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 : 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 : 11/17/2019 – 11/23/2019

Another interesting assortment of new “number ones” this week, beginning with a Ditko redux, followed by a Kirby pastiche. Shall we step through to the other side and have a look? Let’s do that —

After kind of a staggered roll-out to the line, DC is hitting us over the head with one Black Label comic after another these days, sometimes with two or three books bearing the imprint’s logo coming out in a single week. The latest is  The Question : The Deaths Of Vic Sage #1, featuring a return of the “classic” iteration of the character, set in his home turf of Hub City. It’s just plain great too see Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz teaming up again on pencils and inks, respectively, their stylish noir as gritty as ever, and Chris Sotomayor’s colors are good enough to fool you into thinking they’re not fucking computerized, but damn, was Jeff Lemire an atrocious choice for writer on this project. Yeah, Sage is as rigid and hard-charging as ever, but in this really milquetoast, non-ideological way that sees him going after corruption at city hall while taking a pass on covering a story about the cops shooting an unarmed black kid. So much for “there is right and there is wrong and nothing in between” — I mean, love Ditko or hate him, at least you knew where he stood. But with Hub City a powder keg of racial tension about to explode, its supposed “moral conscience” is off on a metaphysical bender with Richard Dragon in a lame hat-tip to Dennis O’Neil’s “zen warrior” interpretation of the character — and it also doesn’t help matters that the big cliffhanger to issue one is “spoiled” in the title of the series itself. Sloppy move,DC editorial. But I’m still gonna buy this thing for the art because it’s just that great, and the larger format afforded by the Black Label — errrmmm — label really gives it room to shine.

Long one of the most consistently-interesting — and consistently-late — writers working in the comics mainstream, Curt Pires is back, this time at Image with a project called Olympia, co-written with his father Tony while the latter was undergoing chemotherapy. We’ve seen this kind of thing before — awkward kid’s comic book hero turns out to be real, but the same magical portal that brought him through to this world also let the villains in —but there’s a lot of heart in the approach the senior and junior Pires boys are bringing to it, plus a bit of a Spielberg vibe to the whole thing not unlike that found in Paper Girls or Stranger Things, and artist Alex Diotto does a nice job turning in Kirbyesque pages with a modern indie comics sensibility vaguely reminiscent of Ben Passmore on the margins. Plus, you get a lot of comic for your money here, as this debut installment is a double-sized book at the standard $3.99 price. Count me in for the whole five-issue run.

And while we’re talking about artists who are doing stuff that looks a hell of a lot like other artists, sublime cartoonist Maria Llovet does her best Anders Nilsen impersonation with Boom! Studios’ Heartbeat #1, which marks a 180-degree shift from the Paul Pope-influenced stuff she was doing on Faithless for the same publisher. Here’s the thing, though — if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Nilsen should be very flattered, indeed, as Llovet shows an intuitive understanding not only of his style, but of the ethos and philosophy behind it. Set in a Japanese girls’ school, the story appears to be fairly standard vampirism-as-metaphor-for-sexual-coming-of-age-stuff, but at this stage is so oblique and/or unfocused (depending on how charitable you’re feeling) that, who knows? It could actually veer off into a number of interesting directions. I’m cool even if it turns out to be pretty average, though, as the art is just plain gorgeous and worth double the $3.99 asking price in and of itself. We’ve got a major talent on our hands here, folks, and as she continues to find her own voice narratively and artistically, odds are she’s only going to get better.

Lastly, we’ll close things out with a clunker as Marvel goes back to the 2099 well with 2099 Alpha #1, a one-shot that kicks off a two-month spate of vaguely interconnected books culminating in, you guessed it, 2099 Omega #1. Viktor Bogdanovic turns in his first-ever work for the co-called “House Of Ideas” with this one, and it’s pretty solid super-hero stuff as far as it goes, certainly plenty dynamic and well-executed, but Nick Spencer’s revisionist take on the world of the future feels pretty flat and lifeless and he bobs and weaves from one character introduction and/or re-introduction to another with little by way of connective tissue to hold the whole thing together other than them all, ya know, living eighty years down the road. It’s not at all clear what’s going on or how it involves all these various and sundry personages, and for a tie-in “event,” that’s pretty much a prerequisite for capturing anybody’s interest, so I’ll be comfortably giving the other titles in this short-term relaunch a hard-earned pass.

