REVIEW: Crosswind #1 Brings Something New to Body-Swapping Genre

REVIEW: Crosswind #1 Brings Something New to Body-Swapping Genre

As promoted, Crosswind is Freaky Friday meets Goodfellas, but its first issue is such a fresh take on the body-swapping premise that even the most skeptical readers will be immediately taken in by the divergent life stories writer Gail Simone (Batgirl, Wonder Woman) and artist Cat Staggs (Adventures of Supergirl, Wonder Woman ’77) have crafted for its protagonists.

Cason is a hitman with a conscience who begins the book by killing one of his oldest friends, for an offense Cason is convinced he didn’t commit. Loyalty to the organization and his boss is one thing, proving it like this, however, is testing Cason’s last nerve.

RELATED: Simone & Staggs Bring ‘Freaky Friday Meets Goodfellas’ Story to Life

Juniper is a beleaguered housewife with a philandering husband, a teenage stepson who hates her, taunting bullies next door, and a dinner party to arrange for her husband’s demanding boss tonight. It’s all too much for her frayed nerves, and our dear, disheveled, doormat June is about to crack.

Simone’s characters are instantly relatable as they struggle with the relentless obstacles constraining their lives. As the people surrounding them pile on the problems, you sympathize with how trapped they are in static lives they don’t enjoy and can’t escape. And perhaps more importantly, you realize that all these ancillary characters deserve the Pulp Fiction–esque medieval world of hurt that I’m sure Simone will unleash after our leads switch lives. The real treat as the series progresses will be to watch June learn to live Cason’s life and to watch Cason try not to kill everyone in June’s life in a single sitting.

After establishing all the moving pieces in the debut, I was relieved that Simone was in no hurry to reveal exactly how these characters swapped lives. Cason had a particularly creepy encounter with a homeless man that foreshadowed the switch, but June’s day didn’t include a corresponding engagement. We’re just going to have to trust that Simone has a plan and will reveal the need-to-knows when we need to know.

Staggs’ delightful game plan with the art focuses on the characters rather than their settings. The contrasts between hitman and housewife exist in the details present with the character designs, and background details aren’t going to be telltale clues for plot development in this issue. Cason’s smooth good looks and ‘60s suave body language effortlessly reveal a confidence in his abilities and distress at their use. As June’s neighbors rudely observe, she’s good looking and in great shape. But her defensive stance and defeated personality soar off the panels as Staggs focuses on her facial expressions. You’re uncomfortable right along with her, and that’s the measure of success for Staggs’ style. The juicy emotional moments of rage-level anger for him and complete despair for her will hook you on this series.

It may share a basic premise with Freaky Friday, but make no mistake, Crosswind #1 is quality hard-boiled fiction more Nicholas Pileggi than Mary Rodgers. I’d bet Jamie Lee Curtis and Ray Liota would enjoy the hell out of this book—I know I did.

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REVIEW: Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 Delivers on the Promise of its Title

REVIEW: Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 Delivers on the Promise of its Title

If you’re the kind of person who is intrigued by a comic called Shirtless Bear-Fighter, you won’t be disappointed by the first issue of this new series from Image Comics. While we don’t meet the protagonist for several pages, the comic is exactly what you think it will be: a man, minus a shirt, fighting bears. It’s a story about the hubris of men, the hubris of bears, and being caught between those two races.

The comic opens in Major City, where we see a man working for animal control — or “Puppy Prison” as it’s written on the side of his van. He’s singing out loud in public (awful) and has no respect for the animals he deals with (even worse), so of course he’s the first casualty. There’s a gorgeous splash page of him facing down a humongous bear with the tiniest possible can of bear spray. The art, by Nil Vendrell and Mike Spicer, elevate the bear from scary to terrifying, but it’s Dave Lanphear’s letters that make this animal control worker look pathetic in comparison. The “SSSSSSS” sound effect of the can’s spray, each letter growing smaller as it approaches the bear, shows just how ineffectual man can be in the face of nature.

RELATED: Shirtless Bear-Fighter Creators Want Readers to Ask, ‘WTF is This?’

Man vs. nature is one of the major themes of Shirtless Bear-Fighter, as you may have imagined. Nature’s next victims are two lovers picnicking in the woods. The woman, Sheila, is enjoying nature’s beauty, but her boyfriend Tom just wants to fool around in the forest. Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner are really good at writing jerks; this guy wants to “show these dumb animals how a man does it!” A bear shows up of course, because you can’t say things like that, and these fools clearly have never met a park ranger because they decide that running from the bear is the best course of action. (Pro tip: it’s not. Stand your ground, make yourself look large, talk to it, and back away slowly. Never run from a bear. They chase fleeing prey.)

