Report Card | From 'Fantastic Four' to 'Dropout' to 'Haggard West'

Welcome to “Report Card,” our week-in-review feature. If “Cheat Sheet” is your guide to the week ahead, “Report Card” is typically a look back at the top news stories of the previous week, as well as a look at the Robot 6 team’s favorite comics that we read.

This week, however, was Comic-Con International -- that's the top story of the week right there, maybe followed by the Eisner Awards being announced. Beyond that, though, were a ton of new comic announcements from various publishers. Having been in the belly of the best for most of last week, I'm not in any position to even know all the announcements that were made, much less how to prioritize them. So this week only -- or at least until next year's con -- I'm going to skip the news countdown and just direct you to read Robot 6 and Comic Book Resources' home pages, where you can read'em.

Despite the con, comics still came out this past Wednesday, so read on to find out what we thought about Fantastic Four, Kill All Monsters, the new Monkeybrain title Dropout and more.

Dropout #1

Writer: Phil HesterArtist: Tyler WalpoleLetters: Marshall DillionPublisher: Monkeybrain Comics

I was able to consider both Detectobot and Heartbreakers more closely as part of Robot 6's Monkeybrain Year Two coverage. But I had not gotten a chance to peruse Dropout until now. Not sure where the series is going and I am fine waiting to see where it actually takes me. Why? Hester spends the first issue establishing the foundation of lead character teenager Wyatt Gunderson's back story. And I am appreciative of that. Too often in the world of new comics, the economics of things make cancellation always a very real and immediate possibility. As a result, too often the first issue of a series actually starts with lead character in the midst of an action scene, meaning the back story may not get told until the third issue or so. Sometimes that adds an element of entertaining suspense for the reader, but other times it leaves people feeling no connection to a lead character.

This is the first I have seen of Walpole's art--and he seems to be a perfect fit for the series. He can draw teenagers and while he opts for the Wyatt with acne look, he does not overdue the acne. There's a simple scene where Hester and Walpole show they will work well together. Hester has Wyatt express concern for the heating system for what passes for his home. Hester does not spell out why he is concerned, but Walpole has Wyatt gesturing to a stove with three lit burners (I assume the fourth is busted). I pick this scene out because it's mundane and simple, yet there are many top tier artists currently employed by the big two who, if asked to do it, could not likely draw a recognizable stove.

Judging by the supporting cast introduced so far (I am really hopeful that the barely clothed bus driver guy is a regular cast member), this is going to be a quirky series. The industry needs more quirky series and I am glad that the digital platform allows for projects like this to be greenlit (and hopefully eventually published in the traditional sense). A lot happens in the first issue, including Wyatt being kicked out of his high school and transferring to a charter school for non-traditional students. But the storytelling is not rushed. It should be fun to see what this non-traditional school offers in terms of stories. --Tim O'Shea

Fantastic Four #10

Writer: Matt FractionPenciller: Mark BagleyInker: Mark FarmerColorist: Paul MountsLetterer: VC's Clayton CowlesFrom Marvel Comics

For about two and a half years I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, not that far from the historic area. That gave me a whole new perspective on the early history of the United States, as did the weekly "Thomas Jefferson Hour" radio show [http://www.jeffersonhour.com/], which the local NPR station broadcasts on Tuesday afternoons. Because the show is split between talking with "Mr. Jefferson" and the scholar who portrays him, I couldn't help but wonder what either of them would think of the Fantastic Four's recent visit to July 1776.

On its own, though, Fantastic Four #10 was an entertaining synthesis of elements from across the team's history. Trying to find the Skrull among the Founding Fathers reminded me of Ben's famoust stint as Blackbeard, while Sue's temperament recalled her excellent treatment during Dwayne McDuffie's brief stint as writer. However, I give Matt Fraction all the credit for bringing it all together under the umbrella of Reed's current quest. Comparing Reed's personality to the conflicted and contradictory positions held by Jefferson and others was inspired, and even when it became blindingly obvious that worked into the story's overall effect. Although the characters might get it, that doesn't mean they like it. There have been "distrusted/misunderstood Reed" stories before, of course, but Fraction nailed the relationship dynamics (Johnny's reaction is particularly cutting) while reframing the overarching storyline into a chance for the team to go on the offensive. Along those lines, while I'm probably not the biggest Skrull authority, Fraction managed to make them a more credible threat than I remember.

