Posts Tagged ‘David F. Walker’

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

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Let’s be brutally honest — Marvel hasn’t really known what to do with the character of Hawkeye since Matt Fraction and David Aja left the building. Their so-called “Hawkguy” run had it share of critics, to be sure, but by and large readers — myself included — loved the idea of Clint Barton as a street-level “man of the people” hero, and his next series couldn’t duplicate the prior one’s success, eventually succumbing to the twin pressures of both creative/editorial aimlessness and low sales. Another new monthly Hawkeye book is in the works — no shock there — but this one will feature Kate Bishop in the title role, with our guy Clint now at loose ends (and in less than a “good space” mentally) following his murder of Bruce Banner (yes, you read that right) in the pages of Civil War II. Enter writer David F. Walker, penciler Carlos Pacheco, inker Rafael Fonteriz and Occupy Avengers.

We all know that when times get tough, the tough hit the highway (uhhmmm — don’t they?), and Hawkeye is looking to get his head together with a cross-country road trip on his motorcycle. Route 66 is still the place to go for this uniquely American brand of don’t-call-it-soul-searching-even-though-that’s-what-it-is, naturally, but it doesn’t take long for Clint to find trouble — or perhaps for trouble to find him — as a quick stop-off in New Mexico leads to an investigation of water contamination at a local Indian reservation, and who better to lend a hand combating this sort of chicanery than Red Wolf?

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Walker has promised that this series will be a “socially-conscious take on superheroes” — a notion more than reinforced by Agustin Alessio’s much-discussed, and quite striking, main cover — and I’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’s the man for the job given his track record on series like Power Man And Iron Fist, the just-completed Nighthawk, and Dynamite’s Shaft. Of course, Marvel made similar noises about Red Wolf’s recently-cancelled solo title, but with that one they made one of the most poorly-advised (to put it mildly) hires in comics history when they stuck a guy with a noxious history of politically divisive social media posts and sexual harassment of female fans at conventions on it as writer. The result was a book that couldn’t gin up much support and met an unsurprisingly quick end, but hey — it left the character at loose ends just in time for this “damn, that’s a natural” team-up. Sure, at its core this is basically Marvel’s 21st-century answer to Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ legendary “Hard-Traveling Heroes” storyline in the pages of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but given that we’re still talking about that historic run some four-plus decades later, it’s only natural that someone would go back to that well at some point. In fact, you’ve honestly gotta wonder what took so long.

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For my part, I found this first installment to be a pretty solid table-setter that lays out the basics quickly and efficiently and doesn’t waste a lot of time before sticking you right in the middle of the action — and I admit that I’m always a sucker for little-guy-vs.-the-big-bad-greedy-corporate-monsters stories. I can’t imagine this introductory arc lasting beyond three, maybe four issues, but they should be pretty darn good issues based on what we see here, and I’ll be very curious indeed to see what happens when this duo takes their “justice for the people” act on the road — the one question I have here, though, is who, exactly, is going to fit into the Hal Jordan role, if either of them.  One of the reasons “Hard-Traveling Heroes” was such a success is that you had the juxtaposition of Ollie Queen’s “with-it,” socially-conscious character with Hal’s “square” persona, but both Hawkeye and Red Wolf are pretty cool cats who know the score, so essentially we’ve got a pair of Ollies here. I’m not sure how that sort of “two peas in the same pod” chemistry is going to work, but what the heck — I’m game to find out, given that Walker seems to have a more than solid grasp on what makes both of his chief protagonists tick.

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As far as the art goes, Pacheco and Fonteriz do especially well with the action sequences, and have a good eye for panel layouts and composition, and every character has a unique and individualistic look, even if they’re all cut from rather standard “good guy” and “bad guy” molds. I admit there’s nothing particularly visually spectacular happening here, but it all looks and feels reasonably believable and there are no obvious or glaring flaws as far as “Drawing 101” fundamentals go. The pages are easy to look at and motion is fluid and reasonably dynamic, and that’s primarily what you’re looking for in a high-octane series that doesn’t pause to catch its breath too terribly often like this.

