DC’s Young Animal Imprint Brings the Shade

Shade the Changing Girl, a Rac Shade groupie. image via DC Comics
Shade the Changing Girl, a Rac Shade groupie. image via DC Comics

We’ve separated our review articles this week because there was a clear difference from the regular DC books in tone with Young Animal (Gerard Way’s DC Imprint) and the Vertigo books, along with other licensed properties, like Future Quest.

Should you be reading these? Shade, yes, Frostbite, yes, Clean Room, yes. Future Quest, yes. Some of the others?  Eh, maybe.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.

Shade the Changing Girl #1 – Cecil Castellucci, Writer; Marley Zarcone, Artist; Kelly Fitzpatrick, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Promising Start

Ray: The second book in the Young Animal line to debut comes with a clearer narrative and a better hook that instantly puts it a bit above the intriguing but slightly obtuse Doom Patrol. Partly inspired by body-swap comedies like Drop Dead Diva, partly a surreal sci-fi adventure, this book opens with a mysterious otherdimensional being hijacking the body of a brain-dead teenage girl named Megan, waking her up to the shock of everyone around her. It soon becomes clear that this new Megan is not like the old, replacing a Queen Bee/Mean Girl routine with a spacey, charismatic personality that is fascinated with everything they see on Earth. As time goes on, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy to see Megan alive – her parents are terrified that she’ll resume her old, bad ways, while her former friends are more worried about what will come out – they may have had more than a little to do with how Megan wound up in that coma.

Where this title really succeeds is in the fact that it gives a voice to both sides of the equation. It’s not just interested in Megan – Loma Shade, the strange, vulture-like creature from another dimension who makes the journey into Megan’s body, is given her own backstory and supporting cast as well. Despite her world being full of strange monsters and arcane structures, her desires for something more outside of her normal life is completely relatable, and her decision to make the jump to Earth despite her friends not understanding is a good way to set up her character. Maybe the real star this issue, though, is Marley Zarcone’s bright, Allred-inspired art. This book has the perfect mix of the realistic and the surreal, and based on the first issue, I am definitely in for the ride.

Corrina: Yes, let’s talk about that art because that art kept me pulled into the story where I otherwise might have checked out. It’s all out once trippy Steve Ditko-like (hey, look at all the skeletons and the animals around Megan/Loma) and yet manages to convey the down-to-Earth elements of the story, such as dinner with Megan’s parents, and Megan’s adventures at the lake that led to her “death.” The art kept me interested while the story tossed a few too many elements at me.

However, I know what this book is about right off the bat, about a Rac Shade groupie (shades of a rock groupie?) who can’t keep her own life together who runs away to have fun and adventure and no responsibility to Megan’s form. The fun of this concept just may be that while Loma didn’t have her act together, Megan was basically the Queen Bee in charge of everything. Will Megan now be shunned in high school, thus confusing Loma? Or will Loma find the popularity she never had and let it go to her head? In essence, this is a high school story with a surreal twist.

Bonus DC & Vertigo Reviews!

Frostbite #1 – Joshua Williamson, Writer; Jason Shawn Alexander, Artist; Luis NCT, Colorist

Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: Bleak But Engaging

Ray: Williamson may be making his name on The Flash right now, but in the indie world he’s been known for a while for his inventive, creepy creator-owned books, ranging in genre from serial-killer mystery Nailbiter to supernatural family drama Birthright, to my personal favorite – globetrotting ghost epic Ghosted. However, his first Vertigo book takes a different tack, eschewing supernatural high concept for a gritty post-apocalyptic reality that feels like it could spin out of our own. Set decades after the beginning of the next ice age, humanity is now confined to a small section of the globe around the equator, barely able to survive in a world where heat is the top commodity. Making things worse, a mysterious virus called Frostbite has begun taking hold, freezing people from the inside out.

