Comic Book POW! - August 3, 2022

 Frankenstein: New World #1 (Dark Horse)

If you follow the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe's overarching plot, you might know that the world recently ended. Mike Mignola returned to his creations to provide what some fans have called a somewhat rushed but ultimately appropriate final conclusion, with most of our beloved characters being dispatched while fighting to save humanity only to see the earth scorched beyond order for a new one to be birthed and carry on from there. Had this been the very last of this comic book property, with its striking, moody aesthetic and glib, glum take on the burdens of heroism and supernatural turmoil, it would have been a job well done. But, in this foul year of our earth, 2022, no property stays dead. Especially when Dark Horse holds it up as their crown jewel. So, enter Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Thomas Sniegoski with the first tale of the aftermath of Ragna Rok.

The issue is a terrific jumping-on point, introducing a new protagonist in the young girl Lilja, who lives in the Hollow Earth where the remains of humanity were sent before the cataclysm. Sensing a new evil awakening above her on the surface, she sets off to awaken Frankenstein's monster--who has become an ancient oracle--to help her. There's a wonderful symmetry to this far-flung future of mysticism inside the Hollow Earth being made aware of evil brewing above them, while the original series begins with surface-dwelling humans introduced to the unfathomable evils of the supernatural by way of a demon from down below. 

It's chock full of expository help for newer readers, but what's most impressive is how well Frankenstein is captured as a character from the Shelley novel, only with the benefit of centuries of introspection attached. Art by Peter Bergting plays to his great strengths, mainly his ability to draw natural, elemental settings, by letting him shape the look of the new subterranean world and its fluorescent biosphere, and his uncanny replication of Mignola's character designs.

Edge of Spider-Verse #1 (Marvel)

Eisner Award winner Dan Slott is, at this point, on my Mount Rushmore of Spider-Man writers simply for being the man behind the "Spider-Verse" concept in 2014 that resulted in one of the best comic book crossovers of the last twenty years (and one of the best comic book movies of all time). After the massive success of that first team-up arc, as well as 2018's "Spidergeddon" return to the premise, Slott has assembled a team of co-creators to launch the third and final event in "Edge of Spider-Verse," before he returns to a tenure position writing the main Spider-Man comic title for Marvel in October.

In the proper vein of the Spider-Verse's tone and visuals, this #1 issue is jam-packed with silly and inventive new riffs on the Spider-Man mythos, including Spider-Laird, an 18th Century Scottish Highlander version of the character (written by Slott and inked by Martin Coccolo), a prehistoric rampage of Spider-Rex (by Karla Pacheco and Pere Perez), a triumphant and moody return of Spider-Noir (by Dustin Weaver and D.J. Bryant), and a splashy new relaunch of Araña (by Alex Segura and Caio Majado). Araña's return is marked by a new costume design by Humberto Ramos, who launched the now-iconic Amazing Spider-Man run in 2014 alongside Slott, and made them both Marvel superstars.

I'm encouraged that the energy behind this final arc is one of invention and exploration, though I'm sure once the "everything but the kitchen sink" method of team-up will eventually focus down into something emotional and high-stakes before it is over. 

Once & Future #28 (Boom! Studios)

Since its first issue in 2019, Once & Future has been touted as one of the more creative and successful King Arthur adaptations chiefly because of its loose juggling of the legends--the courage to present its own unique interpretation that feels modern and classic at once--while also possessing some intriguing themes about "legend" and "mythos" and the dangers of wrapping yourself in the armor of a story's "facts" or "canon." It concerns an elderly monster hunter and her grandson being thrust into action when a group of British nationalists try to resurrect King Arthur, only to find that the man emblematic to British exceptionalism is less Aragorn and more Sauron. Awakened in the modern day, Arthur and his supporting cast of knights, sorcerers, and fairy-esque beings unleash untold horrors in their quests and grudges that have spanned centuries. It's quite the ambitious use of old stories to speak to a modern comic book audience.

The new issue trades on a lot of the old stories' interpersonal drama with a Christmas interlude that allows for confrontation and quiet reflection. Arthur and his side of the growing conflict have ceased their battling due to the holy day, as per decorum and tradition, and have a feast while Merlin and Nimue discuss the fluid truths about their pasts and their memories. Meanwhile, Duncan and the Merry Men encounter some magic attached to the legend of King Lear. By the time New Year's Day arrives, there's another player on the battlefield in the form of the Green Knight.

Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora have created a marvelous ongoing plot with a lot of moving pieces, and a dynamically rendered set of incandescent medieval horror monsters mixing perfectly into a very muted, human story of how subjective stories can be, and how our slavish devotion to differing interpretations can bring ruinous outcomes. But rather than presenting a relentless action extravaganza, the book takes the time in each issue to explore motivations and weaknesses that can lead to one.

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