Tom Smithyman is a newspaperman turned marketing executive. A comic book enthusiast since the 70s, he tries to keep up with these alternate realities while juggling a professional career, family, community theater roles and passion for travel. Connect with him @tsmithyman and linkedin.com/in/tomsmithyman/
Capitalizing on the success of its newest blockbuster, Marvel has given Groot the starring role in his own comic with I Am Groot #1. Like in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Groot is not a full tree; instead, he is an adorable adolescent twig. Unfortunately, his maturity matches his size, and this causes him to get in the way of his fellow guardians. To make up for it, the anthropomorphic tree tries to help. However, he ultimately fails, leaving him stranded at the other end of the galaxy.
I Am Groot #1 Features a Strong Creative Team
Writer Christopher Hastings wisely includes Groot’s teammates in the comic. This addition means that we aren’t constantly inundated with “I am Groot” – though there’s plenty of that. The comic also features new characters as well. One such character is Buddy, a dog-like creature that Groot meets on the other side of known space.
Flaviano provides the gripping otherworldly artwork. He gets to show off his skills with a variety of scenes ranging from the close confines of a spaceship to the vastness of space to some pretty funky alien landscapes.
However, it’s colorist Marcio Menyz who really shines in this inaugural issue. Menyz showcases his considerable talent in the space scenes. Some of the standout colors include the glow of rocket engines and interstellar phenomena illuminate the pitch blackness of space. With colorful characters like Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Drax, Menyz has a broad pallet to work with.
I Am Groot #1 is only the first chapter of a larger story that hopefully reunites our wooden character with the rest of his team. It’s a story well worth reading and is highly recommend for fans of the character.
I Am Groot #1, Marvel Comics, Released May 24, 2017, Written by Christopher Hastings; Art by Flaviano; Colors by Marcio Menyz; Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna; $3.99.
Batman #23 starts off with a bang – two bangs actually.
We see a man reciting the lyrics to “My Wild Irish Rose” as he is being shot in the head twice. The man seemingly continues to recite the words after he’s died.
The dead man, it turns out, is Swamp Thing’s father. The plant elemental shows up at the crime scene as Batman and Commissioner Gordon are trying to figure out how the killer came in through the 86th floor window. The resulting investigation is a superhero team-up for the ages.
However, it takes a close second to the other dynamic duo – writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads, the pair behind the critically acclaimed “The Sheriff of Babylon.” As with that series, Batman #23 is a tale doesn’t disappoint.
Batman #23 Is Swamp Thing’s Rebirth
King spins a tight yarn complete with mystery, drama, revenge and a bit of pathos on the side. With his recent work on the book, King is proving himself to be a worthy successor to longtime Dark Knight scribe Scott Snyder. As compelling as the story is, it’s Gerads’ visuals that bring the story home. His Batman – normally the dominant figure in every panel – is dwarfed by Swamp Thing. It’s appropriate since ultimately, it’s really Swamp Thing’s story.
Gerads shades each chapter with its own color – green when we first see Swamp Thing rising from a small plant, shades of gray as the man is being shot, browns to match the mahogany walls of stately Wayne Manor. It’s an excellent visual effect which really adds an extra layer of depth to this fantastic tale.
The surprise ending is every bit as emotional as it is gruesome, leaving nearly every character as a victim. Everyone, that is, except the reader, who will be thrilled with this great story.
Marvel’s latest Star Wars crossover unites two unlikely characters, Luke Skywalker and Doctor Aphra. It’s a combination that probably shouldn’t work, but somehow does under the skillful pen of writer Kieron Gillen. More importantly, the Screaming Citadel one shot helps to fill in some of the gaps in Luke Skywalker’s path to becoming a Jedi Knight.
Despite their different allegiances, the characters need each other. Luke feels the Force, but has no real training to become a Jedi. Aphra wants to unlock the power in an artifact she recovered. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on Gillen. After a grueling cantina fight (Luke can’t seem to avoid them), he accuses Aphra of being evil. “Evil is a very strong word,” she replies.
Aphra convinces Luke to accompany her to the Screaming Citadel to unlock the mystery of her artifact – and to get him the training he desperately needs. However, the price the pair has to pay for that knowledge is could end up being too high.
Screaming Citadel Is Star Wars At Its Best
Artist Marco Checchetto gets to play with lots of Star Wars toys in this premiere issue. Checchetto has no problem drawing Wookies, Twi’leks, Toydarians, and even a Gungun (though hopefully not Jar Jar Binks). Our favorite characters, including Leia and Luke, are easily recognizable, right down to the smirk on Han Solo’s face.
