Mainstream Comics Worth Paying Attention To : “Gideon Falls”

It takes a lot to maintain a compelling mystery over the course of 22 issues, but writer Jeff Lemire, artist Andrea Sorrentino, and colorist Dave Stewart have managed (with some admitted bumps along the way) to do just that in the pages of their Image Comics series Gideon Falls, a mind-bender set in the small town of its name — that isn’t a small town anymore, but that’s another matter.

And there are, in fact, several “other matters” on offer here, with no end to them in sight, although I imagine we must be at least to the halfway point of this thing by now — but I could be wrong about that. It’s been known to happen. And I’ve been wrong about any number of twists and turns in this saga, which is why it’s so damn much fun, in addition to being reasonably creepy and a tour de force artistic showcase for Sorrrentino and Stewart.

Ah yes, that art — Sorrentino’s always been at his best when allowed to improvise and go with his own flow, and he’s pulling out all the stops here with amazingly inventive page layouts, visceral horror details, and distinctively-delineated characters. Lemire’s scripts are brisk and economic, so any given issue of this series only takes a matter of minutes to read, but you’ll want to spend a good long time oohing and aahing over the visuals, as well as searching for any clues that may be contained within them.

Sorrentino’s hardly a solo act, though, when it comes to creating the unique look and feel of this constantly-changing world. Stewart has long been a fan-favorite colorist, of course, but if I’ve gotta be completely honest there’s always been kind of a soulless professionalism to a lot of his work that hasn’t registered with me. Here, however, that cool distance and detachment — which, in fairness, is a common trait in all modern computer-colored comics, not just Stewart’s — works in his favor, lending the proceedings a further touch of the alien and a kind of Lynchian note of surrealism. And yeah, while we’re talking of Lynch —

Apparently, it’s no secret that Lemire is a massive Twin Peaks fan, and the parallels here are obvious enough : town full of secrets, a black otherworldly construct existing just a step outside of everyday reality (in Twin Peaks it was the Black Lodge, here it’s the Black Barn), a beleaguered sheriff trying to make sense of it all, and a local “sensitive” individual who may hold the key to whatever resolution it is we’re working toward. In this case, though, that “sensitive” character isn’t dead like Laura Palmer, but is very much alive and well — well, okay, not well, per se, given our guy Norton is obviously mentally unbalanced, but I digress. The cast here is also more insular than Lynch and Frost’s, consisting primarily of the aforementioned Norton, his therapist, local sheriff Clara, her conspiracy-minded father, and a troubled — perhaps even troubling — priest. They’ve all got enough private skeletons in their respective closets to keep them interesting, but they’re also each reasonably likable in their own way, so Lemire hits the right balance in terms of letting you get to know them just enough — but not too much.

Anyway, as we start the series’ fifth and most recent arc, something well and truly unexpected has happened vis a vis the Black Barn that I won’t give away, but it promises to blow things open even further with the story and, yes, alternate realities appear to be involved, so — buckle up tight. And if you’ve been missing out on the ride so far, grab up the trade collections and bring yourself up to speed on what’s likely the most consistently unpredictable series in mainstream comics right now, as well as one of the best-drawn. This one will hook you, and I appreciate the deliberate care with which Lemire and Sorrentino are reeling readers in.

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Review wrist check – doing up the old summertime standby today, my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68,” burnt orange model with navy blue dial.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “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 I’d be very appreciative ineed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/14/2019 – 04/20/2019

Believe it or not, we’ve only got two first issue this time out, so we’ll start with those, and then delve into the other stuff —

Mary Shelley : Monster Hunter #1 hit LCS shelves this past Wednesday courtesy of the writing team of Adam Glass and Olivia Cuartero-Briggs Briggs and line artist/colorist Hayden Sherman. I suppose the conceptual and artistic triumph that was Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence was impetus enough for other creators to give the “famous writer who knew what they were talking about all too well” premise a whirl, and while I won’t pretend for a second this is anywhere close to being in that class, it was a fun and well-paced introduction to a world where — well, the title proves to be literally true. The story didn’t blow me away or anything, but the esteemed Mrs. Shelley comes off as being strong, likable, and more than competent, and Sherman’s art and colors are as well-suited to these period atmospherics as they are to the sci-fi vistas of Wasted Space. I had the same reaction to this as I’ve had to any number of other Aftershock series, which essentially boils down to “can’t say I’m committed to it for the duration, but I’m game to give at least a couple more issues.” In a pinch, I suppose, that’ll do.

