Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/23/2019 – 06/29/2019, Catching Up With Black Crown

With the recent — and, I must say, not too terribly surprising, all things considered — announcement that DC will be shit-canning (excuse me, “sunsetting”) their venerable “mature readers” Vertigo imprint after 26 years, I figured now might be a good time to take a look at what Vertigo alum Shelly Bond was doing with her not-exactly-new-anymore Black Crown line over at IDW —

Say good-bye to Feargal “Fergie” Feguson and the ghost who isn’t really Sid Vicious with Punks Not Dead : London Calling #5, which wraps up the second (and, I presume, final) run of writer David Barnett and artist extraordinaire Martin Simmonds’ decidedly fun little slice of occult/supernatural hijinks with plenty of “fuck you” attitude mixed in. I’m gonna miss this book, but each and every storyline comes to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion here, except perhaps for Fergie’s would-be “romance” with his high school sweetie, and they manage to pull it all off with nothing (okay, nothing else) feeling at all forced or rushed, even if it was. Standard one-sentence summation for most anything good from a mainstream publisher applies to this one : I’ve you’ve been passing on the singles, pick it up in trade. You’ll be glad you did.

And speaking of passing on singles — that’s precisely what I did with Barnett and Philip Bond’s Eve Stranger #1, but since I saw #2 on the stands this week, I said “what the hell?” and grabbed ’em both. While the premise of an amnesiac-by-design “sleeper” agent/assassin seems a bit too calculated for its own good on paper, this actually reads pretty well and you develop a genuine liking for this protagonist — maybe because we know more about her than she does about herself? I dunno, but it works, and the art is eye-catching enough in its own right, as well, even if the more “cartoony” back-up strip illustrated by Liz Prince is, in fairness, better suited to the material. Nothing terribly Earth-shattering here, but I’m curious enough to see where it all goes.

Not that I had to wait too long, of course. Eve Stranger #2 is probably best described as “more of the same,” but when that means the same as something pretty cool, who’s complaining? Some backstory vis a vis Eve’s origins, a hint of romance that just manages to avoid being creepy (how do you pursue a relationship with someone who literally starts over as a blank slate every week or so?), and a genuinely out-of-nowhere cliffhanger ending, plus another solid backup feature, make for a perfectly good — if, again, less than Earth-shattering — sophomore installment of this not-quite-too-quirky-for-its-own-good miniseries.

I guess Marilyn Manor #1 isn’t a Black Crown comic per se, but it certainly is in all but name given that Bond edited it, the thing’s loaded with BC “house ads,” and it definitely fits within the overall framework and aesthetic of the line. I also could have sworn it was solicited as a BC book, but whatever — it’s here and just carries the standard IDW label. Magdalene Visaggio is a writer whose work runs hot and cold for me, and here I’ve gotta say that her story about a bratty first daughter throwing a “rager” in the White House circa the mid-1980s is more lukewarm than anything else. Truth be told, I found her BFF/sidekick, who may or may not be possessed by the ghost of Abe Lincoln, to be a far more interesting character than the titular Marilyn herself, but I’m game to give this thing at least one more issue — more due to the impish, always-delightful art of Marley Zarcone than anything else. Not as much for her to sink her considerable (if metaphorical) teeth into here as there was in her deliriously imaginative Young Animal book Shade, The Changing Girl and its sequel, Shade, The Changing Woman, but still lots of eye candy for “art-first” readers to enjoy.

