Becoming political is risky for superhero comics. After all, if gods and supermen are fundamentally benevolent, why can’t they simply scoop up the dictators, stop the wars, invent free energy, and otherwise solve all our problems for us? So for Deathstroke #11 (DC Comics) to not just get political but tackle the thorny problem of violence in Chicago at all puts Priest, Denys Cowan, and Bill Sienkiewicz on shaky ground. But they walk across it elegantly, focusing not on high-minded solutions but the deeper problems.
Priest’s script is anchored, as DC fans may have guessed by the cover, by Jack Ryder. Ryder, a disgraced Jerry Springer-esque tabloid journalist, is in Chicago on the trail of a rumor Deathstroke has been hired by the mothers of Chicago’s youngest victims of violence to start collecting heads. Priest’s script doesn’t avoid the ugly realities of Chicago, which includes police officers willing to throw people under the bus, but it also offers a fast pace and a thorny mystery: Why is Deathstroke suddenly an anti-hero instead of an outright villain?
Cowan, handling pencils, and Sienkiewicz, on inks, meanwhile, deliver a vivid sense of place and a noirish style that carries the story through to a bitter end. Cowan avoids using landmarks, depicting a real city from the ground, while Sienkiewicz’s deep, scratchy inks create a stark tone that demands attention. The ultimate goal here isn’t to tell us how to solve a tough social problem: It’s to force us to consider the human costs, and keep it at the forefront of our minds. It’s a bold move for a character like Deathstroke, one that yields equally bold results.
Hulk #2, Marvel
Mariko Tamaki, Nico Loen, and Dalabor Talajic, with Matt Milla on colors, are working on a slow burn here. But it’s not being paced for a trade. Tamaki’s script is about trauma, and how keeping it together, being normal, can be a war inside you after suffering a severe personal trauma. It’s always been an open question about why Bruce Banner is on the verge of a violent outburst all the time, and by asking the normally calm and fun Jen to deal with the personal fallout of Marvel’s Civil War II, it makes for a fascinating, and perhaps all too relatable, Hulk.
Dead Inside #2, Dark Horse
John Arcudi and Toni Fejzula follow up a superb first issue, about a murder mystery in a prison, with an even better second. Detective Caruso, an investigator for jail crimes, is quickly finding that what should be a simple case is much darker and more complex than she realized. Fejzula’s careful atmosphere and use of distorted anatomy at just the right time gives the book even more of a sense of menace, but fits well with Arcudi’s patient, realistic look at how crimes are investigated and solved.
Ether #3, Dark Horse
Matt Kindt and David Rubin shift their fantasy book into high adventure mode as Boone, a homeless scientist/detective who may or may not be hallucinating all of this, tracks down a golem who’s been killing people with magic bullets. The result is a fairly entertaining romp, not least because Kindt wisely lets the real pain that drives Boone lurk just underneath the surface. The final page, in particular, underscores just how wrong his life really went, and how being in the Ether might be more therapy than science. Ether is one of the more fascinating and original fantasy books out there right now, and it’s well past time to pick it up.
Doom Patrol #4, DC Comics
Gerard Way and Nick Derington have steadily pushed this book from paying tribute to Grant Morrison’s classic, and bizarre, run on this team into their own ideas, and this issue, they both explain roughly half of what we’ve been reading and downshift the weirdness long enough to have a few genuinely touching moments, particularly the sacrifice of one Larry Trainor, the Negative Man. As for why there’s a Bane coloring book in the back, we’re guessing they found it funny.
Loose Ends #1, Image: Jason Latour’s Southern noir, which first hit the stands in 2011, is being revived (and finished!), and the return is heartily welcome.
Savage #3, Valiant: Valiant’s riff on Tarzan and Lost World tropes continues to be a smart, unnerving story bringing a fresh angle to some old ideas.
Star Wars #27, Marvel: Yoda gets a solo story and finds himself in a situation that’s halfway between Peter Pan and Lord Of The Flies
Ladycastle #1, BOOM! Studios: What happens when you mix Disney tropes and intersectional feminism? This hilarious book, it turns out.
Dante #1, Image Comics: This story, of a hitman given a supernatural mission, embraces its cheesy nature to become an amusing action one-shot.
This Week’s Best Collections
Checkmate by Greg Rucka Vol. 1, DC Comics (Softcover, $25): What happens when heroes and villains cross unspoken lines? Greg Rucka’s interesting take on the morality of superheroics finally gets a collected edition.
Harrow County Vol. 4: Family Tree, Dark Horse (Softcover, $15): Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook’s rich literary horror story remains some of the best comics you’ll read.
Black Monday Murders Vol. 1: All Hail God Mammon, Image Comics (Softcover, $25): This horror story mixes Lovecraftian horrors with globe-spanning economics in a new riff on eldritch gods and human sacrifice.