American Gods : The Moment Of The Storm #1 is a debut issue in name only, as any publisher other than Dark Horse would probably just keep the numbering going and label this as precisely what it is : the start of a new — and, as it turns out, the last — “story arc” in this particular series. We’re at the point now where the chess pieces are being moved into place for the big final meeting/confrontation between the various largely-dormant gods that’s been building for some time, so if you’ve been digging P. Craig Russell and Scott Hampton’s very literal adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novel, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this installment, as well. Kind of an ugly cover from Glenn Fabry and Adam Brown this time around, but that particular “art crime” is more than made up for by the fact that Russell handles the layouts in here as well, of course, as the script, giving the proceedings a very fluid feel. And I still really dig Hampton’s art. I’ve come this far, so rest assured, I’ll be sticking with it to the end.

Gideon Falls #12 is, in fact, the “proper” beginning of a new “arc” in Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s vaguely Lynch-ian horror series from Image, and frankly this is starting to have a feel of finality about it, as well. Sorrentino’s endlessly inventive art is always a marvel to behold, and ditto for Dave Stewart’s amazing colors, but if Lemire isn’t ramping things up toward some sort of climax here, I’ll actually be kind of disappointed, seeing as how everything seems to be coalescing/dove-tailing in terms of the two formerly-separate plot threads now becoming one. I’m not in a huge hurry to put this book in the rear-view mirror or anything — it’s been, and remains, quite good — but it’s hard to see where things would be headed if, in fact, they were to go on for much longer. I’m more than willing to be pleasantly surprised, though — and this comic usually manages to do precisely that.

Port Of Earth #9 is likewise the kick-off point for a new “arc,” and this series from Image/Top Cow had been sidelined for so long that I was beginning to wonder if it was ever coming back. Writer Zack Kaplan seems to be alternating between this and his other sci-fi book, Eclipse, and the same is true for artist Andrea Mutti vis a vis this and Infinite Dark, and what the hell — the de facto “rotation” works for all of ’em. The premise of alien/human relations becoming strained over Earth setting up a landing port for various intergalactic travelers and traders who then proceed to bust every rule in sight feels new again by dint of its absence — even if the TV segments that Kaplan over-relies on are starting to seem anything but — and characters and events have “moved on” in directions that make logical sense. Mutti’s stylish and “loose” art continues to get stronger and stronger, as well, which is indeed high praise as it was pretty goddamn good to start with, and Jordan Boyd’s color work is always serviceable, if well shy of spectacular. Glad to have this one back.

And that was the week that was, so now the only remaining order of business is to remind you all 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. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. Your patronage there not only keeps things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. There’s a whole lot of stuff posted up there already, so you’re sure to get good value for your money, and needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support. Please take a moment to check it out and consider joining up by hopping on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/10/2019 – 03/16/2019

First issues : they’re what we do around here. In fact, it seems like nothing else even comes out anymore. Here are four more from this past Wednesday alone —

Image’s Little Bird #1 kicks off a five-part epic of dystopian sci-fi (one that’s not slated to be collected in trade — which is remarkable given that’s how most Image creators get paid) with some Native American folklore around the edges about a child soldier on a post-apocalyptic Earth fighting on behalf of indigenous peoples vs. an oppressive religious totalitarian state. Screenwriter/director Darcy Van Poelgeest handles the scripting duties with superstar artist Ian Bertram of House Of Penance providing the illustration and colorist extraordinaire Matt Hollingsworth on hues. This opening salvo has terrific “world-building,” breathtaking action sequences, stunningly detailed art, and beautifully evocative colors. It also boasts a higher-than-usual page count, slick paper, and heavy-duty cardstock covers. A superb value at $3.99 — hell, just a superb comic altogether. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Also from Image in general, and Robert Kirkman’s Skybound label in particular, we have Assassin Nation #1, the opening salvo in a new ongoing written by superb-cartoonist-in-his-own-right Kyle Starks and drawn and colored by popular former Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson. A smart and fun “piss-take” on the “ultravioelnce” subgenre that focuses on the formerly number-one-ranked assassin in the world hiring as many of his previous competitors as possible to protect his own ass when he comes under threat,  we start out with 20 world-class assassins here (current rankings are displayed on the opening title page), but end up with a lot less after a gloriously over-the-top bloodbath. At first I thought that Starks, specifically, was punching well below his own weight class with this one, as he’s best known for both writing and drawing his own stuff, but I’m happy to say that assumption was entirely off-base as he and Henderson make for a great team and have produced a comic that wrings plenty of entertainment value out of each of the 399 pennies you’ll spend on it. Well worth getting in on this from the jump.

