You’re Awesome

Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones. 9781401268947. DC Comics, 2018. Contains #1 – #4 of the series.

I’ve enjoyed every graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki I’ve read: She-Hulk: Deconstructed and Luisa, This One Summer, and Skim. I didn’t expect this one to pull me in as easily as it did — I’m not much of a Supergirl fan, but between the conversations Kara Danvers (Zor-El) has with her her friends, the moments with her parents, and the way Tamaki folds Kara’s feelings about being a super powered alien into being a super alienated teen, I couldn’t put this book down. Joëlle Jones art helped — her lines and layouts are beautiful — and Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors made sure I didn’t miss essential details.

It’s great to see a new creative team put forth their version of an existing character’s origin story without some newsworthy, over-the-top detail designed to get mainstream media attention. My favorite character: Kara’s badass friend, Dolly, who has a great T-shirt collection. My favorite moment: the super explosive zit. And I LOVED the scenes of the barn fire, which is not something I ever thought I’d write.

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Gotham City’s Police Are Under Attack

Gotham Central Book 1 by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark. DC Comics, 2011. 9781401220372. 240pp. Contains Gotham Central #1 – #10.

Gene: Brubaker and Rucka are two of the best crime writers working in comics. They’ve both written superhero series as well. Rucka writes novels, too, mostly thrillers — I’m a huge fan. They did this series together back in 2004, and there are 4 or 5 books, about the regular cops in Gotham City (the place where Batman fights crime) having to deal with a world filled with super-powered villains.
What I remember most from the series is the first story. It’s either because it was first or it’s the best or both. Two detectives are investigating a kidnapping, and when they knock on the door, they accidentally find Mr. Freeze, the villain in a cryo-suit who also has freeze weapons. And Freeze freezes one cop solid and just kills him. It’s horrifying. But it shows how terrible this guy would be to normal people, in this world. He doesn’t kill the second cop because he wants him to suffer. Look, here’s the cop who survived. He’s got frostbite on his hands because they were frozen to his gun. And his partner was shattered after he was frozen. (We didn’t see that happen.)
Detectives Allen and Latoya are assigned to the case. And they have to interview the cop and hang out at the morgue. The survivor doesn’t want them to call Batman for help. He wants the cops to solve the case, because if they call Batman, it’s like giving up.
Sarah: I love that kind of story.
G: And then they find another guy murdered, frozen from the inside out.
Schwartzenegger played Mr. Freeze in the third Batman movie, and it was kind of silly instead of scary, very colorful. This is the opposite. The horror of what Freeze can do is laid bare as part of a police procedural.
S: Yeah.
G: The other book I’d compare it to is Bendis and Avon-Oeming’s Powers series, about detectives who investigate crimes committed by those with super-powers in a world where powers are outlawed. (I love this series so much, too.)
S: This seems even better to me.
G: It’s got a darker tone. It’s grittier.
And look, here when the detectives finally do call Batman, he’s just a shadow.
S: This book really looks good to me.
G: I hoped you’d like it because you’ve been reading so many mysteries. I was trying to figure out what books in my permanent collection you’d enjoy. I spent a bit of my weekend trying to convince my nephew, who was visiting from Davis, California, to read this, and I failed. So I’ve been trying to come up with a better pitch for next time he visits.
S: I always like those post-modern looks at superheroes. I really enjoyed The Regional Office Is Under Attack.
G: You want to borrow this?
S: Yeah!
G: Success.

Zeus Rules!

Jupiter’s Legacy Book One by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty. Image, 2015. 9781632153104. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Jupiter’s Legacy Book Two by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty, Suny Gho. Image, 2017 9781632158895. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

I read a lot more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting to most people. Most of them just aren’t worth talking about. Even if you like Marvel movies or made it all the way through Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy, you probably shouldn’t try most of them. They’re for fans who know about each publisher’s annual universal crossover events and can talk about the histories of characters and teams and whatnot. They are, I will admit, more than a little ridiculous. But some of them, like Jupiter’s Legacy, are so good they deserve a wider audience.

After the Depression, a group of young Americans were gifted with superpowers, and they used them to usher in a Golden Age. Sure, the most powerful among them, the Utopian, was a bit of a controlling do-gooder, but things were great. And then the heroes had kids, and those kids weren’t so great. The most powerful of the second generation were narcissistic drunks and drug addicts more worried about their PR and endorsement contracts than anything else. And the Utopian’s brother was tired of being told he couldn’t change the world. So one day he and most of the rest of the heroes, with the help of the Utopian’s damaged son, took out the Utopian and his super powerful wife (in a few very brutal scenes) and started to change the world. The Utopian’s daughter went into hiding with her drug dealing, son-of-a-super-villain boyfriend to have their child in secret. The world turned into a police state. Anyone with powers was hunted.

Raising a super-powered son in secret is tough, especially when he’s a genius. And it’s harder when he secretly starts helping people. He wants to take down his uncle, but he can’t quite talk his parents into it. Hhen his heroing attracts the attention of the authorities, and his parents have no choice but to try to save the world with him.

There’s so much to love here, from the pacing of the story to the dialogue to the art and the colors. It’s all flawless and moves at just the right pace. If you’ve read a lot of superhero books, you’ll recognize the tropes the story plays with. If you haven’t, you’ll be introduced to them in the best way and you’ll love it. There’s a prequel series and more to come in this story, but these two books are complete in and of themselves. They’re worth reading, if only to round out what you can call on when you’re doing reader’s advisory. (Millar recently sold his company to Netflix, so I’m hoping there’s a great adaptation of these books in the works. Millar wrote the graphic novels the movies Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Wanted, and Kick Ass are based on, so you’ll be ahead of the curve on any new movies.)

