Zeus Rules!

Jupiter’s Legacy Book One by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty. Image, 2015. 9781632153104. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Jupiter’s Legacy Book Two by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Peter Doherty, Suny Gho. Image, 2017 9781632158895. Contains Jupiter’s Legacy 2 #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

I read a lot more superhero comics than I’m comfortable admitting to most people. Most of them just aren’t worth talking about. Even if you like Marvel movies or made it all the way through Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy, you probably shouldn’t try most of them. They’re for fans who know about each publisher’s annual universal crossover events and can talk about the histories of characters and teams and whatnot. They are, I will admit, more than a little ridiculous. But some of them, like Jupiter’s Legacy, are so good they deserve a wider audience.

After the Depression, a group of young Americans were gifted with superpowers, and they used them to usher in a Golden Age. Sure, the most powerful among them, the Utopian, was a bit of a controlling do-gooder, but things were great. And then the heroes had kids, and those kids weren’t so great. The most powerful of the second generation were narcissistic drunks and drug addicts more worried about their PR and endorsement contracts than anything else. And the Utopian’s brother was tired of being told he couldn’t change the world. So one day he and most of the rest of the heroes, with the help of the Utopian’s damaged son, took out the Utopian and his super powerful wife (in a few very brutal scenes) and started to change the world. The Utopian’s daughter went into hiding with her drug dealing, son-of-a-super-villain boyfriend to have their child in secret. The world turned into a police state. Anyone with powers was hunted.

Raising a super-powered son in secret is tough, especially when he’s a genius. And it’s harder when he secretly starts helping people. He wants to take down his uncle, but he can’t quite talk his parents into it. Hhen his heroing attracts the attention of the authorities, and his parents have no choice but to try to save the world with him.

There’s so much to love here, from the pacing of the story to the dialogue to the art and the colors. It’s all flawless and moves at just the right pace. If you’ve read a lot of superhero books, you’ll recognize the tropes the story plays with. If you haven’t, you’ll be introduced to them in the best way and you’ll love it. There’s a prequel series and more to come in this story, but these two books are complete in and of themselves. They’re worth reading, if only to round out what you can call on when you’re doing reader’s advisory. (Millar recently sold his company to Netflix, so I’m hoping there’s a great adaptation of these books in the works. Millar wrote the graphic novels the movies Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Wanted, and Kick Ass are based on, so you’ll be ahead of the curve on any new movies.)

Bonus: Frank Quitely is one of the best artists working in comics today. You can see him create a single page from Book One in this episode of the BBC’s What Do Artists Do All Day.

Just call her the Hulk already

She-Hulk Volume 1: Deconstructed by Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon, and Dalibor Talajic. Marvel, 2017. 9781302905675. Contains Hulk #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: T+.

Here’s what I think happened, because I don’t follow the big Marvel or DC Comics events anymore either. The Hulk (big green or grey male monster) was killed by Hawkeye while She-Hulk ended up in a coma. Cue reset of the Marvel universe (I’m guessing) and a great jumping on point for this character, at least.

The weird thing? This book is about lawyer Jen Walters trying to get back into the swing of her day job and dealing with losing her cousin Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s alter ego). (Her super identity is not much of a secret. When she lawyers up, she mostly deals with minor league powered folk and their problems.) Most of the book is about Walters trying to contain her Hulk as she deals with a client’s eviction. The plot heats up after the client’s landlord is killed and weird stuff happens. And of course Walters has to Hulk out before the end of the book and save the day because, well, superhero comics. But there’s so much to love here, from the writing to the art to the coloring.

My favorite moment is the nearly wordless two-page spread of her law firm’s waiting room, filled with “super” folk. It looks like one has the power of a radish. We don’t find out about them in this book, but I’m hoping they appear in Volume 2.

Missing: 1 Steel-Driving Man

Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781616557867. Collects Black Hammer #1 – #6. 152pp.

Ten years ago Black Hammer gave his life in the fight to defeat the Anti-God and save Spiral City. The rest of the heroes disappeared. They’ve been living in a small rural town that they can’t leave, trying to be normal. (They’re pretty sure it’s real.) Abe — their leader, the former Abraham Slam — is trying to have a relationship with a waitress, Tammy, but her ex, a local cop, isn’t making things easy. Golden Gail, a magical superwoman stuck in a 9-year-old’s body, is doing a poor job of pretending to be a little girl. Barbalien, a shape shifting Warlord of Mars, is struggling with a secret. Colonel Weird appears and disappears almost randomly, flowing in and out of the para-zone, a meta region of space that’s driven him insane. His robot buddy, Walky, is trying to find a way back to our universe. Oh, and there’s also a witch, Madame Dragonfly, plus back in our world Black Hammer’s daughter is trying to find the heroes.

