Archive for January, 2017

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Don’t look now, but M. Night Shyamalan has two (admittedly modest) hits in a row — so maybe the “career death” capped off by After Earth was the best thing that ever happened to the man Time magazine once referred to (waaaaaaaay prematurely) as “The Next Spielberg.”

Of course, that was in no way a label Shyamalan himself ever asked for, especially considering that his “gotcha twist”-heavy career seems to be at least circumstantially indicative of a guy who was trying to ensconce himself more as “The Next Hitchcock” than anything else, and the stylistic debt he owes — and has, perhaps, always owed — to The Master Of Suspense has never been on more clear and present display than it is in his latest, 2017’s Split.

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First, I suppose, the good : James McAvoy gives a performance — or perhaps that should be a series of performances — for the ages as troubled/troubling kidnapper Kevin Wendell, a man who suffered devastating abuse as a child that resulted in his developing an acute case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (or DID) that plagues him to this day. Enter Barry, Orwell, Jade, Patricia, Dennis, Crumb — and one more who will be making his way to the forefront before all is said and done. McAvoy flat-out kills it in all these various roles, and his mental, emotional, and in some cases even physical transformations are a thing to behold. You’ve never seen an actor do what he does here, and chances are you’ll never see it again. This film is worth the price of admission just to watch McAvoy do what he does here.

In a way, you even end up feeling sorry for his co-stars : Betty Buckley, who in another more sane and just world should have had a Meryl Streep-like career, is particularly superb as Kevin’s sympathetic-but-conflicted therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, and Anya Taylor-Joy delivers a quietly devastating tour-de-force of her own as “final girl” kidnap victim Casey Cooke, who coincidentally also harbors some tragic and deeply-held secrets that have made her into something — other than what she may have otherwise been. For their part, Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson also do the very best they possibly can with limited screen time as fellow victims Marcia and Claire, respectively, both of whom are dispensed with in plot terms rather quickly in order to narrow the film’s almost claustrophobically-tight character focus. So, yeah, there’s some great acting on display here from many, but make no mistake — this is McAvoy’s show all the way.

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Ten million bucks is small change for Shyamalan compared to previous efforts, of course, but following on the heels of the equally-budget-conscious The Visit, it’s becoming clear that more modest productions are better suited to the auteur‘s vision and talents. Locations here are few in number but very effectively utilized, and what visual effects are on offer don’t make their presence known until the final act, and really deliver a deliciously savage gut-punch that, granted, requires an even heavier level of suspension of disbelief than most films if you really want to feel it, but chances are that between McAvoy’s performance(s) and Shyamalan’s scripting and direction, you’ll be more than ready to buy in.

As far as Shyamalan’s ever-present twists and turns go, there are some real doozys here, but the last and biggest of the bunch seems to be generating the most controversy — I’ll refrain from revealing too much for fear of being ostracized by the ever-present “spoiler police,” suffice to say that I can see why detractors claim that this Marvel- style mid-credits “zinger” that effectively ties the present film in with a previous entry in the director’s ouevre is being derided as being of the cheap n’ easy variety, but that the hell; for my money,  it was an admittedly no-risk bet that paid off, however modestly. It doesn’t add anything vital to the proceedings, to be sure, but it doesn’t detract, either, and for long-term Shyamalan fans it’s probably offers a nice little thrill. I guess that I could take it or leave it either way, personally, but in a pinch, I’ll take it.

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What I can’t take, though, is Split‘s rather disturbing, quasi-fascistic, and poorly-thought-through thesis that Shyamalan drops on us in the form of a “philosophy bomb” that stains an otherwise quite-effective thriller — pain and suffering, you see, aren’t just good, solid “character builders” in his view, but may even show the way forward for human evolution. You read that right : the terrible and debilitating abuse suffered by Kevin and, as it turns out, Casey, isn’t a bad thing — it’s turned them into veritable fucking superhumans. Obviously, this idea can be extrapolated to chilling extremes without much effort : beat your kids, and they’ll grow up to be Superman? Please.

