This is a slow week for new comic issues, which has given me some time to sneak back and catch up on a paperback that’s been on my to-do list for weeks: Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters, a wonderful monster-punching romp that I should have been reading all along.
By curious coincidence, Jonna has a lot in common with a new Marvel series that starts this week, Dark Ages — both start with the end of the world, or with a cataclysm that feels close enough to the end that it might as well be, and then both skip ahead to a time post-cataclysm in which human survivors have been forced to radically adapt in order to survive. Though the time-jumps aren’t as provocative as the infamous naked-ape-to-flying-ape cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they’re still neat little tricks, like the storytelling equivalent of a Mad Magazine fold-in. What surprise awaits when you bring together two seemingly-unrelated points?
Also, a quick sidenote: I’ve heard from some readers that the books I review are not always available at local stores. Sorry about that — since the start of the pandemic, supply chain weirdness makes it hard to anticipate how many copies will go out! When it comes to serial comics, at least, the best way to ensure that you get a copy of whatever you want is to call ahead to your shop and ask to set up a subscription.
Thanks as always to Phoenix for the comic reviews, and to the ongoing supply chain disruptions for always making a fun guessing game out of which books will actually be available week to week.
DARK AGES ISSUE #1
Something terrible is eating the Earth from the inside out, and superheroes are racing to stop it — or to get killed. A little from column A, a little from column B. An excellent first issue for a new storyline that completely upends your favorite Marvel characters, we start with a great MacGuffin: One of your standard Monsters Threatens All Of Existence (™), ho hum, we’ve seen it all before. But this time things are different, with some shocking early-issue deaths. The real twist comes in the final few panels, when the cost of the monster’s defeat is revealed, and then the real conflict begins.
Dark Ages plunges the entire Earth into a cataclysm that wipes out some heroes, removes others’ powers, and utterly demolishes core aspects of human civilization. It’s a fantastic way of resetting many characters whose powers have steadily grown until they’re essentially invincible, and the first issue ends with some familiar faces (those who survive) in a setting where their ingenuity and personality must take center-stage. If you’re coming to the comics only having seen a few of the Marvel movies or shows, you’ll be just fine; there’s no extensive lore-knowledge needed. A bold take on old favorites.
Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡ (4/5)
Writer: Tom Talor. Penciler: Iban Coello. Colorist: Brian Reber. Editor: Tom Brevoort.
A nifty concept that has, for some reason, flown entirely under the radar, Almost American is the story of two Russian spies who defect from Russia to the U.S. … as told by two real-life spies who actually did, indeed, defect from Russia to the U.S. The book’s credibility is its main boast; knowing that it was crafted by people who lived its story infuses it with a unique coolness. But as I read, I found myself distracted by questions about how much was real and what was fabricated for the book, and at a couple of points I found myself thinking that I’d just prefer to read a memoir instead. Almost American may sit at an awkward halfway-point between genres: It avoids the sort of unrealistic leaps that make a James Bond story fun, but it also doesn’t feel as educationally rigorous as a documentary would be. The book, like its subjects, seem to be searching for the place where it belongs.
Rating: 🕵️🕵️🕵️ (3/5)
Writer: Ron Marz. Artist: Marco Castiello. Colorist: Flavio Dispenza. Letterer: Rus Wooton.
JONNA AND THE UNPOSSIBLE MONSTERS VOLUME #1
This paperback came out a few weeks ago, and I didn’t get a chance to review it because its release went a little sideways (it accidentally shipped early and snuck onto some shelves before it was supposed to). I’m glad this was a slow week for comics, because it gave me a chance to finally dive into this excellent collection of the first few issues. A lush jungle world is plunged into chaos following a massive explosion and the appearance of terrible monsters. In all the mayhem, two sisters are separated, and now one of them is searching through humanity’s remains to find the other. Rainbow is a sensitive, thoughtful, resourceful, and creative big sister. When she finally finds Jonna, the younger sister has gone a bit feral, surviving on her own among monsters for the last year. Great slam-bang fights with minimal blood and gore make this a suitable book for kids aged eight and up; thoughtful dialogue and tender emotional beats make it a pleasure for adult readers; and the mystery at the heart of the story (what’s behind the sudden appearance of the monsters?) is a real page-turner. Keep your eyes peeled for variant covers by the fantastic Benjamin Dewey and Jen Bartel.
Rating: 🦕🦕🦕🦕🦕 (5/5)
Writer: Chris Samnee, Laura Samnee. Artist: Chris Samnee. Colorist: Matthew Wilson.
ALSO: FEMINIST ART, FLYING ADVENTURES, and A MODERN NARNIA
Also of interest this week: The Women who Changed Art Forever is a fabulous biographical take on a handful of prominent women artists, from Judy Chicago to the Guerilla Girls. Eighty Days is a shockingly thick adventure-romance with biplanes and war and a tricky thief. And My Own World concerns a boy who escapes into his imagination to avoid the pain of real life.