Lemire says he started the project back when he was working on his insanely good Essex County, about life in small town Canada, and it shows — the town and its people feel realistic, and are a nice contrast to the big city heroes stuck there. Ormston’s art and Stewart’s colors really bring it all alive, particularly during flashbacks to the golden age of heroes in Spiral City. It’s yet another smart way to explore superhero tropes, and more evidence that Lemire is at the top of his game.

I highly recommend Lemire’s other recent work: Plutona (5 kids find a dead superhero in the woods), Roughneck (small town Canadian goodness along the lines of Lemire’s classic Essex County), along with Royal City and his run on Moon Knight. Good stuff.

Schoolyard Superhero

Recess Warriors: Hero Is A Four-Letter Word by Marcus Emerson. Roaring Book Press, 2017. 9781626727083. 144pp.

Bryce is secretly a masked hero known as Scrap. After saving a kid from a few of Armstrong School’s bullies, he gets beat up himself. His friend Yoshi saves him with her her jump rope. (She holds the school record.)

Together they go to investigate calls for help coming from the field by the blacktop. They find a sick boy with pockets full of posies. His cheeks are rosy. Vanilla-bean-frappuccino-loving Juliet is infecting everyone. She loves Scrap, but he never noticed her no matter what she did. So to get his attention she’s spreading cooties. And a little while after the infected boys all fall down, they rise again as zombies.

There are moments in this graphic novel that make it clear this is all just imagined recess fun, but if I was reading it aloud to a kid I’d skip those panels. Every school playground needs a zombie apocalypse.

An Alien in American

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis. Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock. DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262563. Collects Superman: American Alien #1 – #7.

Superman stories are often kinda boring. He’s invulnerable. He’s powerful. He’s immortal. (Remember when he died?) And, cynically, he’s going to win not just for these reasons but because if he died all the Superman merchandise would die with him. A lot of superhero comics suffer from these same issues.

But this book had me from the opening page where a terrified young Clark Kent is rising into the sky, screaming at his terrified mother, clinging to his leg, to not let him go. He’s an alien boy who just wants to be normal. His father tells him weird is better, and, in an amazing chapter, helps him learn to fly.

There are seven chapters here in all, each drawn by a different artist, each with a different tone, each a different moment in Clark / Superman’s life. (Landis’ original series pitch in the back of the book clarifies the idea.) In the second chapter, a teenage Clark uses his powers to help a family held at gunpoint. It’s horrific — he doesn’t have the level of control he needs to keep people safe from his own powers. What’s brilliant is he’s not that powerful (yet). Plus it’s clear that the sheriff and everyone else around him knows he’s different and how he’s different, because how could they not notice something like that in a small Kansas town?

The chapter drawn by Joëlle Jones is my favorite, with Clark accidentally impersonating Bruce Wayne at a raging party in Wayne’s honor on a yacht. Clark hilariously foils an assassination attempt, and he gets the girl, at least for the moment. It sets up Clark’s not-so-epic first meeting with Batman in Metropolis years later, and a bit of Batman-related madness that follows.

No more details because I don’t want to ruin it. I’d say 1 in 20 Superman collections is worth reading, and this is right at the top of the pile with Loeb and Sale’s beautiful Superman: For All Seasons and Morrison / Quietly’s utterly amazing All-Star Superman.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spider

Black Widow Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee. Marvel, 2016. 9780785199755.

black-widow-1Contains Black Widow #1 – #6.

Many comics have borrowed the cinematic action style of comics that Darwin Cooke perfected in Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. (In fact, some pages from Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye run may have one-upped it, though they feel a little grittier.) But only Waid and Samnee seem able to equal Cooke’s sense of fun despite this story’s life-or-death stakes.

The opening sequence is really all you need to hear about to know if you want to read it. Black Widow wades through S.H.I.E.L.D agents trying to stop her from leaving what appears to be an office building. After a fight she drops a bomb, blowing her out a window, which reveals that she’s falling from a helicarrier 40,000 feet in the air without a parachute. Does she panic? No. She has a plan. And those agents in flying cars and with rocket packs are part of it. It’s a ballet that ends perfectly and elegantly. And it’s all because someone is blackmailing her by threatening to reveal her secrets.