Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/08/2020 – 03/14/2020

Image Comics dominated my admittedly-small pull list this week, so let’s have a look at all four of their books that I picked up and see which ones are worth your time and money —

Jonathan Hickman is back with another typically ambitious and expansive creator-owned project, but the best thing about Decorum #1 is Mike Huddleston’s wildly varied, and in some cases quite experimental, art. Yeah, there’s some intriguing “world-building” going on here — hell, it’s more than that, it’s “universe-building” — but, as with all things Hickman, we’ll have to see how fully he develops all that, or even if he fucking sticks with it. For my money, the only one of his Image projects where the steak matched the sizzle was East Of West, but let’s be fair : they’ve all started out well enough, and this tale of the universe’s most purportedly polite assassin is no exception. We jump around a lot in time and space here, though, and it’s Huddleston’s uncanny ability to come up with a completely unique visual language for each of the book’s segments that really seals the deal with readers and makes the idea of sticking around for more seem like a winning proposition. For the time being, at least, I intend to do precisely that.

Just when you’d probably forgotten about them, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung are back with Snotgirl #15, the first issue in something like a year — and the last for probably almost as long, given that the creators announce on the inside back cover that they’re about to go on an extended hiatus while they pursue other projects in comics and life. All told this isn’t a bad issue — I still despise all the characters, but that’s rather the point, and protagonist Lottie’s relationship with her would-be paramour “Cool Girl” becomes both more defined and mysterious as a result of some weird goings-on out in the woods, so that’s cool, but who are we kidding? Any number of Image books have fallen by the wayside due to creators not so much quitting outright as drifting away, and this one bears all the hallmarks of doing the same. Lengthy breaks between issues always have the effect of taking readers out of the story, and while this one is easy enough to jump back into given it’s not too terribly complex, finding out the return visit is just a short one? That’s a real buzzkill. Hung’s superb cartooning has been reason enough to stick around up to this point, but if it’s going to be another year until this thing comes back? I think I might just be done.

And with Moonshine #17, I can safely say that I’m officially done with this book. Wrapping up the third arc of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s series, this is gorgeously illustrated, as always, but goddamn if Azzarello isn’t just sleep-walking through his career at this point. Protagonist Lou Pirlo finally completes a pretty major transformation here that’s been a long time in coming, but the scripting is so listless and lazy that you won’t care, and the entire supporting cast — which should, by rights, be pretty compelling for guys like me who are intrigued with voodoo — is something less than a collection of one-dimensional ciphers at this point. They leave the issue on a cryptic note that suggests they might just be finished here, but that’s honestly of no concern to me either way, because I already know that I am. A book that’s been trending downward creatively almost from the beginning has finally hit rock bottom.

Lastly, “over” at Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint, we’ve got Stealth #1, the first “starring turn” for a character Kirkman and Marc Silvestri created some 10-15 years ago (if not more, for all I know). I had a fair amount of fun with this one, digging as I did the Detroit setting and the vaguely “blaxploitation” vibe that served Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela’s Abbott (which was also set in Detroit) so well, but it’s the switcheroo that writer Mike Costa pulls off in relation to his ultra-violent vigilante’s secret identity that really won me over and opens the story up to an exploration of the same kind of questions that any number of punch-drunk fighters have found themselves facing toward the end of their careers, and artist Nae Bellegarde does a solid, workmanlike job that doesn’t bowl you over with its style, but impresses you in terms of its visual storytelling fundamentals. This one’s slated to run six issues, and I’ll likely be around for the duration.

And that’s this past week in comics — specifically Image Comics — in a nutshell. I’l l’ll be back in seven days to see what some other publishers are up to, but until then please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to my Patreon, 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. Money well spent, I promise. Here’s your link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/07/2019 – 04/13/2019

Welcome to another Weekly Reading Round-Up, where first issues aren’t just a job, they’re a way of life. Here’s another four, from this Wednesday last —

Faithless #1 comes our way from Boom! Studios and the writer/artist team of Brian Azzarello and Maria Llovet, and it’s kind of hard to get a handle on what this one’s even about, much less where it’s going. A kind of occult take on the “erotic thriller,” I guess, revolving around an amateur practitioner of the magick arts named (big surprise) Faith, who makes herself a mysterious new “special friend,” gets pretty intimate with her pretty fast, and then — well, shit gets weird. Azzarello struggles to write youthful characters with any kind of authenticity, and he also struggles with the balance between erotic and prurient, so the whole story ends up feeling more than just a bit “off.” Boom! is going all-in on the variant cover hustle to move units with this one, one of which is an opaque-wrapped number by Tula Lotay, but Llovet’s vaguely Paul Pope-influenced art is strong enough on its own for no gimmicks to really be necessary — unfortunately, it’s wasted on a substandard, confused script that provides nothing so much as further evidence that Azzarello just ain’t what he used to be.

Orphan Age #1 is another Aftershock debut, this one from Ted Anderson and Nuno Plati, and while it didn’t knock my socks off or anything, it seems at least reasonably promising, even if its central its central premise seems like a riff on Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart, only this time the adults didn’t all split, they died. Now it’s 20 years later, and the kids they left behind are all grown up and trying to rebuild civilization. An outfit known as the New Church has risen to fill the power vacuum, and it looks like our protagonists make up a makeshift resistance movement against the rising tide of religious totalitarianism. The story here is fairly well-paced and involving, the art has a pleasing animation cel look to it, and the core concept is fairly wide open, so what the hell — I’m game to give it a few more issues and see where the whole thing goes.

