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God of Comics: X-O Manowar #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

X-O Manowar #1

We spent four years calling X-O Manowar the best of all comics. We then went into detail explaining why we said this, and you can read that explanation by clicking here. Everything we said still rings true and Valiant is about to take Aric of Dacia into a whole new storyline.

For those that don’t know, Aric of Dacia was a land-locked proto-Viking at war with Rome who mistook some aliens for Romans and attacked him. He got abducted, led a revolt, was chosen by their God, teleported back to earth more than a thousand years later, fought Italy until Italy surrendered, went back to free his people, and then brought his people home.

I’m brushing over the finer details for the sake of not repeating myself, but Aric saved the world, an alien civilization, and all sentient life in the cosmos. He learned and fought and began to desire only peace, and we learn that he found what he wanted at the beginning of this comic.

He’s given up the armor, settled on an alien world, and is tilling the land. All he wants is to tend his crops and live with his mate, an alien woman he’s met on this new and primitive world. He wants to be left alone, free from the war and violence that defined his every waking breath. Even the god-armor that gave him power lies dormant and Aric is finally at peace.

So, of course, some people are going to cross him and spoil everything.

Here’s the set-up: an alien army comes recruiting and decides to drag Aric to the front lines to be used as canon-fodder, but this is motherfucking Aric of Dacia, and he will win this battle so that he can go home, but the aliens leading this army won’t let him leave, won’t hold up their end, and are going to force him to fight. They have no idea who they’re dealing with or what they’ve awoken, because Aric of Dacia is not the sort of person you want to push around.

Matt Kindt is taking over writing duties from Robert Venditti, and if there’s anyone that can bear the weight of Venditti’s crown it’s got to be Kindt. He’s the force behind the utter brilliance that is divinity, also from Valiant, and if he brings the same sense of pathos and epic to this title that he brought to that one, then we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Tomas Giorello is handling the art, and you might know him from his work on various Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian comics, which might be the single greatest resume possible to work on X-O Manowar.

Seriously, get in now. If this run ends up being even a tenth as good as the original it will still be mind-blowingly excellent.

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God of Comics: WWE #3

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

WWE #3 (Boom Studios)

Normally, I talk about the writers when I discuss comics. I love writing, am drawn to it with a certain degree of madness, and I’ve got some ideas for a comic I’ve been batting around for a while but I need an artist and it’s the artist here that I want to talk about: Dan Mora.

Dan Mora did the art for a Lovecraftian horror comic called Hexed, a spinoff from the incredible Fall of Cthulhu comic that was written by Michael Alan Nelson and also published by Boom. He also does the art for Klaus, a series that basically casts Santa Clause as Conan the Barbarian. It’s freaking brilliant and you should go and read all the things and take the time to study the gorgeous art.

Here’s the thing: that is Dan Mora’s entire body of work. He has done nothing else and this means that he is criminally under-recognized. The work he does is amazing and more people need to be aware of how amazing it is, so, kudos to you, Mr. Mora. You rock.

Case in point: the covers for this comic.

This isn’t to take away anything from the inside, either: Serg Acuña and Doug Garbank do a stellar job of capturing the insanity that is the world of professional wrestling and translate it to an entirely different medium, one that it has quite a lot in common with.

A lot of people liken professional wrestling to soap operas, but that’s not quite it. Professional wrestling is a pre-determined (not fake!) artform in which performers who are part-actor and part stunt-people pretend that they are in a wrestling show. It’s a live action comic that features larger-than-life good guys and bad guys in costume who engage in battle for a variety of complex reasons, but no fight can ever end in death and the show must go on.

Want an example of the insanity that is unique to wrestling? Recently, a swamp-dwelling cult leader had his cult infiltrated by a snake-obsessed sociopath. The sociopath ruined the cult to get to the source of the cult leader’s power, literally burning his house down to rob him of the powers granted him by the sister of Satan himself, only for the cult leader to go and baptized himself in her ashes. The two of them are one of the headlining battles at Wrestlemania this year.