So, yeah — Split was cruising along rather nicely until that horseshit “idea” reared its decidedly ugly head. The end result? A truly “split” decision — this flick is equal parts remarkable and morally and intellectually indefensible.

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Near as I can tell, 2017 looks like it’s gonna be a pretty rough year — what with an insane, mouth-foaming lunatic in the White House and everything — but on the plus side, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest genius to ever grace the comic book medium with the fruits of his imagination, the one and only Jack Kirby. From all appearances, Marvel appears to be doing fuck-all to honor the man who created 90-plus% of the characters they’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire off, but at least DC seems to be willing, perhaps even downright eager, to give “The King” his due, so kudos to them for that. First item up in the year-long celebration? Kamandi Challenge, a 12-part “round-robin”-style series that revives the old DC Challenge conceit of having a different creative team solve the “pickle” left for them by the previous one.

Truth be told, though, the rules of the DC Challenge were considerably more difficult — back then, writers and artists would lay down subplots and cliffhangers that the next folks had to solve using entirely different characters, while this time out, it’s strictly a cliffhanger-only affair and, of course, The Last Boy On Earth is the star of each and every issue. So, I mean, yeah — as far as “challenges” go, this one’s pretty easy. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be a hell of a lot of fun.

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DC co-head honcho Dan DiDio and veteran artist Keith Giffen get the ball rolling in this extra-sized first issue with a “prelude”-type story that sets the ground rules and provides a reasonably decent introduction of sorts to the characters, but before you all head for the hills, let’s remember that, for all his numerous and obvious flaws, DiDio is a massive Kirby fan and he and Giffen teamed up for an OMAC series in the early days of the “New 52” that was one of the best offerings that now-concluded (I guess?) revamp had to offer. DiDio also has at least a decent surface-level grasp of Kirby’s writing style and can turn in a respectable approximation of his absolutely unique dialogue, and Giffen, for his part, knows how to impart his illustrations with a certain amount of Kirby-esque dynamism and flair without being slavishly beholden to the idea of aping his style outright. All in all, then, the two of ’em do a more than adequate job of laying out the particulars here and then getting out of the way and letting post-catastrophe Earth take center stage.

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Enter scribe Dan Abnett, artist Dale Eaglesham, and colorist Hi-Fi, who bring us a brightly-hued, dare-I-say-magnificently flowing action spectacle that pits all the characters fans of the series love — Kamandi, Prince Tuftan, Doctor Canus, King Caesar, etc. — against all that the future world of intelligent animals and danger lurking around every corner has to offer, beginning with a fight to the finish against the giant ape, Tiny, and racing at breakneck pace from there to a less-than-imaginative, but staggeringly appropriate in its simplicity, “countdown clock” cliffhanger. Abnett’s dialogue is more than a  bit overly-expository by contemporary standards, but that’s all part of the fun as far as I’m concerned, and “fun” is definitely the operative word of the day here — a point driven home nearly relentlessly by Eaglesham’s gorgeously fluid art, which Abnett wisely allows to do the bulk of the storytelling. Does it “look like Kirby”? Hell no, but it fits Kirby’s world nicely, and besides, if straight-up homage is your bag, there’s always Bruce Timm’s splendid cover to make you (probably more than) happy. In short, I think that if “The King” himself took a look at this book, he’d be downright pleased to see what these guys have done with his characters and concepts.

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What if you’re a “Kamandi Virgin,” though? Hmmm — good question. I’ll be perfectly honest — longtime fans are probably bound to get much more enjoyment from this comic than newbies, but my best guess is that anyone and everyone, regardless of “experience level,” will find more than enough here to make the five bucks they plunked down for it seem like a fair trade. If “high adventure in a world gone mad” is a premise still capable of entertaining you, then Kamandi Challenge #1 is more or less stone-cold certain to be up your alley. It’s got highly likable characters in far-out and far-flung situations, cool monsters, and amazingly illustrated action, so I don’t care who you are — this is a comic that damn near forces a smile onto your face, and then dares you not to keep it there. Whether it can continue doing so is up to the creators that will be stepping up to the plate to handle future installments, but given that Peter J. Tomasi and Neal Adams are up next, something tells me it’s safe to assume that we’ll be in very good hands indeed.

