by Ethan Rilly
There is no comic more associated in my mind with TCAF – the Toronto Comic Arts Festival – than Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats, a title that I’ve bought almost every issue of at that annual festival.
This year, I didn’t even know that there was going to be a new issue, so I was excited and happy to see a nice shiny stack of the new, 64-page issue at Rilly’s table.
This issue returns to Frances and Vickie, the two stars of the series. Last issue was built around short stories that didn’t feature these two characters, so it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen them. Vickie is in LA working for a TV show where she plays a crimefighter, and without her, Frances is more disappointed with her job and life than ever before.
Pretty much the entire issue is centred on France’s daily grind, working as a law clerk for a powerful (and eccentric) figure at a big corporate law firm. There is constant office intrigue as people jockey for position and quickly turn on one another. Rumours of big changes sweep through the office, and Frances’s boss offers her a large promotion and position of responsibility, but she’s not sure if this is the life that she wants.
Rilly’s got a very strong sense of these characters, and it seems like he just allows them to take over the storytelling as needed. There is little in the way of plotting here, yet I found myself immediately drawn back into the story. Frances is not someone who finds happiness easily, and Rilly does a terrific job of making that clear here. Her friendship with Vickie, who is her opposite in so many ways, is what makes this book work.
It was great to revisit these characters, and to see how Rilly has grown as a cartoonist and writer. I hope we don’t have to wait too long for a new issue to come out.
American Monster #6 – The sporadic nature of this series is really killing it. Brian Azzarello writes a pretty involved and complicated series here, but with so many months between issues, it’s often hard to keep track of the different characters. This title, about a bunch of people in a small town, reminds me a lot of Southern Bastards, and not just because it almost never comes out. It’s good, but I wish I’d decided to trade-wait it, as it’s meant to be read in more concentrated bursts.
Batwoman #3 – The story in Batwoman is starting to solidify a little better, as Kate investigates the Hydra-like banking organization that seems to be taking over the Malta-like pirate’s island where she used to hang out. Steve Epting’s art keeps me going even when elements of the story don’t really do it for me.
Daredevil #20 – We finally get the full low-down on how Daredevil’s identity became secret again, as Charles Soule sets Matt up for his next big mission – eliminating crime in NYC systematically through his job at the Attorny General’s office. Soule has a very good understanding of Matt’s character, and I like how he used a priest to reveal a lot of that. Ron Garney’s art was not as sharp as it was when he began on this book, but I couldn’t figure out if that’s because he was trying to do a subtle homage to Chris Samnee’s run at the same time. Either way, I’m looking forward to where this book is headed.
Flash #22 – The end of The Button, the four-part crossover with Batman, leaves us with way more questions than it does answers, as one of my favourite Golden Age characters make an appearance, and Batman and Flash learn very little. I feel like this whole event was just created to set up the Doomsday Clock event coming in November, which is kind of cheap. The scene before the epilogue does confirm what a lot of people were expecting, and I was kind of jazzed to see the lettering choice someone made, but at the same time, this stuff doesn’t excite me all that much. Let’s just bring the JSA back (and maybe the Legion along with it), and call it a day.
Horizon #11 – I feel like this title has been levelling up of late, as things become more violent and more is revealed about the cast members. Mariol, who has taken a logistic role for the quartet of aliens tasked with protecting their planet from Earth’s expansion plans, reveals a side of herself that I wasn’t expecting. Juan Gedeon continues to impress me with his growth and the kinetic energy of his fight scenes.
Invincible #136 – The final war with the Viltrumites continues to ramp up, as the assault on their central command planet reveals that there are a lot more of them than anyone expected. It’s an all-action issue, which means that Ryan Ottley gets to draw a lot of nasty scenes of bodies being ripped apart, which is very much his thing. I am really enjoying The End of All Things, but also keep thinking about how much I’m going to miss this title and these characters (assuming any survive).
Low #18 – Tajo and her friends pursue Lena in the lowest levels of the underwater city of Salus, as they try to stop her from detonating bombs she’s planted and flooding one third of what remains of humanity. This issue goes from yet another discussion of the values of hope to a pretty exciting semi-nude chase sequence. I feel like that sentence really encapsulates the Low experience, in a very good way. This title is really unpredictable, and really very good.
Ninjak #27 – I guess this is the last issue of Ninjak before the Rapture miniseries (that I’m going to skip because I hate the Deadside) and the upcoming Ninja-K relaunch. It’s written by Kevin Maurer, and seems to be setting up a future storyline. It’s a pretty much paint-by-numbers story, lacking some of the introspection that made Matt Kindt’s run work.
Poe Dameron #15 – The Resistance is low on fuel, so Poe and Black Squadron make what is supposed to be a pretty low-risk run, except that the First Order has figured out where they get their fuel from, leading to an outer-space remake of the movie Speed. It’s an enjoyable issue, and I continue to be surprised to learn that I prefer Angel Unzueta to Phil Noto on art.