Focusing on an intriguing band of mercenaries and the mysterious father-daughter duo they’re assigned to protect, Frostbite starts out as a chase thriller as a vicious band of ganglord pursues their charges, but then takes a sharp turn into fascinating sci-fi as we learn exactly what caused the frozen apocalypse and what role one of the characters had in it. A big, last-arc swerve leads a massive cloud hanging over the series, once you know is going to be revealed before it all ends. This is one of the best new debuts Vertigo’s had in a long time, and also one of the darkest. With shades of recent properties like The Massive and The Empty, but with a film-noir overlay that instantly pulls you into the world, this has the chance to be Williamson’s Vertigo breakout the way American Vampire was for Snyder.

Pages from Frostbite, image via Vertigo
Pages from Frostbite, image via Vertigo

Corrina: “Begin as you mean to go on,” is the saying for first chapters of stories and Williamson and Alexander do exactly that, pulling no punches on just how desperate the people in this world feel, from the first chapter in which a victim of the Frostbite receives no mercy or compassion to the unexpected death as our main characters flee from the authorities with the father-daughter team in tow.

None of these people are heroes. The story lets us know that from the start. Instead, they’re stranded and alone—literally in the cold, physically and emotionally–and I’m not sure they’ll ever warm up. But perhaps the trick of getting there will showcase some hope. There’s certainly a hint of a cure in this first issue. That would definitely a twist, a dystopian world in which things end happily. But given the tone of this issue, any ending is going to be bittersweet.

Clean Room #12 – Gail Simone, Writer; Jon-Davis Hunt, Artist; Quinton Winter, Colorist

Ray – 9/10

Corrina: Is It Okay To Come Out From Hiding Now?

Ray: The first year of Simone’s surreal demonic possession epic wraps up much like it began – with nightmare-inducing visuals and corporate intrigue. When we last left off, Astrid Mueller was facing a coup in her organization by a shady rival, while Chloe was forced to unleash the fury of her personal guardian demon Spark – only to find out that once Spark remembered just how fun being evil was, he didn’t really want to go back. This issue is essentially a crowning moment of awesome for both women, as Astrid proves just how far she’s been long-gaming this and unleashes her secret weapon against her rival in graphic fashion. Meanwhile, Chloe discovers that her connection to Astrid is much deeper than she had realized, as she unleashes the power of the Clean Room and forces Spark to confront his worst memory. It all ends with probably the most unsettling visual of the series, as it seems like this book is not going to let up on the horror in year two. Just the way I like it.

page from Clean Room #12. Oh, Astrid.
page from Clean Room #12. Oh, Astrid.

Corrina: You never know what’s coming with this series. Or who to root for. But what I do know is that it makes for compelling (but terrifying) reading, especially because Astrid’s calm tone is so at contrast with the horrible monsters that she’s fighting. Astrid comes by her peace with what she does honestly, having tried to kill a demon that invaded her father when she was younger.

It’s Chloe who gets the emotional sequences and in the Clean Room, she not only struggles to control Spark but faces the question of what’s good and what’s evil and what deserves punishment or redemption. Chloe has no easy answers. But, of course, the Clean Room does. Whoa.

I’m looking forward to the inevitable group cosplay of Astrid’s people.

Future Quest #5 – Jeff Parker, Writer; Evan “Doc” Shaner, Craig Rousseau, Artists; Hi-Fi, Jeremy Lawson, Colorists

Ray – 7.5/10

Corrina: Still Hooked.

Ray: I don’t know if Shaner bit off more than he could chew with this miniseries, or if there’s some odd behind-the-scenes problems we don’t know about, but it’s really surprising to me that he’s only fully drawn one issue, the first. This issue starts out with a promising tale in the main story. As a mysterious storm unleashes monsters on the world, Team Quest battles Dinosaurs and the agents of FEAR. Jezebel Jade finally enters the fray, using invisibility to get the drop on the heroes. Spectacular visuals throughout, especially involving the prehistoric creatures, and the ending gives an unlikely hero the power of Mi-Tor. Can’t wait to see more of this plot.