So — how much did I love Kamandi Challenge #1? I’ll put it to you this way : Jack Kirby’s original Kamandi is quite possibly my favorite series of all time, and while this has absolutely no hope of supplanting of superseding that, it feels like a very worthy successor. Strap in for the duration, then — this promises to be an exhilarating ride.

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Oh, yeah — it’s party time!

Charles Soule and Ryan Browne’s new Image Comics (ongoing, I presume) series Curse Words has looked like all kinds of batshit-crazy fun since it was first solicited some months ago, and now that the extra-sized first issue is here, I’m pleased to say the preview pages that have been non-Wiki leaking out didn’t lie : this is a high-energy, full-throttle, goofy-ass, balls-out book that doesn’t care half as much about making sense as it does about just giving its readers a good, old-fashioned good time.

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Not that Soule’s script doesn’t make sense, mind you — in fact, it’re pretty simple, straightforward stuff :an other-dimensional evil wizard named, get this, Wizord finds himself thrust into our world (New York, to be specific), and rather than destroy the place as was his original intent, he decides to hang around, make some money, and live the good life first. But in order to do that, he’s gotta establish himself as a “good guy” before he can pimp out his services as a magician-for-hire. And so, with “funny Koala” sidekick Margaret in tow, it’s time to become the first genuine wizard of the celebrity age.

It all works like a charm until it doesn’t, and if the premise here sounds more than a bit similar to that of Image stablemate Birthright, rest assured that those “happy coincidences” continue right through to the cliffhanger, which sees another practitioner of the so-called “dark arts” rip the sky open and come after Wizord in order to force him to stick to the plan for global destruction — or die. Whichever comes first. But whereas Birthright adds family drama and personal redemption into the sword-n’-sorcery mix, Curse Words spices things up with with subtexts perhaps more appropriate to the Trump age, chiefly : personal greed, lust for power, and moral and ethical decadence. All delivered with the most knowing wink and nod you can possibly imagine, naturally.

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Browne, fresh off blowing minds with God Hates Astronauts, is all about the dynamism with his visuals here, as well, and if there’s an artist better-suited to the sort of “leave it all on the page” craziness the subject matter here lends itself (with considerable interest) to, I’d be hard-pressed to name them. Inventive panel layouts add a further eye-glueing aspect to the proceedings, as do the vibrant, explosive colors supplied by Browne, Jordan Boyd, and Michael Parkinson (don’t feel too bad — this book has three letterers, as well, Browne himself also being one of them), so all in all you’ve gotta say these are pages that almost dare you not to examine them for several minutes at a time. So why not do yourself a favor and do just that?

 

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If you need a legit “good guy” to root for in order to enjoy a story, then fair enough — Curse Words doesn’t really have one on offer and you might be better off dropping your $3.99 elsewhere. But if watching reprobate magicians hurling lightning bolts from enchanted spears at each other in the middle of Yankee Stadium sounds like a good time to you — and trust me when I say that it is — then congratulations! You’ve just found the comic you probably didn’t even know that you were waiting for.

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The pursuit of wealth, celebrity, fame, and recognition is the subject of many a cautionary tale and morality play, it’s true, but I’m not sure this tried-and-true trope has ever been presented in as dizzyingly surreal a manner as it is in writer/director Kyle Broom’s 2016 indie arthouse/horror effort Tabloid Vivant. Like a White Castle hamburger, this is a film you’ll either love or hate, with no middle ground to stand on — but one way or another, it will stick in your mind long after the end credits roll.