Royal City #3 – Jeff Lemire’s family drama continues to spread its wings, as we get a better look at the various problems the characters have, often with one another. I really like Jeff Lemire on a book like this – there are no fantastical elements to the story at all, yet it’s as gripping as anything he’s ever written or drawn.
Secret Empire #2 – This issue did not propel itself with the same force as the first issue, but I still feel like this event is shaping up properly. We check in on the heroes who are stuck in the Darkforce-enveloped New York, and see how the Resistance reacts to the destruction of Las Vegas. Nick Spencer has a lot of balls in the air, and introduces a new story element at the end of the issue that has my attention. Some of this is the standard event stuff, as he sets up some of the spin-off miniseries, but much of that growth feels organic and appropriate. I like the way Spencer writes Black Widow and Hawkeye here, as he positions them as central characters (by contrast, Steve Rogers barely appears). Andrea Sorrentino is an amazing artist, and Rod Reis’s style complements his, although the art doesn’t really stand out a lot here. It also doesn’t get in the way though, so it all works.
Star Wars #31 – I hate when Star Wars gets gothy (you’ll note I’m not reading Darth Maul), so this Screaming Citadel arc is pretty hit-or-miss depending on which scene I’m reading. I do like how well Salvador Larroca is able to depict the original Star Wars characters, and always enjoy a well-written Doctor Aphra, but this is no Vader Down.
Super Sons #4 – The fight with Kid Amazo wraps up this issue, and while I enjoy the way Peter Tomasi writes Damian and Jonathan, I found the plot hard to care about. I’m hoping that next issue, which features the boys explaining themselves to Lois and Alfred, grabs me better, or I may be giving up on this book.
Teen Titans #8 – There are a lot of characters running around in the second chapter of The Lazarus Contract, and while I’m familiar with most of them, I quickly found myself getting a little lost in the tale of two Wally Wests, and the lack of explanation of just what deal Nightwing made with Deathstroke, and when. Still, this has been an interesting little crossover, and the next issue is in Slade’s own book, which is usually excellent, so I’m happy to be along for the ride.
Ultimates^2 #7 – I don’t know who guest artist Aud Koch is, but I really hope to see a lot more of his (her?) work. This issue, a Secret Empire tie-in, shows most the team stuck outside the energy shield around the Earth, looking for solutions. America’s trip to see Galactus doesn’t generate the results they need, and things are looking more and more desperate. Really, not a whole lot happens in this issue, but if there are people who are sampling it as part of the larger event, they might find more than enough strong characterization to pull them back for another issue.
The Wicked + The Divine: 455AD – Kieron Gillen and André Araújo head back to the last days of the Roman Empire to show us what happens when one of the gods decide to reject the usual suicide pact, and instead install himself as Emperor. Which god would this be? Lucifer, of course. Gillen shows us another side of Ananke in this one-shot, and we gain a little more insight into the usual cycle of things, although I’m sure much of that won’t be clear until it’s looked at in hindsight. I’ve enjoyed Araújo’s art before, and really enjoy it here. His Rome feels very believable.
Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:
Astro City #44
Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #2
Generation X #1
Green Arrow #23
Invincible Iron Man #7
Luke Cage #1
Mighty Thor #19
Nick Fury #2
Wild Storm #4
World Reader #2
X-Men Gold #4
All-New X-Men #12-16 – These are really weird comics. First, not a whole lot happens in any of them, aside from a way-too-easy encounter with the Goblin Queen, who is no longer a heavy hitter of a villain. Dennis Hopeless, who is usually terrific, has a really weird take on these characters. One entire issue is devoted to Idie (the seriously devout Christian and self-hating mutant) and Evan (the self-doubting nice guy) taking Bobby to a club (despite the fact that they’re all supposed to be teens) in Miami so he can “talk to boys.” This flies in the face of all previous depictions of these characters, and doesn’t make a lot of sense on any level. At the same time, Hank is studying the occult, and was actually responsible for leaving gateways to Hell open. It’s weird. Mark Bagley is typically innocuous to awful.
All-New X-Men Annual #1 – I enjoyed the main story in this annual, which was written by Sina Grace, and focuses on Idie. The issues I mentioned above are still there, but Grace has a more balanced approach to the character. I was excited to see a back-up story featuring Dani Moonstar, but at the end of the day, it was just alright. Dani needs to make a major comeback soon.
Uncanny Avengers #12-20 – I don’t think I’d ever have believed that Deadpool could credibly anchor an Avengers team, yet I found myself liking this stack of issues of Uncanny Avengers more than I’d expected to. These issues finish a fight with Ultron, run through Civil War II, and take the team up against the Red Skull (although to be more accurate, the Skull takes over almost the entire team from the start). These are not flawless comics, but they are pretty decent and entertaining.