The latter story, with guest art by Craig Rousseau, brings back the oddball super-team The Impossibles, here reinvented as a team of former musicians transformed into superheroes by FEAR’s experiments. They now have a TV show where they pretend to be actors who play superheroes to hide their real powers. Rousseau’s art is nice and cartoony, but the plot is a bit convoluted and I’m worried about just how many characters this series keeps introducing. I’m hoping a clearer narrative emerges that brings all these side stories together because right now the main story is brilliant but the rest of the series lets it down a bit.

Corrina: The problem with this series so far is there isn’t enough of the main story and Shaner’s fantastic art. The headline story is great, brining together all these heroes to battle not only familiar villains, like FEAR, but the galaxy-wide threat. Unfortunately, we haven’t had enough of this story in five issues. I’m willing to wait for that story to play out, as this is one of my favorite comics this year, but I understand why Ray is becoming impatient.

The other half of me was saying, “chill, look there’s Jade and Race!” plus the other characters, all working together. That fanjoy would keep me reading this series for a long time. As for the back story? Like many current readers, I’m not familiar with the Impossibles, so I found it an excellent introduction though, of course, of less interest than the more familiar stars.

He-Man/Thundercats #1 – Rob David, Lloyd Goldfine, Writers; Freddie E. Williams, Artist; Jeremy Colwell, Colorist

Ray – 2/10

Ray: It’s been a bit of a boom time for crossovers in comics lately, with DC hosting quite a few critically acclaimed ones (Batman/TMNT, Gotham Academy/Lumberjanes) and smaller companies teaming up for unusual pairings (Tarzan/Planet of the Apes). A lot of these books have shown pretty compellingly how to fuse two properties into a narrative that’s compelling for both sides – but not every trend is going to have a 100% success rate. Unfortunately, this revival crossover for two 80’s cartoons that have had previous comics for DC is the perfect example of how not to do a crossover. He-Man, the more successful of the two properties in recent years, is the staging ground for the event as Mumm-Ra, arch-villain of the Thundercats, is stinging from a recent defeat and gets informed by his mysterious masters that he can redeem himself by claiming He-Man’s sword. He then attacks Eternia, and the Thundercats follow to join the heroes. Mumm-Ra impersonates the Sorceress, stabs He-Man and steals his sword, and then disappears to turn it over to his master – who is revealed to be Skeletor.

It’s all very generic, with countless characters thrown into battle with no real set-up, and the Thundercats fare poorly in particular. At least He-Man and his cast have appeared in recent comics. Freddie Williams II’s art, while very good on books like Robin, is not suited for what’s essentially an overstuffed fight comic. I don’t usually talk about covers, but the near-abstract art on the cover that makes the Thundercats look like monsters is not very appealing either. I can’t see any situation where this makes a new fan of either property.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Five #19 – Brian Buccellato, Writer; Xermanico, Marco Santucci, Artists; Rex Lokus, Colorist

Ray – 7/10

Corrina: DC Is Using Harley Quinn to Sell this AU

Ray: It’s the final issue of the original Injustice series, and it’s one of the best since Tom Taylor left the run as we flash back to the beginning of the series and see how things could have turned out if it didn’t all go to hell with the death of Lois and the destruction of Metropolis. The first half of the issue is devoted to things like Clark and Lois telling the Kents about the baby, or Bruce and his family throwing a rather amusing birthday party for Alfred (although Damian is drawn nothing like Damian here and looked more like Tim at first glance).

Naturally, the good times don’t last, as the Legion of Doom puts into effect their plan that leads to the Joker’s destruction of Metropolis. The latter half of the issue is devoted to the JL battling these villains – only for Joker’s plan to be foiled at the last minute when the JL shows up – but maybe not this world’s JL. They grab the Joker, disappear into a flash of light, and that’s how this story ends. Of course, this is just a prelude for volume two, with Taylor returning to writing duties in a few months. I’m more intrigued by this world than I have been in a while.