I’m somewhat concerned that this series isn’t getting much of a promotional push and that it might get a bit lost in the midst of the whole “Marvel Now!” circus — especially given that the first issue shipped the same week that Mark Waid and Mike Del Mundo’s much-ballyhooed (and frankly pretty fucking lousy) new Avengers title, one of the definite cornerstones of the entire re-launch, made its debut — but at least Marvel does seem to be willing to make a little more space for “offbeat” books such as this, which is more than you can say for DC’s whole “Rebirth” thing, which is entirely concentrated on proven big sellers. So I guess it’s all up to us readers. This is an interesting concept, executed well, and deserves our support, so why not give her a shot? Like Clint Barton himself, David Walker is a guy who rarely misses the mark, and Occupy Avengers seems like a natural fit for both its characters and creators. Our heroes may be following a road previously (hard) traveled, but I’m still plenty eager to see where it leads.

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As we’ve already established around these parts in earlier reviews for his Shaft and Shaft : Imitation Of Life series, David F. Walker is the man. I don’t think it’s an act, either — this guy just plain knows the streets. He understands the vibe, tempo, rhythm, and flavor of an urban setting in a way that no one else working in comics right now does, and so when I heard that Marvel had chosen him (minus usually-present the “F” in his name, for some strange reason) to spearhead their umpteenth relaunch of Power Man And Iron Fist, I knew they had hired the right guy for the one-time Heroes For Hire. Now all I have to do is sit back and say “I told you so” for a few paragraphs.

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Simple, straight-forward, and to the point — that’s Walker’s M.O. across the board, and here he uses it to great effect : Luke Cage and Danny Rand are back together — for a day, not permanently (yet) — to greet their former secretary, Jennie Royce, as she gets out of prison. Neither of them visited her much while she was locked up, it’s got to be said, but then Luke was busy getting married to Jessica Jones and starting a family while Danny was off galavanting around the globe, as detailed in his recently -concluded, Steranko-esque solo series. Jennie doesn’t seem to hold much of a grudge, though, and is glad to see her former bosses — especially since she could use their help getting back a piece of jewelry with heavy sentimental value attached to it. Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right? The only problem — the necklace in question is now the property of bad-ass underworld boss Tombstone. And he doesn’t tend to let his possessions go easily, especially since he’s got more than enough hired muscle to ensure that he can keep whatever the hell he wants wherever the hell he wants it.

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If you’re thinking some bad-ass fight scenes are in store, you’re right on the money, but there’s more to Power Man And Iron Fist #1 than just  good, old-fashioned brawling (not that we have a problem with that). Walker’s got such a firm handle on the characters right from the outset that you could be forgiven for thinking he’s been writing them for years, and the issue has an underlying comic tone that serves it well and puts one in mind of the dearly-missed Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. There’s a lot of seriously cool shit happening in this book, sure, but it never takes itself too seriously, and in today’s ultra-grim, ultra-dark comic book landscape that’s a very welcome thing indeed. Walker hits the exact right tone in every line of dialogue in every panel on every page, and watching a master at work like this is more than just fun, it’s an absolute joy.

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Please don’t get the impression that this is anything like a one-man show, though : artist Sanford Greene brings a fresh, dynamic approach to the look of this series that’s about as far removed from the visual trappings of a traditional super-hero book as one could ever hope to find in a “Big Two” comic, and when you combine his rough-hewn, energetic pencils and inks with the superbly-chosen color palette of “steady hand” veteran Lee Loughridge, the result is pure magic. This is a comic that looks every bit as contemporary and “real” as it reads, and all I can say is that I hope this team remains together for a good, long, prosperous run because as much as I didn’t want this issue to end, multiply that by about a thousand and you’ll know how much I  really don’t want this series too, either.

So let’s all do our part to make sure it’s with us for the long haul, shall we? The popularity of the Netflix Jessica Jones television series should go some way toward steering the curious towards this title, but it’s a glutted marketplace right now and “niche” books like this sometimes have a hard time standing out from all the “Bat-books” and “X-books” stuffing the shelves. Marvel deserves some credit for reserving at least a corner of their corporate universe for comics with an “indie vibe” like this one, but whether we’re talking about the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye or the already-mentioned Superior Foes, their patience for the “offbeat” never seems to last all that long. One thing can change their minds in a hurry, though, and that’s sales — so buy this book, get your shop owner to add it to your pull list, and then tell your friends about it.

