The PQ Archive: ‘Barb Wire’ Gives The Steel Harbor Blues, But Offers No Cures For Them

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


barb-wire-steel-harbor-blues-cover-665x1024Written by Chris Warner
Pencils by Patrick Olliffe
Inks by Tom Nguyen
Colors by Gabe Eltaeb
Letters by Michael Heisler
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Nostalgia has been finding itself in the comics community lately as more and more companies are rebooting properties from the 80s and 90s to introduce to a more modern reader. Sometimes, this is successful, like with IDW Publishing’s fantastic Jem and the Holograms comic. Other times, it is giving a much forgotten and mocked property a facelift, like Kate Leth and Eman Casallos’ upcoming Vampirella comic. To make these reboots work though, it has to carry the story forward and find an interesting angle to introduce the property to a new audience. Nostalgia cannot be the only factor involved.

Unfortunately for Dark Horse’s attempt to relaunch Barb Wire, nostalgia might be the only thing going for it.

Barb Wire is a Dark Horse property from the 90s, created by the team behind the Comics Greatest World imprint. While Ghost has managed to survive beyond the imprint to be a cult character, Barb Wire has become something of a joke after the 1996 film based on the comic starring Pamela Anderson was a critical and financial bomb. It’s easy to hope that maybe a rebooted comic would find a new audience mixed with original readers now that the film is 20 years old and mostly forgotten about.

The problem with that? The comic seems to forget trying to grab a new audience entirely.

The first volume Steel Harbor Blues focuses on Barb Wire being the focus of a reality show about bounty hunting while still trying to keep her club The Hammerhead alive and trying to catch some drunk LARPer reject named Wyvern Stormblüd who keeps evading police custody. He might be a metahuman? The comic is unclear on that.

In fact, the comic is unclear about a lot of things. Pages are turned and read, but barely anything about the worldBarb Wire lives in is explained. A cursory glance at Wikipedia barely answers any questions either. Are there superhumans? Is this a new universe outside of Comics Greatest World or the same one? Just who are these two giant jerks who keep harassing Barb while she works at the club? It leaves the feeling that you’re missing something by not being one of the people who read the original book back in 1995. The cherry on top is that Warner seems to make assumptions on how millennials talk and completely misses the mark in the process.

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The art doesn’t fare too much better either. Sometimes it is passable, but then there are times where the anatomy on Barb gets so twisty and ridiculous that it drags out of the story. At least Gabe Eltaeb’s colors are consistently vibrant and fun. It’s actually one of the best things the book has going for it.

Sometimes, the book has its moments. Mostly when Barb is alone in her office, struggling internally with her vices as she tries to figure out how she’s going to make ends meet, or standing up to gang leader Mace Blitzkrieg with sarcasm and a steely glare. It’s in these moments that Barb is downright relatable and comes across as more than just a “Strong Female Character” who is a conventionally attractive blonde who fights well. If the book could find balance with those moments, it would actually be a pretty decent story. Instead, those become the threads trying to keep an incomprehensible story tied up.

Even with good solo character moments and a beautifully gritty color palette, Barb Wire seems to rely too much on presumed reader nostalgia to carry it as a story. Instead of re-presenting or re-crafting her world, it functions on half formed ideas and doesn’t try to explain any of them. Maybe if you’re a fan of hers from the 90s, the book will make a ton of sense, but for the rest of us, it’s not worth the trip to Steel Harbor.


If you like what you’ve read, feel free to tip me at Paypal or Square Cash.

The PQ Archive: ‘Welcome Back’ #5 Shifts Focus To An Unlikely Source

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


Screen-Shot-2016-02-11-at-12.22.03-AMWritten by Christopher Sebela
Art by Claire Roe
Colors by Jeremy Lawson
Letters by Jim Campbell
Published by Boom! Studios

Man, Sebela and Roe really know how to make their audience wait for it with this book.

If you just read the first volume of Welcome Backyou’ll be happy to know that the follow up with #5 is already out. However, you might be thrown off just a bit to hear that the entire issue is about Lorena, the Sequel who was Mali’s serial killer stepdad in a previous life but is currently a ten year old girl in this one. The suspense of the fates of Mali and Tessa lasts the whole issue. Not to worry though, because little Lorena carries this entire issue rather well.