And speaking of Wrestlemania, one of the big stories going into the marquee event – wrestling’s version of the SuperBowl – features Seth Rollins taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. You can learn more about the latter by clicking here, but Seth Rollins is something else again and this comic is about him.

Seth came in with a trio called the Shield, and they spent a year and a half dominating the whole roster before Seth betrayed his companions, selling out to his enemy to eventually become the WWE Champion. He’s an uber-talented performer who, because of his prior relationship with HHH, was treated badly by him. It was interesting, because Seth was a bad guy who was treated like a good guy by the bad guys in charge, and had good guy reactions while still being hated but appreciated by the crowd.

Did you get all that?

A little more than the grunting you thought wrestling was?

This comic goes into even more detail, giving background and expanding upon the events that led to the betrayal of the Shield, Seth’s rise to power and feud with his two blood brothers from that group, his difficult relationship with HHH, and the tragedy of a real-life injury that put him out of action for more than a year and stripped him of the heavyweight title, forcing him to come back and fight to regain the championship he never lost.

Dennis Hopeless – the writer on this – totally gets the pathos, pomp, and circumstance that goes into wrestling, and it makes this comic a hell of a lot of fun to read. Boom is onto something with this comic, and with Wrestlemania just around the corner, you might want to give this a look.

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God of Comics: The Unworthy Thor #5

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

The Unworthy Thor #5 (Marvel Comics)

While Marvel continues to copy DC Comic’s plan of fail (controversy equals cash! Everything needs to be dark and gritty! Let’s reboot the universe! Captain America is a Nazi! Magento is a Nazi! Nick Spencer is a Nazi! Wait a minute…), some of their books have managed to avoid the terrible and quietly do incredible things. Few have managed to do the incredible as well or as long as Jason Aaron’s entire run on the mythic side of Marvel Comics.

Jason’s been working on a proper set of myths, building and expanding the visions set forth by luminaries like Walt Simonson and others. He’s turned a house into a mansion, and the one event Marvel let him plan (Original Sin) gave us Heven, a background for Angela, new Nick Fury, and the new Thor. It created new stories that made sense in the context of the world and added new facets to the heroes involved, as opposed to some other more recent events (Captain Marvel screwed over all her friends because she doesn’t like Phillip K. Dick!)

Part of the consequences of Original Sin led to Thor Odinson losing his hammer. Thor, now simply the Odinson, is no longer considered Worthy. We don’t know what caused this, but he went out and tried to fight without the hammer and lost his arm in the process. His arm has since been replaced, and after giving the new Thor his blessing, went off to look for a replacement Mjolnir.

So, funny story: remember the Ultimate Universe?  It was a mostly successful attempt to place the Marvel superheroes in a more realistic setting, modernizing and condensing some classic Marvel comics. The Ultimates, their Avengers analog, was basically the template for the Avengers movie. It was good times. The Ultimate line also has Jonathan Hickman at his very best, and as critical as I am of him, his Fantastic Four is amazing.

Anyway, their version of Thor was never considered unworthy, so that Mjolnir never had a curse put on it. Anyone with the strength to do so can pick that thing up and it looks super weird and awkward, but someone as strong as Odinson isn’t going to sweat those details. There is a hammer, he wants it, and he’s on the verge of getting it.

Jason Aaron simply gets the Odinson in a way no one else does. He’s been rocking at this for years, instilling all the mythic Marvel comics with pathos and humanity. They are some of the very best that Marvel has to offer on an epic scale, what with Doctor Strange and the Mighty Thor and the Unworthy Thor, and if you’re not reading this and want to see what sort of magic Marvel is capable of you should pick this up.

All those comics feature some of the best artists that Marvel can get their hands on, and the Unworthy Thor is no exception; Olivier Coipel is doing some amazing things with this book, so if you’re in this for the pretty you will not be disappointed. Check it out.

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God of Comics: Iron Fist #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

Iron Fist #1 (Marvel Comics)

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh.

So, the Netflix series happened. I’m about halfway through it not, and it’s… there, I guess? The better side of okay, maybe? There’s just a lot of stuff that they touch on that doesn’t seem to pay off with the main story: everything they’re doing with the Hand is great, but the main story is just kind of there. Nothing happens. There’s chances to talk about corporate greed in more than just a superficial way.