Despite the dire circumstances, Gillen keeps the mood light with his irreverent characters, including Doctor Aphra and her two droids. Where R2-D2 and C-3PO frequently save the heroes lives, Aphra’s abominations gleefully plot the torture of everyone they meet. Aphra herself is a welcome change to the Star Wars universe – think of a female Han Solo with even more selfish motives.
“Two people and a Wookie versus a bar?” she says. “That’s what I call the start of a great weekend.”
Never have the words “Hail Hydra” packed more of a wallop than when they are uttered by that star-spangled Avenger, Captain America, in Secret Empire #1. However, that’s now the situation facing the Marvel universe in the publisher’s latest event.
As seen in Secret Empire #0, Cap has engineered the rise of Hydra by trapping most of the heroes in space or in the Darkforce. The book opens with a time skip, showing that Cap’s coalition of Hydra forces now control the United States – and have their sights trained on the rest of the world. Only a handful of good guys remain, led by Hawkeye and Black Widow.
Secret Empire #1 Raises the Stakes
In the hands of writer Nick Spencer, this doesn’t feel like a typical Marvel event. The rules have changed, and the stakes are higher. The bad guy isn’t a bonafide villain like Ultron, Thanos or the shapeshifting Skrulls: it’s Captain America. The icon. Our unblemished hero.
Spencer shows his knack for capturing the many characters’ essences without reducing them to caricatures. Cap shows his steely resolve, remaining Boy Scout-like even while approving pumping mind-altering drugs into the water supply. Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel displays her bravery in the face of impossible odds. Even Tony Stark’s AI self gets into the act, appropriately sarcastic, drunken, womanizing, and even unshaven.
Artist Steve McNiven has his hands full with depicting the new resistance, which includes members such as Viv Vision, Ironheart and the Hulk, battling the forces of Baron Zemo, Dr. Faustus and Arnim Zola.
To cap off the compelling first chapter of this nine-issue series, Spencer hands us a shocking – no, really, it’s completely shocking – surprise that will leave fans divided but will compel readers to come back for more.
On the surface, it’s a match made in vigilante heaven. The two greatest crimefighters of the 20th century–Batman and The Shadow–have both stricken fear in the hearts of their adversaries for more than 75 years. Both have solved more mysteries than Scotland Yard and the Gotham Police Department combined.
But when they initially meet in Batman The Shadow #1, it’s not as bats of a feather, rather as enemies. The two come to blows almost immediately. Mostly because it looks as though The Shadow, who supposedly died of cancer in the 1960s, has returned to Gotham City to kill one of his descendants. Coincidently, the deceased also bears the name Lamont Cranston, just like The Shadow.
Unraveling the Lamont Cranston Mystery
Batman auteur Scott Snyder teams with Steve Orlando to provide the compelling mystery. Neither is a stranger to the Dark Knight. And their fascination with the character continues. However, this time they are tying Bruce Wayne’s grandfather, Patrick, into some kind of relationship with Cranston. And the writing pair give Shadow fans something to enjoy as well. Batman interrogates Cranston’s known associates–all of whom are well past their crime-fighting prime.
Artist Riley Rossmo is a great choice to draw this six-part limited series. Interestingly, he gives Batman a more rooted feeling, while The Shadow is more ethereal. The result is a combination of Jim Lee and Paul Pope pencils, which is a welcome addition to the Caped Crusader’s looks.
If they’re anything like the premiere issue, the next five installments should be must-haves. Like Batman yells at The Shadow after their first fight, “Bats live in the shadows.”
Leave it to Geoff Darrow to begin a new issue (and a new series) with a trio of talking vultures. The triad is circling the remains of a huge battle to find their next meal. And they provide the most intelligent dialogue in the book.
Shaolin Cowboy’s latest battle, which nearly left him for dead, provides the backdrop for the vultures’ discussion of physiognomy, smorgasbords and cholesterol. Seeing a dead Asian combatant, one of the vultures declares, “It looks pretty fresh, and it’s been awhile since I’ve had any sashimi.”
Old Nemeses Hell Bent on Revenge
In The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign #1, Cowboy doesn’t have much to say. That leaves the vultures and less-intelligent humans to fill in the story. That plot revolves around a number of enemies trying to take advantage of Cowboy’s weakened state. Those include the vultures, a warden from hell, and a beer-guzzling crab-human hybrid. It’s quintessential Darrow. And that’s a beautiful thing.
But it’s detailed artwork that Darrow fans demand. And this issue doesn’t disappoint. While the book doesn’t have the decapitation by chainsaw on a rope that we’ve come to expect from the Cowboy, there’s still plenty to feast your eyes on.