Corrina: I like (meaning how much I dislike) that this comic has always been bait and switch. Look at all the happy heroes! Now let’s kill a pregnant lady and turn Superman into a murderer and then kill a whole city, plus have the heroes kill each other. That is not fun for me. So while I liked the beginning sequences, I wondered when doom would descend on them all. Ah. Silly me. This is yet another AU setup in which the bad stuff doesn’t happen, using the uber-popular Harley Quinn as a point of view character. Not a bad idea at all, at least until the murders begin again.

Batman ’66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel #4 – Ian Edginton, Writer; Matthew Dow Smith, Artist; Wendy Broome, Colorist

Ray – 6.5/10

Corrina: Fun!

Ray: This remains my least favorite of the Batman ’66 tie-in minis, simply because the plot is a bit too straightforward. Steed and Peel are very dry, traditional secret agents, and the threat posed by the Cybermen feels minimal at best. This issue did have some intriguing action segments in it, especially in the first half of the issue as the Batplane comes under attack by Cybermen in mid-air and we get to see Batman’s unique plane technology at work. Things come back down to Earth, literally and figuratively, in the second half as the two teams of heroes confront Mr. Freeze, who has now joined Michaela Gough in her evil plan. The Cybermen show up again, with some new upgrades, but the tension continues to be low. That’s the biggest problem with this miniseries – it feels like it takes place in 1966, but not in the bizarre, gonzo 1966 of Batman ’66. It’s way too grounded, and it’s only when it escapes that vibe that it really works.

Corrina: I’m not sure if Ray is as big a fan of Steed and Mrs. Peel as I am but if that’s the case, it will explain why I’m enjoying this crossover so much and Ray isn’t, as it’s far more in tune with the tone of the original British Avengers show than Batman ’66. That means we have adventures and death traps handled with a dry quip, with mortal peril underplayed to the end. Not very much slapstick or outright silliness here.

But for anyone who loves Mrs. Peel and Steed? Step on up.

The Flintstones #4 – Mark Russell, Writer; Steve Pugh, Artist; Chris Chuckry, Colorist

Ray – 8.5/10

Corrina: Little Too Obvious

Ray: Part Flintstones reboot, part acerbic social satire, this continues to be the most ambitious of the Hanna-Barbera reboots, and this issue it decides to tackle one of the most controversial issues in modern memory – marriage rights. In this case, in Bedrock, it means the right to get married at all. Seems that marriage is a new and controversial institution, and a lot of people want to go back to the traditional way of sex caves. Leaving Pebbles with Betty and Barney for the week, Fred and Wilma decide to attend a controversial marriage retreat to discuss their unusual way of life with participants that include a young couple considering marriage and an old couple that has been married longer than anyone and hated every minute of it.

The satire is a bit on the nose in places, but it’s got a really nice tone, especially when it answers the question of “Why should gay couples get married when they can’t procreate” in excellent fashion. I was a little less interested in the subplot involving a rebellion being plotted by the animal appliances, but overall this continues to be the most consistently entertaining of the rebooted cartoon properties. Bring on the Jetsons, I say.

Corrina: Ambitious, yes, but this issue seemed to hit us too hard over the head with the satire, which makes it harder for the story and the characters to stand out. Of course, this reboot is all about the satire, rather than the characters, so maybe I’m being churlish.

It is fun to see the same objectiion to marriage that current-day marriage opponents have used against LGBTQ marriage and the scene in a circle at the retreat where everyone discusses their problems has some fine moments. Pugh’s clean lines help a great deal, especially in the scenes at the Flinstone house, where the living appliances rebel, giving us the one poignant moment of the issue. It’s sorta like the scenes when toys come to life in Toy Story but with living things.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received these comics for review purposes.

 

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Reviewer, comic book writer, and the author of Alex Actonn, Son of Two Seas - novel available on Amazon now! DC superfan who is loving everything about Rebirth. Feels very strongly about Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, and Young Justice. Can also be found on Graphic Policy doing sales analysis with Glenn Matchett, and on the Rabbitt Stew Podcast with Glenn and Brandon James.