It’s at this point that we meet our handsome, shirtless bear-fighter. Except he’s more than just shirtless, he’s totally naked. Vendrell handles this perfectly with the art, detailing this man’s broad shoulders, impossibly cut abdomen and burly arms, while pixelating his manhood. There’s a beautiful panel of the bear roaring in his face, jaw wide enough to envelop his entire head, while our shirtless bear-fighter just scowls back, jaw jutting out with confidence or stubbornness.

And then, he punches the bear.

The fight scene is nice and kinetic. There’s a panel in which our bear-fighter uses his opponent’s weight against him to slam this bear down — big animals go down hard. The comic reads almost like a video game during these fights; the bear-fighter’s “Bear Punch!” move is named in the letters above him as he performs it, like he’s in Street Fighter or something. The colors are fairly subdued in Shirtless Bear-Fighter, but they pop in certain places, like the sound effects and our bear-fighter’s eyes.

The man is mysterious, and the mystery only deepens as we see FBI agents waiting for him back at his cabin. One agent clearly has a history with him (even though he still just calls our man “Shirtless”), and they’ve come to ask his help fighting that giant bear back in Major City. Who’s helping this giant bear? The Russians? The police, animal control, even the National Guard can’t handle it. They need the Shirtless Bear-Fighter. And he needs to punch some bears.

This comic is funny. Bizarre, but hilarious. The team takes full advantage of the visual gags that come with a big burly naked man, and there’s a pun in this issue that I’m ashamed to have read. Shirtless even has a bear-plane, because really, why not.

It’s campy and absurd, but anyone picking up a comic called Shirtless Bear Fighter knows exactly what they’re getting into. You won’t be disappointed.

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REVIEW: Beautifully Crafted Batman #25 Teases Big Things To Come

REVIEW: Beautifully Crafted Batman #25 Teases Big Things To Come

DC Comics’ Rebirth slate is chugging into its second year, which means giant sized anniversary issues — issue #25s for the double-shipped books — are hitting shelves and kicking off new arcs. For Batman that means part one of the highly anticipated “War of Jokes & Riddles” storyline, a plot that has been seeded through writer Tom King’s run on the book from the very start — pulling back even further to play in the sandbox set up by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s now-legendary run in the New 52’s “Zero Year” arc.

The issue begins in media res during one of the Joker’s murderous plots — he’s auditioning stand up comedians, and then executing them when they fail to make him laugh — coupled with narration boxes that are instantly recognizable in King’s trademark poetic style that inform us what we’re seeing is a flashback, a story being told in the past tense by an outside observer.

RELATED: Batman: War of Jokes and Riddles’ Inciting Incident Revealed

This is the first time the Joker has been featured in Rebirth’s Batman book proper and the introduction is suitably terrifying. King and artist Mikel Janin have constructed a take on the character is a far cry from the gleeful, manic clown we’ve seen in the past, instead imagining him as a brooding, sullen, shadowy figure who is, we come to learn, unable to find anything funny. That’s the problem. The Joker can’t laugh.

Riddler in Batman #25.

The Riddler, however, has no such problem. We meet him (also his Rebirth debut) as he stages a violent (and undeniably smarmy) escape from prison, a smirk glued to his face despite the blood on his hands.

While King’s dialogue demonstrates his usual brand of restraint and rhythm, the real strength of the book rests on Janin’s ability to render facial expressions. His intimate, zoomed-in paneling forces readers to focus on minute shifts in lips and eyes, tiny shifts in posture that determine who is being threatened by whom and where the stakes of a moment actually lie.

The contrast King is building is immediately apparent — a confident and wholly unbothered Eddie Nigma standing next to a Joker in the middle of a villainous existential crisis — and sold beautifully by Janin’s impeccably crafted layouts. The issue is literally bisected by a back-to-back double-page, single-panel spread: the Riddler, alone in the Joker’s office, asking “Knock, knock.” Followed by a new angle on the same room, the Joker, alone at his desk, responding “Who’s there?” A call and response, two sides of one murderous coin.