Writer Magdalene Visaggio is a positively ubiquitous presence on LCS new-release racks lately (we just talked about her new Oni Press series Morning In America last week), and while her stuff can be hit-or-miss for me, Calamity Kate #1, the first chapter in a four-parter from Dark Horse, was her most direct “hit” yet, offering a delightful mash-up of banal relationship drama (protagonist has just been through a painful break-up and is overstaying her welcome crashing on a long-suffering friend’s couch) with monster-hunting. This world feels every bit as workaday and bog-standard as our own, only there’s dragons and Kaiju and shit everywhere. The Girl In The Bay (another Dark Horse book I absolutely love) artist Corin Howell turns in more of the supremely confident and highly eye-catching illustration that we’re quickly becoming accustomed to from her in this one, and colorist Valentina Pinto eschews the flashy in favor of the wholly functional, resulting in a comic that looks every bit as good as it reads. Another four dollars very well spent.

Finally, DC brings us a cash-grab (and a $4.99 cash-grab, at that) one-shot called The Batman Who Laughs : The Grim Knight #1, a spin-off of the current The Batman Who Laughs mini-series which is itself a spin-off of Dark Nights : Metal. If you can keep up with all that, you’re doing better than me, as I couldn’t make head or tail of Scott Synder and James Tynion IV’s story about some “alternate universe” Batman who uses guns and spy-camera technology to not just “protect” Gotham City, but basically take the place over and prevent any and all crime by preventing any and all freedom. I wasn’t here for the story, though — I was here for the art, courtesy of the legendary Eduardo Risso and best-in-the-biz colorist Dave Stewart. Lush, cinematic, and gorgeous, this book looks like a million bucks, so I guess it was worth spending five on, but I wish DC would put this first-rate tandem to use on better projects than one-off continuity circle-jerks like this. Which, I guess, is my way of saying that this is a pretty shitty comic, but sure doesn’t dress the part. I can ogle over just about any page in this thing for hours.

And that should about do it for another Weekly Wrap-Up. Just enough time left to, of course, remind you that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon page, where I offer exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there allows me to keep things going and also ensures a steady stream of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Check it out and join up today at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/01/2018 – 07/07/2018

Still reeling from the shock of losing Steve Ditko here, but nevertheless, the show must go on, even if it feels like it shouldn’t. Is there any time afforded us, in this modern world, to slow down, catch a breath, and take stock of where we are — not just individually, but as a people? Funny you should ask —

Tom Kaczynski has clearly been giving this very subject a great deal of thought, and in Cartoon Dialectics #3, the latest in an occasional series published by his own Uncivilized Books (pride of the Minneapolis indie cartooning scene, I assure you), he reflects on the siren-call power, and dangerous trappings, of nostalgia, and examines how yearning for an entirely mythologized past led us to where we are today — which means, of course, how it managed to get us stuck with Trump. Danish cartoonist Clara Jetsmark is his writing collaborator for this “main feature” strip, but a secondary one focused on nostalgia in a more general sense, and a third centered around life in an antiseptic future featuring a character who lives out his days entirely within a series of interconnected skyways (something we know all about here in the Twin Cities) are shot through with similar themes of alienation — from the world in general, and our own lives in particular. As always, Kaczynski’s loose-but-precise linework is expert at conveying just the right amount of visual information in each drawing, and expanding from mini-comic to half-size with this issue really gives the art much more room to breathe and increases the effectiveness of pages that utilize a generous amount of negative space exponentially. The choice of purple as a “third color” along with the requisite black and white is an interesting one, and gives the proceedings an interconnected look to go along with the uniform tone. This is astonishingly smart, literate cartooning well worth the $6 asking price — but you don’t even have to pay that much since Kaczynski is offering it on sale at $4 right now. Jump on the following link and order it if you know what’s good for you :http://uncivilizedbooks.com/