And with that another week is rounded up with just enough time left over for me to remind you that this column is, as always, “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where you can at least theoretically “enjoy” three new posts from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and movies each and every week for as little as one lousy dollar per month. Speaking of Vertigo, we’re in the midst of an extensive post-mortem/tribute to it over there, so if you’d like to join us, please break out that credit card and/or Paypal account and head 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 : 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

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/11/2018 – 03/17/2018

Was it just me, or did this past week seem particularly loaded with debut issues? I mean, I know Image has at least one new number one every Wednesday, but lately it seems like everybody’s getting in on the act. Here are the four that I read since last we met here —

Eternity Girl #1 is the latest from DC’s Young Animal “pop-up imprint” (whatever the fuck that even means), and anything drawn by Sonny Liew is something I’m gonna buy. Truth be told, I really can’t believe that the cartooning genius behind The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is even doing a monthly book for one of the “Big Two” publishers — but I’m doubly dumbfounded by the fact that he’s not writing it, as well, since (let’s be honest) you’re not gonna pair him with anybody who’s better at the art of scripting than he is himself , and this series features an original (as far as I know?) creation that he probably had a heavy hand in cooking up from scratch.

That being said, Magdalene Visaggio’s script is quite good and poses a very interesting central question : how can a being that technically has no actual physical form (our titular character is a shape-changer whose natural state is some sort of — uhhhmmm — frequency, or vibration, or something) die? Caroline Sharp would dearly like to know since she’s suffered some sort of unspecified mental breakdown while serving as some sort of unspecified government super-agent, but so far all her attempts at suicide have proven futile. It’s a pretty gutsy move, introducing us to a character deeply en media res at what has to be the low point of her life, and it largely works — but she’ll defintely need some fleshing out in future issues, which may prove to be tricky given that her flesh is an artificial construct. Still, as far as the story goes, both premise and execution are strong enough to keep you around to see what happens.

Who are we kidding, though? Even if the writing sucked — which, again and for the record, it doesn’t — Liew’s art alone is worth your $3.99. The mosaic-tile cover is a genuine mind-blower, his “everyday” scenes are strong and fluid in their pitch-perfect understatement, and he even gets a chance to play Kirby in some flashback panels. My sincere hope is that future issues will include sequences that allow Liew to experiment with other faux-nostalgic styles, as well, since anyone who knows his work knows that he’s a master artistic chameleon — a term I use with equal parts precision and admiration. Let’s hope, then, that this series is slated for a good, long run — and that he remains on board for all of it.

Dry County #1 marks the beginning of yet another new Image series for Rich Tommaso (although he apparently plans on returning to Spy Seal after this is done), and it’s basically a classic noir , albeit one with a little bit of an unusual period setting, namely late-’80s Miami — which is a natural fit for the artist’s deco-esque design sensibilities. This comic looks great, then — as you’d expect — but I was surprised at how immediately the story grabbed me, as well. Protagonist Lou Rossi is every bit as self-obsessed (and self-pitying) as any “Generation X”er was/is, but there’s something kinda of likable about his naivete — he’s a cartoonist by trade, and clearly way out of his depth and getting suckered into a trap of some sort by a femme fatale, but the question of “to what end?” remains wide open at this point. Colorful, stylish, and yes, nostalgic, this book pressed all the right buttons for me. Is it derivative? Hell yes. But it’s a derivation infused with smarts, heart — and killer art. I’m in for the duration.

Also from Image we’ve got Infidel #1, the opening salvo in a new five-part horror series written by former Vertigo editor Pornsak Pichetshote and illustrated by the talented, if far-from-prolific, Aaron Campbell. When no less a brain-dead MAGA asshole than loathsome YouTuber “Diversity & Comics” lambastes a book as being “the most SJW comic ever,” you know it’s probably pretty good — and, lo and behold, this is. Apparently its multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic cast of characters is enough to set off the “comicsgate” nitwits, but what the fuck? If you’re going to do a contemporary horror story set in New York, the idea that all the players would/could/should be white and Christian is patently ridiculous on its face. The haunted shithole apartment building in an urban locale may be more than a bit reminiscent of Clive Barker’s Candyman, but the familial tension (our protagonist is a Muslim woman who’s completely estranged from her own family since she’s engaged to a Christian guy — and they live with his racist/Islamophobe mother) adds some modern relevance to the proceedings and offers up the opportunity to witness events from multiple vantage points as they unfold, Campbell’s art fits the project to a proverbial “T,” being suitably gritty and rough around the edges, and master colorist Jose Villarrubia (who does double-duty as the book’s editor) is in top form. Yes, this comic clearly wears its politics on its sleeve, but they’re deployed in such a fashion as to add vital context to the story, rather than to preach to the choir and/or drive off the Trump trolls —not that they’d be missed, mind you, but you don’t want to miss this comic, either, and that’s what really matters, is it not?

