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



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/28/2019 – 08/03/2019

Sometimes, as a writer, you like to throw little challenges at yourself, just to make things more interesting — especially when it comes to long-running columns such as this. My self-appointed challenge this week : to see if I can crank out one of these Round-Ups in 30 minutes or less. Let’s see how that goes —

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang ride off into the sunset with Paper Girls #30, the conclusion to their long-running Spielbergian fan-favorite series from Image, and as far as finales go, this one’s a clinic : we start with a dream sequence, we then return to the “real world” much as our memory-wiped protagonists have, and how much they will or might remember is sorta the theme here. Lots of gorgeous double-page spreads give this extra-length issue a little extra “breathing room” to say a proper good-bye to the girls, and all in all these creators hit all the right notes on the way out the door. Oh, and I defy you to keep both eyes dry as you read it. This is calculated stuff, sure — it’s also pretty goddamn wonderful.

Once you get past Jason T, Miles’ amazingly bizarro cover for Floating World Comics’ All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #2, what awaits within is one of  the most bizarro issues to date of this always-unpredictable project. Josh Bayer and Josh Simmons introduce an utterly inexplicable villain in their script who’s a bit like McDonalds’ Grimace with a nihilistic philosophical bent, there are some truly eyeball-gouging battle scenes, and the “heroes” of this ostensible “universe” seem less heroic than ever. Benjamin Marra and Ken Landgraf kick things off with the first five pages of art, but it’s the main chunk of the book, as illustrated by the great Trevor Von Eeden, that’s the real draw here, and worth the price of admission. “Dynamic insanity” is, I believe, the term I’m straining for here — and now that I’ve found it, I need not say much else about this comic other than “buy it.”

Cullen Bunn and his fellow Sixth Gunn creator Brian Hurtt team up on writing duties for Manor Black #1 from Dark Horse, illustrated by Bunn’s creative partner on Harrow County, the magnificent Tyler Crook, and while the story’s a bit of a confused introduction to this world of magic and legacy, the whole “old-meets-new” dynamic works, and the art’s just straight-up gorgeous. This concept seems like it should have some legs, and even if the story doesn’t improve significantly, Crook is reason enough to hang around month-in and month-out — at least to see how this comic looks, if not where it goes.

Bunn’s got another debut to his credit this week with Aftershock’s Knights Temporal #1, a time-travel-meets-mystic-secret-society thing stunningly delineated by Fran Galan, who gives things a decidedly Eurocomics feel with his lush illustration. Again, the story’s a bit of a head-scratcher, certainly by intention I’d assume (although we all know what happens when you do that), but it’s reasonably intriguing, and the art hooks you quick and reels you into this world. I’m definitely planning on sticking around for more, even if how much more is a bit of an open question.

Okay, so 45 minutes. Not so bad, and just enough time before my day gets rolling to remind you all that this column is “brought to you” each and every week 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 the low price of as little as a dollar a month. Your support would be greatly appreciated, needless to say, so if you’d be so kind please give it a look (and hopefully a join) by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


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

Another week, another mess of first issues — even if one of ’em is from last week. What can I say? My LCS got shorted on the title in question and so I didn’t get a copy until this past Wednesday. But we’ll get to that in due course. First we’ve got —

Second Coming #1, by Mark Russell and Richard Pace, was originally slated to be a Vertigo title until the suits at DC got cold feet, and I’d say it’s all worked out pretty well for the creators in question given that Vertigo is being shuttered and its “new” publisher, Ahoy Comics, appears to be on something of an upward trajectory. The premise here is that bored Jesus gets sent back to Earth by an even-more-bored God and takes up residence with a painfully obvious Superman analogue for reasons that I guess will become more clear in the fullness of time. I dunno, I got a kick out of it and everything, and Pace’s workmanlike “super-hero standard” art is pretty much pitch-perfect for the material, but I guess I was hoping for something a bit more sharp and incisive from the normally-quite-reliable Russell. As is, his “peace is the answer, not violence” messaging comes off as too obvious by half and the only actually interesting character is God himself, who is portrayed as the foul-mouthed and perpetually-disappointed old curmudgeon he probably would be if, ya know, he actually existed. I’m game to give this another issue or two simply due to my confidence in the abilities of these creators, but there’s nothing in this debut installment that would compel those unfamiliar with their work to stick around for more.

