Required Reading: Comics for 5/17/2017

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Required Reading: Comics for 5/17/2017

This Wednesday seems to span eons, from 455 AD to Generation X, a reference that now seems almost quaint, if understandable: X-Millennials doesn’t have the same ring to it. Sovereigns leaps into our future while Street Fighter vs. Darkstalkers and a Spawn anniversary issue fondly recall the powerhouses of decades past. Even Black Mask is getting in on the chronology-distorting fun, with the long-awaited fourth issue of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, a series that launched a full 13 months ago. Whether you’re in the mood for the past, the present, the future or the long-delayed, this week’s comic haul has you covered.

4 Kids Walk Into a Bank #4

Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Tyler Boss
Publisher: Black Mask Studios

Even though only three sporadic issues of 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank have shipped since the series launch in April ’16, the wildly inventive and fearless tale of adolescents facing adult realities remains one of our favorite new books. Writer Matthew Rosenberg has had to address personal issues as well as a growing stable of new projects at Marvel Comics (his Secret Warriors team book took off last week), but that hasn’t dulled his sharp characterization nor artist Tyler Boss’ pinpoint facial expressions and hilarious fantasy sequences. The storyline is slowly catching up to its title—grade-school protagonists Paige, Pat, Berger and Walter have hatched a plan to steal cash to pay off a group of thieves intimidating Paige’s father. The solicitation copy for this issue simply states, “Things go wrong. Things begin to fall apart. Time to arrange a date with a trucker.” With the release of this penultimate issue, a sole finale remains, but this will be a must-have trade when the miniseries finally completes. Sean Edgar

Generation X #1

Writer: Christina Strain
Artist: Amilcar Pinna
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Any book set at the Xavier Institute for Mutant Education and Outreach, or really any iteration of a mutant academy and haven as devised by Professor X, struggles with the sheer scope of the cast. Though any individual title may concentrate on a few key characters, a school of that size has dozens, if not hundreds, of stories to tell, and Generation X aims to embrace that breadth. What’s most exciting about the title is the author, Christina Strain, who is best known for her work as a colorist. She previously wrote the Shuster Award-winning webcomic The Fox Sister and lent her palette to fan favorites like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and The Runaways. In addition to her role as a writer on the Syfy show The Magicians, she brings the hope of a fresh, emotional team book—something that’s been missing from Marvel’s lineup for a while, and from the X-books for even longer. Artist Amilcar Pinna (All-New Ultimates) sports a clean, modern style that’s just funky enough to suit Jubilee and a band of misfit mutants not quite ready for the limelight. What remains to be seen is if the book will get the support it needs from Marvel to succeed, and if casting Jubilee as the main character while calling her a “perennial sidekick” and saddling her with the X-Men’s loveable losers sets the character—as well as Strain and Pinna—up for failure. Caitlin Rosberg

Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks #1

Writer/Artist: Jim Mahfood
Publisher: Image Comics

At over 20 years old, Jim Mahfood’s Grrl Scouts is getting a third series, the second to be published by Image. Two decades, and 14 years since the previous Grrl Scouts, is a long enough time that things may not fit the way they used to. Since that first series Mahfood has proven his chops on the Clerks comic as well as Everybody Loves Tank Girl, showing that he’s capable of cranking out another run at Gwen, Daphne and Rita so long as there’s a story to tell. Though his style is still similar to the work he put out in 1995 and 2003, it’s evolved enough that a revisit of these characters won’t look stale. The covers for the first three solicited issues (out of six) show a progress toward something more painterly and textured. The only discomfort is that Mahfood frequently walks the line between nudity that is visually interesting and nudity that feels dated and unnecessary. Provided he produces something as beautiful as those covers and a story that hits as hard as the first two Grrl Scouts runs, it’ll be worth working around that problem. Caitlin Rosberg

Luke Cage #1

Writer: David F. Walker
Artist: Nelson Blake II
Publisher: Marvel Comics

David F. Walker has become Marvel’s go-to writer for titles that have social justice themes to tackle, and for good reason. His celebrated run on Shaft alone shows just how powerful and nuanced a script he can create, but his work with Sanford Greene on Power Man and Iron Fist and Ramon Villalobos on Nighthawk prove how he’s helped hold up an important corner of Marvel’s tent. While the latter title was canceled long before its time, Power Man and Iron Fist came to a close last month after 15 issues, splitting the characters off into solo books all their own. Walker’s impressive knowledge of both Blaxploitation films and kung fu movies made him a great fit for that book, and his steady hand with Luke Cage makes him an obvious choice for this one. Artist Nelson Blake II has been doing some great cover work for Marvel, most recently on Ms. Marvel, with a crisp, neat style and an eye for dynamic poses. His work on Romulus at Image displayed interesting panel layouts and a good sense of timing. Blake II’s style is a departure from Greene’s caricatured, sketchy work, but may land closer to the popular Netflix show, which is smart given the impending premiere of The Defenders TV show, a potential interest-driver for new readers. Caitlin Rosberg

The Sovereigns #1

Writers: Ray Fawkes, Kyle Higgins
Artists: Johnny Desjardins, Jorge Fornes
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment

Dynamite’s dollar-value Sovereigns #0 kicked off an ambitious rethinking of their Gold Key properties, and now chief writer Ray Fawkes and artist Johnny Desjardins are back to officially kick off this time-traveling tale of Magnus, Doctor Spektor and “the creature once known as Solar” as they search for a missing Turok in the year 2025. Fawkes is a broadly talented creator, from his Gotham contributions to the Bill Sienkiewicz-like painting of creator-owned titles Underwinter and Intersect. Artist Johnny Desjardins fits comfortably within the Dynamite house style and should appeal to fans of Jason Fabok and David Finch. Kyle Higgins, whose fascist Nightwing mini-series was announced last week, provides a Magnus backup with artist Jorge Fornes to further flesh out this burgeoning universe. Steve Foxe