Last — and, sorry to say, least — we’ve got Come Into Me #1, which arrives our way courtesy of Black Mask Studios and the creative team of writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler and artist Piotr Kowalsi. I’d been looking forward to this one quite a bit given that I enjoyed Thompson and Nadler’s The Dregs a hell of a lot and I loved Kowalski’s art on Joe Casey’s late, lamented Image book Sex (although that’s supposedly going to be revived as a series of graphic novels at — ahem! — some point), but what can I say? The premise here of a wealthy (well, wealthy at one time — he’s rapidly going broke) scientist sinking all his time and money into a process whereby two minds can share one body (and, by extension, its experiences) is so goddamn absurd I don’t think anyone would actually try it. Even still, doing a “deep-dive” into the process itself and showing its horrific effects might work as a sort of Cronenbergian, alienated-from-one’s-own-flesh type of thing, but rather than concentrating on milking that for all it’s worth, Thompson and Nadler double-down on the dumb by introducing a character determined to “re-purpose” the project as a new form — hell, the ultimate form — of social media interaction. Want to meet somebody new? Get inside their head — literally! Sorry, but I ain’t buying it — and, despite typically stellar and detailed art from Kowalski, I’m not buying any further issues of this comic, either.

What the hell, though, right? Three out of four ain’t bad. Will next week bring as high a “hit percentage”? Join me in seven days to find out!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/28/2018 – 02/03/2018

Would’ja believe — there wasn’t too much that came in my mailbox this week and it was my LCS that kept me busy with new stuff to read? I swear, it’s true, so let’s have a look at some items of note that I picked up —

For a series/line that prides itself on being “old-school,” Josh Bayer’s All-Time Comics seems in some ways to hew pretty closely to modern publishing norms. Issues frequently ship late, for instance, and their latest release, the bumper-sized (and subsequently more expensive than usual) All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2, marks the end of the first “season” of the range, with an Image-style gap of three or four months now on deck as they get their ducks in a row for their next not-exactly-an-arc. The script this time out is a Bayer solo endeavor, and frankly not the greatest — the last half of the comic essentially being an extended “bad guy rant” — but it’s still kinda “warts and all”-style fun that will appeal to most Bronze Age babies like myself by hitting all the right nostalgic notes. It’s really down to the art to essentially carry most of the weight here, though, and weird as it sounds to even say things like “Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgrom” and “Sammy Harkham variant cover,” that’s precisely what you get here, and it’s every bit as awesome to look at as said phrases would lead you to expect. I have no doubt that the overall ATC project will continue to confound readers looking for some over-arching unifying grand purpose, as it appears that Bayer and co. really don’t seem to have one, but for my money that’s a large part of the appeal of what they’re doing, and even though I’m sure admitting as much will brand me an intellectual simpleton in the minds of many in the critical community, I’m seriously looking forward to seeing where this whole thing goes next, as regulars like Benjamin Marra return to the fold and newcomers like Gabrielle Bell (yes, you read that right!) join in the four-color carnage. Operating in a previously-unexplored middle ground that exists between the polarities of “homage” and “spoof,” these comics are hitting a “sweet spot” for me — even when they run six bucks, as this one did.

