfies fans. But that’s exactly what Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples did. Last year, they also picked up their story after a plot twist that was just about as devastating as plot twists get. I’m planning to write more about this soon with a review of the Saga Vol. 10 trade paperback, but post-hiatus, the creative team faced an entirely different set of reader expectations, or, perhaps more accurately reader fears — they returned to an audience that had been hurt by their story and was bracing for more hurt to come.
I don’t know how often I saw on Twitter or heard at shows things like, “Well, you know how Saga is, it’s always devastating.” Understandable. At the same time, the story had to address the sadness on the page, showing us how the remaining characters had been coping. Saga #54 was the death, and the following arc of Saga tonally felt like the wake and funeral and grieving. It was, in a word, sad. Today’s Saga #61, though, felt a bit less burdened.
To be sure, when a family has suffered a death, it will forever change them, but at the same time, the preceding arc served up some real problems that the cast now needs to handle. They are of course still sad and will always be so, but for the audience, the question about what happens next has a lot less to do with response and mourning, and much more to do with how the heck are the characters going to survive as hunted fugitives amid the ongoing forever war, which is much closer to the narrative engine of the book from panel one.
I found a bit of comfort in this as a reader, and as such, Saga #61 almost felt more familiar than any other issue post Saga #54. At the same time, it spent page real estate showing us some of the surrounding characters and — always a rare thing — glimpses of the aforementioned forever war. I could get into the specifics of what both the family and the supporting characters are up to — the book is taking on living unhoused — but to me the most interesting elements in play here relate to the war.
The use of the war in Saga has always been interesting to me. I suppose you could describe Saga as a war comic, but there really hasn’t been much page space dedicated to armies battling. It’s always been more about the ripple effects constant warring has on the wider galaxy. This issue, though, delves into diplomacy that could change the war as we know it, and it also shows us some actually fighting. It occurred to me while reading Saga #61 that this comic is a book that has always to some extent felt meaningfully informed by current events, and that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must have been in mind for the creative team as they worked on this arc. I know it was on my mind while reading. I think you can feel that to an extent, and it makes what’s happening more believable and poignant.
In the end, Saga #61 is a good issue that continues this series’ perfect pacing for developments related to the family. It’s also perhaps one of the most direct reminders of what forever war means, seemingly informed by the eruption of new war in our real world. It is, ultimately, another successful resumption of comics storytelling after a hiatus, one that I fully recommend, and you know what? I didn’t even mention the last page of this one — you know, the last page that had the thing — which is one anyone interested in this story will want to check out…
Writers: Steve Orlando and Clay McLeod Chapman
Artists: Marianna Ignazzi and Anwita Citriya
Publisher: Image Comics – Skybound
The temptation to go for pastiche or nostalgia when working on an older license, if entertained, can result in cheap knockoffs of the original material, limiting the scope of the work. Creepshow #5 is a great example of what happens when you fight against that to create something that honors what came before while finding updated ways to terrify.
As has been the case with each entry of the anthology series, Creepshow #5 contains two stories — one by Steve Orlando and Marianna Ignazzi (Thirst Trap) and one by Clay McLeod Chapman and Anwita Citriya (Husk) — and both dig deep to tap into a kind of darkness that lingers.
Hungry demons tied to selfies and old traditions being interrupted by monstrous transformations haunt the pages of this issue and they are tightly scripted and hard-hitting tales with just enough satire and old EC Horror charm to satisfy readers.
Of particular note are Ignazzi and Citriya’s illustrations, each one capturing creatures and terrors that look menacing and very lethal. Great care went into the designs of the things that pop up in these stories and they do a lot of character work without the need of dialogue or narration. Citriya’s story especially shines. The creature in it is spine-tingling but also vulnerable, sad even. It’s the kind of work I’d love to see make it into a movie or TV show just to see if anyone can capture the essence of the artist’s vision (a very difficult thing to do when the art is this good).
Creepshow #5 might be the series’ strongest issue and it more than deserves a buy. It’s a comic aspiring writers should study to better understand what makes a great short horror story.
TMNT – The Last Ronin: Lost Years #1
Writers: Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz
Artists: SL Gallant, Ben Bishop and Kevin Eastman
Inkers: Ben Bishop and Maria Keane
Colorist: Luis Antonio Delgado
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin was one of last year’s best comics. A sort of Dark Knight Returns for the original TMNT run, the series told the story of the last remaining Ninja Turtle (SPOILERS, it’s Michelangelo) as he embarks on a final, suicide mission to avenge the death of his friends and family against the remaining Saki Clan in a dystopian future NYC. That series told a complete story, with a satisfying — yet open ended — conclusion.