Fairlady #1 marks the start of a new fantasy/adventure series from Image scripted by Brian Schirmer and drawn by Claudia Balboni that offers a complete, self-contained story in each issue with plenty of backmatter material at the end fleshing out their imaginary realm of The Feld. The art brings to mind Scott Godlweski’s work on Copperhead and is just as as good, and the story, centered on a private eye by the name of Jenner Faulds, is a fun and smartly-written yarn that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. I really love the idea of each installment telling a full tale with a beginning, middle, and end of its own, I dig the intricate “world-building” that’s going on, and there are some relevant feminist political messages under-girding the action that have clear and obvious real-world parallels. Count me as being along for the ride with this one.

She Could Fly : The Lost Pilot #1 is our “saving the best for last” entry this time around, as Dark Horse/Berger Books take us back into the world created by Christopher Cantwell and Martin Morazzo, picking up some months after the first series as Luna returns home from her stay in a mental health facility and tries to re-integrate into her school while solving the mystery of the flying woman that she just can’t shake. What’s up with her grandmother? What’s up with her dad? And which one of our cast members from last time comes to a sudden and violent end? There are intrigues galore in this comic, Morazzo’s finely-detailed art is gorgeous as always, and Cantwell does a nice job of weaving his larger points about mental health into a very solid, expansive storyline. One of the best mainstream books of last year returns, better than ever.

And thus we reach the end of another week loaded with new number ones. Which leaves us with the usual item of “housekeeping” at the tail end of things, your constant reminder that this column is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. Your patronage there not only helps keep things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. I would be very pleased to have your support, so if you feel so inclined, please take a moment to check it out and consider joining by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/17/2018 – 06/23/2018, The Horror — The Horror —

I guess I’ve been at this long enough to see when de facto themes generally, if inadvertently, present themselves within the “framework” of any given week’s releases, and when Image Comics has four horror books (all priced at $3.99 each, so keep that in mind as you evaluate whether or not these are worth the dent to your wallet) come out on the same Wednesday, well shit, it’s pretty obvious what we should be talking about, isn’t it? Doesn’t really take a “veteran” critic at all, as a matter of fact —

I had been cool to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls to this point — so much so that I had been intending, most likely, to drop it after the conclusion of its first “arc” — but with issue number four, now I’m no so sure. Lemire is (painfully) obviously going for some sort of low-rent Twin Peaks rip-off here, albeit with a smaller, more insular cast and a “Black Barn” instead of a “Black Lodge,” and things had been coming together frustratingly slowly up to now. A switch really seems to have been flipped this time, though, as a rough outline of where the story is headed is finally coming into view, and Sorrentino’s inventive page and panel layouts, which had delivered more intriguing “misses” than direct “hits” previously, are now much more “in synch” with the narrative flow. In fact, there’s a double-page spread in this issue that will absolutely knock your sock off.  So — I’m intrigued enough to give this book a little more rope.

The fourth installment of Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell’s Infidel pulls a pretty gutsy move by essentially sidelining the protagonist we’ve come to know and at least like over the course of the first three issues and shift the focus squarely onto her best friend, but it works : the horror they’re all facing hasn’t “moved” (hell, that’s everyone’s problem), but seeing it through another pair of eyes makes it seem even creepier. Pichetshote’s dialogue is generally fairly authentic although it can veer into wooden territory at times, but any occasional deficiencies in the writing are more than compensated for by Cambell’s stunningly creepy and evocative art. This issue, as you can clearly see, also has the added bonus of featuring one of the year’s most jaw-droppingly awesome covers.

Don’t ask me why Evolution works, because it probably shouldn’t given its “assembly-line” production, but it does. The series returned this week with issue number seven, which kicks off a new “arc,” and while Joshua Williamson appears to have departed from the stable of writers (honestly, not a tremendous loss), James Asmus, Joseph Keatinge, and Christopher Sebela are more than capable of picking up the slack, and do so here admirably. Who are we kidding, though? Much as the various subplots are barreling ahead full-steam and moving into some truly cringe-worthy (and I mean that in the best possible sense) territory, it’s Joe Infurnari’s exquisite, harrowing, Euro-influenced art that is the star of the show here, and is so well-suited to the Cronenbergian body-horror that is this book’s stock in trade that it’s damn near painful (again with the “best possible sense” here) to behold. Probably the best-looking comic coming out under the Image banner these days, but also, surprisingly, one of the best-written. Grab the volume one trade if you haven’t and start following this in singles now.

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso have been, to their credit, trying something enitrely different with Moonshine than the crime-noir they had going with 100 Bullets — and it’s probably just as well given how that series went pretty well off the rails after about issue 30 or so — but with 11 down and only one to go, it’s becoming apparent that whatever magic this team once had is well and truly lost, and that the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of only one of the, to wit : Risso’s art is better than ever — sleek, stylish, fluid, and eminently well-suited to this tale of Prohibition-era lycanthropy — but Azzarello’s script takes an intriguing premise and makes almost nothing out of it. His characters are caricatures, his dialogue cliched, his story “beats” poorly-timed and often just plain flat. He’s a writer that’s been “trending down” for a solid decade or so at this point, and while this isn’t “rock bottom” for him by any means (we’re talking about a guy who participated in both the Before Watchmen and Dark Knight III debacles, after all), the sheer laziness of his approach in recent years gives every indication of a dude who’s simply “mailing it in.” There’s little drama or intrigue on offer here, and when you’re ramping up to your big finale, shit — don’t you want (hell, need) plenty of both?

So yeah, one publisher, four horror comics, three solid buys, one solid pass. I’m no math expert by any means, but that seems like a pretty good batting average. Next week we’ll be taking a look at — I dunno what, I’m gonna let my shop, as well as the USPS, surprise me. Hope to see you back here in seven days, when I’ll hold forth on whatever the hell it is that I ended up liking. Or not liking. Whatever the case may be.