The fact that King and Janin have decided to mirror Eddie and The Joker off one another, rather than against Batman himself, builds the groundwork for a shockingly fresh take on two of Gotham City’s most famous and well known rogues, something that’s not easy to do for characters who carry with them a laundry list of iconic, fan-favorite stories. It doesn’t feel like The War of Jokes & Riddles wants to reinvent the wheel — both Eddie and The Joker feel and look familiar, if slightly tilted on their axis — but it does feel suitably “reborn” into DC’s new status quo.

Batman #25 paints an exciting picture of things to come for the Dark Knight’s second year in the Rebirth era.

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REVIEW: Spectacular Spider-Man #1 Starts Strong with Killer Cliffhanger

REVIEW: Spectacular Spider-Man #1 Starts Strong with Killer Cliffhanger

As anyone who read his uniformly brilliant Howard the Duck are already aware, Chip Zdarsky writes a great Spider-Man — witty, put upon, and endearingly downcast. But in 2017, the question of who Spider-Man actually is can be a complicated one. You’ve got three separate film series to consider, multiple cartoons, and in the sprawling Marvel Universe of the comic books, you’ve got Spider-Man 2099, the popular Miles Morales, that Scarlet Spider clone guy, and many more, all swinging around (mostly) heroically. Point is, the Spider-Verse contains multitudes. And multitudes get confusing.

It’s temping to view Zdarky and artist Adam Kubert’s Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 as a narrowing of the lens, a relatively compact, “back to basics” take on the character. After all, It’s Peter Parker, the science wiz/perennially bummed-out wisecracker, whose name appears first in the title. And from Marvel’s Star-Lord to Image Comics’ Sex Criminals to Archie Comics’ Jughead, Zdarsky excels at writing warm and complex protagonists. But the first issue is hardly a stripped-down, intimate character study. The Human Torch, Captain America (Sam Wilson), Ant-Man, Ironheart, Black Widow — plenty of big names make guest appearances in both the main tale and Goran Parlov-illustrated bonus story.

RELATED: Spectacular Spider-Man Delivers a Shocking Return from the (Recent) Past

That’s not all — the issue sets in motion a plot involving hacked Stark cell phones, which editor Nick Lowe’s afterword promises has something to do with “every single hero in the Marvel Universe.” Despite Parker’s desperate yearning for some chill action — as just a “young(ish) man, only slightly terrorizing the city he loves with grace and beauty,” solving “old-fashioned” robberies — Zdarsky and Kubert seem determined to make this book big, referencing deep cut Marvel history and Spidey’s legendary rogues gallery of senior citizens, along with a killer cliffhanger to close things out.

But even if the grand design is elaborate, it’s the little moments that really cement what the creators are up to. Spidey struggling to connect with Rebecca London (a cute stand-up comedian he helps mid-mugging), being a bad friend, constantly comparing himself to more illustrious heroes, and talking on the phone with Aunt May (Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” is her ringtone, of course) — it’s these classic blunders and details that remind us why Peter Parker is one of the classic secret identities. With great power comes great responsibility, but great levity, too. No one weaves in pop culture references like Zdarsky, whose nods to Better Call Saul and Prince make Peter Parker feel a lot like a guy you’d likely get drinks with after work.

Kubert’s expressive art and colorist Jordie Bellaire’s bright splashy style perfectly matches the madcap energy Zdarky’s cooked up. Kubert’s Spidey bounds over buildings, looped strings of web carrying him across the skyline, and his Peter Parker looks youthful but not teenaged. Even when there’s scant dialogue — such as a particularly funny scene featuring Johnny Storm — Kubert’s subtle art breezily stuns.

The best Spider-Man stories have always mined as much drama from Parker’s personal life as his heroic one; this “low-stress tech mystery” points toward doing the same, even if it promises to be very stressful for our web-slinger. The Spider-Man mythos may be as complicated as any other in modern comics, but Zdarsky and Kubert’s Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man illustrates why the character has stuck in imaginations all these years.

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Cosmic Scoundrels #4

Cosmic Scoundrels #4

It’s WEDDING BELLS for one of the Cosmic Scoundrels! Could this be the END for our space faring BACHELORS on the run–or the BEGINNING??

  • Andy Suriano is an Emmy and Annie Award-winning artist who has worked on such iconic series as Samurai Jack and Star Wars: The Clone Wars!
  • Matt Chapman is a writer of Disney’s Gravity Falls and the co-creator of Disney XD’s Two More Eggs and Homestar Runner!

