It’s tough to mix superheroes and politics. After all, if Superman were real, and as moral as he’s presented, why would there be a single war, atrocity, or disaster? If costumed vigilantes roamed the streets, isn’t that a breakdown of social order? It’s a question, back in 2006, that John Ridley, who’d go on to win an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, tackled with The American Way, using fake superheroes fighting fake supervillains in staged fights to show off American supremacy in an uncomfortable look both at the optimism of the early ’60s and how it was reflected in Silver Age comics. Its sequel, The American Way: Those Above And Those Below (DC Comics), however, is as concerned with people as politics.
Those Above And Those Below picks up a few years after the end of the first volume, with its handful of survivors. Where the original series worked as a dark mirror of the Silver Age, Ridley makes this book a reflection of the shift in ’70s comics to social issues and street-level stories. The New American, for example, thinks it’s obvious he should be taking out the street-level militias killing drug pushers; he may not like them, but murder is murder, right? Except, of course, his own community doesn’t see it that way.
Georges Jeanty, the original artist, returns with his usual clean style that takes subtle cues from ’70s comic artists like Neal Adams. Jeanty’s choices are often extremely clever; he makes a point of making the book a period piece without overselling this with the design cues, emphasizing Ridley’s more personal focus that these are people, people of extraordinary ability, but still people. The American Way was, to some degree, limited by its own idea, but Ridley and Jeanty use it as a springboard to look at issues that still matter today, and it’ll be fascinating to see where they go from here.
Kill Or Be Killed #10, Image Comics
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ deconstruction of the vigilante story drops a massive bomb on Dylan, our avenging “angel,” in this issue, while paying out a lot of rope on some other plot threads that aren’t going to end well for him either. This book has consistently been one of the smartest out there because it never, ever lets Dylan off the hook, no mean feat when it’s Dylan himself doing the narrating, and it makes the ending of this issue just that little bit more stunning. Dylan has to face up to the very real possibility he’s lost his mind, and if he hasn’t… well, that might be even worse news.
Defenders #3, Marvel
Any team book lives and dies on its personal dynamics; it’s the rare writer who can fit a bunch of outsized personalities into a comic, and have them all play off each other like old friends. Brian Michael Bendis excels at this, and it makes this book a lot more fun. David Marquez, meanwhile, handles the action scenes with aplomb, making for a brisk team book with a pile of twists.
Kaijumax Vol. 3 #1, Oni Press
Zander Cannon returns to his mix of giant monster movies and gritty prison drama, this time following a milquetoast billy goat monster as he realizes he’s not even remotely ready for the nightmare he’s trapped in. Cannon has kept everything that made the first two volumes a hit, but the fresh angle gives it a nice touch, and a new entry point for those unfamiliar with the series.
Mage: The Hero Denied #0, Image Comics
Matt Wagner’s story of a new, modern King Arthur named Kevin Matchstick with a baseball bat instead of Excalibur is finally launching its final volume, more than thirty years after its debut. Wagner’s shift of Matchstick to a middle-aged man with a job, instead of a young man with a quest, is an interesting take, and it shifts away a bit from the winking literary references of the original. It’s accessible to audiences who probably haven’t read the first two volumes, but it also hints at Wagner finally taking the idea a bit further.
Harbinger Renegade #5, Valiant: This issue changes both the stakes of Valiant’s teen superheroes and the direction they can head in about the bloodiest way possible.
Spider-Men II #1, Marvel: Years later, this sequel will finally pay off the cliffhanger of the original series. This first issue also pays off Peter Parker having to share a universe with Miles Morales and, shockingly, Pete’s not a fan of a 14-year-old running around and getting shot at.
Skin And Earth #1, Dynamite: Atypical of Dynamite’s usual pulp offerings, this science fiction comic is an unusual, and surprisingly effective, romance.
Bug!: The Adventures Of Forager #3, DC Comics: The Allred family’s love of Jack Kirby’s over-the-top Fourth World comics shines through in this hilarious metaphysical adventure book.
Godshaper #4, BOOM! Studios: Si Spurrier and Goonface’s musing on the power of mythology, mixed with a stylized Great Depression, takes a fascinating turn here, studying where class and religious zealotry intersect.
This Week’s Best Collections
Lead Poisoning: The Pencil Art Of Geof Darrow, Dark Horse ($35, Hardcover): Like many comic artists, you may not know Geof Darrow’s name, but you know his elaborate, stylized art style. So get to know it better, with a look at why he’s one of the best pencillers in the business.
Star Wars Legends: The Original Marvel Years Vol. 2, Marvel ($40, Softcover): Marvel’s original Star Wars comics have been hard to find for years, but they’re finally back in print, in all their goofy glory, in this volume.
Sombra, BOOM! Studios ($20, Softcover): Justin Jordan and Raul Trevino take a good, hard look at just what the war on drugs means, away from American soil.