There are impossible moves where the Cowboy propels himself into the back of a moving car. Bleak mountain landscapes complete with anti-Trump graffiti. And the generous use of two-page spreads with knife-legged dogs as a treat for the careful observer. Darrow creates a visual treat that will leave you coming back for the rest of this four-part series.
The death of the New 52 Superman. The discovery of another Clark Kent. The near loss of his son Jon at the hands of Mister Mxyzptlk. Kal-El has had little time for reflection. But his latest adventure with Mxyzptlk has shaken him to the core–and left him wondering about his true past. Is someone manipulating him and the entire DC universe?
Superman Reborn Aftermath Part One Begins
Action Comics #977 expertly alternates between the past and present, Superman relives the final hours of his home planet, Krypton. For the first time, he sees his parents struggle as they say goodbye to their infant son. They are comforted only by the fact that Earth’s yellow sun will give him power and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Writer Dan Jurgens even manages to slip in a political reference, with superdad Jor-El. He’s complaining that his planet’s leaders would rather embrace money than trying to save their people from the coming catastrophic natural disaster.
Supes also witnesses his arrival on Earth and his rescue and adoption by the Kents. At the same time, a mysterious villain is assembling a rogues gallery of super adversaries including Metallo and Blanque.
Artist Ian Churchill is given the plum assignment of depicting the futuristic Krypton (complete with baby Kal-El’s superbinky). In addition, he has the task of bringing to life the seemingly endless cornfields of Kansas that the Kents call home. His more modern depiction of the assembly of villains is seemingly taken straight from the Matrix, which adds to the intrigue. But it’s his multiple splash-page depictions of Superman himself that make the reader want to come back for more.
And with a story and art like this, keeping readers hooked on this Action Comics series isn’t going to be a problem.
Few television shows inspire as much loyalty from die-hard fans as Firefly, Joss Whedon’s 2002 science fiction-Western hybrid. Capitalizing on the demand for new stories after the 2005 feature film Serenity, Dark Horse Comics has published several limited series. Its latest, Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse #6, concludes with bang.
In addition, the book has nailed the feeling of the beloved – but short-lived TV show. There’s the Western-style dialogue (“We put up a good fight for a spell.”). And the occasional Chinese curses (“Bi zui!”). Georges Jeanty’s realistic artwork lets us revisit our favorites characters. Capt. Mal Reynolds, mercenary Jayne Cobb, psychic River Tam all make appearances.
The Battle Lines Have Been Drawn
The new book takes place after the events of the Serenity movie. No Power in the ‘Verse sets the stage for a new uprising against the evil Alliance and its band of all-powerful psychics. Reynolds and his crew are caught in the middle forced to rescue River and other friends. This is also all happening while trying to figure out who are their friends and their true enemies.
However, instead of neatly wrapping up the story, writer Chris Robertson sets the stage for the next as-of-yet unannounced next limited series. The battle lines have been drawn–both within Serenity crew and between the crew and the Alliance. And the next installment can’t come soon enough.
Taking on double duty in writing and illustrating, Lemire methodically introduces us to the Pike family. There’s the elderly Peter and Patti, who are having marital issues. Author Pat who is having trouble batting out his next novel. Daughter Tara, who is struggling to reshape the titular city–and make a fortune in the process. And Richard, who finds solace from life at the bottom of a bottle.
Then There’s Tommy
Tommy, the youngest son, appears in different forms–a young boy, a drinking buddy, a long-forgotten voice on the radio. He is whatever his family needs him to be. While it’s easy to guess Tommy’s real fate, the revelation is no less of a gut punch.
Royal City itself is a character. And plays a significant role in the book. Royal City is a sleepy town of 45,000. Many of the characters are looking to escape the town. Or at least they think they are. More than likely, we’ll eventually learn they are trying to escape their own poor life choices. Lemire hasn’t taken us there yet. But when he does, we’ll be waiting.
With his other acclaimed projects like Descender and A.D., Lemire is clearly at the top of his game. Between his colored pencils and his even more colorful words, Royal City is already among his best works.
Any well-written Rocket Raccoon book is going to have more great one-liners and quips than can be packed into a concise review. But here are some examples from writer Matthew Rosenberg in Rocket Raccoon #3.
“I’m one of the X-Men…Avengers! I meant I’m one of the Avengers!”
“I know I’m not the first guy to ride this boat in his underwear, so you can all take a walk.”
“Who are you talking to buddy?” “I’m monologuing.” “Oh, OK.”