As the result of her actions back in issue two, this issue opens with Lorena learning that she has been demoted to a Grunt. However, her first action as one is to find out where Mali and Tessa went in the first place. With the help of a convenient death of an uncle and the help of two old Grunts named George and Julia Capra, Lorena sets out on her search, taking her to Kansas City, Omaha, Denver, and the Nevada desert, finally ending in Oakland after a week.

It could be very easy to make Lorena into the typical “badass little girl” trope, especially now that she’s remembering her past lives. However, Sebela and Roe do a good job at using that aspect of her past lives to humanize her even more. This especially comes through with the dog Showtime, who is now in her custody, and with a child only known as Kryztof, who she watches in a video on her iPad. While we never learn the context of who Kryztof or why she refers to Showtime as ‘Slyvia,’ it gives the reader more insight into just who Lorena is as a person after all this time. Not content to be a Grunt, but hesitant to turn her past life step-daughter in to whoever is up the food chain. The best scene of the issue comes courtesy of a visit to the grave of Mali’s mother, apologizing for not being able to protect her daughter more.

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Of course, that softening only goes so far.

Roe is on art in this issue as the regular series artist, but Lawson is on colors instead of Carlos Zamudio, which results in a much brighter scheme than the first volume. It works out for the better though, since Lorena is so far so young in this life and it allows a nice contrast of her seemingly innocent looks compared to the horrors of everything going on in her life. The final scene with the Capras illustrates this contrast in the most perfect and horrific way.

While the return of Welcome Back doesn’t jump right back into the story of Mali and Tessa, it gives us a lot of insight into the mind and soul of Lorena. It scales back some from the route of making her another Hit-Girl and instead paints her as a hardened and tired soldier, looking for a way out and to know that the people she cares about are okay.

Plus, it has a big and adorable black lab in a cape. This book is great.


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The PQ Archive: ‘Welcome Back’ Vol. 1 Is A High-Speed, Tragic Tale Of Immortality

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


Screen-Shot-2016-02-10-at-11.06.27-PMWritten by Christopher Sebela
Art by Jonathan Brandon Sawyer and Claire Roe
Colors by Carlos Zamudio with Juan Manuel Tumburús
Letters by Shawn Aldridge
Published by Boom! Studios

Reincarnation is a story device possibly as old as story itself. There’s something of a natural curiosity of what happens after we die and the possibility of coming back as someone else when it’s all said and done. Do we learn anything from the endless past? What kind of lives would we live anyway?

Welcome Back deals with a lot of that, but also adds queer assassins and an ongoing war between good and evil to the mix.

Welcome Back follows Mali Quinn, a 26-year-old punk living in Kansas City trying to piece her life together. Besides her past with a serial killer father occasionally popping up to haunt her, Mali lives the typical life of a 26-year-old in this day and aged: unemployed, just scraping by, in a crappy relationship, and with a dog and best friend as her only companions. Well that, and dreams about violent death. The usual.

What isn’t usual though is the guy attacking her at a house party that she can magically fend off despite never being in a fight before. Not to mention a mysterious woman named Tessa who is on the hunt for her too.

Welcome Back is a comic that moves fast and furious from the start, not cutting any corners to get to where it’s going. Sebela does a good job of introducing concepts, but not whacking you over the head with the exposition bat. We get some explanation of what Sequels are as well as some flashbacks to Mali’s previous lives, but this is mostly her story. There’s time yet to learn of everything that’s going on behind the scenes. Let’s see what happens when someone who doesn’t have their life together suddenly learns that they’re a constantly reincarnating soldier.

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The art is evenly split between Sawyer and Roe, sometimes even in the same chapter, which can be somewhat disconcerting, but their two styles have a good balance of each other. Sawyer is a bit more stylistic, with his details getting more focused on clothing and facial expressions. This makes establishing in the first two chapters go especially well. Roe’s strengths are more in movements and background details, which is perfect for when the story gets more action driven in the second half of the book. There’s one particular scene in the third chapter set in Atlanta that made it easy to tell that she had done her homework on what Peachtree Center and MARTA look like, making it an especially suspenseful chase that culminates in a major decision for Mali.