Daredevil was about legal and political corruption. Jessica Jones was about rape culture and PTSD. Luke Cage was about institutionalized racism and crime. Iron Fist is about… what, exactly? American Exceptionalism?

It’s frustrating. The show introduces the concept of heaven and time-displaced cities, hints at talking about corporate greed and the burgeoning class war, touches on colonialism and stereotypes, and even brushes in some talk about PTSD in a different way than Jessica Jones does. There’s mention of reality and expectation and then none on it is followed up upon.

Danny is joyless, laughless, exhibiting a sort of douche-bro cool that comes from a cishet white rich high schooler who went backpacking for the summer and just has to tell you about it. He doesn’t struggle. There’s no danger of him starving or dying of cold or being harrassed when he’s poor. And he comes across as a rude jackass Harry Stu, what with his moralizing without humor, lack of self-awareness, and walking into someone else’s dojo and trying to take over.

The whole thing is irritating.

And yet, I still have high hopes for this series.

Writer Ed Brisson has a proven track record and digging into the guts of a character’s themes, especially characters like this. Look at the work he did on Sheltered or the Violent, or his other big Marvel comic, Bullseye. He gets it, the view from the trenches, the utter destruction that an entire generation is enduring, and what are superheroes if not a means of fighting back against the corruption that is killing us all?

The set-up sounds like Ed has that very concept in mind: to start, K’un Lun is in ruins. Heaven is ruined. Because of this, the flow of chi – the life force of everything on the planet, the pure life energy that gives Danny his powers – is flickering away into nothing. Danny Rand is pushing himself to the breaking point trying to find some means of fighting the decay of his immortal power but the implications are terrifying.

If the life-force of the planet is fading, then so is the life of the planet. Danny might be the only person with the training to recognize the damage being done, but as his strength entropies he might not be in a position to do anything about it – not physically, anyway. Not through brute force. He might need to turn to a battlezone he’s unfamiliar with, the war that is politics, to save us all.

No idea if that’s where this is going, but it feels like a very Ed Brisson thing to do and I kinda wanna see that story. Social martial arts? If someone doesn’t write that I’m going to. Mike Perkins is handling art, and you might remember him from the awesome Ed Brubaker run on Captain America that Marvel and Nick Spencer betrayed when they turned Captain America in a Nazi.

Anyways, this sounds like a lot of fun. Check it out.

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God of Comics: Bloodshot Reborn #1

Books & Writing, Culture, God Of Comics, Reviews

March 22, 2017

Bloodshot: Reborn #0 (Valiant Entertainment)

Quietly, subtlely, Jeff Lemire has been writing an opus to the different flavors action stories come in. Taken as a whole, Bloodshot has been a masterwork – the sort of nuanced and detailed storytelling that you wouldn’t expect from something that started as a pure action story, but both the comic and the character the comic is about have evolved over the past four or five years through the application of consequence, a thing that Valiant Comics excels at.

The story began with a super soldier named Ray being deployed against enemies of the United States. Ray was an ordinary looking person who, when activated, turned into a snow white-skinned ghoul with solid red eyes and a red circle on his chest. He was super strong and fast, able to regenerate from all kinds of damage, and could hack into and take-over any machines in his range.

He was also part of a conspiracy, his family and memories a lie concocted to keep him loyal. The powers behind the politicians of the world – the bankers and corporations that profit off of human suffering – were worried about a man named Toyo Harada. Harada combines the best parts of Professor X and Magneto, only he started a corporation himself and was working against profit and capitalism, subverting the system from the inside. He was also, personally speaking, on par with gods so far as power: a telekinetic and telepath who can affect things on a microscopic level. Bloodshot was created to kill Harada, but in the process of his creation he ended up with a soul.

Since then he’s gained power, lost power, had allies and watched them die, been the subject of a manhunt, fought himself, discovered the full weight and history of the conspiracy that created him, and fought against the powers that be to free all humanity from the shackles of greed and avarice. He’s also made a massive mess in the process. This is not a comic for the faint of heart, but those of you that want some thought packed in with your ultraviolence really should be reading this title.

