The Escapists

Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Rolston, Phillip Bond, Jason Shawn Alexander, Eduardo Barreto

Dark Horse Books

$19.95 US (Hardcover)

**** 1/2 (out of five)

 




Millions of people are reading comic books nowadays.





With wave after wave of talented creators focused on diversifying the subject matter and the appearance of comics, the medium has transcended its sadly long-held perception as one created solely for the entertainment of small children and has gained a strong foothold alongside film, television and non-graphic literature as a respected form of creative expression by and for adults.





While it’s pretty common to see people reading comics on the subway or to hear someone you know say, “Sure, I like comics” it’s amazing to see just how passionate those who work on them are.





Brian K. Vaughan, creator of such popular comic series as Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, as well as being a staff writer on the TV’s Lost, puts his love out for all to see in The Escapists.





On the surface, this book is about three young friends who attempt to revive a semi-obscure Golden Age character called the Escapist (taken from the pages of author Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay) in a new comic book series, while using a viral campaign that includes having one of them dress up in a costume and helping do good in his community.





A deeper look at this story reveals Vaughan’s infatuation with this industry, both its good and its bad side, examining what it’s like when you’re a naïve young creator with a hot property, how you often have to suffer for your craft and just how much you need to love it to survive and thrive in it.





The Escapists is one of the most enchanting love stories in years — even if it is about the love of comics.









Conan: The Blood-Stained Crown And Other Stories

Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Eric Powell, John Severin, Tim Truman, Rafael Kayanan, Bruce Timm

Dark Horse Books

$14.99 US (Paperback)

****





The era where one artist can keep up a one-book-a-month pace is, sadly, over and fill-in issues by unfamiliar creators are a grim reality.





Of course, those fill-ins needn’t be so bad.





While some publishers will just plug holes in their schedules with any old story, the creative team for Dark Horse Comics’ Conan decided to use those gaps constructively.





First came the recurring Born On The Battlefield, a fill-in serial that appeared every six issues and allowed regular penciller, talented Calgarian Cary Nord, time to catch up. After that came the stories that fill the pages of the new collection, Conan: The Blood-Stained Crown And Other Stories, in which regular writer Kurt Busiek (Superman) along with collaborator Fabian Nicieza (Thunderbolts) flesh out the world of the legendary Cimmerian with some rather exceptional flair.





Tales like Storyteller, the story of a youth with a vivid imagination and his encounter with out sword-wielding hero and a few hundred demons, written as homage to Conan creator Robert E. Howard and celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday, stand out as examples of fine work, not simply churning a book out just to keep it on schedule.





Other highlights include a deeper look into the lives of the prince and the wazir, two characters well used by Busiek in the regular framing sequence for the book, a surprisingly captivating exploration of what happened to Conan’s lost helmet and the gut-busting Conan’s Favourite Joke by animation icon, Bruce Timm.





While it lacks the fluidity of a six-issue story arc, this book does prove admirably that the term “fill-in” doesn’t have to equal crap.









Superman: Redemption

Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Walter Simonson, Peter Vale, Allan Goldman

DC Comics

$15.99/$12.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2





If you saw a man who flew without aid of an airplane, saved hundreds of people on an average day (and the world on the good ones) and gave selflessly of himself for the benefit of the world, would you think he was a super-hero or an angel?





Barbara Johnson, resident of Suicide Slum, one of the worst neighbourhoods in Metropolis is sure than the Man of Steel isn’t the former, but the latter and that she can actually call him down from “heaven” to help in her efforts to clean up her crime-ridden area.





This leaves Superman in the very uncomfortable position of not impugning anyone’s faith, but also not accepting any role as an agent of a higher power.





The religious overtones are an area of the Superman mythos that has been sadly neglected and must, no doubt, be written about very cautiously (as to not offend those who might not like comparisons between the “Last Son Of Krypton” and the Son of God).





The tales in Superman: Redemption deftly capture the hero’s awareness of this resemblance between deity and do-gooder and writers Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza do a fine job of delving into the hero’s own faith and how easily such power can corrupt.









Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns

Walter Simonson, Joe Bennett, Renato Arlem

DC Comics

$21.99/$17.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2





Theirs is a love that can never be.





It didn’t matter at first, since when Kendra Saunders, A.K.A. Hawkgirl, found out that she and Carter Hall, A.K.A. (yep, you guessed it) Hawkman, were soulmates — reincarnated lovers whose coupling doomed them in countless generations since they were originally cursed 3,500 years ago in ancient Egypt — she wasn’t interested in him.





But a partnership grew into friendship and just as that friendship began to swell into love, the Hawks were separated by the vastness of space, as Carter stayed on the planet of Rann to help his Thanagarian people make peace with the natives, while Kendra went back to Earth to resume her life as the resident super-hero in St. Roch, La.





Now there’s a chance they could finally be together, but if they take the plunge and admit their love, will the curse rear its ugly head again and destroy them both?





Are they willing to take that chance?