Zamudio’s colors bring a good consistency across the board between the two art styles, relishing in all of the dark, bloody and action-y scenes to help create the kind of atmosphere the book is going for. Not to mention the ever so subtle color cues between Mali and Tessa throughout time, emphasizing just how fated the two are, right up to the climatic moment where the two finally meet face to face.

Everything that builds up in writing and art to the payoff in chapter four when they finally meet. More specifically, everything that builds up to page 100 when you see just how fated Mali and Tessa really are. That’s what makes it worth it. It hits like a steam train crashing into a brick wall after careening downhill, and shows just what makes this story amazing.

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Welcome Back is a superb action story that is simultaneously a classic tragedy. Mali is an extremely relatable heroine for this day and age, which makes what happens to her even more confounding and sad. While there are still lots of questions that need to be answered about the Sequels and the war they’re fighting against each other, the first volume of Welcome Back is not concerned with those things. Just of telling a good story to jump into, and establishing just what these characters have at stake when they could just easily keep the cycle of life and death going forever with no questions asked. If tragic and somewhat immortal assassins are your bag, Welcome Back just might be your book.


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The PQ Archive: ‘Hawkeye Vs. Deadpool’ Brings Out The Best In Both

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


portrait_incredibleHawkeye vs. Deadpool is a series that should not have worked. On paper, it sounds like it would be a terrible 90s rehash of ‘hero vs. hero’ tropes that would be capitalizing on the popularity of both Deadpool as a property and Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on Hawkeye. When the series was announced, I rolled my eyes pretty hard and put it on my skip list.

However, when it came out, my trusted Hawkbro Chris Troy over at Forbidden Planet NYC told me after the release of the zero issue that it was actually pretty good read. After that recommendation and seeing a few panels from those first two issues, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve never been more happy to be proven wrong.

Hawkeye vs. Deadpool is a five issue mini-series that came out in 2014 written by Gerry Duggan with art by Matteo Lolli, Jacopo Camagni, and Cris Peter. What could have easily been a series of wacky adventures with Deadpool and a little bit of Hawkeye ended up actually being a rather well rounded and super fun mini that gave equal balance to the two. Well, three rather. Kate Bishop is also a major player in this series, which is a major bonus in my book since she’s pretty much my second favorite Marvel character ever as well as my patronus, to put it lightly.

The mini opens on Halloween, with Clint giving out candy to kids in his apartment building and Deadpool out with his daughter Ellie and her mom Emily. If you’ve seen panels of Clint in a jank Ultron costume unable to read a kid’s lips behind his mask, of Deadpool in a Ghostbuster costume calling himself “Dadpool,” or of Deadpool signing to Clint or speaking to him with his mask pulled up so he can read his lips, it’s from this comic. Overall, the comic does a pretty good job of incorporating Clint’s deafness into the story, though I wish the creative team had decided to go with a visible hearing aid since you never know when he actually has it in or not unless he specifies. It’s the one of my few gripes with the story. That, and there’s one really terrible pun at the end of issue four that I have audibly groaned at several times.

However, the Halloween costume silliness doesn’t last for long. A few minutes after Clint slams his door in the face of a young man looking for help, that very same man is shot in cold blood a few minutes later on Clint’s door step by a man in a Punisher costume. Deadpool runs in for backup, which leads into a chase of the fake Punisher and a long chat with the police after that fake Punisher is revealed to be brainwashed and steps in front of a van after Clint nearly captures him. At the end of the night, Clint thinks he’s finally going to be rid of Deadpool when Wade finds a thumb drive in his candy bucket. On it, there is a video confession from Jeremy Ellsden, the man who was killed in front of Clint’s apartment. Ellsden reveals himself to be a hacker who has stolen the personnel files of every active S.H.I.E.L.D agent, but had a change of heart before meeting the buyer and hid the files. Since Deadpool’s baby mama is an active S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, he decides to involve himself in the case, much to Clint’s annoyance. This is where the shenanigans begin to ensue.