Sticking with Uncivilized — and with broadly anti-Trumpian messaging — we next turn out attention to Jenny Schmid’s awesomely-titled White Supremacists Are Human Farts, a concise but heartfelt look at what it means to raise a young child in the shadow of all the hateful right-wing bullshit that’s going on right now. Schmid’s adopted daughter Sinee is also an immigrant, so this is understandably personal for the both of them, and starting the (standard-sized, with heavy cardstock cover) comic off with a visit to the Anne Frank Museum sets the tone for all that follows perfectly — which isn’t to say that it’s all doom and gloom, as there are some genuinely touching and humorous instances of mother-daughter interaction on offer here that actually make this comic as charming as it is topical. Schmid’s cartooning is richly-detailed and saturated under a veritable layer of gorgeous, heavy inks in a manner at least a little bit reminiscent of Phoebe Gloeckner, but it’s also infused with a subtle but ever-present undercurrent of visual optimism that matches the narrative tone of these short vignettes perfectly. $8 is admittedly a lot to pay for a 16-page comic, but this one if worth every penny. Available from the same website as above.

If you need a genuine “feel-good” comic to escape from the reality our first two books concern themselves with, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Joe Casey and Ulises Farinas’ New Lieutenants Of Metal #1, released this past Wednesday from Image. Casey is at his most interesting lately when working through his “mid-life shit” (if you’re reading this, Joe, there are a lot of us who still want to see the long-promised return of Sex), and that’s exactly what he’s doing in this deliriously fun mash-up that’s part love letter to Image’s foundational titles (specifically Youngblood), part Kirby tribute (especially as far as the dialogue goes), and part celebration of ’80s “headbanger” music. There are some welcome nods to contemporary social attitudes with the book’s positive portrayal of gender fluidity and its inherent understanding of the absurdity of the (bloodless, it must be said) ultra-violence it revels in — robotic monster trucks trashing a city is never gonna be a “mellow” scene — but for all that this is a comic that is neither terribly preachy nor especially stupid. It’s just fun — thanks in no small part to Farinas’ bright, energetic and, yes, “cartoony” art. This is slated to run four issues, I believe, and if they’re all this good, I won’t mind forking over $3.99 a pop for them in the least.

Last up we’ve got Jeff Lemire and Wilfredo Torres’ The Quantum Age #1, yet another spin-off from Dark Horse’s already-venerable (and already-heavily-franchised) Black Hammer series, and while it’s true that they’re milking this particular cash cow for all it’s worth and then some, I’m really not going to argue when the results are this consistently good. This time out the setting is the semi-distant future, and Lemire does a damn fine job extrapolating his concepts and characters into a new and decidedly dystopian setting, while losing none of the inherent charm that has made the (God I hate this term, but) “flagship title” such a favorite with fans and critics alike. There’s nothing terribly original going on here — mysterious protagonist seeks to bring back the (once again) departed heroes to save the world from what it’s become — but originality has never been Black Hammer‘s stock in trade in any of its iterations. Rather, it’s all about well-executed storytelling that breathes a welcome dose of new energy into the decidedly played-out subgenre of superhero revisionism by acknowledging that, much as we may think we’re too “cool” to admit it, these absurd caped adventurers mean something to us — and, furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Torres’ art here, that’s for sure (not something I’m always willing to say about his work), and when you take his economic, smooth style and pair it with the always-perfect hues of colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart, the results are very eye-catching indeed. This one’s also a four-parter, and also well worth its $3.99 price tag.

