Mainstream Comics Worth Paying Attention To : “Billionaire Island”

Count me among those who were more than a bit unimpressed with Second Coming, the highly-touted series from writer Mark Russell and artists Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk that was scuttled at Vertigo due to its purported “sacrilegious” content before finding a new home at Ahoy Comics. Far from taking any sort of pot-shots at organized religion, the “Jesus-meets-Superman-analogue” premise actually reinforced tired Christian dogma at the end of the day and Russell’s usually-sharp satirical wit was uncharacteristically blunted by a chickenshit desire to play it safe and offend as few people as possible. Hell, by the time all was said and done, this was such a milquetoast offering that even the most fervent evangelical nutcase wouldn’t find much worth objecting to in it apart from some vaguely liberal “be kind to one another” politics. And let’s remember — evangelicals claim to believe in that sort of thing themselves, even though their actions frequently indicate otherwise.

So, yeah, when I heard Russell was doing another project with Ahoy I was kinda “ho-hum” about the whole thing. But when I heard he was going to once again be teaming up with his collaborator on the brilliant DC re-launch of Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintsones, versatile veteran artist Steve Pugh, and that their new four-issue series, Billionaire Island, was going to be wearing its “class war” politics on its sleeve — well, suddenly I became very interested. And to date, that interest has been handsomely rewarded.

So, our setting is the near future, where one asshole billionaire (is there any other kind?) has set up an offshore “tax haven” island for other asshole billionaires to live out their lives in even more ease and luxury than they enjoy today, while the rest of the world effectively toils away at cleaning up the mess this wealth disparity has created. Fortunately for us, there’s an undercover hero looking to bring the island down — but unforuntely for her, others have tried to expose the evil and corruption afoot on the island before, and they’re still trapped there. And she’s about to get to know them all very well.

Russell is back in prime form with this one, balancing his razor-barbed class critique with a light, humanizing touch of humor, and throwing nifty ideas (like a net-worth screening device at the island’s airport) at readers at a mile-a-minute pace. There’s a lot to keep up with conceptually, but the story is about as straightforward as it gets, and quite a bit of fun, to boot, sending up any number of “reality” TV tropes as it goes. If you don’t like this, then you don’t like having a good time, plain and simple.

Either that, of you’re a right-winger, and odds are that if you fit that unfortunate description, you already gave up on this site a long time ago. But honestly, I think that anybody of any political leaning would find something in here worth both chuckling at and thinking about, given that it’s all presented without any sort of preachiness or sanctimony, with Russell opting instead to confidently just work his point of view into the metaphorical “DNA” of his premise and take it from there. That’s how you craft a good story and blunt any criticism of it all in one fell swoop.

As for Pugh, he plays it fairly straight and it works — his lines are clean, his facial expressions and body language are exaggerated just enough, and his “slick” illustrations do a great job of both conveying and parodying OTT excess. This is the whole package, and with two issues down and two left to go I can already tell we’re looking at something both timely and memorable here.


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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/22/2018 – 03/28/2018

The last week of new comics until who-knows-when owing to the Diamond shut-down — okay, owing to COVID-19 is probably a more accurate way of putting things — yielded a mixed bag of reading for yours truly, so let’s take a look at what was in said bag before this column goes on hiatus (to be temporarily replaced by a standard full-length review post of a small press or self-published comic, as is my usual wont around these parts), shall we? Indeed we shall —

While it’s nice to see Alan Davis back drawing the House of Xavier — and it’s kinda nice to see the House of Xavier itself, come to think of it, given that it’s been abandoned in favor of the mutant island nation of Krakoa — Jonathan Hickman’s script for Giant-Size X-Men : Nightcrawler #1 reads like precisely what it is : an 8-page backup strip extended out to 30-ish pages so Marvel could charge five bucks for it. In other words, this is a naked cash grab — but then, so is the whole extended X-line these days, consisting as it does of, what? A dozen titles, at least? And now a slew of one-shots are forthcoming as well, this being the first. Nightcrawler is pretty much relegated to the role of a supporting player in this book bearing his own name about a small band of mutants, under his nominal “leadership,” heading back to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to see why the portal to Krakoa located there is fucking up. If this were a short yarn, it would probably be a fun one, but there’s nothing here to hang an “extra-length” issue on, even if Davis’ art is a fun mix of his usual signature style with a hint of Dave Cockrum homage around the edges. Buy it if you’re a completist, I guess, but otherwise give it a pass — and let’s hope that Marvel avails themselves of the opportunity to trim the glut of X-titles down by at least half during this economic downturn.

Sticking with Marvel, and with higher prices, The Immortal Hulk #33 carries a six dollar price tag and a couple dozen or so extra pages due to the fact that it apparently marks the 750th issue of any and all Hulk comics, provided you go by the so-called “legacy” numbering.  This has a suitably “epic” feel to it, and features the climax of the current (okay, now former) story arc pitting big, green, and mean against the false-memory-implanting alien monster known as Xemnu, and while Al Ewing brings things to a more than satisfactory close — while also setting the table for some intriguing shit to come — it’s the eye-candy art that steals the show here, with Joe Bennett serving up some of his very best double-page splashes and batshit-crazy character designs yet, while guest second-fiddle (or should that be co-star?) Nick Pitarra knocks it out of the park with his tripped-out “mindscape” pages.  Another absolutely essential issue of the best “Big Two” series of the past decade — and probably the next one, too.