When I heard about this new series in that world, I was worried about oversaturation, yet I loved the book so much, I was also curious. I’m glad to say now that Lost Years is worthwhile, continuing from that open ending while expanding on what lead up to it. We knew from Last Ronin that Mikey has been in solitude for three years, but a lot of the in between was left to mystery. Lost Years fills in that gap, by starting to show us exactly what Michelangelo was doing.
The writing here, like in Last Ronin, is more mature and in line with the original black and white Mirage TMNT run. When we meet Mikey in this book, he’s bordering on suicidal, looking for just a quiet place to die. Instead he finds inner peace and spends three years gardening, reading through Splinter’s journal and just finding a place for himself in this world. But as his memories reinforce, that is not his true destiny. That arrives in the form of a violent form of a gang that arrives in his sanctuary and brutality attacks. The scene is a fantastic piece of writing, easily fitting in with the narrative voice created in Last Ronin. And there’s also enough well-done exposition that you don’t need to have read Last Ronin to enjoy it (but please do, Last Ronin rules!).
The book is also well illustrated, with the appropriate grit a story like this needs, yet still clean and smooth in its storytelling. The book jumps around in time periods, and shows us what is going on AFTER Last Ronin as well. We knew from the ending of Ronin that April and her daughter Casey are raising new mutant turtles, who are small children at this point. These scenes are great as well. The dynamic between April and her daughter is well-wrought and the personalities of the new Turtles are different enough to make them their own characters, but you can still see the DNA of the original four in little details, including how the kids interact with each other.
It all just works, which is nice to see. If the rest of the announced books in this new “Roninverse” are as good, they will definitely be worth your time and money, especially if you are looking for that old-school TMNT vibe. Definitely a must buy. Cowabunga!
Wednesday Comics Reviews Quick Hits
- Archie Vs. The World #1 (Archie Comics): Archie Vs. The World #1 by Aubrey Sitterson, Jed Dougherty, Matt Herms, Doug Garbark, and Jack Morelli, sees America’s favorite high schooler navigating a post-apocalyptic “Teenage Wasteland” in this Mad Max- and Fist of the North Star-inspired tale. If you’ve read this far, you likely know the drill: these tales from other levels of the Arch Tower place the denizens of Riverdale in different types of stories, playing with archetypes and relying on the reader’s literacy in both Archie Comics and various genre frameworks in order to execute their alchemy. My favorite part of this one-shot is the large amount of narrative conveyed through the detailed and carefully designed artwork. Archie and Jughead may be blasting across the barrens in the jalopy, but this art will encourage you to slow down and appreciate its storytelling panel by panel. Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina and her aunts, and Cheryl each get especially cool incarnations in this story, while Betty fits well into a world where vehicle mechanics are in especially high demand. Plus: bonus points for the inclusion of jackalope! –Avery Kaplan
- Bulls of Beacon Hill #1 (Aftershock Comics): This debut issue from Aftershock leaves me a bit lost. On one hand, writer Steve Orlando does a killer job imbuing these characters with a great deal of personality, exploring the rich world of renowned surgeon Christopher Boldt. Although Chris leads a fulfilling life in Boston and is about to embark on a campaign for City Council, his estranged mobster father wants to tear apart his life. This is a great hook, but the pacing is so rapid that it can be hard to feel truly immersed in the story. There are a few pages of backmatter at the end of the issue that help to explain Chris’ personality, but I would’ve preferred to see that on the page. None of this is to say this issue is bad –- it just leaves me wanting a bit more. The lineart from Andy MacDonald and colors by Lorenzo Scaramella are excellent, along with tremendous lettering from Carlos M. Mangual. I’m not sure how long this series will be, but hopefully it finds a bit more of its footing going forward. –Cy Beltran
- Darkwing Duck #1 (Dynamite Comics): Familiar catchphrases, lilting alliteration, and no small amount of duck-tile derring-do are packed into the Dynamite premiere issue of Darkwing Duck. If you loved the 1990s Disney Channel animated series, the feels will come as our Shadow-y Mallard of Mystery stays on mission with the help of Gosalyn and Launchpad. Once more Darkwing Duck proves that, beneath the posturing and egocentric bravado, there beats the heart of a selfless hero. As you read, you’ll hear inner dialogue as spoken by the familiar voice talents. On the page, you’ll find art capturing not only the style but also the heart of the original cartoon art cels. Despite an abrupt resolution which makes for a slightly lame duck landing, the creative team enticingly channels the humor and charm of the TV series into this launch. All reasons for saying, “Let’s get Darkwing #1!” and adding the new series from writer Amanda Deibert, artist/colorist Carlo Lauro, and letterer Jeff Eckleberry to your pull list. (Clyde Hall)
