It’s a busy week for new releases! Over in the superhero bucket, we’ve got a new Miles Morales, along with a crossover with Spider-Man and the X-Men in Dark Web. Nostalgia fans will enjoy a reprint of X-Treme X-Men from the 2000s (featuring plenty of leather), the clan from Gargoyles returns several years on from their last adventure, and Grant Morrison’s The Absolute Multiversity gets a lavish boxed-set release.
There’s also a great Ghibli-looking time-travel story for kids called Family Time, a future-dystopia entitled All Against All, and, for something non-narrative, you may appreciate 20 20 20 20, a sketchbook of one artist’s work across all of 2020. For a holiday gift, there’s the marvelous new hardcover anime guide that dives deep into some of the most important films in the genre and is full of plot details and behind-the-scenes context.
This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at a great new sci-fi murder mystery, along with a real romp of a monster-hunting manga. And then there’s a superhero story that… oh geez, it really could have been something.
Thanks to Phoenix for hunting through the week’s new releases! As always, support your local comics shop, especially when doing holiday shopping.
A mystery in space awaits in the excellent new series Know Your Station, which is set aboard a space station inhabited by the kind of eccentric characters you might find on your favorite episode of Murder she Wrote. It’s the future; humanity is bifurcated into a cruel ruling class, their groveling servants who are deluded into thinking their lot in life isn’t so bad, and exploited criminals (you know, just like today). When one of the richest and most monstrous of the oligarchs is brutally murdered, two detectives start sniffing around, and, just as in the best mysteries, inexplicable twists await them.
It’s an intriguing mix of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and BioShock, with a touch of GLaDOS from Portal, but my one quibble is with the art: character poses are sometimes stuffy and static, with neutral facial expressions—almost like CG models who haven’t been fully animated. With a few exceptions, the lighting tends to be neutral as well, which robs us of some of the atmosphere one might expect from either the mystery or sci-fi genres. (One notable exception is a startling crime scene in the final pages that hints at a more dynamic visual approach later on.) Art aside, the well-written pacing and thoughtful panel layouts keep the momentum galloping along, and I found myself as absorbed in this world and its intrigue as I was with the Knives Out films. Placing this solid mystery in a sci-fi setting is a clever extra twist on an already-great story.
Writer: Sarah Gailey. Illustrator: Liana Kangas. Colors: Rebecca Nalty. Lettering: Cardinal Rae. Alt covers: Becca Carey, Jenny Frison, Tula Lotay, Jenn Woodall, Inaki Miranda, Francesco Francavilla. Logo design: Becca Carey. Design: Nancy Mojica. Assistant editor: Maya Bollinger. Editor: Elizabeth Brei.
Publisher: Boom! Studios.
A completely engrossing fantasy-action adventure—I want to live inside the world of this manga. We find ourselves in a vaguely Middle-Ages-ish pastoral village, with steampunk and mechanical elements. Monsters plague the countryside (translated here as “werewolves,” but looking and acting more like feral demons in human disguises), and it’s up to two young monster hunters to hunt the creatures down. Fun, silly dialogue mixes with rollicking action, and a bit of violence that never gets too gory. (I’d feel comfortable giving the book to readers around the ages of 14 and up.) The adventures get truly exciting in the back half of this volume, as we encounter more novel enemies and some truly creative vehicles like a covered wagon transported on the back of a giant scuttling crab.
A minor quibble: I could have used a few more landscapes to admire, since the setting is endlessly cool. And some readers may find the text a bit too dense, as the characters are unusually verbose. But the mythology is a hoot to read about, and while it must’ve been particularly challenging to localize for English readers, the results are fantastic and imaginative. First-rate fun.
Story and art: Yuki Kawaguchi. Translation: Adrienne Beck. Lettering: Brandon Bovia. Design: Kam Li. Editor: Rae First.
Publisher: VIZ Media.
How do you do, fellow kids? The harder dialogue tries to be cool the less cool it feels, a phenomenon that hampers the otherwise-promising premise of Radiant Pink. We meet our heroine, who, in time-honored fashion, has two different identities: She fights crime as a cool tech-suited vigilante, while in her civilian life she enjoys variety-streaming with a friend. (Minecraft AND Mario Kart? Make up your minds.) The dialogue is forced to the point that it feels like an anti-drug PSA written by adults who have only ever heard of teens. One character introduced herself as a “Slurpee-holic… generally pretty fricking cool,” and another foiled a shoe-store robbery by declaring, “Snuck in on the sneaker sneaks.” It’s the verbal equivalent of turning your baseball cap to the side, wearing saggy JNCOs, and turning your Cross Colors shirt backward while wobbling helplessly on a skateboard and insisting that everyone call you “Zach” from now on.
In other words, expending so much effort to come off as real that the entire presentation comes off as completely false. The art isn’t helping, either: while each panel on its own looks fine, and the color palettes are bright and appealing, the panels are rendered from so many different angles that it can be hard to orient anyone in the scene or tell when we’ve moved to a new location. There are some good characters buried in here, and one of the few moving lines comes from a woman who observes that her friend “always wanted to save the world. She just doesn’t want anyone saving her.” But that smart moment is undermined by its jargony surroundings. This is another spinoff from Radiant Black, which I liked, but subsequent expansions just keep stumbling.
Writers: Meghan Camarena, Melissa Flores. Artists: Emma Kubert. Colorist: Rebecca Nalty. Letterer: Becca Carey. Creative director: Kyle Hiddings. Production artist: Wesley Griffith. Editor and designer: Michael Busuttil. Alt covers: Tom Whalen, Kelly McMahon. Radian Black creators: Kyle Higgins, Marcelo Costa.
Publisher: Image Comics.