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Report Card | From ‘Astro City’ to ‘March’ to ‘Wolfsmund’

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Astro City #3

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
Lettering and design: John G. Roshell and Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color art: Alex Sinclair
Published by DC Comics/Vertigo

Some familiar elements are on display in this third issue of the relaunched Astro City. There’s a plucky protagonist in over her head, a struggle to be redeemed, and a last-minute reprieve, all presented with an air of ever-increasing doom. “Mistakes” concludes a two-part arc about Marella, a call-center operator for Honor Guard, AC‘s premier super-team. Last issue cleverly described her workaday responsibilities, but its relentlessly peppy tone suggested a stunning reversal, upon which this issue expands. For that matter, this issue’s tone is also a strong clue as to the story’s ultimate resolution. Even so, Busiek, Anderson, and company spin a taut, suspenseful tale, putting Marella squarely in the middle of an horrific situation for which she feels personally responsible. Astro City is located where ordinary people meet the super-fantastic, so the screwups are potentially super-screwups. Moreover, the series’ anthological nature means that no character is guaranteed a happy ending.

Indeed, since the issue focuses on Marella’s determination to do what she can to make up for what she’s done, the ending almost seems beside the point. Busiek and Anderson contrast Honor Guard’s super-scientific headquarters with the mundane realm of laptops and cable-news channels, but by itself that’s nothing new. Instead, both settings show that even if Marella’s run out of superhero-style options, she can still find some real-world answers. The issue’s real tension comes from within Marella, who starts out so wracked with guilt the reader wonders if she’ll be reduced to merely a freaked-out narrator.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this issue because it built up sympathy for Marella while subverting my narrative assumptions. In other words, I wanted her to succeed, I wasn’t sure if she would, and the creative team kept me guessing until the end. That’s about all you can ask of any story, and the fact that Astro City is so reliably and efficiently entertaining is a testament to all involved. –Tom Bondurant

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It Came! #1

Written and drawn by Dan Boultwood, Esq.
Published by Titan Comics

There is nothing I love more than a cheesy alien invasion movie from the ’50s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the experience will translate well to comics. I knew I was taking a chance by picking up It Came!, a series from a storyteller I’m not familiar with and published by a company whose track record I don’t know. A flip-through in the store though revealed appropriately gray-scaled art and Boultwood’s talent for giant robot design, visual humor, and pleasantly emotive characters. And once I got the issue home and read, I learned that he’s just as gifted at funny dialogue, slapstick, and tweaking genre tropes.

It’s the way that he plays with the genre (especially ’50s attitudes towards women) that most impresses me. He he can be merciless about what he picks on while simultaneously communicating his obvious love for it. That sounds like a paradox and goes to show how difficult a task Boultwood set for himself, but he makes it look natural and easy. I’m all in for this series and eager to see what’s next. –Michael May

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Wolfsmund, Vol. 1

By Mitsuhisa Kuji
Publisher: Vertical

Wolfsmund starts off with a beheading, so you know what you’re getting into literally on page one. This is a story of startling violence and startling beauty, which is to be expected from a creator who was the assistant to both Kenaro Miura (Berserk) and Kaoru Mori (Emma, A Bride’s Story).

Set in 14th-century Switzerland, Wolfsmund is a historical tale that spins out from the legend of William Tell, although he doesn’t appear until the final third of the first volume. The locale of the story is the area near the Sankt Gotthard Pass, which connects Italy and Germany. The locals had prospered from the trade that went through there until the Hapsburgs of Austria took over and launched a campaign of oppression to maintain their power. The most brutal of all (it seems at first) is the Bailiff Wolfram, who oversees the gate that all must pass through to reach the pass. The locals are not allowed through the gate–only legitimate travelers–and Wolfram has both an uncanny ability to sniff out a fake and a cruel streak that shows itself when he catches someone. Yet the locals’ only hope for throwing off the oppressors lies in getting out and raising funds and an
army.

This first volume consists of three almost independent stories about rebels trying to get through (or around) the pass. I say “almost” independent because the story builds slowly through the first volume, and Kuji uses a bit of misdirection, so the characters we want to follow are not necessarily the ones who are key to the story.

This is not a series for the faint of heart; the violence comes in all different flavors and includes the torture of a child. However, Kuji’s clean-lined art puts it all at a bit of a distance. Her drawings have a strong line, backed up with parallel hatching to add solidity to her figures, and she uses blacks, whites, and tones in a graphic fashion. The result is detailed but easy to read, and very reminiscent of Mori’s work, except that it is much, much more violent, and the characters, especially
the women, have a very classic manga style–round heads, big eyes, small mouths. Even Wolfram is kind of a bishie. This is a little jarring next to Kuji’s sweeping vistas and precise depictions of medieval life, but overall, this is a good story, smartly told, and well worth a look, even for readers who don’t usually read manga. –Brigid Alverson

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Batman ’66 #7

Script: Jeff Parker
Art: Joe Quinones
Color: Maris Wicks
Letters: Wes Abbott
Cover: Michael & Laura Allred
Published by DC Comics

This series works on two levels: there’s the core strength that the Parker and Quinones are solid straightforward storytellers; and then there’s the nostalgia element to narrative. For instance, while Frank Gorshin-style Riddler appeared in the first arc, in this issue a visit to Arkham Asylum allows the team to work in a few fun cameos. A prime example are the appearances of Cliff Robertson’s Shame and Vincent Price’s Egghead.

That being said, as much as I love the first appearance of Cesar Romero’s Joker in this issue, a knowledge of the original series is not needed to enjoy it. Parker’s mix of adventure and humor are a good match for Quinones. Finally, I never tire of the 1960s sound effects, which pop up in scenes as needed to great dramatic effect. –Tim O’Shea

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How ’bout that Astro City! I wonder if anyone at Marvel and DC are watching and learning.

Archie’s trendy lecturing is exhausting and obvious. Will they be exploring stop and frisk policies in depth and their effects on black and latinos, or looking at the black incarceration rate (40% of the prison population and 13% or so of the overall population) and tackling those social issues – or is the white comics intelligentsia at work again cherry picking their favorite causes?

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