Like many a would-be art world superstar, Maximilien Klinkau (played by Jesse Woodrow) is desperate for cash and acclaim, and pursues it with a single-minded obsession that borders — or maybe even more than that — on the psychotic. Max’s overzealous drive is magnetically alluring to wannabe-famous-herself art critic Sara Speed (Tamzin Brown), and together the two hit on an idea that they feel is sure to propel both of them into the ranks of instant legends : they’re going to hole up in an isolated cabin and create the first piece of living and breathing art — even if it costs one or both of them their sanity and/or existence. It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure — and also, plainly, a crazy one. But hey, every great idea sounded nuts at one point, right?

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What follows is a lengthy and absorbing process of transference that sees Sara’s very life essence being drained as their “project” comes closer and closer to achieving genuine sentience, and Broom’s directorial style shifts into ever-more unhinged and post-psychedelic territory in conjunction with the shifting “playing field” his protagonists find themselves upon. It’s a heady experience, to be sure — and one that will undoubtedly leave a lot of viewers in the dust — but the powerful performances from the two leads, particularly Brown who is asked to well and truly hollow herself out before our eyes,  should be enough to keep the average couch potato reasonably enthralled with events even at their most potentially alienating points, and there’s also a very real sense that Broom isn’t aiming to be overtly pretentious and sometimes isn’t even taking himself too terribly seriously (see the well-timed “safety valve” comic relief provided by supporting character Rob, as portrayed by Chris Carlisle). That being said, if you want a straight “A to Z” viewing experience, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.

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Transformational journeys are always “iffy” ground that demand a deft touch, and when you’re going this “all-in” on the concept you’d better have a firm handle on your strengths and weaknesses as a director, and while Broom has some room to grow, it’s true, he’s confident enough to “fake it until he makes it” here — and when you’re dealing with an insular cast operating in an equally insular location, that can be enough. The gaps in our writer/director’s abilities would certainly stand out more glaringly on a bigger-budget production with a grander scope, but on a small-time indie project like this, he’s definitely punching well within his own weight class. He displays a high degree of ambition — particularly when it comes to his film’s often-staggering visuals — but it’s not an ambition that’s untethered to reality. He marries what he can do with what he’d like to do rather than having the two of them compete with each other, and the end result is a movie that has a strong sense of purpose and identity even when it’s moving into some pretty bizarre territory.

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If you’re getting the impression that I was seriously impressed with Tabloid Vivant, you’re absolutely correct. Being timely, topical, philosophical, and thoughtful doesn’t mean you can’t still be seriously creepy and unsettling at the same time. This film’s open embrace of the “arthouse” ethos may be off-putting a lot of hard-core horror fans, but those who are willing to keep an open mind and go where Broom is taking them will largely, I think, find themselves damn glad they put their preconceptions aside and expanded  their horizons a bit. The road here can be rocky at times, but shit — most trips worth taking ask a bit from the tourist, don’t they?

If you’ve got Amazon Prime, this wickedly harrowing flick is available for streaming at the princely sum of absolutely nothing. I promise it’ll be some of the best money you never spent.

Review : “God Country” #1

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

I contribute “mini-reviews” to Graphic Policy weekly, but it’s been a little while since I did a full-lengther for them. Now that it’s 2017, I hope to do a better job of contributing more often.

Graphic Policy

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Some books, you just know they’re gonna be all kinds of bad-ass before they even hit the shelves.

Such was the case with God Country#1, the first of several highly-touted new releases from Image Comics to make its debut in 2017. The brainchild of writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw, preview pages for this title looked absolutely spectacular, although it was hard to tell if Shaw or colorist Jason Wordie was the real star of the show, visually speaking. And ya know what? Now that the comic itself is here, I’m still not sure who’s earned that distinction.

Let’s just call it a draw, then, and say that Wordie’s “digital-watercolor” palette and Shaw’s dynamic, high-energy pencils and inks complement each other really well and make for one hell of a good-looking book. Bleak Texas landscapes have never seemed so weirdly breathtaking, but when “shit gets cosmic,” well…

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I have a feeling that Donald Trump supporters — at least those still capable of being honest with themselves — harbor at least one of the same worries that those of us who oppose him do, namely : that one day his big, fat, stupid, disgusting mouth with write a check that his big, fat, stupid, disgusting ass can’t can’t cash.