Also, Sony is planning a Bloodshot live-action film and Valiant did a web series where Bloodshot was played by Jason David Frank (the Green Power Ranger), so Bloodshot has that going for it. No idea if Frank will reprise the role for the movie, but Dave Wilson is directing. Wilson did promotional videos for some small projects like Halo and Titanfall 2 and that awesome mini-movie that announced a new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game. He’s also the partner of Tim Miller, who you might remember having directed a little film called Deadpool.

With Sony having finally clued in that making good movies that happen to have comic book characters in them rather than making comic book movies is why Marvel is doing so well (as evidenced by Logan and Deadpool), we have high hopes for this eventual release. If you’re looking for the early scoop on something that can and should be awesome, get into the comics now.

It’s the perfect moment. Jeff is starting the next part of his epic saga here, so this? This is the moment that you’re going to want to jump on board. Renato Guedes, on art duties, will shock you with how pretty his art is. Do not miss this.

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God of Comics: Vampirella #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

March 15, 2017

Vampirella #1 (Dynamite Entertainment)

Huh. Two Dynamite comics in one month. That’s never happened before. Keep up the good comics, guys.

Dynamite goes back and forth between being simple TnA and in-depth stories where some skin gets flashed. They’ve been focusing more on the latter for years now, most notably with Miss Fury, the aforementioned Gail Simone comics, and others. They did a rather incredible send-up of every modern western vampire story a few years back using this character, and that was a lot of fun, but…

… well, it’s Vampirella. There’s some weirdness here because the character is weird. She’s had origin stories that make her an alien or make her a vampire or make her the daughter of Lilith or… she’s got a convoluted back story that involves gods, other planets, angels, demons, pretty much everything. Her root, though, her very start was in horror erotica and it was often genuinely terrifying, playing with concepts of monstrousness and humanity.

There’s something to the character that speaks to the heart of vampiric myth, an honesty born of the Victorian era while confronting and murdering the conceits of that era. She can be fun, she can be commanding, she can horrific – there’s very little that is beyond the character’s literary grasp given the utter chaos that is her history.

Many writers, when confronted by this, shuffle it all to the side and start anew. This is the real mythology, they say, and move on. The writer Dynamite has chosen for this iteration of the character, Paul Cornell, has a different view on the subject: they’re all true, he says. I like to imagine him laughing as he says it, perhaps even cackling.

He’s having Vampirella woken up after a thousand years of sleep, the subject of a prophecy in a world that we’re going to have to learn about as she does. At the same time, her own memories have been damaged and so she’s got to try and piece together who and what she is. Thankfully, the people that died waking her up left her a somewhat legible book of prophecies to work with, so she does have that going for her.

Paul has no problem letting his world and characters build themselves, and artist Jimmy Broxton walks a perfect line between camp, atmosphere, and epic. This is an incredibly powerful start to a new series and an entirely different take on a familiar character that snaps into what you might know of her perfectly, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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God of Comics: Red Sonja #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

March 15, 2017

Red Sonja #3 (Dynamite Entertainment)

This title had a character-defining run a few years back when Gail Simone decided that she was going to take a stab at the She-Devil with a sword and took her through her whole life. It was fun and worked well with the legendary tone of the character, leaving enough blank spaces between story-arcs for anything and everything to happen.

And anything is the best word to describe what Amy Chu has decided to put her through.

So, here’s the story: Sonya is hired by a village to stop a mad sorcerer, Kulan Gath, from summoning up demons and elder things. She goes in and basically does her thing, being a high-level warrior in a mid-level campaign, and slaughters her way through to the sorcerer. They fight, he surprises her with a spell and she loses track of him and finds herself entombed somewhere.

Getting out isn’t a big problem because this is Red Freaking Sonya we’re talking about, but the tomb she was in? It’s a subway tunnel. She’s been transported to modern day New York. Typically when this sort of thing happens in a fantasy story it’s because the production is running low on money, but there have been good high-fantasy/modern day crossovers in the past (Elric was pretty big on them, come to think of it).