These are just a few of the humorous lines that should get you hooked. But if it’s not enough, there’s plenty more to put you over the top as the smallest of the Guardians of the Galaxy takes on a big adversary.
Let the Hunting Begin!
In Rocket Raccoon #3, Rocket has been stranded on Earth after the Guardians of the Galaxy’s spaceship was destroyed in Civil War II. Then there’s the appearance of Kraven the Hunter. He’s spearheading–literally–an alien hunting contest and has set his sights squarely on the heroic Rocket.
Jorge Coelho’s art is the cherry on top of this action-packed issue. The first page displays the hunter in all his glory. “You’re going to believe the guy wearing an animal’s face and yoga pants over me?” Rocket complains to the cops. And a hilarious scene featuring Kraven’s 80’s-era party van–complete with his likeness atop a horse. There’s also Rocket running around New York in nothing more than jockey shorts to complete the story’s appeal.
This issue is a cliffhanger that will keep even the casual reader coming back for more.
What happens when writer David Pepose riffs off a beloved comic featuring a boy and stuffed tiger and a gritty crime drama? Well, you get Spencer & Locke, a unique, quirky comic that’s sort of a Calvin & Hobbes meets Sin City.
Pepose’s Spencer & Locke is a new limited four-book series from Action Lab – Danger Zone. In our interview Pepose discusses the genesis for his new comic, the comics that influenced him, and collaborating with the right people.
TFAW: Let’s get this out of the way to start with: Why Calvin & Hobbes?
David Pepose: Sometimes stories just strike you like a bolt of lightning. And when I thought of the question “what if Calvin & Hobbes grew up in Sin City,” I immediately knew Spencer & Locke was something I had to write. Because if I didn’t, somebody else definitely would have!
When I first sat down to write a comic, I wanted to write something that used comics’ unique bag of storytelling tricks, something that spoke to comics fans first and foremost. There was this real attraction for remixing known properties to give them a more contemporary and adult sensibility, and it didn’t take long for me to think of Bill Watterson’sCalvin & Hobbes, the gold standard for comics and cartooning everywhere.
I knew it would be subversive, maybe even blasphemous to do something like this with such a sacred comic book text. But as I started breaking down Spencer & Locke down as characters, I discovered not just some wonderful, three-dimensional voices behind all their bantering, but I realized there was a really powerful, human story underneath all the crazy action. We might not fill the massive shoes of our inspirations, but I like to think we add something to the mix.
“At its core, our story is about the traumas of childhood, how we get them and how we face them down.”
TFAW: How did you come up with the idea of putting these characters in such a disturbing world? Pepose: I feel like Spencer & Locke’s brand of pulpy noir was always a natural choice for me, just given the kinds of comics I loved growing up. Frank Miller’sDaredevil: The Man Without Fear was the first book that made me realize that actual writers and artists created comics, and it was Frank’s distinctive voice that made me devour everything else he had ever written.
Noir as a genre allows for these moody settings and poetic inner monologues. But when you wind up splicing in Calvin & Hobbes, you almost have to lean into how disturbing this world can be, right? But I think while we do have some genuinely shocking moments in our book, it’s all in the service of a greater point. At its core, our story is about the traumas of childhood, how we get them and how we face them down. Everybody has scars, but are we defined by them? Can we overcome them? Or are we always destined to succumb to them?
TFAW: Were you inspired by other Noir comics or films? Pepose: For sure–Memento is one of my favorite movies, and I see plenty of that in Spencer & Locke’s DNA. Chinatown is another favorite, as are L.A. Confidential and Brick. In terms of noir comics, as you can probably tell, I love Frank Miller’s work onSin City, Daredevil and Batman. I’m also a tremendous fan of Ed Brubaker’s work on Criminal, which really helped inspire our book just as much as Watterson and Miller. Books like Southern Bastards, Blacksad, and Darwyn Cooke’sParker books all served as this kind of creative compass to help us find our way.
Pushing the Envelope
TFAW: Was there ever a part of you that, while writing, said to yourself, I must be crazy? Pepose: Ha, definitely! There’s an elasticity to the concept of Spencer & Locke that lets us really go wild with this book. Yes, we have the kind of awesome action tropes like fistfights and shootouts and car chases. But we also push the envelope even further later on, as we delve deeper into our heroes’ inner lives and psychology.
The thing is, the original Calvin & Hobbes has such a robust iconography that’s recognizable by even the most casual of comics readers. And the sorts of twists and turns we put on them can sometimes be surprising or even horrifying. There are a few moments writing this book where I definitely said to myself, “wow, that is pretty messed up.” But the important thing to note about Spencer & Locke is that while we do get pretty dark as we examine the traumas of Locke’s past, it’s all in the service of a greater story.