Okay, yeah, they might quibble with the colorful (but, I would submit, accurate) adjectives I just used in describing the various anatomical “attributes” of their chosen God Emperor, but still, come on — everybody knows this guy is liable to say something irrevocably stupid at any given time. And while he’s had nothing but praise for the likes of Putin, Assad, Dutarte, and other cheap, pathetic despots, the fact that he’s singled out Congressman John Lewis — a genuine icon of the Civil Rights era and inarguably one of the greatest living Americans — for criticism merely for saying what a good half or more of the country feels about this petulant, inarticulate, brain-dead man-child’s beyond-shady rise to power should give all people of conscience, regardless of their political affiliation, at least some pause. Hell, if anything, Lewis hedged his statements and didn’t go as far as many would. He didn’t, for instance, call Trump a Russian stooge, or a potential spy, even though he looks to be either one, the other, or both. He didn’t call him a racist, even though he clearly is. He didn’t call him a dangerously incompetent buffoon, even though he’s obviously that, as well. All he said was he didn’t consider Trump’s election “victory” to  be legitimate — and considering that the final certified national vote total showed the guy getting over 2.8 million votes less than his opponent, is that such a far-fetched claim?

It was too much for Mr. Big, Orange, and Stupid to handle, though, and so he went on yet another of his juvenile Twitter tirades, saying that Lewis was “all talk and no action,” that his Georgia congressional district was a “disaster,” and that instead of criticizing him, Lewis should “help” him with his still-mythical “urban renewal” projects that will no doubt line the pockets of both himself and his real estate-developer buddies. Imagine the nerve, if you will : while Lewis was being beaten half to death for marching for the equal rights our Constitution already supposedly guaranteed him, Trump was kicking black people out of his rental properties and getting the first tinkling — sorry, inkling — that he got off on watching girls pee, yet he’s got the gall to claim that Lewis is “all talk, no action.” Fuck that — and while we’re at it, Trump, fuck you, too.

And ya know what? That’s not “all talk” on my part, because I think it’s high time that people took some action, too. Fortunately for us all, there’s a simple and stress-free way for people to register their disgust with Trump’s attacks on a towering and heroic figure of American history — all you’ve gotta do is head down to your nearest book or comic store and buy March, the superb three-volume autobiographical graphic novel series from Top Shelf Productions/IDW Publishing chronicling Lewis’ life and struggles that he produced in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin  and artist Nate Powell. These books are available individually in both hardback and softcover, or in a handsome slipcase set that collects all three. An over-sized deluxe hardcover of volume one was released last year, and similar editions of volumes two and three will be out later in 2017, but whatever format you choose know this : you’re in for a read that will move you in a very fundamental, perhaps even life-altering, way. And if we can get this thing to number one on the New York Times graphic novel list or the Diamond sales charts? Well, that might just send Trump a message. Not that I expect him to listen.

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To say that this is one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking endeavors in the history of the graphic story medium is probably to sell it too short, even if it’s true — it’s also a National Book Award winner, a previous #1 best-seller on both the NYT and WaPo lists, a staple in many high school and college classrooms, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Among other things. It’s also a living historical document. Volume one chronicles Lewis’ formative years in rural Alabama, his crucial early-life meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, the rise of the non-violent lunch-counter sit-ins that would become a staple of the era, and culminates in a stunning climax on the steps of Nashville City Hall that will leave you breathless. Volume two sees Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders venture into the deep south and raises the stakes as the “powers that be” committed to enforcing Jim Crow resort to violence, arson, imprisonment, and even murder to keep systemic racism the law of the land in the buckle of the so-called “Bible Belt.”Allies from Dr. King to then-attorney general Robert F. Kennedy emerge, as well, but will they be enough to help Lewis as he rises, at age 23, to head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and finds himself one of the “Big Six” leaders of the movement itself as they plan the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? As volume three chronicles, however, other events such as the Freedom Vote and Mississippi Freedom Summer helped to pave the way for the titular “March” that would change the world forever — and fundamentally alter the trajectory of both American society and Lewis’ own life. You may have heard about this one. It happened in a town called Selma.