This is one of the good ones, playing to the paranoia of the modern world and the concepts that come with high fantasy. Sonya is Sonya, regardless of the world she’s in. She’s been shot at and arrested by cops (who had to remind one another to de-escalate the situation and utterly failed to do so), one of whom speaks a broken version of her language. There’s been beer and all sort of madness and that’s been fun.

More interesting, though, is the sorcerer. Kulan went and started a corporation and is doing all the things corporation CEOs and big banks do in the modern era – causing more misery and suffering than the most evil of his ilk could have dreamed of in the past. He’s also now in charge of the police and various intelligence services due to graft and political corruption, meaning he can turn the whole city on her without having to lift a finger.

Welcome to modern day America, Sonya. Its a dystopia both worse and better than you might have thought possible.

This issue is going to see Sonya confront the evil CEO from her time and maybe get some questions answered, but this isn’t going to be easy for her – because as bad and cruel as her world could be, this one can be much more worse.

Red Sonya might not be the hero we deserve, but here’s hoping that she is the hero we need.

Amy Chu is clearly having fun with the concept, and so is artist Carlos E. Gomez. The latter’s talent for juxtaposition comes to the fore here, as he gets to mix the madness of Sonya’s world with the madness of our own. The whole thing is pretty great and if you’re craving more fantastic in your urban fantasy, you’ll probably dig this.

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God of Comics: Injection #11

God Of Comics, Reviews

March 15, 2017

Injection #11 (Image Comics)

If you like horror – creeping intelligent gets-inside-your-head dread – then you need to be reading this comic.

This is Warren Ellis at his absolute best, giving artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire the perfect stories with which to play with their art and haunt the rest of us. This book is the purest sort of magic, a story that could only ever properly be told in this medium by three absolute masters of their craft.

It’s also been on hiatus for a bit while the three worked on other projects and plotted out the next storyline, of which this is the first part. The premise is simple enough – a think tank was put together to try and make life more interesting, the greatest thinkers and cultural scholars thinking that mankind was heading for a cultural and political plateau that looked pretty good but also boring.

The lot of them met one another and put together an AI that was supposed to make things more interesting, an injection into the technological consciousness, but one of their number wasn’t a scientist or strategist or what-have-you; he was a Cunning-Man (read: wizard), and his presence altered the injection somewhat.

What was created is no longer limited to computer systems, but is acting out in the confines of reality and changing what is real and what is not. It has no limitations other than perception and is an intelligence designed by some of the most intelligent people that have ever lived to be more brilliant than all of them.

Problem is, the damn thing went rogue and now the team that created it has to try and mitigate the messes it makes. The one person that’s doing this in any sort of official capacity, Maria Kilbride, has gone insane because of it and is basically let out of the asylum to fight a bodiless presences that is, quite simply, beyond the comprehension of most people.

It’s a sanity-shattering concept that’s writ and drawn to perfection, a philosophical/spiritual thriller that is unlike anything else you’re going to find, well, anywhere.

The new storyline starts with Maria sending one of the other creators of the injection, Brigid Roth (think a merging of Harold and Root from Person of Interest), to an archaeological site in Cornwall to investigate a series of flensed skeletons that have been chained to a wall. Brigid is there to separate data from legend and is putting her sanity at risk by doing so.

If you like intelligent horror you need to be reading this. Do so. Now.

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God of Comics: Ghostbusters 101 #1

God Of Comics, Reviews, Showcase

March 15, 2017

Well, this takes me back.

Erik Burnham was writing this comic when I first started the whole God of Comics thing for Living Myth Magazine. It had this weird stylized Dan Schoening art that made it instantly recognizable and tried to marry the various cartoons and comics that came before (excepting the one with the gorilla) and worked excessively well. It also set the stage for the themes IDW would continue to explore in the comics that followed: themes like integration, family, and diversity.

Without Erik Burnham’s work on Ghostbusters, there would be no TMNT, no Jem and the Holograms, no GI Joe. The modern IDW comics owe a lot to this title and Transformers, so the idea of Erik returning to work on the characters he did such a good job with before is exciting… especially following the fallout of the last feature film.

