Comics of the week reviewed for 27 Feb (Wired UK)

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 pleasure.

This week, Marvel gives the fans what they want with
Spider-Gwen #1, DC has a cosmic hero battling an infant in
Red Lanterns #39, and Archie launches its Dark Circle
imprint with the gritty The Black Hood #1.

Spider-Gwen #1,
Marvel
 


Spider-Gwen
#1
Spider-Gwen
#1

You asked for her, you got her — Gwen Stacy IS
Spider-Woman

© Marvel Characters, Inc


The idea of Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman caught fire like few
concepts before it. What was meant to be a fun alternate universe
character for the Spider-Verse event was grabbed onto by
fandom before her first appearance, and a torrent of Tumblrs, tweets, cosplays,
and fan art gave Marvel
confidence to launch her into her own ongoing series.

The result is… ever-so-slightly disappointing. But hold fire,
internet rage brigade! This is still a really strong first
(technically second) issue, it just lacks quite the same energy,
the same zing as the original one. Although the same creative team
is in place — writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodriguez –
the constraints of having to build long term stories from what was
intended to be a single burst of ideas shows in the finished
product.

Here, Gwen returns to her home dimension after the events of
Spider-Verse, finding she’s still regarded as a villain
and wanted for the death of her world’s Peter Parker. Despite
revealing her secret identity to her police officer father, she’s
on the run and dodging his calls, while trying to figure out how to
return to her regular life. Her bandmates in the Mary Janes are on
the verge of breaking up, and a new supervillain — a twisted take
on the Vulture — is terrorising New York. It’s a fine setup to
build from, with drama on both the costumed and civilian sides of
Gwen’s life.

Both dialogue and art are on point, with Gwen dispatching
one-liners as any Spider-hero should and Rodriguez delivering some
insanely good pages that blend an almost underground aesthetic into
the superhero mix. Latour is clearly already having some fun with
the alt-universe concept, with variants on familiar Marvel
characters such as Officer Grimm (better known as the Thing of the
Fantastic Four) making an appearance and Police Captain Frank
Castle being appointed head of the task force hunting down
Spider-Woman. Given he’s better known as the Punisher, that’s
probably a problem for Gwen.

It really is a very good comic, and anyone who fell in love with
Spider-Gwen (that’s the fandom-given name — she’s officially
Spider-Woman in-universe) will find that budding relationship well
tended here. Latour even ends the issue with a classic superhero
cliffhanger. The issue only feels slower because of the weight of
building a full universe rather than just showing a slice of it.
Given the strength of the concept, I fully expect to see this
series return to the brilliance of the one-shot when things are a
bit more established for Gwen.

Red Lanterns #39, DC
Comics
 


Red Lanterns
#39
Red Lanterns
#39

Guy Gardner: made of rage, beaten up by
babies.

© DC Comics


Guy Gardner isn’t inherently a comedy character, but there are
certain moments in his history that lend him to more comedic takes.
Being a member of the 80s Justice League International, a comic that blended
superheroics and sitcom scenarios, was a huge part of that — the
infamous “one
punch”
 joke keeps coming back to haunt him. That gag is
likely to have competition in future, as this issue will go down in
history as “that time Guy got beaten up by a baby”.

It’s a dryly hilarious story that almost feels out of place in
writer Landry Walker’s winding down of the series — next month’s
is the final issue — but proves to be a key development for Guy as
a hero. Currently a Red Lantern (like the green ones, only powered
by rage rather than willpower), he’s been bordering on suicidal
since many of his teammates died on his watch. He’s been tracking
down any remnants of the dangerous red power left on Earth from a
prior storyline, intending to absorb it all and prevent harm coming
to anyone else. This leads him to the small town of El Sobrante,
currently being terrorised by a very angry infant.

The child isn’t entirely at fault — he’s possessed by a rage
entity of sorts, attracted to him after his mother was killed in a
conflict Guy was involved in. Either way, the resulting fight scene
is a brilliant example of artist Jim Calafiore’s talents, packing
in some explosive action while juxtaposing it with the outright
humour of a flying baby throwing buses around. Usually at Guy’s
head.