And that should do it for this Round-Up, but there’s plenty to look forward to next week,  including the first part of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s final League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, The Tempest, so join me back here in seven days when we take a look at that, plus whatever else strikes my fancy!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/10/2018 – 06/16/2018

If it seems like Image Comics is rolling out a new series (be it limited or ongoing) every week — well, that’s because they are. But even by their standards, four in one week is a lot —

Bloodstrike : Brutalists #0 is the one everyone’s been talking about (although that fact was apparently lost on my LCS owner, who ordered precisely one fucking copy — and it was the godawful Rob Liefeld variant, as opposed to the awesomeness shown above), as it brings the punk ‘zine/”alt” comics sensibilities of the great Michel Fiffe (most notably of Copra fame, although my favorite of his works is unquestionably Zegas) crashing headlong into the mercifully-shuttered world of the aforementioned Mr. Liefeld’s Extreme Studios line-up circa about — I dunno, 1996 or some shit. From the book’s numbering to its purposely-stilted dialogue to its admittedly lame core premise (undead heroes who bear more than a passing resemblance to a bunch of Marvel characters fight equally generic villains for reasons never apparently thought through all that completely) there are any number of deliberate “call-backs” to a late and decidedly un-lamented era of comics history on offer here, but Fiffe isn’t content with some basic-ass exercise in nostalgia, instead allowing his inventive page layouts and inherent sense of visual “flow” to propel the narrative along in a manner that Liefeld (goddamn, there’s that name again!), with his clunky, static, over-rendered-yet-still-hopelessly-sloppy “Hollywood blockbuster on bathtub PCP” imagery never could. This story is apparently a continuation of one left abandoned in the wake of Extreme going belly-up, but it doesn’t matter : no one who was working on the book “back in the day” had any idea what was going with it, either.

Fortunately, Fiffe does, and despite the rather annoying fact that you really do need to read the backmatter here (which comes complete with some hijinks courtesy of Paul Maybury, Benjamin Marra, Charles Forsman, and Ed Piskor, so you won’t regret spending time on it in the least) in order to fully grasp the scope and intentions of the project as a whole, to say nothing of this issue’s narrative specifically, it seems that the characters are given far more meat on their bones in a handful of pages here than they ever were in the sum total of however many issues this series ran for in the past. In short, this is fun stuff with a reasonable amount of thought put into it, especially aesthetically, and since it’s gonna be a brief run (three issues, I thought I heard?), there’s almost no way you won’t get your four bucks’ worth every time. You certainly do here.

Proxima Centauri #1 kicks off a new six-parter appropriate for all ages from the always-interesting Farel Dalrymple, and it’s as utterly charming as it is visually striking. I defy anyone not to take an immediate liking to teen inter-dimensional adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat, and while the “quest across the universe to find our hero’s brother” story is pretty standard as far as plots go, the people, places, and things he encounters along the way are anything but. Rendered with a pleasingly loose line that makes the pages breeze by in something very near to stream-of-consciousness fashion, this is intricately-woven stuff cleverly designed to look and read like it’s literally being made up as Dalrymple goes along. Once in awhile a book hits the stands that is so obviously inventive it literally hurts — this is one, and you don’t want to miss it under any circumstances. Another one well worth forking over $3.99 a pop for.

And while you’ve got four singles out (wait, sorry, that’s eight so far), grab another four and fork ’em on over for The Weather Man #1. Jody LeHeup flexed his comedy “chops” writing Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, and while he’s not toned down the absurdist humor in the least for this one, artist extraordinaire Nathan Fox does his part to ensure that the belly-laughs are matched with an admirably ambitious futurist tour-de-force of, dare I say it, mind-blowing proportions, all colored with uncharacteristically garish aplomb by likely-best-in-the-biz Dave Stewart. Earth has been destroyed in some sort of mass catastrophe, what survivors there are have colonized Mars, and the beleaguered masses are kept entertained by an asshole TV weather guy who seems to have more in common with a morning radio “shock jock” than he does with an actual meteorologist. Except, ya know, there’s a lot more to him that we ever suspected if the implications of the absolutely jaw-dropping cliffhanger are to be believed. I figured I was gonna like this book, probably even like it a lot — turns out I actually freaking loved it.

One that I didn’t expect to care for, though, was The Magic Order #1. Yeah, okay, Olivier Coipel’s art is always lush, evocative, and magnificent, as it is (and then some — I mean it, this is absolutely gorgeous work) here, and Dave Stewart (hi again, Dave!) absolutely kills it with his understated, cinematic (is this guy versatile or what?) color scheme, but let’s be brutally, painfully honest : when was the last time Mark Millar actually wrote a comic that was any fucking good whatsoever?

