In this week’s comics, subtlety is either for cowards or for overdosing on to the point of complete disorientation. A new series called Plush offers absolutely zero subtext, with characters furiously screaming their motivations, while another, called Hexware, is so ethereal and vague that it’s hard to know what’s going on. Where’s the happy middle? Perhaps in Rainbow Days, a sweet English adaptation of a popular manga that highlights the wholesomeness of nontoxic masculinity.

Also of interest this week is a new Justice Society of America, with the seeds of a new JSA storyline, and a Kal-El Returns anthology with a pleasantly upbeat vibe. Blue Beetle has a new book out from DC, and over on the Marvel side, the Avengers are entering a new time-travel arc and Spider-Man offers a cute story with Double Trouble. Readers who’ve been enjoying the Exterminators series, take note: Issue 3 of this popular “dazzler versus vampires” just hit shelves.

Thanks as always to Phoenix for sorting through the week’s new releases! 

Rainbow Days Volume 1

This one’s been a long time coming. Rainbow Days came out a decade ago in Japan, but now it’s finally getting an English release so American readers can see what all the fuss was about. When hapless high schooler Natsuki Hashiba gets dumped on Christmas Eve, his best friends rally to cheer him up… with a little help from a mysterious girl in a Santa costume who offers him a little kindness. Natsuki dedicates himself to finding and romancing her, but the real focus of the story is on his relationships with his buddies. It’s all strictly platonic, with homosocial relationships rather than homosexual (though I’m sure readers will need little encouragement to concoct their own queer headcanons).

An endearing slice-of-lifer about nontoxic masculinity, this book will be warmly received by teenagers looking for soap-opera drama and wholesome friendship. Of note: there was an anime version a few years ago, so fans of the book can hop over to that adaptation (though the book is generally regarded as superior). Strong comedy and nice-guy heroes make this tribute to male friendship a great gift for the older-teen readers in your life.

Rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈🌈(5/5)

Story and art: Minami Mizuno. Translation and adaptation: Max Greenway. Touch-up and lettering: Inori Fukuda Trant. Design: Shawn Carrico. Editor: Nancy Thistlethwaite.

Publisher: VIZ Media.

Hexware Issue #1

An intriguing blend of robots and witchcraft, Hexware is undermined by its artsy pacing. The concept is great: it’s the future, and humanity scratches out a living down in the dregs of ruined cities while an exploitative ruling class perches high above. The oligarchs have android helpers, and one of those automatons seems to gain a sort of sentience and curiosity after a violent protest. She becomes focused on learning witchcraft, and manages to blend pentagrams with her circuitry to connect with occult forces. Neat idea, but good luck following the story from one page to the next… or even one panel to the next.

Poetic voiceovers are more confusing than compelling, and repeated time jumps are simply disorienting, preventing the narrative from ever taking hold. Fortunately, the art is excellent, and readers who have the patience to puzzle out the order of the plot beats (possibly after a re-reading or two) will find clever ideas about souls and individuality tucked deep in the book. But you’re going to have to work for it.

Rating: 𖤐𖤐𖤐 (3/5)

Writer: Tim Seeley. Artist: Zulema Scotto Lavina. Colorist: Valentina Cuomo. Editor: Antonio Solinas. Associate Editor: Davide Morando. Color editor: Andrea Meloni. Letterer: Maurizio Clausi. Logo and designer: Fabrizio Verrocchi. Alt covers: Tim Seeley, Valentina Cuomo, Mirka Andolfo.

Publisher: Image Comics.

Plush Issue #1

This new series sags under the weight of its heavy-handed dialogue and crudely-written characters, for whom subtlety and nuance simply do not exist. A lovelorn 20-something named Devin is in the throes of discovering his girlfriend has been cheating with him, so his roommate invites him to find a distraction at what appears to be a furry night at a bar. Suited up as a bird, Devin stumbles across a violent scene involving some other furries, before coincidentally careening into the clutches of a police force with nefarious intent. Questions swirl around the nature of the gory furries and the intentions of the malevolent cops, and maybe Devin will learn more. But I’m not convinced that he’ll do anything with that knowledge, as he doesn’t seem to do anything at all. Our main character isn’t so much a character as he is a helpless tourist in this story, taking essentially no action and allowing those around him to make baffling decisions for him. The setup for the story is interesting, but the character who seems meant to be the tale’s protagonist doesn’t appear to be motivated to participate in it. That, in turn, makes it hard to find the motivation to keep reading.

Rating: 🐦🐦 (2/5)

Writer: Doug Wagner. Artist: Daniel Hillyard. Colorist: Rico Renzi. Letterer: Ed Dukeshire. Editor: Keven Gardner. Designer: Erika Schnatz. Alt Covers: Tony Fleecs, Jorge Corona, Sarah Stern, Tula Lotay.

Publisher: Image Comics.