Black Hammer/Justice League : Hammer Of Justice #1, co-published by Dark Horse and DC, may just be the title that finally gets me off the BH “universe” spin-off bandwagon. Black Hammer ’45 showed signs that the franchise was finally being over-extended, and this proves it, as Jeff Lemire turns in a tedious script that sees these disparate groups of heroes teamed up under the flimsiest of pretexts and relies on rapid-fire expository to dialogue to bring everyone up to speed on who his (as opposed to DC’s) characters are, while Michael Walsh does his level best to at least make things look interesting — but can only do so much in that regard when the story is strictly “been there, done that” stuff. I don’t know what I was expecting from this comic — the concept screams “obvious cash-grab” and “so crazy it just might work” in equal measure — but it’s certainly fair to say I wasn’t expecting anything this out-and-out lousy.

Batman Universe #1 is a reprint collection of the Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington Bat-stories from those giant-size “specials” that DC puts out through Wal-Mart — and since I don’t shop at Wal-Mart and never will, I hadn’t seen the stuff and decided to give this first issue a go despite its absurd five dollar cover price. Lo and behold, it wasn’t bad at all — Derington’s a natural for the Dark Knight and should probably be drawing the regular series, and Bendis actually turns in one of his most solid scripts in years, a fun all-ages Riddler yarn. The only problem here — that outrageous price. I enjoyed this a whole hell of a lot more than I was figuring to, but if subsequent issues continue to go for five bucks a pop, I’ll be sitting the rest of this thing out on principle. I dunno why DC is over-charging for a standard-length book that contains no new material apart from the cover — hell, I don’t know why they’re making any of the moves they are these days — but fuck ’em and the horse they rode in on. With no more Batman ’66 on the racks, this is precisely the sort of antidote that’s needed to the grim, overly-dour shit that the other Bat-books have devolved into, but it’s almost as if they’re determined to dare you to be stupid enough to pay too much for it. Don’t be.

Space Bandits #1, is the book from last week I less-than-subtly made reference to at the outset and is the latest from the Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix trifecta of corporate cash-gobblers — and it also continues the welcome and entirely out-of-left-field trend of these admittedly generic genre works being a hell of a lot better than they probably have any right to be. By my count, this is the fourth series that Mark Millar has cranked out since cashing in with his new paymasters, and with the exception of the risible Prodigy, they’ve all been surprisingly solid. There’s nothing new happening here, of course — two female intergalactic outlaws get screwed over by their partners/lovers, end up in jail, bust out, and join forces to get revenge on those who wronged ’em — but the dialogue and characterization are razor-sharp, the story’s just plain fun, and Matteo Scalera’s artwork is, of course, absolutely freaking gorgeous. We’re talking even more absolutely freaking gorgeous than his Black Science stuff, if you can believe that. Every instinct in my brain and body tells me not to get my hopes up, that this is just more ready-made-for- Hollywood IP, but the same was true of The Magic Order  and Sharkey The Bounty Hunter, and both of those exceeded all expectations by a country mile. Or a light year. Or whatever. Here’s another, I think. I can’t believe I’m saying this — much less that I’m saying it for the third time this year — but I’m “all in” on a freaking Mark Millar comic. Hell just keeps on freezing over, it would seem.

Another week down means another pitch at the end for the “sponsor” of this column, my very own Patreon site, where for as little as a buck a month you can have access to as many as three new rants and ramblings per week from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. That’s so goddamn cheap you literally can’t lose, so please — help support me and my work by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/24/2018 – 06/30/2018, Happy Endings?