Rest assured, March is no hagiography or wistful reminiscence of days gone by : divisions within the movement often come to the fore, points of disagreement are laid out in a “warts and all” manner, and not all the people and personalities involved come up smelling like roses. Talk about an invaluable “insider’s look” that almost no one else who is still alive can provide — and as you see how truly hard-fought all the gains Lewis and his compatriots and colleagues made were, you’ll walk away with an even deeper understanding of why any and all attempts to roll them back must be met with the utmost resistance. We owe Lewis and everyone who marched alongside him no less. The rights that people died for are literally under assault in the new Trump era, with racist attorney-general-to-be Jeff Sessions leading the roll-back efforts — is it any wonder, then, that Lewis would consider this pathetic, morally and intellectually bankrupt, fundamentally flawed and compromised president-elect to be less than “legitimate”? Is there one “legitimate” reason he should be expected to attend the disgusting spectacle of his inauguration?

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Powell’s expressive and deeply human art does a great job driving home the emotion in every panel of Lewis and Aydin’s magnificently authentic script, and the overall reading experience provided by March is by turns informative, moving, personal, enraging, and hopeful — often all on the same page. These books are the closest most of us will ever come to “being there,” and, as such, deserve to be celebrated as the triumph of autobiographical narrative that they are. Comics, as a medium, is lucky that one of the most important living historical figures chose this form to tell his life’s story, and now — more than ever — comics readers should show our thanks and support by picking these up. If you have ’em already, buy extra copies and give ’em to a friend. Buy ’em digitally so you can read ’em on the go. Do whatever — just stand with John Lewis while he’s still with us and while you still can. It’s never been easier to do the right thing, so — do it!

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Congressman Lewis deserves so much better from his later years than to see our first African-American president — a man who awarded him the Medal of Freedom, no less — replaced with the most openly racist son-of-a-bitch to hold the office in decades, if not a century. But you know what? He’s been through worse, and come out a stronger and more indomitable man for it, and I have a feeling the same will be true here. When the epic and transformative life of John Lewis comes to an end, flags will fly at half-mast and solemn, sincere, and heartfelt memorials will flood in from across the globe.  By contrast, when Trump finally does us all a favor and shuffles off this mortal coil, I’ll personally start a gofundme to hire a couple of Russian hookers to go and piss on his grave.

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If there’s one book among the “Marvel Now!” 2.0 titles that it seems folks were reasonably eager, if not downright enthusiastic, about checking out, it was The Unstoppable Wasp. Okay, yeah, Marvel’s obviously running out of goofy adjectives to shoe-horn into their series’ names, but the talent being assembled to bring the story of the “new”(-ish, at any rate) Nadia Pym iteration of the world’s smallest female super-hero to life was such a promising assemblage of up-and-comers from the indie scene that this one looked to be yet another “offbeat, girl-centric” comic that would easily, and probably immediately, appeal to fans of The Unbeatable Squirrel GirlMs. MarvelMoon Girl And Devil Dinosaur, and Spider-Gwen, among others. Heck, even me, “down-on-Marvel” curmudgeon that I am, has to admit that they’ve been doing a terrific job on light-hearted-but-smart “outreach” titles like this and, credit where it’s due, they seem reasonably patient when it comes to letting ’em take their sales “lumps” (for a time, at any rate) while they do their job of raising the company’s profile among so-called “non-traditional” (i.e. younger, female) demographic groups. In fact, they’re getting so good at making these kinds of books that they’ve almost got it down to a science. And therein, perhaps,  lies the problem.