Well, I’m pleased to report that drought (however long you think it may have lasted) is over. This first Millarworld title to be published since Netflix bought the imprint lock, stock, and barrel is the surprise hit not just of the week, but maybe of the month : a simple premise (family imbued with magic powers going back generations battles otherworldly monsters to keep us mere mortals safe — and we never even know about it!) admittedly ready-made for Hollywood exploitation (hey, Millar is still Millar, right?) needn’t necessarily be a bad thing, and here it’s not : the protagonists are all immediately likable to one degree or another, the story moves along at a solid clip, the “ground rules” are laid out succinctly, and the “fight scenes” are equal parts trippy and fun. Mostly, though, the whole thing is just breathtaking to look at and I’d happily shell out $3.99 for Coipel’s art even if the story sucked — which, in this case, it actually doesn’t. In fact, it’s really damn good — and no, I still can’t believe I’m saying that, either.

So there you go — four great reasons to hit the comic shop in one week. I had a huge smile on my face after reading every single one of these books. Will next week prove as bountiful, dear readers? Only one way to know, of course — join me back here in seven days!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/04/2018 – 03/10/2018

What did I learn this week? I learned that Vertigo-style comics are still alive and well, they’re just not being made by Vertigo anymore —

Case in point : The Highest House #1 re-unites the team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross from The Unwritten at IDW, and their new publisher is clearly pulling out all the stops, publishing this in an oversized magazine-style format with heavy, glossy covers and slick, high-quality paper. The art is certainly worthy of the presentation — Gross’ detailed, intricate illustrations positively sing from the pages, aided and abetted in no small part by the lush, gorgeous color palette of Fabien Alquier, and the story, centered around a slave boy named Moth who works in a Gormenghast-style eccentric magical castle is old-school Vertigo “high fantasy” all the way. The set-up is fairly simple : Moth makes a deal with a potential devil named Obsidian who promises freedom and advancement, but what price he’ll have to pay remains to be seen — and until we figure that out, Carey’s gonna go heavy on the world-building and character development in equal measure.

I dunno, I should probably be more cynical about this sort of Gaiman-derivative (and his stuff was pretty derivative itself) storytelling at this point, but Carey’s undoubtedly a skilled, if decidedly unsubtle, technician, and what this comic lacks in terms of inspiration it more than makes up for in terms of execution. Certainly $4.99 is a more than fair price for a book this lavishly-formatted, and if you’re looking for a series that can still get some mileage out of a vaguely Sandman-esque lineage, odds are this one will end up doing a better job of it than the recently-announced Sandman Universe slew of titles will. Obviously, if you’re looking for something new under the sun you should be looking elsewhere, but if “formulaic” isn’t a dirty word in your vocabulary, then I think you’ll find a lot to like here. For the time being, I’m more than happy to see where Carey and Gross go with this.

The entire premise behind DC’s Young Animal imprint seems to be a sort of updating of “classic” Vertigo properties for the 21st century, but I’m thinking that Gerard Way’s four-color baby must be showing signs of being a problem child sales-wise because, apart from Doom Patrol, the various titles are all re-launching with new first issues coming out of the recent (and frankly pretty lame) Milk Wars cross-over event. Shade, The Changing Woman #1 is first out of the chute, and sees Steve Ditko’s character (or, more accurately, an extrapolation thereof) in a slightly older body than last time out, but with the same creative team of writer Cecil Castellucci and artist Marley Zarcone chronicling her exploits. I like Zarcone’s art quite a bit — she cleaves to the off-kilter temperament of Ditko while giving everyone/thing a look and personality all her own — but there’s not a tremendous amount happening here story-wise, with the same basic identity questions (how does an alien from Meta adjust to being a human on Earth?) that were reasonably intriguing at first now seeming, well, kinda old hat — and apparently there are no answers to these metaphysical queries forthcoming. The pages where Castellucci plays to her artist’s strengths and side-steps linear narrative altogether are the best things on offer here and maybe in future they should just say “fuck it” and go for the psychedelic trip-out vibe on a full-time basis with no real concern for a “story arc” that’s barely advancing in any appreciable way anyhow? I dunno, but at $3.99 a pop it’s probably not worth hanging around a whole lot longer to see whether or not they figure out what the hell they’re doing with this comic. Of all the DCYA titles, this seems to be the one that’s having the hardest time distinguishing between being nominally “experimental” and just plain “floundering.”