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The first thing you really notice is that Hawkeye vs. Deadpool is not really a crossover event per se, but rather a chance to see what would happen if Deadpool got himself involved in the street level mystery and espionage stories that the Fraction and Aja run was famous for. There’s a lot of hilarity with Deadpool desperately trying to be a Hawkeye/Reserve Avenger, but the story beats match more of what Fraction was doing with Hawkeye. I wasn’t the only one to notice. Fraction even gave Duggan, Lolli and Camagni a shout out when he wrote his goodbye letter after the release of Hawkeye #22, saying, “you did us better than we did us. AND you did it in spite of Gerry’s chemical castration and endless legal problems. Amazing. Hilarious. Thank you.” I feel like I’m missing a joke there, but it makes me sad that Duggan wasn’t picked up to write the series after him. There’s two story moments where he nails the atmosphere of the Fraction run especially well. The first is in the zero issue when Clint is chasing the fake Punisher through the street with a broken bow and declares that he “better be damn perfect” as Lolli illustrates a POV shot of him loosening the arrow as the bow snaps. The second is in the last issue, when after all is said and done, Clint takes responsibility for the bloodstain left in front of his building by Ellsden’s death, scrubbing the sidewalk until his fingers bleed.

Besides the story beats, Duggan also nails character aspects of the Hawkeyes spectacularly. From Clint covering up his guilt for allowing Ellsden to get killed by diving headfirst into the job and being self-deprecating to Kate’s resounding competency and sarcasm as she takes point in issue three after Clint is brainwashed. She actually ends up being a great foil to Duggan’s Deadpool, who does have a fair amount of his usual zaniness, but mixed with how he plays off the Hawkeyes and his devotion to his daughter, he comes across more endearing than annoying in a way. By the end of the comic, I think I was in love with Kate and Wade’s friendship more than the one he has with Clint, and I’m not just saying that because he declared the very true fact of Kate being the better Hawkeye at the end of issue two.

The plot itself is a decent one. It’s a back and forth race against time against Black Cat, Typhoid Mary and a doctor brainwashing a bunch of patients in a psych ward in order to obtain the files gelled together by humorous moments. Even a year after reading this comic, I still found myself giggling at the four panel sequence of Kate trying to figure out a grenade launcher as Black Cat struggles with a computer in the foreground, Agent Scott Adsit (yes, THAT Scott Adsit has a cameo in this book as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is working as their point man) really wanting the drive to be found so he can keep his rent controlled apartment and Deadpool becoming obsessed with Clint’s old skycycle, even going so far as to steal it from storage while singing Queen’s ‘Bicycle Race’ so he can shoot up Black Cat’s hideout while riding it.

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What really makes this book work though are the character moments in between the big action that really define this book. Deadpool’s unspoken understanding of Clint’s deafness and his love of tearaway clothes. Kate and Clint using their superior hand-eye coordination to be good at video games. Clint getting messed up in little ways that add up by Black Cat’s bad luck powers. Kate being the one to realize that Ellsden left his cat with his neighbor and later anonymously giving her everything she needs to take care of a cat. Kate’s initial thrill followed by immediate horror of using a grenade launcher for the first time. Every moment with Ooper. It would have been very easy to make this book just wacky superhero adventures, but it’s these little moments that add up and make it seem like a natural day in these three character’s unnatural lives.

It’s this take on the humor of the series that benefits Deadpool the most. As I mentioned before, the series does have his usual zaniness, but his motivation to protect his daughter informs his character here more than that. In this adventure, it becomes less about him trying to take over what Clint and Kate are doing and more adapting to the way they do things. In this regard, he ends up becoming less “random humor” Deadpool and more like a weird and silly uncle who’s just trying his best.

Granted, he is a weird uncle who has the ghost of Ben Franklin living in one of his safe houses. No really. That happens. He winks creepily at Kate, surprising no one.