Spawn #1 25th Anniversary Director’s Cut

Writer/Artist: Todd McFarlane
Publisher: Image Comics

Though the majority of Spawn’s 273-issue run has felt more like treading water on the River Styx than a proper journey into the gothic abyss, my inner 15-year-old has never stopped hoping that its narrative would rise to the same levels of its excess. Todd McFarlane’s grimy opera of chained zombies battling warrior angels yanked from ‘80s hair-metal videos has skirted brilliance on rare occasions, with art that hints at Jack Kirby’s bulking, kinetic action and spits in the face of realism. Though McFarlane previously stated that writing was window dressing for capital-k kewl superhero brawls, he recruited legendary scribes Grant Morrison, David Sims, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore starting with its eighth issue for a brief spell in 1993. For better or for worse, the series peaked with these comics, expanding the mythos and injecting some literary depth into the Divine Comedy action porn. Further attempts to invite outside talent haven’t lasted or misfired, with contributions from Brian Wood, David Hine and Brian Michael Bendis petering out. But those first few years stand as a testament to the franchise’s potential 25 years later, including Greg Capullo’s visceral art run. This director’s cut of the first issue is a reminder that the start of a series that led to dozens of action figures, ball caps and amazing interviews could still be pretty damn rad. Let’s pray to the gods of the ninth circle that this comic one day ascends from its grave. Sean Edgar

Street Fighter vs. Darkstalkers #1

Writer: Ken Siu-Chong
Artist: Edwin Huang
Publisher: Udon Entertainment

Fan service alert! Udon’s bountiful Capcom offerings give fighting-game fans what they want, from bone-breaking beatdowns to gravity-defying, err, physics. Street Fighter, perhaps the most eponymous fighting franchise in history, has crossed over with Darkstalkers, Capcom’s horror-themed brawler, on numerous video-game occasions, but this seems to be the first true narrative meeting of the two combat greats. Writer Ken Siu-Chong and artist Edwin Huang have both been Udon favorites for years, the latter doing most of his work for the publisher since concluding his long tenure on Skullkickers with writer Jim Zub. Fans of both franchises should appreciate this love letter to the often-absurd sprawling worlds of Street Fighter and Darkstalkers. Steve Foxe

User Omnibus

Writer: Devin Grayson
Artists: John Bolton & Sean Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics

For many fans of Bruce Wayne’s first ward, Devin Grayson is just as recognizable and beloved as the character that shares her last name. Between Nightwing, The Titans and other DC titles, Grayson stayed in the Bat-family long enough to become a part of it herself. For all her success there, most readers haven’t heard of, let alone read, the more innovative, nuanced User. Originally published by Vertigo in 2000, User explores the life of Meg Chancellor, who plays online role-playing games and pushes the boundaries of gender identity by playing a very different avatar from her real-life existence. User was nominated for a GLAAD award in 2001, and while representation has overall improved for the LGBTQ+ community in the intervening years, there’s still a dearth of nonbinary, agender and gender-nonconforming characters in all media, not just comics. Grayson has spoken at length about how personal the project was for her, but what makes the book so arresting is how the story works in tandem with impeccable art by Sean Phillips and John Bolton. Both are capable of very painterly art, rich in texture and complicated lighting, which serves to make User feel both intimately realistic and ethereal at the same time. Though the technology featured may be out of date, the themes of the book are timeless, and this reprint of the entire three-part series from Image is an excellent opportunity to revisit this lost gem. Caitlin Rosberg

The Wicked + The Divine 445 AD #1

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: André Lima Araújo
Publisher: Image Comics

The very first issue of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine teased an expansive history behind its cyclically reincarnated gods and goddesses, and each tantalizing peek at the past has only served to further invest readers in previous generations of troublemaking deities. 455 AD, a one-shot that the solicitation warns will not be included in an upcoming series collection, flashes back to a moment in time when the barrier between fame and literal godhood seemed most permeable: the Fall of Rome. André Lima Araújo, creator of Man Plus and artist on the upcoming Generation Gone with Ales Kot, joins Gillen and McKelvie to plant perennial agitator Lucifer among the burning pillars. Araújo channels the meticulous linework of Moebius and Katsuhiro Otomo to render his tragic figures and impart a sense of scale to the wreckage. The battle-tested alchemy of Gillen and McKelvie is a prime draw of WicDiv, but the carefully chosen guest artists only serve to elevate this book to the highest ranks of today’s ongoing series. Steve Foxe

The Wild Storm #4

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Publisher: DC Comics

Warren Ellis continues his remix of Wildstorm, the aughties trailblazing publisher that redefined superheroes for the 21st Century, and it has been absolutely lovely. Nostalgia factor aside, Ellis casts business, innovation, black ops, technology and classic sci-fi weird into an alluring fiction with a complexity that will lend itself well to inevitable collections. This fourth issue follows the aftermath of a woman, Angela Spica, who successfully used her body as a nano-tech canvas, and the powerful parties who want to reclaim that breakthrough. The first three issues have given the impression of a glorious new status quo on the horizon—as marketing copy quips, “The Storm is building.” This title headlines a pop-up imprint, similar to Gerard Way’s Young Animal pocket, but future creative teams or titles have yet to be solicited. If these narrative seeds are any indication, this emergent cosmos will be dense, cold and relevant. Artist Jon Davis-Hunt hammers that latter realism with compositions that convey sterile corporate culture—when mini-mechs, voids and alien appendages pop up, it’s all the more jarring. Sean Edgar

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