Bonus: Frank Quitely is one of the best artists working in comics today. You can see him create a single page from Book One in this episode of the BBC’s What Do Artists Do All Day.

Just call her the Hulk already

She-Hulk Volume 1: Deconstructed by Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon, and Dalibor Talajic. Marvel, 2017. 9781302905675. Contains Hulk #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: T+.

Here’s what I think happened, because I don’t follow the big Marvel or DC Comics events anymore either. The Hulk (big green or grey male monster) was killed by Hawkeye while She-Hulk ended up in a coma. Cue reset of the Marvel universe (I’m guessing) and a great jumping on point for this character, at least.

The weird thing? This book is about lawyer Jen Walters trying to get back into the swing of her day job and dealing with losing her cousin Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s alter ego). (Her super identity is not much of a secret. When she lawyers up, she mostly deals with minor league powered folk and their problems.) Most of the book is about Walters trying to contain her Hulk as she deals with a client’s eviction. The plot heats up after the client’s landlord is killed and weird stuff happens. And of course Walters has to Hulk out before the end of the book and save the day because, well, superhero comics. But there’s so much to love here, from the writing to the art to the coloring.

My favorite moment is the nearly wordless two-page spread of her law firm’s waiting room, filled with “super” folk. It looks like one has the power of a radish. We don’t find out about them in this book, but I’m hoping they appear in Volume 2.

Missing: 1 Steel-Driving Man

Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781616557867. Collects Black Hammer #1 – #6. 152pp.

Ten years ago Black Hammer gave his life in the fight to defeat the Anti-God and save Spiral City. The rest of the heroes disappeared. They’ve been living in a small rural town that they can’t leave, trying to be normal. (They’re pretty sure it’s real.) Abe — their leader, the former Abraham Slam — is trying to have a relationship with a waitress, Tammy, but her ex, a local cop, isn’t making things easy. Golden Gail, a magical superwoman stuck in a 9-year-old’s body, is doing a poor job of pretending to be a little girl. Barbalien, a shape shifting Warlord of Mars, is struggling with a secret. Colonel Weird appears and disappears almost randomly, flowing in and out of the para-zone, a meta region of space that’s driven him insane. His robot buddy, Walky, is trying to find a way back to our universe. Oh, and there’s also a witch, Madame Dragonfly, plus back in our world Black Hammer’s daughter is trying to find the heroes.

Lemire says he started the project back when he was working on his insanely good Essex County, about life in small town Canada, and it shows — the town and its people feel realistic, and are a nice contrast to the big city heroes stuck there. Ormston’s art and Stewart’s colors really bring it all alive, particularly during flashbacks to the golden age of heroes in Spiral City. It’s yet another smart way to explore superhero tropes, and more evidence that Lemire is at the top of his game.

I highly recommend Lemire’s other recent work: Plutona (5 kids find a dead superhero in the woods), Roughneck (small town Canadian goodness along the lines of Lemire’s classic Essex County), along with Royal City and his run on Moon Knight. Good stuff.

Schoolyard Superhero

Recess Warriors: Hero Is A Four-Letter Word by Marcus Emerson. Roaring Book Press, 2017. 9781626727083. 144pp.

Bryce is secretly a masked hero known as Scrap. After saving a kid from a few of Armstrong School’s bullies, he gets beat up himself. His friend Yoshi saves him with her her jump rope. (She holds the school record.)

Together they go to investigate calls for help coming from the field by the blacktop. They find a sick boy with pockets full of posies. His cheeks are rosy. Vanilla-bean-frappuccino-loving Juliet is infecting everyone. She loves Scrap, but he never noticed her no matter what she did. So to get his attention she’s spreading cooties. And a little while after the infected boys all fall down, they rise again as zombies.

There are moments in this graphic novel that make it clear this is all just imagined recess fun, but if I was reading it aloud to a kid I’d skip those panels. Every school playground needs a zombie apocalypse.

An Alien in American

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis. Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock. DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262563. Collects Superman: American Alien #1 – #7.

Superman stories are often kinda boring. He’s invulnerable. He’s powerful. He’s immortal. (Remember when he died?) And, cynically, he’s going to win not just for these reasons but because if he died all the Superman merchandise would die with him. A lot of superhero comics suffer from these same issues.

But this book had me from the opening page where a terrified young Clark Kent is rising into the sky, screaming at his terrified mother, clinging to his leg, to not let him go. He’s an alien boy who just wants to be normal. His father tells him weird is better, and, in an amazing chapter, helps him learn to fly.

There are seven chapters here in all, each drawn by a different artist, each with a different tone, each a different moment in Clark / Superman’s life. (Landis’ original series pitch in the back of the book clarifies the idea.) In the second chapter, a teenage Clark uses his powers to help a family held at gunpoint. It’s horrific — he doesn’t have the level of control he needs to keep people safe from his own powers. What’s brilliant is he’s not that powerful (yet). Plus it’s clear that the sheriff and everyone else around him knows he’s different and how he’s different, because how could they not notice something like that in a small Kansas town?

The chapter drawn by Joëlle Jones is my favorite, with Clark accidentally impersonating Bruce Wayne at a raging party in Wayne’s honor on a yacht. Clark hilariously foils an assassination attempt, and he gets the girl, at least for the moment. It sets up Clark’s not-so-epic first meeting with Batman in Metropolis years later, and a bit of Batman-related madness that follows.

No more details because I don’t want to ruin it. I’d say 1 in 20 Superman collections is worth reading, and this is right at the top of the pile with Loeb and Sale’s beautiful Superman: For All Seasons and Morrison / Quietly’s utterly amazing All-Star Superman.