It’ll cost you seven, though, to pick up the second issue of Shelly Bond’s Black Crown Quarterly, and to be honest, I think I’ve seen enough at this point. The format’s nice, with heavy cardstock covers and high-quality glossy paper, and to be honest, most of the individual strips range in quality from “pretty decent” (Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub,” Jamie Coe’s “Bandtwits,” Leah Moore and Nanna Venter’s “Hey, Amateur! How To Be A Badass Goth In Nine Panels”) to “actually quite good” (“Cannonball Comics” by Christopher Sebela and Shawn McManus, who illustrates in a very engaging and eye-popping style quite unlike anything he’s ever done), but the “Cud : Rich and Strange” ongoing by Will Potter, Carl Puttnam and Philip Bond continues to be a dud, the inclusion of more preview pages for David Barnett and Martin Simmonds’ forthcoming Punks Not Dead make me wonder if we’re not going to end up seeing the entire first issue before it even comes out, and the text pieces are either essentially extended promo blurbs for other Black Crown titles like Kid Lobotomy, or else self-consciously “hip” music and travel recommendations. What frustrates most about BCQ, though, is that Bond’s hopelessly dated tastes and aesthetic sensibilities end up making the overall package less than the sum of its parts, and at the end of the day it almost feels like she’s assembling a comic for an audience of one — herself. Unless you, too, are an anglophile whose musical knowledge doesn’t extend beyond the borders of late-’70s UK punk, it’s hard to see the appeal in an anthology this specifically — and rigidly — constructed. Gotta love the pull-out poster featuring the Bill Sienkiewicz cover variant for Punks Not Dead #1, though.

In what passes for a “bargain” this week, five bucks will get you in the door of Justice League Of America/Doom Patrol Special #1, and while it’s not a spectacular read or anything of the sort, I did have fun with this first part of “Milk Wars,” a five-part weekly crossover that sees Gerard Way’s Young Animal line clashing head-on with the “proper” DC Universe. Way and Steve Orlando wrote the script for this book, and thematically and tonally it seems pretty well right in line with what the My Chemical Romance lead singer is doing with his main Doom Patrol series, in that it borrows equally from Grant Morrison’s run on the book and Larry Cohen’s cult-favorite horror/comedy hybrid The Stuff. I don’t know much about the current Justice League Of America line-up, but it appears to be a bunch of B-and C-list characters like Lobo and Vixen, so I guess re-casting them all as a 1950s neighborhood decency brigade is no particular skin off DC editorial’s back, and for the purposes of this story the conceit works — as does ACO’s frenetic, mildly psychedelic art. Perhaps even better than the main feature, though, is the two-page backup strip, which begins what I’m assuming will be an extended introduction to the character of Eternity Girl, who will soon be featuring in her own series courtesy of this story’s creators, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew. I’m as shocked as anyone to see a cartoonist of Liew’s caliber taking on an assignment for DC, and equally shocked that he wouldn’t just write it himself since that’s how he’s made his bread and butter previously, but if this brief Silver Age-style yarn is any indication, he and Visaggio should make a good team. Anyway, all in all, this comic stood head, shoulders, and udders (read it and you’ll get what that reference is all about) above most “Big Two” fare.

Lastly, we come to Motehrlands #1, the first of a new Vertigo six-parter from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Rachael Stott that proudly wears its 2000AD influence on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to plunge you in at the deep end from the get-go and trust that you’ll catch up — at some point. The action’s pretty breakneck in this one, though, and absolutely absurd, so don’t expect much hand-holding in this wild mash-up of badass-bounty-hunter, “reality” TV, and dysfunctional family tropes, our main protagonist being an inter-dimensional mercenary skip-tracer who lures her mother, a sort of washed-up female version of that “Dawg” guy, out of retirement in order to help track down the third member of the clan, the good-for-nothing brother/son. It’s a fast-paced and — here’s that word again — fun read, and Stott’s art is a nice mix of the conventional and the far-out, so I’m probably gonna stick it out in single issues, but if you missed the first installment, “trade-waiting” probably wouldn’t do you any harm, and will more than likely save you a few dollars.

Okay, I think that’s good enough for now — the small-press stuff was in short supply this week, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve got a box on the way from Retrofit any day now of some comics I missed out on from the tail end of 2017, so hopefully I’ll have read enough of those books by this time next week to talk about at least some of them in my next round-up column. Hope to see you again in seven short days!