Let’s get this out of the way now: I enjoyed the new movie. It was not as good as the first but was loads better than the second and it could easily spark a whole new franchise. The deleted scenes are great, the themes explored therein are a lot of fun, and the characters are kind of amazing (I have a head canon that Patty is putting herself through college and is majoring in New York’s history and sociology).

The set-up here is that the original team – Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, and Spengler – are opening up franchises because of course they are, and that means bringing people into the home office to learn the ropes. Some of those students poke around where they shouldn’t and end up merging two universes together, a thing that happens in IDW quite a lot (and explains their weird and often excellent crossovers).

In practical terms, this means that Venkman, Stantz, Zeddemore, and Spengler will get to work with Holtzmann, Yates, Tolan, and Gilbert as equals, with respect to both iterations of the franchise being seen as equally valid. This is the best sort of writing, and this comic promises to be a lot of fun.

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God of Comics: Batwoman #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

March 15, 2017

Batwoman #1 (DC Comics)

ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod

I mean… er. I’m really excited that this is happening. Batwoman was one of the few bright spots in the nu52 until the powers that be decided that the title character couldn’t have a lesbian wedding because of a dictate stating that superheroes weren’t allowed to be happy because the nu52 was full of Dark and Grit, and it proved to be as idiotic a decisions as Marvel’s whole thing of turning Steve Rogers into a Nazi.

Things came to a head and the whole creative team walked. This was after the character’s creator, Greg Rucka, walked after having creative differences with the idiots that decided eternal darkness needed to be the theme of all their comics and not just a really great video game. Art duties went to someone awful, and writing duties went to someone who took Bruce Wayne’s equal and decided that rape-by-vampire was the best story ever.

All of it just compounded the problem, like Marvel is doing right now by having a holocaust survivor become a Nazi. Readers left the book in droves. It was sad. Eventually, the book was canceled and the powers-that-be said that the character was best left forgotten and couldn’t actually remember the character’s name.

I wrote a eulogy when the creative team left back at Living Myth Magazine that talked about some of the mistakes that DC was making back then. It seems someone at DC was paying attention – not to me, per se, but to the readers that were leaving them – and they’ve since rebooted their whole franchise (again) but this time gone back to the heroic elements that make DC Comics great.

Part of that process was handing Detective Comics to James Tynion IV, one of the better up-and-coming writers who is likely to be one of the best writers the industry has to offer in a very short time. He made Detective Comics a team book, and a big part of that team was Kate Kane – Batwoman.

Kate occupies a unique place in the Bat mythos; for a start, she’s Bruce’s cousin on his mother’s side, a military brat being groomed for an officer’s position on talent until she was drummed out under don’t ask, don’t tell. She had a random encounter with Batman while beating up some muggers and took one look at Batman and decided that was what she wanted to do.

She’s not a sidekick, not a reformed criminal, not anyone that had anything to do with Batman aside from maybe seeing Bruce at the occasional family dinner. She came to being Batwoman on her own, applying her own skills and talents, and this means that she’s not beholden to him: in many ways, she is his equal and he treats her as such.

James Tynion IV does, too, and he’s brought along “Evil” Marguerite Bennett on co-writing duties, and  Marguerite excels at working on titles that flirt with mythology, horror, and black comedy. This is a character that plays to all of her strengths. On top of that, Steve Epting – the artist from the gorgeous spy-thriller comics Velvet – is handling the art duties, so we’re returning to the lush visuals, deep blacks, and bright reds that gave the original series its dream-like quality.

Here, Kate is heading off to an island nation that acts as a criminal hub. The place is called Coryana, and it’s basically the most interesting bits of Madripoor from Marvel mixed with Tortuga from Pirates of the Caribbean. She’s there to investigate some of the fallout from decisions she made between being drummed out of the military and finding her calling. There’s people she left behind and other people that have developed a bioweapon that touches on the mythic mysteries that she handles better than Bruce does and this? This is going to be awesome.

Do not miss this comic. It’s going to be the best title the Big Two put out this week.

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