So, there’s your week at the comic shop. Or mine, at any rate. But I’m not quite done as it’s incumbent upon me to remind you good folks that this column is “brought to you” every seven days 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 ongoing work out, so help a jobbing freelancer out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/10/2019 – 11/16/2019

After a week off to attend the superb Short Run Comix & Arts Festival in Seattle, the Round-Up is back, and we’ve got four first issues to take a look at because, hey, every week at your LCS there are at least four “number ones,” if not more, are there not? It sure as hell seems like it —

First off, Joe Hill’s horror comics imprint at DC, Hill House, gives us The Dollhouse Family #1 by the veteran pairing of Mike Carey (here writing, for reasons unknown, under the pretentious moniker of “M.R. Carey”) and Peter Gross, joined this time out by the criminally under-utilized Vince Locke, who for my money has always been — and remains — one of the most distinctive artists working in the comics mainstream. Gross is credited with “layouts,” Locke with “finishes,” which means this looks to be about 75% Locke, at least, and that’s a good thing because his creepy, expressive, and highly atmospheric style is just plain perfect for the always-reliable Carey’s immediately-engrossing script about a fracturing family with a unique heirloom that may be at the source of all their troubles. In an unpredictable world, it’s good to have something you can always count on, and any book by these three exceptionally solid pros is at the very least going to get the job done, plus interest, and there are any number of brash “up-and-comers” who would do well to pay attention to what these guys are doing here, because this is a veritable clinic on how to grab readers right away with a new horror concept — and it’s a safe bet that subsequent issues will be every bit as good as this one was.

And while we’re on the subject of DC sub-labels, Gerard Way’s Young Animal this week serves up a highly-publicized debut of their own with Far Sector #1, the story of a Green Lantern in the far future called in to solve a murder on a planet with no crime to speak of, by the superstar pairing of best-selling genre novelist N.K. Jemison and Naomi co-creator Jamal Campbell. Jemison shows why she’s one of the more popular authors in the sci-fi game at the moment with this well-crafted script that’s rich with well-thought-through “world building” while Campbell, who does both line art and color, ups his game to match the material by turning out one eye-catching, sleek as hell page after another. This is a great-looking book with a fundamentally sound story and I’m more than happy to consider myself “all in” for the entire 12-issue run.

And just to keep the sub-imprint theme going, Marvel’s largely-moribund Max Comics line pops its head back above water for Punisher : Soviet #1, which marks Garth Ennis’ welcome return to the character he does better than anyone else, this time joined by Providence artist Jacen Burrows, who is fast turning into the contemporary master of “clean-line” comic book art. Frank Castle vs. the Russian Mafia is a natural, of course, but when there’s somebody else out there who’s doing an even better job of being Frank Castle than he is himself — well, that adds an intriguing wrinkle into the mix. This is bad-ass stuff that may just be the most fun read of the week, and Burrows is an inspired choice for a Punisher yarn. I am so down for this.

And to finish off back where we started, at least in a thematic sense, we go from Stephen King’s kid to a pretty damn respectable Stephen King impersonation performed by Jeff Lemire in Image’s Family Tree #1. Lemire checks all the usual boxes pretty well by setting his story in a small Maine town, giving us a good flavor of the place, introducing us in short-hand form to all the principal players (in this case an over-burdened single mom and her kids), and then tossing in elements of the supernatural, in this case a mysterious local outbreak turning folks into — errrmmm — tree-people. But the answer to the problem may be hidden in the — errrmmm again — titular family tree of the protagonist clan themselves, as the last-second appearance of grandpa would indicate. This is fairly by-the-numbers stuff, which does sorta seem to be the Lemire specialty these days, but it hit all the right notes for me, and the art by Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur — who have collaborated on a few projects together in the past — suits the mood and atmosphere quite nicely. Nothing overly spectacular, but a plenty solid read.