- Dragon Age: The Missing #1 (Dark Horse Comics): A prequel to the upcoming video game Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, this first issue written by George Mann features gorgeous art and intense action illustrated by Kieran McKeown, complimented by the color work of Michael Atiyeh, elevating the atmosphere within the panels, and brought together by the letters of Nate Piekos. The story benefits from familiarity with the Dragon Age video game series, as a bit of context around characters and events privileges those who have played the games; though Mann works to fill in the gaps by establishing characters, their relationships, their motivations, and ultimately making the story more accessible. (Khalid Johnson)
The Green Hornet: One Night in Bangkok (Dynamite Comics): The Green Hornet returns in the epic One Night in Bangkok one-shot as written by Shannon Eric Denton, who explores the adventures of the new Green Hornet and Kato as they work to live up and surpass their predecessors. Action-packed art from Jethro Morales shows the precision and effort being exerted by each character during the numerous enjoyable fight scenes. Stand out colors and letters from Jorge Sutil and Taylor Esposito respectively come together to bring the grit of Century City to life. As the story concludes, more is revealed about our main characters, as the vigilante duo question their own impact on Century City and what they can do to improve it for all. With a compelling antagonist in the form of Snake who possesses a personal vendetta against the Green Hornet, I sincerely hope there are more equally satisfying stories coming from this team following the excellent cliffhanger. (Bryan Reheil)
- Inferno Girl Red Book One #1 (Image Comics): A toku heroine with vitiligo that doesn’t want to be a toku hero. A blacklisted investigative journo cool mom. A challenging headmaster teetering on primary antagonist energy. An elite/bohemian academy displaced my dark forces into another dimension. These are all valid concepts that make up Inferno Girl Red Book One, though they, like their art, lack the cohesion needed to turn their potential radness into knuckle-hot page-turning fiction. What co-creators Erica D’Urso (artist) and Mat Groom (writer) have created is a scifi lite world abundant in interesting, capable women set to predictable, comfortable action set pieces. D’Urso’s layouts make for a breezy read that lacks impact (action and emotion), focusing instead on shots that establish scene/concepts. Compound this pace with Igor Monti’s glow heavy colors (assisted by Sabrina Del Grosso) that live panel to panel on a backlit computer screen, but not with the muddiness of print in mind, and the book starts to exist mostly in dialogue beats and technically sound backgrounds (thanks to assistant, Lorenzo Tammetta). It doesn’t help that letterer Becca Carey commits my favorite accessibility sin of red text on white balloons for exposition; other than that, Carey provided uncomplicated bubbles staying invisible when necessary. I’d love to love this lovely joint, but I’d also love to see some cohesion between departments, so all the effort isn’t wasted. (Beau Q.)
- Invincible Undeluxe #1 (Image Comics – Skybound): This week marks (or should I say Marks…sorry) the 20th anniversary of Invincible, the most successful independent superhero concept since Spawn. Skybound has a full year of celebrations planned, and it starts this week with the publication of three Invincible tie-ins: an Invincible #1 facsimile edition in full color, a (gorgeous) Invincible Compendium 1 that compiles the series first 47 issues, and — perhaps most notably for comics craft aficionados — Invincible Undeluxe #1. What’s mainly for sale here is that the Cory Walker’s pencils and inks are in black and white, showing us what the art looked like before Bill Crabtree’s colors completed the book. And it’s without question interesting. Walker’s clean, almost minimalistic style is perhaps well-suited for black-and-white, even if the colors did ultimately elevate it in the version we all saw. But that black-and-white art isn’t all this book offers. No, it also features a wide array of back matter, including the original series proposal art, handwritten plot notes for the series by Robert Kirkman, and commentary from the creative team. It all adds up to a must-buy for fans as well as a very interesting curiosity for those with interest in comics craft. (Zack Quaintance)
- Monstress #42 (Image Comics): The last arc of Monstress brought us to the inevitable part of most long-running fantasy/sci-fi comics wherein our protagonist is trapped in their own mind. I’m being a bit facetious, but it is a relatively common plot device. It’s also one that Monstress did rather well, using it to unveil startling backstory about our hero. That’s where this week’s new arc picks up, brought to us by the series-long creative team of Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooton. There’s a major power of friendship energy to this issue, as a good number of the supporting cast sort of unite to try to break Maika Halfwolf from that mind trap. As such, it’s an ethereal issue in which our characters talk their way through psychic and ghostly imagery (disembodied as they are themselves). As usual, Takeda’s work is detailed and stunning, a force unlike any other in monthly comics. The plot takes some unexpected turns; it’s not a straight line to restoring Maika to the world, armed with a new motivation and power. It’s more of a continuation of the exploring of both our characters as well as their outsized roles within this fantasy world. I found it to be a nice re-centering for a long-running story that has become kind of weighty to deal with, and I left it more excited for new Monstress than I have been in some time. (Zack Quaintance)
Wednesday Comics is edited by Zack Quaintance.
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