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REVIEW: Dark Days: The Forge Introduces Snyder’s Batman to the DCU

REVIEW: Dark Days: The Forge Introduces Snyder’s Batman to the DCU

With most of their recent stories for DC Comics orbiting around Batman and the extended Bat-family, writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV get to break free of that familiar trajectory and explore the rest of the DC Universe in Dark Days: The Forge #1, one of two prequels to the long-anticipated Dark Nights: Metal event beginning in August. With a superstar roster of artists including Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, and John Romita Jr., the first one-shot doesn’t just feature characters that Snyder and Tynion haven’t gotten to touch yet — the issue points towards one, or more, far-reaching revelations regarding the history of the DC Universe. While the questions are only beginning to be asked, it’s clear that Snyder has been thinking about them for a long time, as elements from his “New 52” run on Batman begin to resurface with a possible relevance and connection to past DC history.

RELATED: Snyder Opens Up About Dark Nights: Metal’s Biggest Mysteries

Snyder has already spoken of the significance of the metal-themed titles relating to Thanagarian Nth Metal, pointing in turn to Carter Hall (Hawkman) playing a key role in the story — which he does indirectly starting with this issue. Snyder and Tynion overlay Hall’s narration of a newly discovered mystery behind the Nth Metal that seemingly connects it to other strange present-day occurrences — some already established by Snyder, and some new. The teases put forth by the writing team do indeed entice, almost agonizingly so, as connections between not only story threads from Snyder’s Batman are established, but also ties to other forgotten aspects of major DC storylines from decades ago.

Those who believed Snyder’s Batman outing to run parallel alongside the other happenings within the DCU, but independent of them, will want to give his five-year stint another look — while arcs like “Endgame” and “Superheavy” work just fine as separate storylines, Dark Days: The Forge shows that aspects of those and other stories will not only connect, but be critical. This one-shot is all about making the possibility of those connections known, and there are quite a few of them, saturating the issue with notions that require readers to put down the comic and think for a moment.

While functioning largely as a promotional piece for Dark Nights: Metal, Snyder and Tynion don’t forget to make the issue a lot of fun along the way. In fact, the large number of guest appearances serve as a kind of introduction of Batman’s world according to Snyder to the rest of the DCU at large, and seeing this world come forth into the light makes for a captivating introduction, as well as solidifying Batman’s universe with the rest of DC’s.

Artistically, the book’s three pencilers, along with inkers Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, and Danny Miki, turn in a strongly laid out and aesthetically pleasing issue. The issue’s worst fault is the disparity between Lee’s crisper lines vs. Kubert’s simpler approach, vs. Romita’s blockier style — all are strongly executed, but there’s a noticeable bump as one transitions to the next. This isn’t a lapse by any means — the issue almost reads like an anthology anyway, where such transitions are to be expected, and for three of DC’s marquee art teams to grace a single 30-page story is a gift to readers.

RELATED: Scott Snyder Reveals Dark Nights: Metal Details and the Dark Multiverse

Dark Days: The Forge admirably does its job by putting forth a large number of questions of sufficient magnitude that will bait readers, but all creators involved ensure that it reads far better than an elaborate advertisement. The story continues in the upcoming one shot, Dark Days: The Casting, which goes on sale July 12.

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REVIEW: Marvel’s Defenders #1 Sets a High Bar for the Netflix Series

REVIEW: Marvel’s Defenders #1 Sets a High Bar for the Netflix Series

Fearless, fiery, and ready to fight, the Defenders are the ultimate street team.

Fresh off the conclusion to his brilliant run on Guardians of the Galaxy, writer Brian Michael Bendis switches settings from the stars to the streets in Defenders #1, joined by his Civil War II and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man collaborator, David Marquez. The architect of a title that will mirror the cast of the Netflix series but remain unique to the comics medium, Bendis gives us a team very different from the 1970s squads featuring Doctor Strange, the Hulk and a cast of fellow superheroes who combined forces to halt supernatural threats. Bendis’ new version of the team reflects a gritty, “boots on the ground” approach to a Marvel team composed entirely of street-dwelling heroes, and it works on every level. This is one mean group of heroes.