Bouncing back decently following a rather unfortunate debut story arc (Hawkgirl: The Maw), legendary creator Walter Simonson pieces together a solid story of love, loss and butt-kicking super-hero action — and best of all he even breaks out the pencils and contributes two issues of art to boot!









Shadowpact Vol. 2: Cursed

Bill Willingham, Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher, Steve Scott, Scott Hampton

DC Comics

$17.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2





Being a demon has never exactly been a great deal for Daniel Cassidy — but he had no idea how much worse it could be.





Daniel, A.K.A. Blue Devil, has been fighting hard against the forces of evil for years, both alone and with his team of magical heroes, Shadowpact, trying to make up for the fact that he’s, well, a big, blue, horned devil.





All the while he’s thought he was doing a good thing, but it turns out the higher ups in Hell really appreciate the good P.R. he’s doing for them and so they’ve given him a demotion (kind of live an evil promotion) to the caste of rhyming demon.





Unfortunately this new gig, which Danny doesn’t want anything to do with in the first place, comes with the promotion (remember that reverse thing?) of the nefarious demon, Etrigan, who is now pretty seriously pissed off with the hero.





So now it’s Blue Devil and Shadowpact vs. Etrigan, with a possible civil war in Hell on the line and the results could cost a founding member of super-team their life!





Shadowpact continues to do a great job of delving into the new magical depths of the DC Universe and there’s no sign of bottom yet.









The All New Atom Vol. 2: Future Past

Gail Simone, Mike Norton, Andy Owens, Eddy Barrows, Trevor Scott

DC Comics

$17.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)

***





Just about all of us has done something stupid for a member of the opposite sex that we’re helpless to resist.





The All New Atom takes it to the next level: He’s willing to battle the undead for a girl he’s had a crush on since boyhood.





Even as new Ivytown University Professor Ryan Choi is just getting used to the idea of being the next size-changing super-hero, he gets a panicked phone call from back home in Hong Kong from Jia, the unrequited love of his life, who says that her life is in danger.





After a long plane flight, Ryan locates the girl of his dreams and discovers the danger she’s in comes from her husband, Alvin, the bully that tormented Ryan back in school — and who nearly killed him.





But when Ryan finds Alvin he is shocked to learn that he’s darned near impossible to stop — since he’s already dead!





The All New Atom gets a little more character development by being put through the wringer courtesy of writer Gail Simone and artists Mike Norton, Andy Owens, Eddy Barrows and Trevor Scott.









Capes Vol. 1: Punching The Clock

Robert Kirkman, Mark Englert

Image Comics

$17.99 US (Paperback)

***





I have maintained for quite a while now that a more cohesive super-hero universe for the characters at Image Comics would be a great thing.





True, there’s a risk that if Savage Dragon, Spawn and Invincible kept having crossover series it would probably suck as much as when the other big comic book companies do them with their famous characters, but all in all I think it helps give depth to the Image world if they occasionally face each other’s villains or take a trip to one another’s cities.





Of course, I’m not the only person who’s held this viewpoint.





Turns out some character named Robert Kirkman tried creating a more integrated Image universe around his trademark character, Invincible, and a would-be sister series, Capes, about a super-hero team that operates as a business.





It was a good idea, but it didn’t work, mainly because Capes was just a little too campy for most people’s tastes.





Still, if you want a peak at the cohesive Image universe that could have been (and you never know, maybe it still will), then Capes is worth giving a read.









Invincible Presents: Atom Eve #1 (of 2)

Benito Cereno, Nate Bellegarde, Bill Crabtree, Robert Kirkman

Image Comics

$2.99 CAN/US

*** 1/2





She’s one of the hottest (in all meanings of the term) supporting characters of the past few years and now Atom Eve is ready to break out.





Just as her role in the critically acclaimed series, Invincible, begins to grow, Eve, A.K.A. Samantha Eve Wilkins, gets her full origin revealed beginning with her conception as part of a secret government program to create super-powered beings, to her life as a childhood chemistry prodigy and her discovery of the thrills of crime fighting.





The story lacks some of the signature wit that creator Robert Kirkman is so good at, but writer Benito Cereno and artist Nate Bellegarde still produce a very solid contribution to the Invincible universe that will no doubt be required reading for fans of the regular series.









Shark-Man #1

Steve Pugh, Michael Town, David Elliot, Ronal Shusett

Image Comics

$3.50 CAN/US

****





Alan Gaskill wanted to create a utopia.





Instead he’s unleashed a nightmare.





Gaskill’s ingenuity helped create New Venice, a paradise off the coast of California, with no crime and no worries for its residents.





To make sure this perfect city remains as pristine as it was intended, Gaskill also creates an alter ego: Sharkman, a hero who battles the pirates and villains that would assault the denizens and visitors of his amazing new land.





But not everyone is happy with Gaskill’s vision of perfection and forces, both political and supernatural, are working against him and his family.





Can Sharkman avoid being devoured himself?





Filled with vivid and exquisite art by Steve Pugh, Sharkman sinks its teeth into you quickly and never lets go.




jonathan.kuehlein@metronews.ca