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The Unstoppable Wasp #1 is a comic that definitely wants to be fun, but it seems terribly pre-fabricated and, for lack of a better term, “inorganic” at times. Scribe Jeremy Whitley, who’s built up a loyal fan base thanks to Princeless, is doing his best to make Nadia an almost infectiously nice character, but he spends so much time emphasizing her bubbly naivete that she comes off as being rather one-dimensional, and seems more like a starry-eyed “science groupie” rather than the actual brilliant scientist she’s supposed to be herself. Ditto for her interactions with other super-heroes — it’s great seeing her teamed up with Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird right out of the gate here, but the emphasis is squarely on how she reacts to them more than on how they react to her, and the end result is a comic where the title character almost seems like a guest star in her own book.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing Bobbi Morse’s scientific bona fides emphasized every bit as much as her spy credentials or her status as Hawkeye’s ex-wife, but those aspects of her character were already well-explored by Chelsea Cain in her recently-concluded Mockingbird series, and a “Cliff’s Notes”-style further reappraisal of her character is a not-strictly-necessary sidebar in the first issue of a new title that’s ostensibly about someone else entirely. It’s cute how all three super heroines in this story get along, but at the end of the day — at least so far — that’s all it is. Cute. And by the time Nadia decides to use her newfound-mentor’s inspiration to found a new organization called — I kid you not — G.I.R.L. (an unbelievably forced acronym for, if you can believe it, Genius In action Research Labs), we may have crossed the line from “cute” to “cloying.”

Not that I necessarily feel like Whitley’s heart is in the wrong place, mind you. I think it’s terrific seeing new female characters coming to the fore and I love that they feed off each others’ energy and enthusiasm and inspire and encourage one another. Nadia’s immigration headaches are also timely and topical in our current disgustingly anti-immigrant political climate. So there are some positives here. But they demand a more intelligent and thoughtful exploration than the “Oh my gosh, you’re so great!” and “Oh my gosh, you’re so great, too!” treatment that they’re given in these pages. It’s early days yet, to be sure, but given how colossally “Marvel Now!” circa 2016-17 is tanking, Whitley had better hop to it quick if he wants to examine these issues in detail, because this comic is gonna be on a shorter sales leash than Kamala or Moon Girl were given when they were fresh outta the crib. And that’s really too bad.

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Wait, though! Didn’t I just spend a couple of paragraphs saying less-than-charitable things about this comic? Well, not exactly — I spent a couple of paragraphs saying less-than-charitable things about this comic’s script. When it comes to the art, though, I have nothing but superlatives to offer. Elsa Charretier has been threatening to “break out big” for awhile now, and finally given her chance in a monthly ongoing, she’s riding the opportunity for all it’s worth. Stylistically you can see a bit of Darwyn Cooke, Steve Rude, and even Bruce Timm in her work, but her hyper-inventive panel layouts, dynamic motion, vibrant action poses, and organic sense of flow are frankly unique unto her, and combined with the bold and daring color choices made by Megan Wilson, it’s gotta be said that this book looks like a million-and-one bucks and that it more than easily charges full-steam into the “worth buying it just for the art” category. Yes, I wish the writing was better — and I’m holding out hope that as things progress it will be — but ya know what? I still absolutely loved every page, and even every panel, of The Unstoppable Wasp #1 and added it to my pull immediately. As should you.

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Still, in a comics marketplace suddenly — and happily, I might add — awash with new female takes on so-called “legacy” characters (see the Kate Bishop Haweye series and the Riri Williams Invincible Iron Man book), my fear is that a third-tier character essentially competing for the same dollars from the same segment of the fan base is going to get overshadowed by her higher-profile counterparts. Riri’s gonna be wearing the Iron Man armor as long as Bendis wants her to, and Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero are giving us the best Hawkeye since Fraction and Aja — so while The Unstoppable Wasp has immediately established itself as one of the best-drawn books out there, I’m just not sure how it doesn’t find itself lost in the shuffle of other, more-profitable “strong female lead” comics. Time will tell — and I’d be absolutely ecstatic to be proven wrong about this — but my best guess is that we’d all better enjoy Charretier’s take on The Wasp while we can.

And then, of course, we’d all better follow her over to whatever title she’s given next!