Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/15/2019 – 12/21/2019

This week’s “top-line” takeaway : two new Black Label debuts (or maybe that should be two more new Black Label debuts) from DC, and Dark Horse spirals into spin-off hell — but does it well? Let’s get right to it —

Horror novelist Carmen Maria Machado and Coffin Bound artist Dani collaborate on what’s got to be the most promising first issue yet from Joe Hill’s Black Label sub-sub-imprint, Hill House Comics, The Low, Low Woods #1 — and that’s pretty high praise when you consider that Hill and Leomacs’ Basketful Of Heads and Mike Carey, Peter Gross, and Vince Locke’s The Dollhouse Family have already come out of the gate damn strong. This one centers on a pair of young, queer girls of color trying their best to get by in the shithole mining town of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania, which has been plagued by a constantly-raging underground coal fire, as well as a series of mysterious deaths, for decades now — and yeah, the two things are obviously connected in some way. But it appears that there may be something even more dangerous lurking in the titular woods. The protagonists herein are immediately likable and amazingly well-written, the distinct flavor of the locale itself is ever-present, and the art stylish and grim, but not so much of either that it overwhelms the smooth, instantly-addictive narrative flow. I read this one through twice back-to-back, and odds are good that you’ll do the same, so yeah — we’re definitely in “highest possible recommendation” territory here. Hill House is just plain killing it.

The newest release in Black Label’s big, deluxe, oversized format is writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson’s Wonder Woman : Dead Earth #1, which sees Diana of Themyscira emerge from centuries of slumber into an Earth that has become an irradiated post-apocalyptic wasteland, and while we’ve seen this premise too many times to count before, WW is a natural fit for it, and Johnson — best known for his work over at Image on Extremity and Murder Falcon — not only brings a lot of gritty flair to the proceedings, his character designs and fight sequences are both off-the-charts incredible. His regular coloring partner, Mike Spicer, does his part with big, bold, smart palette choices, and the end result is the most distinctive-looking comic to bear the Black Label mark so far — and a damn solid read, to boot. I get that the big, established, “superstar” creators are always going to be the bread and butter of this line, but I hope DC editorial takes a flier on more emerging talent that’s clearly, as the saying goes, “ready for prime time,” as well, because this is a fun, reasonably daring, and altogether effective take on a character that, at least on the printed page, could surely use it. So, hey : if any Jim Lee, or any of the “suits” over there, are reading this — more like this, please.

Turning our attention to Dark Horse, while Black Hammer may be over and done with, the process of squeezing every dime from it continues apace with Skulldigger And Skeleton Boy #1, the title characters of which are apparently meant to serve as the Batman and Robin analogues in this particular “universe” — albeit with a seriously dark, even depraved, twist, at least if the hints offered in Jeff Lemire’s script are anything to go by. I’ve actually been fairly impressed with most of the spin-off titles this franchise has birthed, but this may end up proving to be the best of the bunch — perhaps because there’s very little on offer to suggest that even is, in fact, part of some sort of “shared reality,” as it stands really well on its own. Tonci Zonjic’s art is a kind of “street-level noir” that nevertheless lends itself pretty well to the inherent outrageousness of masked vigilantes and serves as a pitch-perfect complement to a surprisingly strong story by an always-overextended writer who nevertheless seems to save his best work for these books. Truth be told, I keep looking for a reason to avoid these titles, as they’re such clear and obvious cash-grabs, but maybe it’s past time I gave that up and just went with the flow because, much as it may not have any right to be, this is a damn good comic.

Finally, while it seems pretty late in the game for Harrow County to get in on the spin-off act given that series ended a couple of years ago now, it appears they’re going to give it a try nonetheless, and lo and behold — so far, the results are pretty encouraging. Maybe an extended break from the property is just what writer Cullen Bunn needed to recharge his creative batteries, because Tales From Harrow County : Death’s Choir #1 is a big step up from the final couple of arcs of the “mothership” title itself, which had sort of just resigned itself to going through the motions until it was time for the big finale. Anyway, whatever the case may be, this story focusing on heroine Emmy’s former sidekick Bernice takes place ten years after the end of the previous series, with most of the young men from Harrow off fighting in World War II, leaving the community easy pickings (or so they think) to the supernatural machinations of a ghostly “spirit choir” emanating from the always-haunted forest. Bernice is a terrific protagonist, the story touches expertly on issues relating to racial segregation, and artist Naomi Franquiz does a reasonable enough approximation of Tyler Crook’s style to give things a fairly consistent look — although the color palette’s a bit overly-bright for a horror story. I wasn’t expecting much when I heard this “property” was coming back, but whaddya know? I think I’ll be able to happily ride this one out to its conclusion.

And there’s your — okay, my — week at the LCS in a nutshell. No Round-Up next week, as I’ll be out of town, but Diamond’s only shipping something like 12 books total owing to the Christmas holiday anyway, so it’s not like a break here is gonna kill anybody, least of all yours truly. We’ll be back, then, in two weeks — until then, I wish everybody out there a very happy holiday season, and close with the usual reminder that this column is, as always, “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so put a little something in a hard-working freelancer’s Christmas stocking by joining up over at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

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