Catch It at the Comic Shop March 31st, 2021

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week... 

Rachel's Picks:

Witchblood #1 by Matthew Erman, Lisa Sterle, Gab Contreras, and Jim Campbell, published by Vault Comics

I’ve always had a problem with female characters fighting in metal bikinis and stiletto boots/high heels. How is it that none of these characters have had a wardrobe malfunction while saving the day? I can only suspend my disbelief so much. Lately I’ve gotten in to watching Jill Bearup’s videos. She is a stage combat performer and one of the frequent themes in her videos is discussing the clothing that characters, especially female characters, wear in action and comic book movies. If you want to know why boob armor is bad and why platform boots aren’t the best footwear for a fight, I recommend that you check out her YouTube or Nebula videos. Thus, when I started reading Vault’s Witchblood and I saw that Yonna D’Arc a witch and the main character was wearing a cute but very practical motorcycle outfit (leather jacket, fitted cargo pants, sturdy low-heeled boots), I was quite pleased.  Witchblood takes place in a world where both witches and vampires exist. The vampires especially enjoy drinking blood from witche—hence the title of the series. Yonna is understandably not a fan of this. Aside from the great outfits, I was also immediately captured by the opening shot of a beautiful western desert with stars, mountains, and cacti. A lot of neon colors, like hot pink and turquoise are used throughout, which reminds me of Jen Bartel's work. There are moments that are very cartoony, like when a character is bonked on the head. What's nice though is that even though some items in that panel are drawn in a more simplified manner, the item that did the bonking is rendered in a lot of detail. And when the vampires turn up, the art becomes more menacing and psychedelic. I liked Jim Campbell's lettering for Bhu the crow’s sound effects. Some of these include "peck," "caw" and my absolute favorite, "bird." If you like urban fantasies and colors that remind you of Lisa Frank, pick up a copy of Witchblood.

Shadow Doctor #2 by Peter Calloway, Georges Jeanty, Juancho!, Charles Pritchett, & Mark Chiarello, published by AfterShock Comics

This volume opens with teenaged Nat and his white friend, Mary, out in the Alabama woods. Mary brings Nat to a fig tree that shouldn't be growing in this climate, but which appears to be thriving. These scenes of the lush tree and the woods are the brightest in the volume, a kind of Eden. Even in this paradise, the color of his skin will be held against him.  Knowing that the series is based on a true story, it is sickening to see how terribly Nat is treated. He just wants to be a doctor and no one is willing to hire him or to lend him money to open a clinic. And though Al Capone regularly says racist, ignorant things to Nat about Black culture, he's far less racist and hateful than most Americans. He gives--not loans but gives--Nat $1,000 so that Nat can open up a clinic. Capone tells Nat that in America, station doesn't matter, that a man is limited only by his ambition. Despite this, he doesn't believe that America is ready to accept Black lawyers or doctors, but he'd like Nat to prove him wrong. The art by Georges Jeanty again recreates 1930s Chicago. My favorite panel is from inside a bustling jazz club. The diners are all rich and white and the band performing is made up of three Black men. Nat's purple suit (a loan from Capone) is one of the brightest items in the space. It’s obvious how much he doesn’t belong there. But his services as a doctor are going to be needed quite soon.

Kelli's Picks:

Heaven’s Design Team Vol.4 by Hebi-Zou, Tsuta Suzuki, and Tarako, published by Kodansha
This manga is such a crazy mix of themes. It’s creationism mashed up with non-conformist gender roles and gender identities, sprinkled with good dose of biology, and finished with a touch of humour. Before I go further I should say, I am 100% Team Evolution. I do understand and respect the fact that Intelligent Design is considered by some as an explanation for the existence of life on Earth. For me it’s the nucleus for a really interesting and funny manga. Whether you plant your flag in one camp, or the other, or neither, I hope that you can enjoy this manga! Anyway, here’s the premise: God created Heaven and the Earth, he also started to make all the plants and animals, but then He got lazy and a little bit bored, so He decided to outsource the job. Enter Heaven’s Design Team. An eccentric group of designers tasked with fulfilling God’s vague and sometimes conflated design requests. The group itself is pretty interesting. There’s a big burly guy who likes to design cute, cuddly animals. There is a pig-tailed, plushie-carrying girl who has a penchant for designing macabre creatures, like parasites. There’s the guy who likes to sample almost every creature they create. Most of his designs have ended up in a pot or at the end of a skewer. Then there is the person who believes that to design is to create beauty. I say person, rather than s/he because they are transgendered and also possibly non-binary. Actually, their gender isn’t really important to story, but it’s worth mentioning, precisely because it is not an issue within the pages of Heaven’s Design Team. They’re just part of the team doing their thing designing beautiful fauna and flora. That kind of inclusivity is just awesome. Heaven’s Design Team is an educational and humorous romp for fans of manga like Cells at Work, and What the Font?!. If you’re inquisitive about the world around you, if you wonder why elephants have such ridiculously big ears, or why bunnies eat their own poop, or why the world isn’t filled with horses that fly, pick up a copy of Heaven’s Design Team. It’s a nice launching point from which to learn more about the creatures that we share this planet with.