What really impresses though is how Landry turns it around
emotionally. For all the one-liners peppered through the battle
about being sucker punched by a baby, and Guy’s own inner monologue
about his rage and feelings of disappointment, the day is won
through compassion rather than punching. It’s a move that displays
Guy’s evolution to the reader, even if he himself can’t see it, and
winds up with him in a role he’s never been in before — a
father.

If this is a prelude to writing Guy out of the active part of
the DC Universe — Red Lanterns isn’t one of the comics
returning after this spring’s Convergence event — having
him overcome his rage and retire to raise an adopted son is a nice
way of doing it. Whatever the final issue holds, this is an
exceptional standalone story.

The Black Hood #1, Dark Circle
Comics
 


The Black
Hood #1
The Black
Hood #1

An unflinching look at addiction, psychosis,
and violence. From the people who bring you cheery Archie
Comics.

© ACP Inc


One of the longest running superheroes you’ve probably never
heard of, The Black Hoodfirst appeared in 1940. He was one
of a whole line of costumed adventurers published by MLJ Comics
through to the post-war years, before the company struck such
major success with
Archie
that it changed the business name to reflect, becoming Archie
Comics. Yet the publisher never totally abandoned superheroes — it
relaunched its adventure comics in the 60s, created the Red Circle
imprint for them in the 70s and 80s, and twice licenced the
characters to DC; first for the
Impact
Comics
 line in the 90s, then a 2008 revival of the
Red Circle “brand” that temporarily incorporated the characters
into the DC Universe. Throughout, the Black Hood has been a
fixture, with interpretations ranging from Batman-style caped
crusader to the hood itself being cursed and passing through
numerous wearers, forcing them to do good.

For the Dark
Circle
 line, Archie is skewing older though, and writer
Duane Swierczynski and artist Michael Gaydos deliver a taut
thriller that deals with addiction, identity, and psychosis, all
set on the gritty streets of Philadelphia.

Gregory Hettinger is a handsome, popular police officer, until
he ends up the sole respondent to a call about four armed men
fighting outside a school. After taking a shotgun blast to the
face, he manages to get off a few shots and call in support. The
next thing he knows, he’s waking up in hospital, heavily bandaged,
unable to speak, and being called a hero — one of those shots
landed, killing Kip Burland, a masked vigilante known as The Black
Hood. The accidental kill doesn’t make Hettinger feel like much of
a hero though, and many of his fellow cops agree, pinning Burland’s
mask to his locker as a warning when he returns to work.

Swiercyznski spends much of the issue in Hettinger’s head,
giving the reader a keen insight to his recovery. His deeply
scarred face makes it difficult for him to speak, though his
attractive speech therapist Jessie Dupree gives him incentive to
relearn, but it’s his growing dependency on pain medications and
increasing violence in his police work that paint him as a man on
the cusp of a breakdown. His growing tendency to retreat under the
hood now in his possession, just to feel as though he wasn’t
wearing his own face, is a worryingly psychotic moment, one that
culminates in him almost accidentally stepping into Burland’s
former role as a vigilante.

It’s similar in tone to some of Swierczynski’s work on Marvel’s
Punisher, though adding elements of the Black Hood
identity from across its publication history. The inherited mantle
aspect works particularly well, with Hettinger using it as a
release for his own demons. Gaydos’ art — dark, grounded,
realistic — fits the narrative perfectly, while also evoking some
of his own former Marvel work, notably Alias.

It would have been rather easy to go super-dark when revamping
the Archie heroes for a more mature audience, but it’s pleasing to
see Swiercyznski and Gaydos haven’t gone that route. The Black
Hood
is certainly better suited to older readers, but it’s
presented with sincerity and depth, rather than cheap, consequence
free violence. A promising start for the Dark Circle line.

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27 February 2015 | 4:27 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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