Comic Book Mini Reviews: Strange Fruit #1, Airboy #2, Archie #1

With San Diego Comic Con 2015 coming to a close, a lot of us are resisting getting back to the regular business of comics.  This has been made easier by a huge release of amazing new titles, especially a lot of #1.  This has been common for our recent favorite publishers, Image Comics, but it is coming across the board, and soon over at Vertigo.  We have selected two number ones, and one number two, to get moving on for this review, all of which have been hugely anticipated from the ever changing American comic audience.

Strange Fruit #1 (Image Comics, Mark Waid and J.G. Jones)

This issue is both surprising and timely, which is a surprise of its own!  Telling us a story of racism in the 1920s deep south, we start with a story about the gap between the black and white communities in the Great Mississippie Flood of 1927.  As the rivers look as though they are going to break through the levees(an image that seems intended to remind us of the 2004 racially-tied tragedy), the white community begins to use racial violence to force the black part of town into performing incredible feats of labor.  In a moment when lynching is about to change the course of events, a man is shot from the sky and lands naked in the field, both invincible and fearless.  The story draws on an entire history of black resistance in the south, but right now there was little we know about the new cosmic mystery-man or what direction it will head.  While the historical elements and the struggle against the Ku Klux Klan’s racist violence is both detailed and well told, it drags a bit as it has not quite attached to characters yet.  J.G. Jones does it in a detailed painting, which is amazing to look at, similar to the Alex Ross style in classics like Kingdom Come.  This has mixed effects, sometimes working and at times feeling a touch awkward.  Overall this is an interesting first issue, though it will really be the second that will determine how this miniseries takes its concept into something unique.

Airboy #2 (Image Comics, James Robinson and Greg Hinkle)

Airboy is likely to be the front runner for best miniseries of the year.  The second issue is just as painfully honest, self-critical, hyppereal, and tragically hilarious as the first, and it is here that we also get a great deal of commentary on the history of comics.  After James and Greg see Airboy at the conclusion of their drug-fueled introspection, they assume him to be a shared hallucination.  They spend their time explaining why the world looks as it does, how the Allies won WWII, and that his publisher let his copyright run out.  They continue on their path without much stopping, while James really wonders what has happened to his stand-out work now that he is meandering at DC Comics.  A lot of controversy has come up about some of the transphobic language used in one seen, which James heartfully responded to, but this is done more to show the insensitivity of the characters rather than to make trans characters the object of ridicule.  The issue itself feels complete and whole, and something that really just reminds us that these meta-comics with post-modern themes can be both rich and deep.

Archie #1 (Archie Comics, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples)

This may be the most anticipated comic on this list, even of the year.  After the success of books like Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie, Archie Comics has decided to relaunch their staple characters with an updated look and feel and superstar creators to get them moving.  This Archie #1 is the first issue of the new flagship title that the rest of the regular Archie-verse will surround.  They then took two of comics’ biggest talents, Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, to create the opening arc.  This looks at Archie, now in the wake of a break-up with Betty, and see as he makes his way into the Prom and explains his friends and hometown of Riverdale.  The issue is a lot of introductions, but the narrative does feel fresh and the art is crisp and amazingly appropriate.  While at times the concept still feels a bit dated, this is a very successful update that is going to be drawing on its own social media by doing reflexive things like using hashtags in text to create Twitter conversations outside of the book.  Mark Waid is an incredible talent, whose writing is always markedly wonderful, but we wonder what it would have been like if a much younger writer was at the helm.  Nonetheless, this is a great start to the new series, and the first time I’m actually excited to see what happens next with Archie Andrews. #archiegirlslipstick

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