With two of my favorite comics series (Fables and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye) coming to an end this year, it seems like a good time to try out some other series. So I’ve been grabbing a few trade paperbacks from the library so see what I think. It’s been a mixed success so far.
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Hannah, Violet, Dee, Betty
The Rat Queens are a team of four mercenaries who battle trolls and other assorted monsters in between parties and barroom brawls. These four ladies have the potential to be great characters, but in this first volume, they weren’t quite there yet for me. I was impressed at how well they’re drawn. Each on has a distinct body type, and they’re all allowed to be sexy without their attractiveness being their main function.
That said, the story wasn’t exactly my thing. It’s a very action-focused comic so far, and the central mystery was solved by accident (as Betty, the Rat Queen who solves it, admits outright). And I sometimes felt like the story was working too hard at making them brash and bawdy without giving them much of anything else to do. That, however, might a result of this being an exposition-centric volume. With each character, but especially Dee and Violet, we’re given hints of a history that could lead to more depth later on. So far, I’m particularly interested in Dee, the non-believing mystic. Maybe I just appreciated that during the volume’s final party, she retreated to a corner with a book:
This is my party. This book. The book is good. It asks no questions. The book lets me engage it on my own terms.
I hear you, Dee.
Verdict? I’m not subscribing to this yet, but I’ll probably get the second volume from the library when it comes out this May to see if the story goes deeper as it goes on.
Black Widow: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto
Unlike the ladies of Rat Queens, Natasha Romanoff already has an established back-story, so this volume of new Black Widow comics just has to establish the world she’s in and her current motivations. Natasha’s mercenary work is less about earning money for beer and more about making amends. She lives simply—what she earns goes toward supporting her web of safe houses. Her lawyer and manager, Isaiah, is constantly haranguing her about money, but she’s determined to only take on jobs that meet her ethical standards. If she discovers midstream that a job isn’t what she expected, she’ll take down her client and lose the money.
This volume has Natasha going on a series of missions for various clients, as well as taking on a S.H.I.E.L.D. that gets more complicated than expected. As with Hawkeye, my lack of Marvel comics knowledge wasn’t much of a problem with this book, although toward the end, a man who is apparently a villain appears who I think was supposed to be familiar to readers. I had never heard of him, and it looks like he’s a fairly minor villain.
Although the complications in the final issue are satisfying and have me curious to read the next volume, Natasha’s journey to redemption is more important than the details of her missions. A lot of her inner monologue about being alone and uncertain hits predictable notes, but, as with the Rat Queens, I think there’s potential for more. (And I liked this book a little better overall than I did Rat Queens.)
Also, as with Rat Queens, I have to give a shout out to the art. Phil Noto’s Natasha has a natural and realistic sort of beauty, unlike so many depictions of superwomen in comic-book art. I loved the way she was drawn. She’s so ordinary, not the type of woman who would stand out in a crowd, which is a good quality in a spy. The contrast was especially striking when I looked at the variant covers included at the end of this volume. Most of those emphasized her sex appeal, showing her bursting out of her cat suit or staring wide-eyed with lips parted. (Note to male comic artists: The kind of work Natasha does in her cat suit requires a bra.) I only found one of the variants (by Frank Cho and Justin Posner) even mildly tolerable.
There’s also a pretty good Hawkeye joke toward the end of this book.
Verdict? I want to read more, but I’m not sure I want to spend money on it. It’s not quite that good. A second volume is out, and I’ve requested that the library get it, so we’ll see.
Pretty Deadly Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos
This horror western looked terrific, but I was disappointed by it. The story centers on death-faced Ginny, the daughter of Death himself, as she rides through the countryside on a mission of vengeance. I was so hoping for something like Stephen King’s The Gunslinger but with ladies. The art is beautiful, despite being extremely grisly and sometimes lurid.
The story, however, was nearly incomprehensible. It’s rare for me to give up on a trade paperback of a comic—they’re such a small investment of time—but I got tired after a couple of issues of going back and trying to work out the story and having no luck. It’s possible that I’m still too much of a comics newbie to grasp something with such an unconventional style. It’s also possible that the story doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Unlike the other comics mentioned here, this wasn’t part of my search for new comics to subscribe to. I’ve never actually read the original stories before seeing any of the big comic book movies, and I thought that it might be fun to read the Ultron story arc before the new Avengers movie comes out. After reading this, I suspect (hope?) that Joss Whedon and his team mostly just borrowed the title from this story arc. Only a couple of Whedon’s Avengers (Clint and Natasha) have much to do in this book, and a couple are killed off almost from the beginning, so major adjustments would be required to make this story work.
Like Marvel’s Civil War, this series brings together heroes from across the Marvel universe. This time, they’re dealing with the aftermath of the return of the super-robot Ultron, created years earlier by Hank Pym. Several of the remaining Avengers and X-Men converge on Nick Fury’s secret base in Antarctica where they find a time machine that they can use to defeat Ultron in the future. After most of the group has left for the future, Wolverine and Sue Storm head to the past to talk to Hank. Time-travel complications ensue.
I found a lot of the action in this book confusing. Part of this was my lack of familiarity with so many of the characters. I knew enough about enough of them to get by, but I was missing a lot. But with so many characters, not many get more than passing attention. Overall, I found a lot more depth, with just as many characters, in the Civil War arc.
My ignorance about the characters was only one source of confusion, however. The way the panels are positioned makes it difficult at times to know where you’re supposed to read across spreads and when to read a page at a time. I’ve never had that problem with other comics, so I don’t think it’s just me. Also, there was one time jump too many toward the end. I was watching Star Trek: Voyager over the weekend and got to an episode that ends with a time paradox. Captain Janeway tells Ensign Kim that the best way she’s found to deal with time paradox is just not to think about it. Good advice, Captain. Still, I’d like enough coherence that I can at least follow the plot. Oh well.