The art in this series is also gorgeous. Lolli and Camagni have a very fluid animation inspired style that lends itself well to character expressions and body language. This ends up building the humor of the story even more, especially when characters have big facial expressions that may not always be “flattering,” especially for the women characters. Some of the best moments of the series come at the expense of Kate’s dignity, allowing her to make “ugly” facial expression that are absolutely hilarious. Lolli and Camagni also do an amazing job illustrating women’s costumes in this series, opting more for practicality over fan service while still being recognizable. One of the best examples of this is Typhoid Mary, who is wearing a variation on her more recent costume, but looking more like a pro-wrestler than a bondage model. Which, hey, time and a place for, but it makes way more sense for her to be flipping around when I’m sure everything is going to stay in. Combined with Cris Peter’s beautiful and bright colors, and it’s easy to imagine Marvel adapting this into an animated movie if they ever wanted to.

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Hawkeye vs. Deadpool is a big example of not judging a book by its solicits. What could have easily been a zany cash grab ended up being a well constructed and hilarious story that brings out the best in both the Hawkeyes and Deadpool. While it is sad that the team didn’t get to tell a longer story after this mini, it does have a nice little coda in the 2015 Marvel Holiday Special in a ten page story by Duggan, Danilo S. Beyruth and Peter. In it, the Hawkeyes team up with Deadpool again to catch a pickpocket on Christmas Eve, but then end up taking a bit of pity on him when they find out he has a kid. After ensuring the kid gets a good Christmas, Kate and Clint end up hanging out with Wade all night when he’s barred from entering She-Hulk’s party. While it would be nice to see this team up in the future, it’s great to see that perhaps that weird uncle Deadpool rubbed off a little on them after all.

…Wait.


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The PQ Archive: ‘Faith’ #1 Is Delightful Jumping On Point

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


FAITH_001_COVER-A_DJURDJEVIC-310x476Written by Jody Houser
Art by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage
Colors by Andrew Dalhouse
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Comics

No matter what age you are or how long you’ve been reading comics, getting into a new comics universe is always terrifying. Lots of backstory you don’t know about. Established characters with origins already explained. It can be intimidating. However, a good team with a good story can manage to bypass those fears, guide you in and make you fall in love with that character and their universe.

The first issue of Valiant Comics’ mini-series Faith is a good example of that.

Spinning out of the series Harbinger, Faith tells the story of psiot Faith Herbert (codename Zephyr) after she moves to LA to become a better hero when she’s not working a job at Buzzfeed stand-in Zipline. Faith does have backstory that carries over from Harbinger, but Jody Houser does a good job of introducing that to the reader without bogging the story down and giving us a chance to know Faith better. Plus, the “hero breaks off from team and relocates” story is such a well-used but effective superhero trope that it doesn’t matter that you don’t know about The Renegades or Faith’s ex-boyfriend Torque, who looks a lot like what would happen if you made John Cena look even more like a bro.

Most of this issue is set up for further adventures along with introducing Faith to new readers, which is perfectly fine. Faith is so wonderfully cheerful and nerdy that it’s hard not to fall in love with her in just a few pages. Whether she’s dreaming of rescuing a handsome movie star named Chris, flying to avoid LA traffic, rescuing puppies from men with guns, or just chatting about The Fifth Element while eating Chinese food, Faith is probably one of the most relatable superheroes to come around in quite some time. Houser’s tone in the book of a more upbeat and nerdy superheroine will probably draw a lot of comparisons to books like Batgirl and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and that would not be an insult.

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What has been bringing this book so much attention is the fact Faith is the first plus-sized superheroine in any company to lead her own book. The book does two great things with this. One, it does not use this fact as her only characteristic. She is shown eating, but it shown that these are regular meals and are just actions taking part of bigger things, like watching her ex’s reality show or talking to a friend via video chat. It’s there to give the book atmosphere, not to point out her weight. There are also never any fat jokes at her expense, even when she’s cornered by villains with guns, and she is very clearly shown as a person with romantic daydreams and desires without it being the butt of a joke.

