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 : 02/04/2018 – 02/10/2018

Once again, and against all odds, the new release racks at my LCS featured a pretty decent selection of stuff worth both reading and talking about this week, so give me a second to roll up my sleeves here and I’ll get into it —

Twisted Romance #1 is the first of a four-part weekly “supernatural love”-themed anthology published by Image and spearheaded by writer Alex De Campi, who is here joined on the main feature, “Old Flames,” by the incomparable Katie Skelly — who probably should have been been given free reign on both story and art, since this succubus-themed tale is a decent enough little throwaway yarn, but certainly no My Pretty Vampire by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a crisp, breezy read that wisely allows the stylish and sharp visuals to pull most of the weight, but ultimately rather forgettable.

Fortunately, though, things improve as the book trudges forward, first with  “Leather & Lace,” a pleasing-if-predictable prose story  about two Wendgio hunters (one human, one vampire) in love written by Megan Cubed that may not knock your socks off but gives you just enough of a handle on the characters to want a happy ending for them before proceeding to deliver precisely that, and then with a downright stunning impressionistic/interpretive backup (or first-up, depending on which of the “reversible” covers you flip to) strip, entitled “Red Medusa In Hell,” by visionary talent (not to mention damn fine critic) Sarah Horrocks that straight-up blew me away with its fatalistic high-energy visuals and daringly sparse scripting. The story looks and feels like a cry for help from a doomed lover for whom it’s already far too late, and touches on themes of anger, jealousy, rage — and even necrophilia! This is a direct shot of uncomfortably violent stimuli mainlined right into your brain via the optic nerve and a deliriously chaotic cacophony of all that can go wrong when love does go wrong. The book’s worth four bucks for this story alone — hell hath no fucking fury, indeed.

Shifting from “alpha” to “omega,” but sticking with Image, we come to Rock Candy Mountain #8, the finale of Kyle Starks’ superb love song to hobo culture, and yes, the mythical “promised land” of many an itinerant worker that the title alludes to is, indeed, found by our protagonist here — after a fashion, at any rate — but fear not : there’s still another gigantic hobo brawl to get through first and, oh yeah, the inclusion of the Spear of Destiny into the joyously-gummed-up proceedings finally pays off in quiet-but-major fashion. I’m really hoping that Starks and colorist supreme Chris Schweizer team up for another project sooner rather than later, as this has been a textbook example of first-rate cartooning from start to finish. If  you’ve been passing on it in singles then you definitely need to pick it up in trade (the second volume should be available shortly), and I’ll tell you what : even though financial suicide isn’t exactly my thing, if they collect the entire series in a handsome hardback at a fairly reasonable price, I’ll probably “double dip” and go for that, as well, since that would be a damn fine thing to have on my bookcase. I have nothing but love for this comic.

Speaking of love, that’s also an eminently fair description of how I felt about Incognegro : Renaissance #1, the second comic to come down the pike from editor Karen Berger’s new “Berger Books” line at Dark Horse. A prequel to writer Mat Johnson and artist Warren Pleece’s Incognegro graphic novel (which Dark Horse re-issued in hardback to coincide with this comic’s debut), this is immediately arresting stuff that sees our “light-skinned-enough-to-pass-for-white” protagonist stumble headfirst into a murder mystery set at the height of the Harlem Rensaissance (hence, ya know, the title) that is bursting at the seams with intrigue and any number of potential red herrings right from the outset. Johnson’s dialogue is witty, sly, and authentic, Pleece’s always-underappreciated art is frankly better than ever, and to say this comic “oozes atmosphere” is probably an understatement, but oh well, too late, I already said it. I was a little bit iffy about the direction Berger’s imprint was heading in after an underwhelming debut with Hungry Ghosts last week, but now I’m feeling decidedly more optimistic. This was a terrific read, and fuck you if you think a black-and-white comic ain’t worth $3.99.

DC wants eight of the dollars you work so hard for in exchange for Swamp Thing Winter Special #1, and whether or not you should give it to them probably depends on how big a fan of the character you are. The main feature by Tom King and Jason Fabok certainly pays loving homage to co-creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, but the AM sports radio framing sequence surrounding the “Swampy tries to keep a young boy safe from an unseen snow monster” tale falls flat, you’ll see the plot “twist” coming from at least ten miles away, the attempts at heartstring-tugging seem forced, and King’s hyper-stylized, “choppy” dialogue is beginning to make all the characters in all the books he writes sound exactly the same. And speaking of the same, he employs the identical “fast-forward” truncated timeline technique in this as he does in the latest issue of Batman. I guess Jason Fabok’s art is okay if you like standard-issue “New 52” superhero stuff, but I don’t, so count me as being fundamentally unimpressed with everything about this story.

Of somewhat more interest is the backup, which was to be the first issue of a new Wein/Kelley Jones Swampy mini-series. Their last six-parter was all kinds of retro fun, and the prospect of them re-teaming for another filled me something approaching joy, but Wein’s untimely passing cut that short, and so all we have is this glimpse of what could/should have been. Jones’ always-superb, Wrightson-esque art is here presented sans dialogue and narration, since Wein — whose script then follows — essentially wrote “Marvel-style,” providing his artist with what amounts to an extended synopsis that includes minimal specific panel instruction, very little dialogue, and lots of “leave me room for some caption boxes here”-type notations. It’s fascinating to see the level of (entirely well-placed) trust he had in Jones, and DC did absolutely the right thing (how often can you say that?) both in terms of deciding not to let somebody else step in and finish what Wein had started, and in making sure Jones’ sumptuously creepy art was able to see the light of day. Does it make me long for what could have been? Sure, but I’m glad we got this much, and its inclusion here provides a fine endcap for what is essentially a “tribute special” for Swamp Thing’s creators.

And on that note, I think we’ll call this a wrap. A couple packages — including one from friend of this website Brian Canini — arrived yesterday, so I’ll look forward to diving into that stuff and reporting back on it, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days!