Now, the cynical and/or realistic among you are probably of the opinion that it’s a bad sign that I’m worried about the long-term “health” of this title after only one issue, I suppose, but I offer the rejoinder that a book must be pretty damn good indeed for me to have a heightened level of concern about its prospects this quickly. So consider this an opportunity to make both you and me happy at the same time — get on board with Power Man And Iron Fist right now and enjoy what promises to be one heck of a fun ride.

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Comic fans, you know the feeling — once in awhile you’re lucky enough go into your local shop on a Wednesday, spy a new title on the racks, and say to yourself “oh, hell yes.” Today I got to do that. And I got to say the same exact thing after I’d read the book. So I’m feeling pretty goddamn happy right about now.

The four-color “floppy” in question is issue number one of Shaft : Imitation Of Life, the debut installment of Dynamite Comics’ long-awaited four-part sequel to last year’s superb mini-series starring the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks by writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, and while Evely’s off doing DC Comics Bombshells and other projects these days, Walker is back for round two and that’s the key thing because this guy gets the character of John Shaft every bit as much as Gordon Parks, Richard Roundtree, and even his creator, Ernest Tidyman, ever did. In fact, it’s fair to say that the Shaft we were presented with in Walker’s first story (as well as in his superb Shaft’s Revenge novella, originally available only digitally but now also out in paperback from Dynamite) was probably the most humanized take on this bad mutha — shut your mouth! — that we’ve ever seen in any medium, and the fact that he was able to add a level of depth and complexity to an already, as Isaac Hayes said, “complicated man” without compromising his essential bad-assness in any way, shape, or form, speaks volumes about his skills as an author. If you want to know why people have been so jazzed up about this guy being chosen to head up Marvel’s Power Man And Iron Fist relaunch (which hits next week!), well — the work he did on Shaft is the reason. And now he’s back for more.

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Shaft : Imitation Of Life starts off right in the thick of some nasty shit, with John putting the wraps on a high-profile, high-body count case that eats away at his soul every bit as much as his Vietnam experiences (as detailed in the first series) did, and he consequently decides that some much-needed R&R is in order. Still, a few months sitting on the sidelines is all it takes for a man of action to get restless, and when he gets “back in the game” he decides to take on a missing persons case that no one else will touch due to the homophobia rampant at the time. Now, you might think that seeing John put himself in harm’s way protecting a, in his words, “fairy” in an alley fight might seem out of character,  but let’s never forget that this is a man who will “risk his neck for his brother man.” Heck, by the end of this first issue, Shaft’s even got himself a gay Latino sidekick — but still hasn’t compromised his macho “street cred” one bit.

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As far as the art goes, while I do think Evely was a perfect choice last time around, new penciller/inker Dietrich Smith definitely delivers the goods, as well, and has something of a more refined line to his style that gives things a slightly more “polished” feel without being too smooth. A good Shaft story should always be at least a little bit rough around the edges and I’m pleased to say the visual feel for this book gets that delicate balance more or less exactly right. The stylistic homage to Jacen Burrows’ “fixed camera” four-panel horizontal grids in Providence that Smith showcases in the early going of this issue really made me smile, as well —  and do I even need to tell you how way-beyond-fucking-perfect Matthew Clark’s cover is? Nope, you’ve already seen it at the top of this review.

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Still, let’s not kid ourselves — the comic-book version of John Shaft is now Walker’s baby, and frankly I can’t conceive of anyone else even wanting to take the reins if and when he decides he’s had enough. His stock-in-trade with the character is to put him in new and/or unfamiliar situations and use them to show sides of his personality that we’ve both never seen before and instinctively know to be “true,” and while it may seem like sacrilege to some to make the comparison, I think he’s proving himself to be  the closest thing the comics world has ever seen,  and maybe even will ever see, to the legendary Iceberg Slim.

Yeah, he really is that good. And so is this comic. So get your punk ass up out the house and go pick up Shaft : Imitation Of Life #1 right the fuck now, sucka.