The start of a new year isn’t necessarily a new start for comics. We’re still in big build up mode with the big two for their very similarly themed summer events Convergence, in which all the former pre-reboot DC Universes smash together, and Secret Wars, in which the Marvel Universe is mashed up with all their other alternate universes. With a new Star Wars film coming at the end of the year (and a new comic having just launched), it feels like this is the year of nostalgia in geekdom. And why not? If it ain’t broke, just resurrect it.
Jonathan Hickman doesn’t seem to care for nostalgia all that much. I’ve harped on a lot about how good his run on Avengers and New Avengers has been and with issue 40 of Avengers he finally starts to bring a lot of plots to roost, not least the ever growing animosity between Black Panther and Namor. The Time Runs Out storyline (set just a few months into the future of the Marvel Universe) has been a breath of fresh air for Hickman, allowing him to indulge in all sorts of complex plotting, and character machinations without having to go and explain it all (if you want explanation, you can go read Avengers World – I wouldn’t recommend it). Issue 40 is the clear highlight of this arc so far, a dramatic conclusion of sorts which will lead us into the final few issues of the title and, eventually Secret Wars. Stefano Caselli, Hickman’s artist on his tremendous Secret Warriors, comes on board for this issue and turns out to be the perfect choice. Clean, crisp lines, and excellent expressions, his work here is fantastic. Both of Hickman’s Avengers titles have suffered throughout the run of the curse of multiple artists, and to be honest, some have been much better than others. Caselli certainly falls into the former camp. For evidence, look no further than that final scene between Black Panther, Namor and Black Bolt, and the expression on Namor’s face. That’s how you stage a comic.
If Avengers has been described by some as a slow burner, then I have no idea what those people would make of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Trees. I reviewed the first issue many months ago, and I liked it well enough, but not enormously. I kept with it though, and month after month I put it down with the same reaction. It was okay. The art was excellent, but the story was…big? Trying too much? Maybe something like that. There were too many characters. It seemed too sprawling. I got confused month in, month out – who was this person? Having to remind myself what was going on in something I was reading regularly was getting to me. But then I read issue 8. A season finale if ever there was one, it ties up most of the main storylines, concluding some indefinitely, and pushing some on in very interesting directions. It is dramatic, fascinating and gut wrenching. It is, in other words, everything that I’ve been looking for in the comic since it started. The question of course is, does that make the previous 7 issues worth reading? Maybe. Certainly don’t pick up issue 8 on its own expecting to understand what’s going on at all. Trees is likely to read better as a trade paperback, where readers can delve into the world and binge it.
Finally, Image release their brand new series Bitch Planet from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. A revisionist feminist take, of sorts, on exploitation cinema, Bitch Planet plays with the all-women prison trope. It’s unclear on the basis of the first issue what the central story of the book will be, as DeConnick gleefully kills off our POV character in the climax, after pulling a very impressive final twist. I’ve never been a huge fan of DeConnick in the past. Her previous series for Image, Pretty Deadly, suffered greatly from vague plotting and even vaguer dialogue. Here though, she reaches new and glorious heights. Aside from an odd opening (which will, no doubt be resolved in the comic), the issue is damn near perfect. There are several laugh out loud moments – not least in the world, with billboards telling women, ‘WE GET BY WHEN WE COMPLY’, and as mentioned before, she absolutely nails the ending. Valentine De Landro shouldn’t go unmentioned either: the art here is excellent, gritty and violent, a real visceral kind of pulp art. DeConnick has, in interviews, described her series as ‘Margaret Atwood meets Quentin Tarantino’ and in this year of nostalgia I wouldn’t be one to begrudge her that comparison, but I don’t quite believe it. Her script is far more intelligent than Tarantino, and nostalgia here is a target, something to be aimed at and destroyed. This is how comic books should be done.