Four series I’ve been following from their inception  — in the case of two that means for a couple/few years now, for the other two just a handful of months — wrapped up this past week. But did they wrap up succesfully? That is the question —

Okay, it’s probably a cheat to include The Beef #5 in this column given it hit shelves the Wednesday before last, but my shop didn’t get their copies until this week, so it counts as a “new comic” as far as I’m concerned — and it’s an awesome one, at that. Things don’t go so well for our guy Chuck — in fact, hopefully it’s not giving too much away to call him “Ground Chuck” at this point — but that doesn’t mean his alter ego doesn’t live on. This issue was grotesque and unnerving even by this series’ standards, but it was also funny as shit, and at the end of the day co-writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline can pat themselves on their backs for serving up raw the most entertaining, absurdist, and disturbing polemic in favor of vegetarianism ever produced in any medium, while Shaky Kane — well, shit, he’s Shaky Kane. Words simply cannot do the man justice. The backmatter also does a great job of highlighting the contributions of designer John Roshell, who seriously busted his ass producing this books’ strikingly original covers. If you’ve been passing on this in singles, fear not, Image will be cranking it out in trade in fairly short order, I’m sure, and you have absolutely no excuse not to grab a copy. Gandhi takes a shotgun blast through the head — and it’s played for laughs. You need this comic in order to survive.

Sticking with Image, we come to Kill Or Be Killed #20, the grand finale of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ latest crime/noir thing (albeit with a supernatural twist and plenty of Amazing Spider-Man references — check that cover!), except it’s really not so “grand” at all. Brubaker seems to have gone from The Fade-Out to “The Fake-Out,” tossing two major, but decidedly uninspired, head-fakes our way before settling on a bog-standard Hollywood genre ending that you’ve seen done both before and better more times than you can count. Phillips’ art remains competent if a bit stuck in a certain stylistic rut, but seriously — this is two underwhelming long-form series in a row from this celebrated team, and how long I feel the need  to keep following them remains a very open question. They’re moving onto a graphic novella next (a preview of which is included at the back of this issue), then kicking off another monthly, and I think I’m gonna wait and hear what folks have to say about both before slapping down my hard-earned cash for either.

Also on the long-form front, Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook put their fan-favorite Dark Horse horror title Harrow County to bed with issue #32, and while it’s a fairly cut-and-dried “epic final battle” sort of thing, it’s got a lot of heart behind it, and Emmy’s story feels like it’s ending exactly as it should. Bunn steps back and lets and Crook’s gorgeous watercolor art carry the bulk of the storytelling load, as it should, and the extra page count for this issue (which, fair warning, is priced at $4.99, while everything else on our “radar screen” this week carries a now-pretty-standard $3.99 price tag — although this one also boasts a higher-quality cardstock cover, as well) affords him the opportunity to finish with a flourish of stunning double-page spreads. I’m really gonna miss picking this comic up every month, and I do hope these two find themselves collaborating on  another project in the not-too-distant future. They didn’t set out to re-invent the wheel or anything here, just tell an involving folk/rural horror story that did its characters, concepts, and setting justice. And that they certainly did. Take a bow, gents — you’ve earned it.

Lat but not least, over at Vertigo, Simon Spurrier and Rachael Stott send off their wildly inventive sci-fi family drama, Motherlands, with issue #6, and it’s pretty much a textbook example of how to go out with a bang. The previous installment left us with one hell of a cliffhanger, and Spurrier not only makes sure we get some sweet “payoff” out of it by exploring all of its attendant implications (I’m trying really hard to avoid “spoilers” here, if you couldn’t tell), he also sees to it that every single sub-plot he’d been toying with along the way gets tied together in cohesive fashion, while Stott — who appeared to stumble a bit, deadline-wise, in the early going and only drew four and half of the series’ issues — illustrates the heavily- 2000AD-influenced proceedings with a clean, crisp line that looks extremely polished but still conveys plenty of excitement and, when necessary, raw pain and angst. This comic seems to have gone largely overlooked on stands — let’s be honest, most Vertigo things are these days — but you know what? It’s been an absolute blast, combining rip-roaring adventure, human emotion, and smart, “high-concept” genre storytelling in about as thoroughly satisfying a fashion as possible, so anyone who missed out on it monthly? You should seriously check it out in trade.