The last “might-have-been-a-Vertigo-comic-five-years-ago” book of the week is Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls #1, the opening salvo in what looks to be something of a slow-burn horror series. Certainly this creative team has cranked out some fan-favorite stuff in the past with their runs on Green Arrow at DC and Old Man Logan at Marvel, and given free reign to cut loose and do their own thing at Image, who knows? Maybe they’ll really pull out all the stops and craft a series for the ages — but it’s too soon to say whether or not this will be it. Lemire seems to be bobbing and weaving between two separate storylines — one focused on a Catholic priest whose career trajectory is headed straight down, the other on a disturbed young-ish recluse looking for clues to a city-wide conspiracy in its garbage — that will no doubt intersect sooner rather than later, but there aren’t enough “hooks” (either character- or situation-based) to really stir the interest at this early juncture. What’s perhaps most surprising, though, is that he doesn’t give you a very strong sense of place yet with this comic, and that’s been a Lemire staple going all the way back to Essex County, and continuing through subsequent works like Royal CityRoughneck, and Sweet Tooth, to name just a few. Certainly in a comic named after a fictitious locale you would expect said locale to play a major role — and no doubt it will in fairly short order — but it doesn’t in this debut. Kinda puzzling, that is.

On the plus side, though, we’ve got Sorrentino’s darkly evocative and cinematic illustrations, which look like a million bucks when paired with the pitch-perfect hues of superstar colorist Dave Stewart. Visually, these guys knock it out of the park here and this extra-length issue is worth its $3.99 cover price for the art alone. At some point, though, the story’s gonna have to earn its keep, as well, so while I hesitate to have a quick trigger finger, I do find myself putting this series on a much shorter leash than, in all honesty, I was expecting to.

One more Image debut this week worthy of note, probably because it’s being optioned for TV as we speak, is Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici’s Oblivion Song #1, released under Kirkman’s own Skybound studio imprint. Not being a fan of Kirkman’s work in the least I wasn’t figuring to be impressed by this, but what the hell — to bizarrely paraphrase ESPN’s Chris Berman, that’s why we read the books, and I’m actually pretty glad I read this one. The quick plot hook — an extraterrestrial/interdimensional incursion of some sort resulted in a big chunk of Philadelphia being violently transported to a deadly, monster-filled realm known as Oblivion, the US government devised a barely-explained kind of sci-fi means of going there to rescue its people, but hey, that was ten years ago and no one gives a shit anymore apart from one lone scientist/adventurer who’s trying to find his disappeared brother — grabs you more or less instantly, the broad-stroke characterization gives you as much info as you need to know about these people and what’s happening with them, and De Felici’s art is an absolutely gorgeous blend of high-concept imagination and free-flowing, “cartoony,” batshit craziness. Think 2000AD with an underlying Euro-comics sensibility and you’ll be right in the ballpark in terms of trying to classify it. This first issue goes out with extra pages under a heavy cardstock cover and is well worth four of your dollars. I never thought I’d say this in my life — and who knows, I can certainly see myself eating these words if it all goes to hell in a handbasket — but as of this writing I’m all in on a fucking Robert Kirkman comic. Surely that has got to be a sign that the apocalypse is fast approaching.

And that’s enough, I should think, for this time out —looking through next week’s advance solicits there’s nothing that’s absolutely grabbing me by the throat and screaming “buy me!,” but who knows? I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked a couple of comics this week, and there’s no reason it can’t happen again — join me back here in seven days and I’ll let you know whether or not it did!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/12/2017 – 11/18/2017

Next week DC promises to “change everything we thought we knew about the universe” or somesuch bullshit with their wretchedly insulting Doomsday Clock cash-grab, so before that hits let’s take a look at what the final week of the world as we used to know it had to offer, shall we? Time for another dive into what LCS and the US Postal Service brought my way —

I’ve never been able to get a firm handle on Tim Seeley, finding his stuff to be wildly up and down (often within the same series — I’m looking at you Revival), but when he’s on, he’s on. Before it had a premature and all-too-convenient “ending” forced on it, Effigy was shaping up into something flat-out amazing, and given that some of the same themes of media obsession and instant celebrity seemed to be at the heart of Brilliant Trash, the new series he’s scripting for Aftershock, I decided to give it a go. So far,though, results — as well as my opinion — are decidedly mixed.