Bagley, Farmer, and Mounts were good as always. I'm not sure colonial Philadelphia would have looked that clean (at least, not judging by 21st-Century Colonial Williamsburg), but that's okay. They made the Founding Skrull appropriately slimy, and as far as I know they did right by the other historical personages. This was a fine issue which brought Reed's journey into sharp relief and put this relaunched series on track to finish its first big arc. --Tom Bondurant

Batman '66 #1

Written by Jeff ParkerDrawn and Colored by Jonathan CaseLettered by Wes AbbottCover by Michael and Laura AllredDC Comics

Reading Batman '66 isn't exactly like watching the TV show it's based on and that's as it should be. There are things you can do in a comic that can't be done on TV and Parker/Case take full advantage of those. They jump the Batmobile, turn Batman's cape into glider wings, and have Alfred slide down the Batpoles without spilling the two glasses of milk he's delivering to Masters Bruce and Dick. But for all that, Parker and Case have captured the feel of the show wonderfully, from the deadpan humor to the garish colors and pop art influences. I love how Case takes something from that era of the comics like poor color registration and turns it into something fun and purposeful. These guys are thinking hard about the comic they're making and it pays off.

It's a different experience reading it in print than reading it digitally. The digital version has panels and transitions that don't make it into the print version - and even the balloon placement is often different - making the digital version the preferred one, but for those not into digital and without that to compare the print version to, there's not a thing wrong with the print. It's still the best Batman comic being published. --Michael May

The Death of Haggard West

Written, drawn and lettered by Paul PopeColors by Hilary SycamorePublished by First Second

Between freak heatwaves, domestic drama, public holidays and civil unrest, it hasn't been easy for me to obtain The Death of Haggard West (written, drawn and lettered by Paul Pope, colors by Hilary Sycamore, published by First Second). Of course, a new strip by the preeminent comics artist of his generation is a big deal, even if its just a taste, an extended trailer for October's Battling Boy.

Pope's preeminence may be as a stylist, a visual influence I see in the work of his peers all the time these days, but let's not forget what a great storyteller he is. Battling Boy is a story designed for children, and I'm unsurprised that Pope touches upon several tropes from classic children's literature as this comic rattles along. Superhero comics are at their best when the endless successions of fight scenes carry meaning, work as metaphors, or actually propel the story engine forward. Pope, the thinker, the artist previously prone to publishing long discourses discussing his debts to his influences, and formalizing the thinking behind his various projects, has clearly done his homework again. In this 30 page comic, Pope has internalized works by Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie and J.K. Rowling as much as the more visible pulp and comic influences (I'd throw Doc Savage, Batman, and Jack Kirby's Fourth World as other clear cornerstones). I don't want to make this comic sound like an academic exercise, it's a rollicking adventure, too: a book where an innocent street-corner game of football manages to escalate quickly into a siege; a runaway train of an adventure, filled with child endangerment, heroism, base villainy, bereavement, the lot. It's also, I'll guess, a crafty origin story for the series' female lead supporting character.

The tantalizing last page serves as great bait for Battling Boy's release, and I'll admit I've fallen hook, line and sinker for it. Again. Roll on October. --Mark Kardwell

Kill All Monsters

Writer: Michael MayArtist: Jason CoplandAlterna Comics

So first off, yes, the Michael May listed above as the writer is indeed the same Michael May who blogs here. And he's been a friend and colleague of mine for, what eight or nine years now? So I'm probably not the most unbiased of reviewers. I even almost skipped talking about this because of that fact, but I really liked the book.

It's a book Michael and Jason have been working on for years -- I think I first heard about it back when we were still at Newsarama -- and has seen publication as a webcomic and a digital comic. But following a successful Kickstarter, it's now in print, with a pretty righteous cover (seen above). The thing I like about this book is that it's got guys in giant suits of armor fighting giant, mutated monsters, but that isn't all the book is about. It's also about humanity's struggle to survive in a world overrun with giant monsters; how cities like Paris are pretty much destroyed but have small bands of survivors running around; and how one African-based fighting force has created not only giant suits of armor, but also the first artificial intelligence to fight back. May and Coupland have engaged in some pretty cool world-building, taking the basic idea and running with it until they have something special that goes way beyond what you might expect from "another giant monster title." I can't wait to see the next volume. --JK Parkin

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