And with that, we conclude our look at conclusions. Next week they tell me Batman and Catwoman are getting married — but hopefully some comics that actually matter will be coming out, as well, and we’ll be looking at them here seven short days from now. Hope to see you then!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/08/2018 – 04/14/2018

Three first issues and a seven hundredth? Yeah, this oughtta be an interesting column —

Crude #1 kicks off a new Skybound/Image six-parter from the creative team of Steve Orlando and Garry Brown revolving around a mix of family drama and Russian oil business shady dealings, with some sort of vague-at-this-point mystery thrown into the mix to — sorry — muddy the waters. Orlando has always been an up-and-down writer in my estimation, but he seems to be more “up” here, serving us a script that’s heavy on the characterization and stage-setting. This may just turn out to be yet another revenge yarn, but those are fun if they kick enough ass, and all indications are that this one’ll do just that — and Brown’s murky, expressionistic art is more than well-suited to the proceedings. At $3.99 a pop for singles this might be one to “trade-wait,” but since I’m already in, what the hell — I’ll stay in. I really dig the intrigue emanating from this comic.

Also from Image this week we have The Dead Hand #1, a modern-day spy thriller with its roots in the Cold War and — hey, is this a theme? — the Soviet Union. Kyle Higgins has cooked up an immediately-absorbing yarn here with a ton of backstory to explore in the months to come, while Stephen Mooney’s art is stylish, sleek, and reminiscent of the best pulp covers, and superstar colorist Jordie Bellaire finishes things off with a polished set of hues that give the pages a very fluid, cinematic look and feel. This one impressed me a lot and felt like four bucks wisely spent — I heartily recommend getting in on the ground floor.

I was pretty underwhelmed by Unholy Grail by the time all was said and done, it has to be said (it started off okay yet ended up just being a kind of “Cliff’s Notes Camelot” with pretty pictures) —  but apparently not so underwhelmed that I was unwilling to give The Brothers Dracul #1 , from the same creative team of writer Cullen Bunn and artist Mirko Colak, a shot. Like their previous series, this one is a mildly revisionist take on ancient legend, is published by Aftershock, and has a lush, atmospheric, “Eurocomics” look to it. Fortunately, the story seems a bit more ambitious here, with an emphasis not only on the future Count Dracula himself but also, as the title plainly states, his less-heralded (and therefore less-notorious) brother. I know, I know, I was a little worried that we would simply be getting another Dracula Untold here, too, but so far that doesn’t seem  to be the case. Things could go south in a hurry with this book — they did before — so I’m keeping it on a short leash, but what the hell? I felt like I got a damn solid read for my $3.99 with this first issue.

Finally, then, we come to Captain America #700, an extra-sized (and extra-priced, at $5.99) anniversary issue that also sees the conclusion to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s truncated “Lost in Time” pseudo-epic. I liked where this was headed — and, as always, loved the art — until the very end, when Waid takes the dull and predictable step of “retconning” the previous few issues out of existence. Cap’s back in our time like nothing ever happened — because, essentially, nothing did. And that’s kind of a shame, because what did happen (until, of course, it didn’t) was actually pretty interesting and borderline-relevant. Alas, it’s all water under the bridge now, Samnee is off to greener pastures, and I’m all out of cliches. Real quick though — the less said about the backup strip, the better. The art’s great — they dug out an old, unused Jack Kirby inventory story — but the script (and again, this is all on Waid) doesn’t match up convincingly with the visuals at all, and the modern computer coloring just bastardizes The King’s work. For a supposed “milestone” comic, this one should have been a lot better.

Okay, that’s me keeping it short and sweet for this installment, something I should probably try to do more often. I dunno what all we’ll have to talk about next week, but something tells me Action Comics #1000 will at least merit a brief examination, don’t you think? Catch you back here in seven short days!