For one thing, it’s not clear who our protagonist even is here — at first it appears to be a masked super-being calling herself “Lady Last Word,” whose outright obliteration of the Old City of Jerusalem goes as “viral” as you’d expect it would, but then we meet an internet “journalist” who’s looking to find out all she can about the incident (and its perpetrator), and in turn we’re introduced to a “frenemy” competitor of hers and the focus seems to shift yet again. The pacing is nicely frenetic, the political content reasonably though-through, and the dialogue and characterization both sharp and smart — but if this turns out to be just another “what would it be like if super-heroes were real?” story, albeit one for the so-called “internet age,” count me as being among the unimpressed. The first- issue “cliffhanger” seems to imply that’s the direction we’re heading in, but I’ll give it one more installment — and four more bucks — just to make sure. Newcomer Priscilla Petraites does a nice job with the art, shifting moods and styles subtly according to the dictates of each scene and delineating perceptual differences between what’s “really” happening and what’s “only” playing out on computer screens with admirable ease, so hey, there’s that.

I’d never dived into Mike Mignola and Troy Nixey’s Jenny Finn before, but now that Dark Horse is re-issuing it in single-issue format with coloring by Dave Stewart, what the hell, I’m game to give it a go. Part one establishes its time period, locale, and personages amazingly well, Mignola’s plotting is tight, and Nixey (who really should direct another movie, goddamnit — Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark was all kinds of creepy fun), while betraying a bit of Sam Kieth influence at the margins, has an art style that’s heavy on the atmospherics but not at the expense of his human (I think, at any rate) characters, all of whom look incredibly unique and are instantly memorable. Jack The Ripper meets The Shadow Over Innsmouth? I’m down for four issues of that, no problem. This one’s well worth both your time and $3.99.

Brian Canini sent some more of his Drunken Cat Comics-published minis my way (for which I’m thankful), and if there’s one among them I’d rank as a “must-buy” it would be Blirps, a surrealistic collection of drop-dead hilarious one-page strips featuring long-necked, tentacled, mechanical monsters all plagued by various debilitating neuroses and illustrated in Canini’s engaging minimalist style. I don’t know if they live on a planet of their own or here on Earth, as they’re occasionally seen interacting with us mere mortals, but it doesn’t really matter, anyway — juxtaposing the bizarre with the all-too-familiar is the order of the day here, both physically and psychologically, and the results border on the downright sublime. $1.99 for eight full-color pages is a pretty solid (enough) deal in today’s small-press scene, so I have no reservations whatsoever about giving this one a full-throated (and even fuller-necked) recommendation.

Less successful is Glimpses Of Life, a continuation of Canini’s diary comics, now four issues in and focused more or less exclusively on the early-days development of newborn daughter Izzy. Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef whatsoever with the subject matter, but a cartoonist’s diary is one of the rare exceptions to my “floppies are a better format than trades and/or graphic novels” rule. As I mentioned a week or two back in my pretty-damn-glowing review of the same author’s The Big Year, it really does take a good 30 or so pages to get into the flow of how he approaches the entire exercise of diary cartooning, and any chronicle of day-to-day life is going to benefit from being absorbed in big chunks rather than small simply because so many of the subtle changes a person goes through seep in slowly over time. The 16-page format here simply doesn’t give one adequate opportunity to “get in the groove” given that you’re done reading the thing in five minutes and, essentially, nothing has happened.

Which probably sounds like a more harsh condemnation than I mean it to, now that I think about it, so let me just say this — when Canini collects all this stuff into a single volume I’ll absolutely buy it and just as absolutely enjoy it (at least if past performance is anything to go by), but three bucks a pop for these short installments? I can’t really give that a “thumbs-up.” I also hope that he comes up with a better title for the inevitable collection, as well, because Glimpses Of Life, while certainly accurate, is too precious and cloying for its own good.

Okay, that’s enough for this time around, I think — see you back here on the other side of the Superman vs. Doctor Manhattan dust-up that nobody (at least nobody in their right mind) was asking for.