BL Metamorphosis vol. 4 by Kaori Tsurutani, translated by Jocelyne Allen, published by Seven Seas Entertainment 
BL stands for “Boys Love”; as the label implies BL is manga about love between men. It is a complicated genre, but to put it simply, it is manga about men who like men, written primarily by women for girls and young women. The popularity of BL has increased in recent years and readership has grown beyond its target audience to include fans of all ages and gender. BL Metamorphosis however, is less about BL and more about the friendship of two women. Ichinoi is 75 when she picks up her first volume of BL. She thinks it is a regular Shojo (girls) manga and is pleasantly surprised once she starts reading. She is instantly hooked and returns to the bookstore to buy the next volume in the series. It is here that she meets Urara, a sensitive and introverted high school student and veteran BL fan. The two slowly develop a friendship, meeting to trade volumes and talk about their favourite BL. As the story unfolds we learn more about Ichinoi and Urara, about their struggles, their relationships with others and also with themselves. Volume 4 sees Urara take the plunge into making her very own BL doujinshi [amateur manga] with the hopes of exhibiting it at a doujinshi convention. Tsurutani’s art style is simple but quite detailed. Hidden in her panels are small details that offer a glimpse into the daily lives of urban Japanese. Her pen touch is light, with thin even lines, typical of shojo manga, and perfect for this story that is a quiet meditation on growing up and growing old.

James' Picks:

The Other History of the DC Universe #3 by John Ridley, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and Jose Villarubia, published by DC Comics

I've really enjoyed The Other History of the DC Universe so far. The first two issues focused on Black heroes (Black Lightning, and Bumblebee/Guardian), and this issue focuses on the character of Katana (a.k.a. Tatsu Yamashiro).  I haven't read a ton of comics featuring this character, but I've enjoyed Katana when I've read her. She's an incredible combatant with a sword, and her sword has the spirit of her deceased husband in it.  That's pretty intense. The character was also featured to great effect on the Arrow TV show years ago.  This comic series exists to shine a light on DC characters representing marginalized groups of people, in order to make clear that the "canonical" history of the DC universe is not the only perspective that needs to be heard. This is always timely and always important, but given the terrible anti-Asian violence in recent weeks, this is unfortunately more timely and important than ever (hey, #StopAsianHate). Anyway, the first 2 issues have been challenging (in a good way) and thoughtful and gorgeously illustrated, so I'm really looking forward to this next one.

Beta Ray Bill #1 by Daniel Warren Johnson, published by Marvel Comics

Any time Daniel Warren Johnson starts a new project it's a big deal. Wonder Woman Dead Earth was an incredible "what if" tale about WW which felt different than most other stories I've ever read about the character. Before that, Murder Falcon was one of my favorite comics of 2019, as it told an incredibly emotional story of a guy in a band who used the power of music to defeat monsters. The reason that DWJ is such a popular storyteller is simple. His art is completely f$%^ing mind-blowing. He does some of the most intense, visceral, detailed work out there today. Just staggering. Go read his books and check out his insane commissions. Anyway, Beta Ray Bill is a really fun character who I always enjoy whenever he pops up. His last encounter didn't go well, and he's heading off somewhere to have adventures. Honestly while I'm sure the plot will be interesting, all I want is to just watch Beta Ray Bill battle giant monsters. I think this'll be great.

Silk #1 by Maurene Goo and Takeshi Miyazawa, published by Marvel Comics

I really like the character of Silk. She's a more recent addition to Marvel that was introduced around the time of the original Spider-Verse miniseries (which is SO good, you should read it).  She was apparently bitten by the same spider that bit Peter, but then she was locked in a secure bunker for 10 years. Sort of weird, but it does explain why she wasn't around during Peter's earlier years. Anyway, she's a fun character, and I'm excited to read a new miniseries about her.  I LOVE artist Takeshi Miyazawa's artwork, and have enjoyed it in books like Ms. Marvel, Runaways, and Mech Cadet Yu. His style is very manga-influenced while still operating within the western comic book style. And he just has incredibly appealing, fun art. So I'm thrilled to check this one out. 