And there you have it, all that’s left at this point being to remind you folks that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I regale you with three new and exclusive posts per week on all things comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a buck a month. Please help support my ongoing work by subscribing at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/27/2019 – 11/02/2019

Four new number ones stood out on LCS racks this week, all from DC, and all from the new(-ish) Black Label imprint. Did someone say something about diluting the market with too much product? Well, that’s what the “Big Two” have been doing for decades now, and we’re all still here, so why the hell would they stop? Marvel’s doing it with their X-books, and DC’s doing it with this ostensible successor line to Vertigo, so let’s see what they’re giving — or, more accurately, selling — us:

After three failed relaunches featuring a watered-down iteration of John Constantine, DC finally realized what they used to know : people want the real thing, and so here we finally have it with the one-shot special The Sandman Universe : Hellblazer #1. There’s a bit of irony at play here in that Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series spun out of the “dark corner” of the DCU that Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer run helped make so popular, and now the tables have been turned with the new Hellblazer spinning out of the Sandman line, but whatever : it’s just good to have John, as we knew him, back. There’s a brief sidebar with Tim Hunter that I guess ties into something that’s going to be going down over in Books Of Magic, but by and large writer Simon Spurrier — who proves himself to be a pitch-perfect hire — is setting the stage for his new monthly Hellblazer  title, which won’t be “presented” by anybody, but will be carrying the Black Label — uuuhhhmmm — label. The most-referenced past run in this particular story is that of Garth Ennis, but stylistically, thematically, this is Delano redux all the way, with more than one version of John loose upon the Earth and a classic casual-betrayal-of-a-friend premise. Marcio Takara’s art is suitably gritty and grimy, as is John himself, thankfully, so the only question that I guess remains is : seriously, DC, if you knew how to publish good Constantine stories all along, why the hell did you ever stop?

The new Hill House sub-imprint within Black Label kicks off with Basketful Of Heads #1, and it’s the kind of thing that would make writer/line “curator” Joe Hill’s dad proud : a supernatural story set in early 1980s Maine featuring strong, relatable characters, an easy-to-grasp premise, and some fairly compelling, if obvious, chills and thrills. Leomacs’ art is pretty stylish for a DC publication, reminding me more than a bit of Leandro Fernandez, and if you dig stuff like Stranger Things and It, odds are better than good that you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of this thing — I know I certainly did.

Way off the beaten path is The Last God #1, the opening salvo of a sprawling new fantasy epic called The Fellspyre Chronicles created by writer Philip Kennedy Johnson, a relative newcomer who proves his mettle quickly with some strong and comprehensive “world-building” that paints an intriguing picture of the old school swords-and-sandals society he’s looking to draw us into complete with slaves-turned-heroes, asshole royalty, weird religious beliefs, and brutish, nasty monsters. The real star of the show, though, is artist Ricardo Federici, who channels just a little bit of Vallejo, more than a little bit of Frazetta, and plenty of Eurocomics stylishness in what can only be called a visual tour de force. If you’ve been missing this sort of thing in your comics reading, you’re gonna be happy indeed, and if fantasy isn’t your usual bag, you’re at least gonna be pleasantly surprised.

Lastly, we’ve got the only member of our foursome in the usual deluxe Black Label format (all the others being standard-issue “floppy” comics), Joker : Killer Smile #1, from the Gideon Falls creative team of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino. The premise of this three-parter is one we’ve seen before — “how long can you work with a madman before his madness rubs off on you? — but Lemire’s shrink protagonist is is generally likable enough, a nice short-hand accounting of his perfectly lovely home life is provided, and The Joker himself comes off as relatively menacing in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way. It’s Sorrentino’s art that you’re really here for, though, and the oversized presentation really does it proud, inventive page layouts popping right out at you with gusto and fervor, and detailed faces and figure drawings showing every well-placed line and brush stroke. This is kinda what we’ve come to expect from this team : competent, if unspectacular, storytelling elevated greatly by a visual presentation that just plain sings. I’m down to follow this one for the duration.

And that’s “Black Label Week” over and done with. I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from the Round-Up as the Mr.s and I will be out in Seattle for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival next weekend, but will be back with a new column in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I do intend to crank out my long-form reviews at the usual two-or-three-per-week clip, and of course, the best way to support my continuing work is to subscribe to 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. Please take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention toward 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 : 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 : 03/03/2019 – 03/09/2019

Another week, another stack of first issues. It’s like it’s getting to be a pattern or something. Or maybe it has been for the last, I dunno, ten years or so —

The so-called “Black Hammer Universe” at Dark Horse keeps expanding, but Black Hammer ’45 #1 is its most radical “step out of the nest” yet, re-purposing the label to apply not to a solitary hero, but to a Blackhawk-esque WW II flying squadron, the members of which all hailed from diverse backgrounds — thus, sadly, ensuring they never really got their due. Split between the present day and the latter stages of the conflict in the European Theater, Ray Fawkes’ script (Jeff Lemire is on hand only as co-plotter) concerns a top-secret mission to rescue a family of scientists from Nazi captivity, but it looks like it’s probably gonna be another tale focused on Third Reich occult shenanigans. I’m all for that in this instance as it makes for an interesting, well-paced yarn with some serious mystery underpinning it (why do the surviving “Black Hammers” get together every year on the same day?), but it’s the wistful, inherently nostalgic art of Matt Kindt and colorist wife Sharlene that’s the major draw here, and that makes the $3.99 expenditure well worth it. Where these two go, I follow, this being no exception.

