HOWARD the HUMAN / JUSTICE LEAGUE / WELCOME BACK / RAI / SECRET LOVE [Reviews]: The Voice of Honesty.
As anyone who’s ever talked to me about the state of comics knows, I don’t say what I’m about to say very often: Howard the Human, part of Marvel’s 001 Secret Wars series, is really… REALLY… good. I mean, good in the way where I read it and I have to try to enjoy it because I’m so goddamn jealous of how good it is. Good in the way where I want meet writer Skottie Young (Rocket Raccoon) out for a drink, buy him a shot, then kill him quietly, assume his identity, and rejoice in the brilliance of the creation that would then be mine: Howard the Human.
Howard, the eponymous human in this story, is a hard-luck, booze-swilling, ramshackle private detective in a Battleworld — of the last remaining planetary fragment after the destruction of the MU multiverses — entirely populated by anthropomorphic animals. This world — or, New Quack City, as it’s referred to, and that nod to the Mario van Peeples’ classic isn’t the only one of its kind in this book, not even close — is a clever mashup of Raymond Chandler (also referred to in this book) and Planet of the Apes.
Then, in a classic noir (or even neo-noir) fashion, this book is a tale that Howard recalls and spins for us, as well as some hard-billed (see what I did there) gangster ducks who are looking to recoup money Howard owes them, all while he’s trapped at the wrong end of their gun. At the end, we return to the beginning, but not without a few metajabs at all the tropes that once populated stories like this. But nothing critical, all with a reverence for the form.
The art from Jim Mahfood (Miami Vice: Remix) is like a live-action seizure in that it gains control of itself long enough for you to see what’s going on. And I mean that in a good way. I find it bold, but not so bold that it might alienate some people. It’s a little pop art, a little Hershfeldian, but in an art school-kind-of-way. Get out and get this book if you haven’t already. Enjoy with a tumbler half full of cheap whiskey.
Geoff Johns (Aquaman, Green Lantern) is a fan favorite, and I trust that he has an Endgame that will be worthy of an arc entitled The Darkseid War, as he nonetheless keeps bringing us — yours truly included — back month after month. Former Detective Comics penciler Jason Fabok is as crisp and clean as always. I love, love, love his interpretations of Steppenwolf and Kalibak (who by the way, when I think of them, I still think of them from the Super Friends line-up).
As “batty” as it sounds, I’d argue that the best part of John’s run on this arc has been Batman taking over Metatron’s fabled Mobius Chair. Bruce has wielded the Green Lantern ring, but never before has he held this much information in his head, strangely enough–and who doesn’t love Fabok’s re-design of Batman in the chair. (Just saying, if DC feels the need to make a GOOD Batman figure, stop making the Jae Lee figures and go with Batman in the Mobius Chair. Geeks will FLOCK to it. There DC, I just made you some more money. You’re welcome).
Seeing Superman and Lex Luthor having to trust each other throws a nice little kink in their otherwise contentious relationship. We all know Lex is just biding his time until he goes full throttle back to the Dark Side, but seeing a Lex Luthor that actually protects Superman is a nice little touch. That and seeing Scot Free a.k.a. Mister Miracle in this arc is a welcome bonus. He’s always been the most human of the New Gods and hearing him mention Big Barda is always sweet (ok, he mentions “the woman he loves”, so wouldn’t that be Barda?)
As I’ve said before, Johns just knows how to bring certain characters to life. Oh, and Wonder Woman’s inner monologue comparing herself and the Justice league amidst the Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor fight to Odysseus and his travels through the Strait of Messina was an extremely nice touch considering the splash pages we were gifted. The ending page features a corrupted Superman..but I will spoil no more.
On a more personal note, Johns’ Justice League has a great throwback feel to it. Superman IS Superman, Bruce Wayne IS Batman. It’s got a great flow to it and it is a consistently solid book. While it isn’t a book that might go down in history along the likes of certain other titles, it is a very fun book to read and who knows, maybe in 20-years we’ll be putting this one up in the “Top 10 DC Comics Arcs of All Time”. 3.5/5 Bibles.