Two, the art never tries to hide her size. She’s constantly drawn in cute clothes to wear when she’s not hero-ing it up and neither Portela nor Sauvage go for what is “flattering.” Faith has a belly and thick thighs and she never tries to hide them. Portela has a very typical superhero comic style that also manages to be very expressive. However, the choice to use Sauvage’s more delicate and pastel style in the fantasy scenes is a nice touch that is made even nicer by the fact Faith imagines herself as she is now, but even more awesome. That tells a lot of what you need to know about her even more than any bit of exposition.

Even without previous knowledge of Harbinger, the first issue of the Faith miniseries is an absolute delight. It could have been way too easy to take a character like Faith and turn her into a one-note joke, but Houser, Portela, and Sauvage flesh out her character so much in a wonderful introduction story. Faith’s size is not her only character aspect, but it is not hidden away like a piece of shame either. Plus, the book leaves off on such a cliffhanger that it would be hard not to pick up the next issue.


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The PQ Archive: ‘Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl’ #6 Is About Endings, Death, And Mirrors

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


PhonogramIG_06-1Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie (with backup art by Tom Humberstone)
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

It’s fitting that the end of Phonogram is about the end of things and features one final story with David Bowie as the backbone to it.

Though, strangely enough, the main story is about death, but about the other major pop star death of the decade and of part of Emily Aster herself.

The issue picks up with the end of Emily’s fight from the end of the previous issue. After speaking with the image of Lady Gaga as the ceiling above them bleeds out from Claire’s suicide. “She’s terribly melodramatic,” Emily says with some resignation to fate. Gaga asks her if she really wants to break the deal in a panel that mashes together some of her most iconic video images with the signature Matthew Wilson color glow. It’s a striking panel that probably sums up the core of this story while emphasizing how Emily is not the first to make this deal, and she certainly won’t be the last.

With a realization of what David meant about it all coming down to her, Emily looks in a mirror and confronts the King Behind the Screen, who turns out to have been an avatar of Michael Jackson created by Emily all along. At least in her own head. Suddenly, the comment about mirrors not being your friend anymore in the first issue takes on another meaning when you realize Emily had to literally look inside herself to break the deal.

Which she does. In spectacularly gruesome fashion with a sketchy pipe wrench. The synchronicity in this scene between Jamie McKelvie’s art and Wilson’s colors is easily some of the best work they’ve ever done together, and that’s including most of WicDiv and Young Avengers. The sharp colors contrasted with the flat burgundy blood splatters is stark and beautiful. It’s violent in a way Phonogram has never really been before, but it has to be. No long and drawn out debate of fate here. Emily has always been someone who knows what she wants.

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There are a lot of goodbyes in this issue, but the two pages of Emily saying her final goodbyes to Claire might be the most heartbreaking. Even though she wasn’t Claire for about a decade, Emily still carried her with her. Who she was and who she was trying to avoid being, but it’s very clear now that she never actually changed that much. Not with Claire on the other side of the mirror and not with a personality constructed by images. This scene, for all the harshness Claire and Emily showed towards each other, is gentle and mournful both in tone and colors. A part of herself dies forever here, and after everything she has gone through, Emily is finally sad for the fate of that part of herself. It deliberately calls back to Rue Britannia as well, with Claire dissolving into dust the way Britannia did all those years ago.

Emily breaks through back to our world. As she tries to stop the bleeding from the cuts, she gets the news of Michael Jackson’s death. After two pages about the fallout of Jackson’s death over the years both in our world and in the world of Phonogram, David Kohl asks Emily straight up if she killed Michael Jackson. He’s not crazy to ask. The first story in this series involved him killing a Goddess. Emily confirms that no, it was all in her own head, but she’s dealing with it in the way David dealt with the death of Britannia. The two sit and chat as it rains, realizing that they are growing up and growing older, and that Emily is going to have to try being someone new. She’s not exactly compensating for Claire anymore.

With one last melodramatic phrase, Emily walks out into the rain to the train station. As she walks in, she actually sees herself as the woman in the mirror for the first time. Across the way, Laura and Logos get ready to start their own coven that they talked about in #4. The next generation of Phonomancers continues on, and maybe they’ll be better than the previous one. They do hit it on the nose with their quoting of Florence Welch and her Machine though. This gift comes with a price. One that David paid, and one that Emily is paying now.