Also from Dark Horse we’ve got Astro Hustle #1 from writer Jai Nitz and artist Tom Reilly, a deliriously fun mash-up of  old-school 2000AD, kung fu movies, and swashbuckler tropes that I’m already wishing was slated to last longer than four issues. Fans of books like Wasted Space and Outer Darkness will find a lot to like here, as this tongue-in-cheek tale of old grudges, corporate overlordship, weird sex, and jailbreaks is right in that same sort of wheelhouse. Nitz’s characters are instantly memorable and quick with a comeback, Reilly’s art is dynamic and unique in equal measure, and the colors by Ursula Decay (I’m assuming their birth certificate reads differently) are vibrantly off-kilter and highly effective. Buckle in, this promises to be a blast.

Over at Boom! Studios, writer Greg Pak follows up his acclaimed Mech Cadet Yu with Ronin Island #1, a collaboration with artist Giannis Milonogiannis that sees the multi-cultural titular island facing invasion from a probably-illegitimate Samurai force, with two young martial arts prodigies/competitors having to joining forces to lead the defense of their home. The story for this one seems fairly basic — which I don’t mean as an insult, as it’s executed quite nicely — but, again, this is a comic where the art steals the show, all rich detail, lush composition, fluid action, and cinematic Ps OV. Great-looking stuff that guarantees I’ll be sticking around for the ride.

Finally, Oni Press serves up Morning In America #1 courtesy of writer Magdalene Visaggio and artist Claudia Aguirre, a 1980s-set YA supernatural mystery that’s maybe a bit on the “Stranger Things with a female cast” side, but might have a little splash of John Carpenter’s They Live and/or Larry Cohen’s The Stuff  bleeding in at the margins, as well. Local high school “bad girls” cracking the mystery of a rash of disappearances connected to the one and only new factory in their economically-depressed Ohio town sounds good enough to keep me interested for at least a couple of issues to see how things develop, and Visaggio’s characterization and dialogue are both strong, while Aguirre’s illustration is crisp, atmospheric, and rendered in just enough to detail to draw you in without belaboring the point. This is a really nice-looking work from a name I wasn’t, to my chagrin, familiar with before now. Solid stuff that’s not too taxing, and gives you four bucks’ worth of entertainment value for your money.

And that’s another Wrap-Up — well, wrapped up. We’re knee-deep in yet another “Snowpocalypse” here in Minneapolis (they seem to happen every week these days), but I’m sure I’ll make it to the comic shop on Wednesday to see what new wares are worthy of examination in our next column. Until then, we close with the now-customary plug for my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, film, television, literature, and politics. Joining is cheap and you get plenty of content for your money. Please take a moment to check it out at :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

The 2018 ” Top 10″ train keeps rolling! This time out : my ten favorite ongoing series of the year. Open-ended or limited runs are fine, as long as the books in question adhere (however tenuously, in some cases) to a production schedule of some sort. Ongoings that release one issue a year (or less) are not eligible in this category, although many such series — like Sean Knickerbocker’s Rust Belt and Anders Nilsen’s Tongues, to name just a couple — were represented in my previously-posted “Top 10 Single Issues” list. And so, with all that out of the way —

10. Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles By Mark Russell And Mike Feehan (DC) – While never quite reaching the same heights as Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintsones, this re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon cat as, essentially, Tennessee Williams was still a superb take-down of McCarthyism, and was a topical, poignant, and fun read with obvious parallels to the Trump era. Feehan’s crisp art looks like a million bucks, and the flat-out superb coloring of Paul Mounts makes it look like two million.