Decorum #7 by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston, published by Image Comics

I'm thrilled for the return of Decorum. This is high-level, weird science fiction which feels like it has a micro story, a macro story, and an "I have no idea what the hell is going on" story.  But that's fine because it's really engaging and is one of the very best looking comics out there. Mike Huddleston is an absolute beast on art - he's like 5 incredibly talented and distinct artists all rolled into one.  The micro story follows an incredibly well-mannered assassin, and he attempts to train a courier as a protege. There's also a story about maybe trying to birth some sort of robot messiah, and there's god? I don't know. It's a lot, but I really love it.

Rob's Picks:

Destiny, NY #1 by Pat Shand, Manuel Preitano, and Jim Campbell, published by Black Mask
Normally your destiny is ahead of you, but in the case of Logan, it's so far behind her it may as well not exist. While others at her special school wrestle with their looming fate, Logan can't get her mind out of the past. Making matters worse is an ex who's getting married and an inability to look forward. She's even planning a date with a former hookup. That's when Lilith enters her life and turns it upside down in the best possible ways--or perhaps not, as an important secret is revealed in this debut issue that moves quickly from start to finish. Black Mask keeps hanging in there and publishing great comics, and this is no exception. I loved that the pacing kept moving, despite all the introductory work that Shand and Preitano have to do here to get readers up to speed. Logan is immediately likeable and relatable. She's just enough of a mess to remind us of our own lives, but not so much as to be ridiculous. The queer content is extensive, but doesn't feel shoe-horned in, and no one's being a bargain basement stereotype or bigot. And while one of the big reveals wasn't a surprise to me, I'm still looking forward to seeing how they deal with it in future issues. Another thing I really liked was Preitano's linework, which doesn't feel digitally polished. The option to go greytone really enhances the pencilwork, too. I can see some of the individual strokes that went into many of the figures. There's even a great style change for the flashbacks, which look more European in style compared to the very Marvel 70s/80s House Style the rest of the comic features. And by the way, that's a compliment, not a critique. Seeing someone take the time to make subtle changes in the position of figures, ensuring they look like they're actually talking to each other, and giving a general sense of movement is never, ever a bad thing. Preitano's not afraid to switch up the reader's eye, either, which makes the comic feel even more full of motion. It also means that Jim Campbell has plenty of room to not only letter clearly, but also switch up things so it's not always hanging over their heads like a stormfront. Destiny, NY impressed Terry Moore enough to do a variant cover. After reading this first issue, I can easily see why. Don't sleep on this comic, especially if you dig urban fantasy style settings--and spectacular art.

Autobiographix Hardcover by Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Sergio Aragones, Stan Sakai, Bill Morrison, Linda Medley, Paul Chadwick, Matt Wagner, and others, published by Dark Horse
A long long time ago, in a sale bin somewhere, I picked up this awesome collection in paperback, with the one I remember the most being Frank Miller's illustration of his appearance as a extra in the Daredevil movie. While the time period of the book's original publication (2003) shows both in terms of the creators involved and the not-so-great diversity of said creators, it's still a phenomenal book. Part of the fun are the varied styles of those involved, ranging from Miller's practically sketchwork panels to Aragones' cartoonish, but detailed work. These are black and white, so watching how each creator approaches the use (or nonuse) of blacks is another great way to study its pages. I don't often re-buy books, but in this case, I'm planning to make an exception.

Cult of Dracula #1 by Rich Davis, Henry Martinez, Trevor Richardson, and Ed Dukeshire, published by Source Point Press
The Dracula mythos gets a more modern spin, with Renfield leading a cult of worshippers of the bloodsucker and Mina Murray trying to learn its secrets for a (presumably Netflix) documentary. Add a special agent into the mix (unfortunately named Bram, but that's a small complaint) for extra oomph because of course the body count is racking up, and you get a vampire story that caught my eye despite very few details. I love the idea of reimagining Dracula because the standard version is getting a little stale, and while I don't know much about the creators involved, I'm intrigued. The previews for the art look a little stiff and more typical of a indie floppy book than the linework I usually praise, but if the visuals keep the story moving, that'll be enough to keep me reading into issue two.
Shadow Service #6 by Cavan Scott, Corin Howell, Triona Farrell, and Andworld Design, published by Vault Comics
Meyer and Quill are on the run from the events of the first arc and the British Really Secret Service is hot on their tail in this combination chase scene/origin issue that keeps the foot on the gas. While there's not a lot of plot movement here, the fights are well-constructed and Howell and Farrell do a really nice job making a nightmare of a horse come to life. Wraith-1 is a bit of a cipher, so making her the lead figure here is a bit harder to pull off, but her backstory is useful for explaining why she's such a closed book. This is designed as a jumping on point and I wish it had a bit more meat to offer a new reader, but if you're looking for some magic-with-dire consequences material, this overarching story has it in spades with quirky characters and a whole lot of destruction.