Welcome Back #1, written by Christopher Sebala, (Dead Letters, High Crimes) is surprisingly fun. It starts with a flashback to an ancient warrior killing a target and then himself. Then, we are brought to the present, where we meet our heroine, Mali. I’ll admit that at first, I was a bit bored by this whiny 26-year old woman — who seemed to have the emotional maturity of a 15-year old — but then things happen to set the real story in motion, and I was hooked. Welcome Back is a tale of reincarnation and never ending wars, with a secret yet to be discovered. A dark and murderous woman is looking for Mali, and a surprise guest at the end made me want issue #2 right now. The illustrations by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer (Critical Hit) were dark, gritty, and beautiful. They really helped pull me into the story and set the tone. I’m looking forward to seeing where Mali’s story takes her. 3.5/5 Kotters.
Just drop whatever book you’re reading right now, because Rai is undoubtedly better. Answering the questions “What if a 2000AD-styled book was digitally painted by that guy who did X-Force”; and “What if Spiderman 2099 and Batman Beyond were just…better?”. Valiant’s Rai is the cyberpunk future comic to end them all.
Set in the year 4001, the Earth is ravaged wasteland while the technological utopia of New Japan floats above it. The latest Rai, protector of New Japan, finds himself at odds as to whether he should protect New Japan, or protect the people from New Japan, and the machinations of the shady and all powerful “Father”.
The beginning of this new arc finds the rebels of New Japan on the run after the apparent death of Rai, and all seems hopelessly doomed. But unbeknownst to everyone, miles below New Japan and jettisoned to the toxic surface of the Earth, Rai survives – but how to make it back aboard the floating fortress above? Emblazoned with the reviled symbol of New Japan, any kind of help from the locals seems unlikely…
Guiding us through this fantastical world of near-magical technology and high-tension espionage is Matt Kindt (Pistolwhip, Revolver), inimitably complimented by the wild visuals of superstar Clayton Crain (X-Force); these two present a comic book experience unlike any other on the stands at present. From the “Fungal Farms” to the kids cartoons coded with messages for the rebellion, Valiant’s penchant for crazily imaginative comic-book greatness is readily on display here. 4.5/5 “Cast down, but not defeated” Corinthians.
Cupid is in full effect, and love potion # 9 is all over everywhere in yet another “secret” Secret Wars. But being the old school comic book fan I am, the Bishop couldn’t help but question its seriousness–seeing how some of the vignettes play like a mesh of bad Archie meets Hunger Games.
Even the usually in-shape “Casanova” Matt Murdock has to deal with a Typhoid Marry that comes off as an insane succubus creation, fresh off the pages of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. While we’re at it, she also reminded me of a buffer, butch version of X-Force’s Domino-meets-a-reject-from-Jen-and-the-Holograms. In layman’s terms, “she” was just an ultra-scary and vicious lady trying to pray on the psyche of Matt’s love for another woman. Karen, having none of it in solid Netflix fashion, decides to follow Daredevil during his nightly overview of the city to give her boyboy a free guillotine-lending hand. Pure comedy.
As the tunnel of love continues to flow through the Marvel comic, two stories I’m completely unfamiliar with come to question. And I wish I had stayed unfamiliar. There’s some very Ben 10 meets a horrible Disney Special here, with some overly cartoony stylings, and even a Thor “romance novel” — with a rodent, mind you — you could pick off the cashier checkout line in the grocery store.
Perhaps the best story, finally, was the dynamic — yet rocky — relationship between The Immortal Iron Fist and Misty Knight. Because they bond through being superheroes, you know, saving people and the like, it actually helps their rocky home life–a breath of fresh air in the comic world; that isn’t even to mention the bridging of the gaps within its beautiful biracial relationship. Maybe we’re not as far apart as it seems… In all, especially for the fact Iron Fist can rock them braids on his girl, the Zom came away from Secret Wars: Secret Love with more smiles than head-shakes. 3.5/5 Mixed Marvel Hearts.