Showing his unparalleled finesse for team titles, Bendis wastes no time gathering Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones in Jessica’s hospital room, after each has been attacked by Willis Stryker, a.k.a. Diamondback (as teased in May’s Free Comic Book Day Defenders issue). Always one to have done his Marvel history homework, Bendis’ choice of villain harkens back to June 1972 and the publication of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #1. Stryker grew up in Harlem alongside Carl Lucas where both were members of a local gang, but Carl chose to change his name to Luke Cage and pursue a career, while Willis became the criminal Diamondback. Eventually, they fought and Diamondback was killed — or so we thought.

Diamondback’s agenda is straightforward and brash. He’s eliminating all the useless criminals from his new base in Harlem, and serves notice to Black Cat that he’s taking over. Countering this new (old) threat is the perfect excuse for the heroes to team up, as it becomes clear that Bendis’ Diamondback is more than capable of taking on everyone he’s pissed off. Heroes are at their best when presented with a worthy villain, and Bendis’ dynamic script reveals that with a foe like Diamondback the Defenders are in for a challenge that should test the limits of their individual abilities.

David Marquez’s art is a live wire that electrifies the action scenes and adds menace or humor (as needed) to Bendis’ efficient dialogue exchanges. His facial expressions, in particular, are gorgeous and add emotional depth to each scene. Marquez’s well-constructed introductions for the four heroes contain glimpses to their distant and recent pasts, including some far-out costume references that longtime fans will appreciate. It was an effective way to introduce their current iterations without resorting to lengthy historical expositions. Justin Ponsor’s colors are a perfect complement to Marquez’s thoughtful lines — just check out the explosions.

Defenders #1 is a fun blue-collar comic for fans of bar fights, busted knuckles, and the perfect street team. The Netflix show will have a lot to live up to.

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REVIEW: Winnebago Graveyard #1 Shows An Engrossing, Unnerving America

REVIEW: Winnebago Graveyard #1 Shows An Engrossing, Unnerving America

The first issue of Image Comics’ Winnebago Graveyard offers sacrifices, backwater carnivals and satanism through the American South, but opts for a surprising slow-burn approach which relies heavily on the artwork of Alison Sampson and Stephane Paitreau to create a sense of increasing dread.

It’s an issue broken down into two segments, rather than one central narrative which ties itself together. At first we see two strangers dragged from their hotel room and taken to be sacrificed by a group of beautifully torchlit cultists in robes; the issue then cuts to the story of a family trying to reconnect with one another whilst on a drive through the rural American deserts. Each segment is successful in its own right, but they don’t work so strongly when paired against one another.

After an opening sequence which burns brightly and effectively, showing off a honed sense of violence and gore, series writer Steve Niles doesn’t give the reader an idea of what they’re meant to feel by anything they see afterwards. There’s an indication that we’re meant to view the horror of the initial pages almost as a sardonic pitch of dark humor which almost reaches the level of camp — but then the issue resets itself and changes its approach for the back half which adheres more traditionally to the opening sequence of a horror story, setting up tone rather than character.

The issue certainly feels like the first 20 pages of a graphic novel rather than a single issue of comics: although the team are successful in creating an acidic atmosphere which corrodes into a feeling of discomfort, the issue ends on a somewhat anticlimactic note; falling prey to vague storytelling and the feeling that this will read more strongly as a collection than as monthly issues. It falls on the artistic team to make something of the first issue — and they serve up a perfectly realized sense of uneasy disquiet. Paitreau’s colors in particular are striking throughout, with a palette which shifts quickly from stunning nighttime skylines to bloody horror without ever sacrificing itself to lurid excesses.

In turn, Sampson has a tendency to slightly warp her characters and locations to drive home a feeling of off-kilter unease: an early double-page spread shows cars heading towards the site of a ritual, which is situated in the middle of the page, off to the distance. As the cars on either side of the spread drive towards that scene, which we know is likely going to lead to something horrific, they both lean in as though being sucked towards the gathering through otherworldly forces. Without a word of dialogue, the scene is able to generate a sense of the unknown, and begin to ramp up the tension for readers.

Niles’ writing is pared right down, on the other hand, establishing the basics of the slightly realized family who form the focus of the second half of the issue but without ever really conveying who they are or why we should root for them. The comic struggles to develop them fully, ultimately making them secondary to the world-building of the artistic team and their ability to turn the backwoods of America into some unearthly otherworld.

The first issue of Winnebago Graveyard stands firmly on the back of its off-beat artistic approach, but the team are more than capable of shouldering the weight: they create an engrossing, unnerving America which elevates the script and gives the reader something to care about.

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