Having taken over movies, television and
animation, comics have never been cooler. Now, WIRED.co.uk picks
out the best and worst of the week’s titles for your reading
This week, a hard luck detective is trapped in a universe he
never made, in Howard the Duck #1, Nova and the Hulk have
a wild trip in Nova Annual #1, and Red Sonja gets a modern
makeover in Altered States: Red Sonja #1.
Howard the Duck #1,
You know how some people incessantly put “LOL” at the end of all
their texts, tweets, actual-spoken-sentences? And how rarely
whatever they’ve suffixed that to is rarely even slightly funny?
You know how annoying that is? Welcome to Howard’s world.
The walking, talking duck hails from another dimension where fowls
took the place of apes in the evolutionary ladder. Trapped on the
Marvel Earth, he’s endlessly annoyed by us hairless apes, but his
righteous fury and unstoppable power of common sense makes this one
of the funniest comics in a long time. LOL.
Created in 1973 by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, Howard has
served as a satirical mouthpiece for real world politics and a
commenter on the insanity of a world full of costumed heroes and
villains regularly punching each other. Now, he’s a strugging
private detective working in the same run down building as She-Hulk (who sings Taylor Swift songs to herself when
Rather than try for a day-one reboot, writer Chip Zdarsky taps
into Howard’s stealthy reintroduction to the mainstream public in
last summer’s Guardians of
the Galaxy (sit through the credits….), taking him from
a misguided investigation into a stolen necklace, to an ill-fated
team-up with Spider-Man, a heist targeting super-thief the Black
Cat (including an amazing lampoon of the similarities between that
character and DC’s Catwoman that I’m amazed Marvel let Zdarsky get
away with), all culminating in Howard ending up in space as part of
Collector’s menagerie — right where he was in the
If that’s not enough for one issue, we also get the introduction
of a new supporting cast, chiefly the tattooed, tough, and slightly
mysterious Tara; hints that something has happened to Howard’s
long-time best friend Bev
Switzler; an impending team up with Rocket Raccoon; and even a
training montage. Set to music. Amazing.
Joe Quinones’ art is great in terms of storytelling and pacing,
allowing most of the jokes room to breathe, their timing visual
perfection. And this really is a very funny comic. Each page will
have something to make you at least smirk, if not full on belly
laugh, but you’ll bust out a few of those too. Unfortunately,
detail is a bit lacking in places, more so in backgrounds than
characters. This leads to a few pages that veer into “talking
heads” territory, and while the dialogue supports that, a bit more
scenery wouldn’t go amiss in places.
The sheer amount of content packed into the issue, along with a
creative team that seems to really get Howard and his endearingly
gruff curmudgeonliness, makes for a truly entertaining read. If
Zdarsky and co can keep this pace and level of charm going, this is
another hit waiting to happen.
Nova Annual #1,
Another fun one from Marvel this week, though this ties up some
long running stories rather than kicking off anything fresh.
Since Sam Alexander — the new and currently only Nova — got
into a fight with an evil version of the Hulk in the Axis
event (bad guys go good, good guys go bad; it was a pretty terrible storyline), the alien helmet that grants
him his powers has been on the Fritz. Sam’s spent the last few
issues of his solo series travelling to Marvel’s various super
scientists trying to get it fixed, and here writer Gerry Duggan
sees fit to get it up and running again. Unfortunately for Sam,
that means a road trip across the universe with the currently
super-intelligent Hulk, who prefers being called “Doc Green”.
Duggan writes both character’s individual titles, so
automatically has a great handle on both of their ‘voices’. The
result is a buddy comedy where the two very mismatched heroes
bounce off each other to hilarious effect. Think Rush Hour
with more superpowers and less kung fu, and you have the idea.
David Baldeon’s pencil work is excellent for the most part,
playing up the comedy of the situation with supremely expressive
faces and body language. Strange alien monsters and mysterious
ruins also “pop” well from the page, while the requisite superhero
action is powerful and exciting. There are a few too many cases
where characters go a little off-model though, including one
particularly egregious shot where Sam, powered up again as Nova,
looks like a bobblehead on a toothpick neck.
A fun, done-in-one adventure that’s accessible for first time
readers while giving those returning a conclusion to the current
arc (though it does lead directly into the Black Vortex
storyline over in the Guardians of the Galaxy and
X-Men books). Excellent character work throughout, with
the antagonistic “frenemy” status between Nova and Hulk well
established by the end.
Altered States: Red Sonja #1,
Dynamite’s Altered States banner has been a way for the
publisher to remix its characters, reimagining them in unlikely
settings or scenarios. It’s similar to Marvel’s What
If? or DC’s Elseworlds concepts, but with even more
Normally, Red Sonja is a fearsome female warrior, cast from the
same mold as Conan the Barbarian and currently undergoing a
creative resurgence in her ongoing title. Here, she’s Sonja
Majeure, a workaholic curator at MOMA in New York who comes into
contact with an ancient sword and a mummified body with mysterious
writings on its wrappings. Falling for the Evil Dead trick
of reading a translation of the words, she awakens the murderous
sorceror Kulan Gath. Luckily, laying hands on the sword turns her
into a vessel for the spirit of the better known Sonja, and is able
to chase the demonic creature off.
Brandon Jerwa’s story is a simple one, given the constraints of
establishing an alternate universe and telling a tale in it in only
20-odd pages, but it’s also a fun one. Despite being a little by
the numbers — Kulan Gath turns New York into a recreation of the
mythical Hyborean Age, Majeure must reverse the spell while
learning how to channel Red Sonja’s skills — Jerwa has fun with
it, teasing the conventions of the character (including her
notoriously revealing chainmail bikini “armour”) while
simultaneously showing great affection for her world.
Juanan Ramirez does admirable work on the art front, with all
the brilliantly weird fantasy creatures fans of the usual Sonja
love — snake men, giant rat steeds, trolls, goblins, and more –
while neatly juxtaposing it against modern New York. There are a
few weird character proportions and angles in places, but his Sonja
at least looks like a warrior; physically imposing enough that she
looks like she can swing a sword at least, rather than coming from
a modelling shoot as she’s sometime’s looked.
Altered States: Red Sonja isn’t revolutionary or game
changing but it is enjoyable and fun. Sometimes, that’s enough.