9. Abbott By Saladin Ahmed And Sami Kivela (Boom! Studios) – Not since Sugar Hill have blaxploitation and the occult been paired this successfully, and besides featuring the breakout protagonist of the year, this 1970s-set series touched on a boatload of social problems that, you guessed it, still haven’t gone away. Both story and art were pitch-perfect for the material, and my sincere hope is that Ahmed and Kivela will be getting to work on a sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.

8. Shanghai Red By Christopher Sebela And Joshua Hixson (Image) – A thoroughly engrossing historical fable of crimping, piracy, and gender-bending that flew well below most folks’ collective radar for some reason, this five-parter made damn sure you’ll never look at the history of Portland, Oregon the same way again. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, this is one you absolutely need to seek out in trade if you took a pass on it in singles.

7. Daygloayhole Quarterly By Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – I’ll just come right out and say it : Passmore’s hilarious, absurd, and eminently relevant take on post-apocalyptic “life” probably deserves to be ranked as highly as second or third on this list, but — it’s a reprint series, and therefore I’m skirting my self-imposed ruled by even allowing it “through the door” in the first place. Still, it’s so damn good that I had to find a way to include it, even if it meant fudging things on the margins a bit. If you’re not reading this/haven’t already it, you’re missing out on something well and truly extarordinary. And yes, I use that term with precise intent.

6. Prism Stalker By Sloane Leong (Image) – Feminist sci-fi of the highest order and one of the most visually captivating comics of the year, Leong has created a work for the ages here, as well as a marvel simply to look at. An intoxicatingly beautiful marriage of form and function that defies easy categorization every bit as much as it defied the odds by getting published by one of the “major indie” outfits in the first place, this title knocks you back and leaves you reeling.

5. Black Hammer : Age Of Doom By Jeff Lemire And Dean Ormston (Dark Horse) – The second “season” of the last word in super-hero revisionism may not break new ground in the same way the first did, but even at 75% (roughly) of its initial glory, this is still absorbing, compelling stuff, that both creators are quite clearly pouring all kinds of heart and soul into. And when one of ’em needs a break, who the hell in their right mind is gonna argue about Rich Tommaso filling in on art for a couple of issues?

4. Hey Kids! Comics! By Howard Chaykin (Image) – Leave it to the biggest contrarian in comics to hit us from out of nowhere with his strongest work in decades hot on the heels of the most reviled book of his career. Chaykin pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in this warts-and-all look at comics’ decidedly sleazy ethical history, yet it’s all quite obviously coming from a place of absolute reverence for many of the masters of the medium that it’s taking entirely non-gratuitous “pot-shots” at. New Chaykin regular colorist Wil Quintana does a bang-up job providing stirring hues that make these pages absolutely sing, and goddamn if Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and “effects” still don’t look 20 years ahead of their time. Fuck all the naysayers — at his best, which this surely is, Chaykin still delivers a comics reading experience like no other.

3. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Middle age isn’t something to be endured in the hands of Los Bros., it’s something to be celebrated, and this series’ return to its classic “magazine” format somehow accentuates the point that both brothers are making about “the more things change —.” This book is the reason you love comics. Pray it runs forever.

2. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – The final comics project (or so we’re told) from both of these legendary creators is both a love letter and middle finger as they head for the exits. The love letter is to the art form itself, while the middle finger is stuck up high, proudly, and entirely justifiably to the industry. A new, all-female iteration of the League is a stroke of genius, as is the decision to up the “humor quotient” considerably after the rather dark turn taken in the last “volume.” How much do we all miss this comic before it’s even over?

1. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – 120-plus pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks an issue? How do you beat that? Answer : by infusing the title itself with a distinct sense of purpose that goes beyond such simple and easy anthology premises as specific themes or shared aesthetic sensibilities in favor of selecting work by cartoonists that not only exemplify, but in may ways define where comics is at — errmmm — now. Dash Shaw, Nathan Cowdry, Antoine Cosse, Daria Tessler, Roam Muradov, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth — just some of the “murder’s row” of talent to appear in the pages of what is, without question, the quintessential anthology of the decade. Everyone is bringing their “A game” to the party here so far, and the result is my favorite series of the year, as well as the most significant.

And so we reach the end of the second of our six lists! Next up : Top 10 Contemporary Collections, the category devoted to 2018 books that presented material originally serialized as single issues, anthology stories, etc., as well as English-language releases of international material such as Manga, Eurocomics, etc. I’m hoping to have that one ready in the next couple of days here, do stop by and check it out!

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!