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The B-side does talk about Bowie, but it’s really more about David Kohl as the Kieron Gillen stand in. Literally. To talk about it in depth would be giving the game away, but it’s a bittersweet punctuation on the series. Keep an eye out for Laura from WicDiv in the last page though. Whether to use her image in the background of one of the panels was Gillen or Tom Humberstone’s idea is unknown, but after the final page of the main story, it feels strangely poignant to see the story that grew out of Phonogram referenced.

The fact that Phonogram is ending is sad, but The Immaterial Girl was the story it needed to go out on. The final issue isn’t full of bombast or drama, but of goodbyes, uncertainty of the future, and new beginnings. It talks about how we imbue meanings in songs and images through the death of one pop star and inadvertently the death of another. Emily’s story was one of the trippiest stories of letting go and self discovery one could ever read, but damn, was it just right for her and this series.


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The PQ Archive: “Princeless: Raven, The Pirate Princess” Is A Great Start To A Grand Adventure

Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.

Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…


PP_TPB_CVR_SOLICITWritten by Jeremy Whitley
Art and Colors by Rosy Higgins
Letters and Inks by Ted Brandt
Published by Action Lab Comics

Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless has always been a massively enjoyable all ages book. Focused around a traditional fairy tale setting, it’s the story of headstrong girls making their own destiny. Well, with dragons, vampires, and a pirate that one time along the way.

In fact, that pirate is the main focus of this particular story. Spinning off of the third volume of Princeless titled “The Pirate Princess,” Raven, The Pirate Princess continues the story of Raven Xingtao, also known as The Black Arrow. After being rescued from a tower by Princess Adrienne and an attempt to steal her dragon Sparky, Raven successfully steals a ship and goes out to get revenge against her brothers!

Except that she has no crew, which is where this story picks up.

A lot of this first story is set up for Raven’s later adventures, and that’s perfectly alright because Whitley, Higgins and Brandt make the story of Raven finding a crew a hell of a lot of fun. Peppered with flashbacks to Raven’s youth, we get to know the charismatic Raven a bit more as she sets out to reclaim her destiny. She’s rough around the edges as any good pirate should be, but she also has a big heart and gives respect when it is justly due.

The Pirate Princess skews a little bit older than its counterpart, but not by much. Between Higgins and Brandt’s fluid and occasionally bloody fight scenes and smart humor that could go over the head of the youngest readers of Princeless, the book is probably more suitable for readers late elementary to middle school age. The fact that Raven’s sexuality isn’t a factor in why the book skews older is a breath of fresh air in a world where people treat anything but heterosexuality as “mature.” Yes, it is obvious that Raven is gay, and there’s even a deceitful kiss between ladies that opens the adventure, but it’s just a natural part of the story that it runs with and doesn’t sit to explain for five pages. More like this please!

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Mostly though, this book is just funny. There are a ton of clever jokes and set ups that range from simple Avatar: The Last Airbender references to a whole scene skewering everything men say on the internet in the guise of Raven interviewing sexist pirate men. The scene even ends with half-elf Sunshine throwing out one who declares “not all men.” It’s hilarious and weirdly cathartic to see it written out and actively rejected like that.

It isn’t just humor making fun of sexists though. So much of this book’s heart comes from Raven and her all girl crew. Diverse in backgrounds, appearances, and personality, every member of the crew is simply delightful from their first introductions to the final pages of the story where they finally set out on their mission. One of the best scenes comes from when tall and somewhat shy Katie speaks to her group of fencing and D&D playing friends, asking them which of them wants to forge their own paths and make their own adventures with her. It doesn’t hurt that this scene is accompanied by cameos from comic greats Kelly Sue DeConnick, G. Willow Wilson and Marjorie Liu, encouraging Katie to speak from her heart.

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Even if you haven’t read Princeless, Raven, The Pirate Princess is a delightful comedy adventure story that doesn’t require knowledge of Princess Adrienne’s adventures to enjoy it. With expressive art and an introductory story that hits all the right notes, The Pirate Princess shows why pirates will always be cool. Especially when those pirates are girls looking for revenge and adventure.


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