TFAW: Have you ever met Bill Watterson or Frank Miller? Pepose: No, and after this book comes out, I’ll probably be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life. Bill, Frank– before you call the hitmen on us, just remember, we did this out of love!
“My most inspirational artist is the one I’m working with.”
TFAW: How did you and Jorge come to team up on this project? Pepose: So much of Spencer & Locke’s development came incrementally. I wrote a script to see if I could do it, and when I liked that, I wrote the rest of the treatment, also to see if I could do it. When I liked that, I decided to try to find an artist to work with, just to see if I could do it.
Of course, everybody has their own story of how to find a collaborator in comics, but the one that stood out to me was Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore for The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. Learning that Tradd was a graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design, I wound up looking through several portfolios from SCAD alums.
But when I found Jorge, I saw his website said he made comics with “stupid amounts of passion.” And I knew it was that passion that made him the perfect partner to work with for this project. Jorge brings such an energy and excitement to his pages, and such a great versatility. Every issue of Spencer & Locke has something awesome and cool that Jorge just knocks out of the park. Honestly, this book is so varied it could really be a portfolio piece for the both of us!
TFAW: Do you think you’ll be teaming up together again soon? Pepose: There is nothing I want more than to do more projects with Jorge–particularly more Spencer & Locke! If readers pre-order our book and tell us they want more, I’ve got plenty more ideas of where these characters could go, and I’d love to see Jorge’s take on them!
“This is also about the story of how a boy and his imaginary panther became a pair of tough-as-nails hard-boiled cops.”
TFAW: Do you have anything down the pipeline we should be on the lookout for? Pepose: I’ve got a few projects in the pipeline at the moment. I’ve got a really fun crime/hostage story I’m developing, and I’ve got a sci-fi comic and a spy pitch that I’m also really excited about. I can’t talk too much detail at the moment, but readers and publishers alike, stay tuned!
TFAW: The first issue presents a lot of questions. How quickly do you feel to need to have them answered? Or are you okay with leaving some questions unanswered altogether? Pepose: The thing that I like most about Spencer & Locke is that it’s not just about the detective story in the present. This is also about the story of how a boy and his imaginary panther became a pair of tough-as-nails hard-boiled cops. So for every step forward in the main plot, we’ll peel back another layer of Locke’s past, and really get into this guy’s head.
But while we wanted to make sure readers feel satisfied with our plotting, we also tried to leave plenty of room for readers to have their own interpretation on things. After all, Spencer & Locke is a story about imagination, perspective, and the mind. I think its very easy to be a passive participant when reading a comic, but I feel like by trusting the reader and giving them the opportunity fill in the blanks, it lets fans feel even more invested in these characters.
TFAW: Who’s on your bucket list to work with? Pepose: You know, I’ve never really thought about that before! I don’t know if I necessarily have a “bucket list” of artists to work with, per se, because I really just the idea of teaming up with talent that is as young and hungry as I am. But I do admire plenty of talented artists around the industry–Chris Samnee, Declan Shalvey, David Lafuente, Doc Shaner, Becky Cloonan, Tradd Moore. Honestly, if Spencer & Locke has taught me anything, it’s the importance of finding the right people to work on the right project. For me, once you have the idea, the team will follow.
That’s the premise of Spencer & Locke, a new limited four-book series from Action Lab – Danger Zone. At first, the idea sounds silly, maybe even offensive. Calvin is a beloved comic strip featuring a boy and his stuffed tiger that gently taught life lessons. Sin City was a gritty crime drama chock full of murder, con men and prostitutes.
Locke is all grown up now and a police detective. His partner? You guessed it. A 6-foot-tall version of his stuff blue panther, Spencer (complete with a missing eye) except when we see Locke interacting with other humans, then Spencer is back to his stuffed animal form. “Don’t judge,” Locke explains to us. “You probably got weirder friends.”
When we first meet the pair in the new series Spencer & Locke #1, they are sneaking out of the house to play, a la the comic strip characters they are based upon. But the similarities are quickly wiped away as young Spencer gets a right cross from his dear ol’ mom.
Writer David Pepose keeps the story moving through the use of flashbacks, taking our heroes–and maybe the story’s villains as well–back to happier times. As the time shifts, so does Jorge Santiago’s artwork, moving from simple childlike imagery to a gritty urban landscape.
Pepose sets up enough drama and compelling characters to keep us asking questions and coming back for more–blue panther or no.