At this point Red Sonja seems to be Dynamite’s X-Men, spawning any number of crossovers in recent months, and now it’s got its first spin-off miniseries. Killing Red Sonja #1 teams regular scribe Mark Russell with co-writer Bryce Ingman to tell the story of the entitled little shit son of the aloof and stupid emperor of Zamora recently killed off in the pages of the “flagship” RS series, with half-assed art provided by one Crair Rousseau, who’s clearly going for some kind of singular, idiosyncratic look, and just as clearly falling well short of the mark and simply producing work that looks sloppy and out of place for its genre. Fortunately, Russell and Ingman are penning an interesting tale about a complex and intricately-plotted revenge scheme from the point of view of the asshole doing the plotting, so it’s a fun and interesting read, and Christian Ward’s cover, as you can see above, is just plain — errmmm — killer. I’ll ride this one out even though the art blows.

And the last “capsule” review I’ll be writing until new books start getting shipped again is for Vault’s No One’s Rose #1, an “eco-thriller” that sees Zac Thompson paired not with his usual writing partner, Lonnie Nadler, but with newcomer to the scene Emily Horn, while the art chores are handled by one Alberto Jimenez-Albuquerque. The story here takes place within the confines of a “bio-dome” powered by renewable energy to protect its inhabitants from the post-apocalyptic shithole the rest of the planet has become, and focuses on a sibling rivalry between a genius young scientist determined to make Earth inhabitable again, and her douchebag brother who wants to make sure that never happens. The characterization is about as unsubtle as it gets, and the script is overly verbose, but it’s also pretty damn interesting and well-thought-through, and the art is slick, lush, and generally pretty gorgeous, so I’m interested to see where this goes — if, indeed, it goes anywhere at all. Or should that be — has anywhere to go to? The longer this crisis goes on, the greater the number of shops that simply won’t be there once it’s all over, so please — now is probably the most important time ever to support your local comics retailer of choice. Assuming you’re allowed to leave the house, and they’re allowed to open their doors.

And on that joyous note, we’ll adjourn the Weekly Reading Round-Up until there’s new stuff on LCS shelves. I’ll miss my Wednesday ritual of picking up my books, reading them (and taking some quick notes on them as I do so) at my favorite coffee shop, and then cranking this thing out on Saturday night, but it’s not like this blog is going anywhere, it just means that our one tether to the comics mainstream is temporarily severed. And, of course, also still very much a going concern is my Patreon, this column’s unofficial “sponsor,” where I will never cease to offer up thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world 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, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to check it our by directing your kind attention to


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/01/2020 – 03/07/2020

I’ll be the first to admit that most weeks these Round-Up columns are just my way of keeping up with what’s happening in the comics mainstream, and truth be told my “pull list” is so small compared to that of many of my readers that I often have a difficult time finding four books that I even feel like talking about. This week was a glorious exception, however — one of those weeks where yeah, I maybe spent a little too much, but I was reminded of why I even stick with the ritual of heading down to my LCS on Wednesdays in the first place. Yeah, we all know that small-press comics are cool, but ya know what? The “Big Two” and the major indies still put out some damn good stuff too, and this week they hit us with four first issues that are well worth anyone’s time and money —

I wasn’t necessarily expecting a whole lot from Strange Adventures #1, being one of those crusty holdouts who didn’t find much value in Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ much-hyped Mister Miracle (although I should state, for the record, that I found The Sheriff Of Babylon to be compelling — if gutlessly apolitical — reading), but I dunno : maybe it’s the addition of Evan “Doc” Shaner to the line-up, or maybe this team just has a better handle on Adam Strange as a character, but whatever the reason, this DC Black Label debut hit all the right notes for me. The overly-forced nature of King’s pseudo-“naturalist” dialogue appears to have given way to actual naturalism here, and the decision to split the art chores (Gerads doing the sequences taking place on Earth, Shaner cutting loose with the Silver Age stylings on the pages set on the war-torn world of Rann) is looking, so far, like a stroke of genius. Is Adam Strange a hero, or a war criminal? We have no idea yet, but I think I’m probably gonna be down to spend the next year finding out. Oh, and there’s a pretty solid Earth-bound murder mystery going on in the background, as well. This is how you do super-hero revisionism right.

The team behind the superb relaunch of The Flintstones is back together over at Ahoy with Billionaire Island #1, and not only have Mark Russell and Steve Pugh not lost a step, being unencumbered from corporate licensing considerations seems to be agreeing with them rather nicely. The premise of this near-future tale is that climate change is fast rendering the plant uninhabitable, so the super-rich are doing an “Alternative 3” type of thing (Google it if you want to go down an interesting rabbit hole), only without leaving Earth. Is this heavy-handed? You’d better believe it, but the billionaire class deserves every ounce of scorn that’s heaped upon them and Russell, as always, is a funny as he is topical, while Pugh, for his part, delivers the goods in workmanlike, highly competent fashion. I’m digging the political cover-up at the core of the story, and the reason our hero-in-waiting is out for revenge makes perfectly good sense in the midst of all the absurdity. I thoroughly enjoyed the living hell out of all my Wednesday pick-ups this week, as we’ve already established, but this may have been my favorite of the bunch.

I’ll tell you what, though, it’s got some stiff competition in the form of Boom! Studios’ King Of Nowhere #1, a phantasmagorically “trippy” tale from Ice Cream Man‘s W. Maxwell Prince and Matt Kindt’s frequent artistic collaborator, Tyler Jenkins. I have no idea what the fuck is happening in this comic, and that’s its’ great charm, as we follow the exploits of a drink-and-drug-addled loser who either wakes up a literal “stranger in a strange land,” or else doesn’t wake up at all and is having one hell of a dream. Lots of imagination on offer in terms of both script and art here, with Jenkins’ always-inventive illustration really capturing the look and, crucially, the character of my most enjoyable acid trips, while his wife Hilary’s watercolor hues breathe a bunch of post-psychedelic life into every page. Not only do I not know where this five-part (I think) series is going, I don’t know where we are right now. You may call that whatever you wish, but I call it exciting.

Lastly, Port Of Earth scribe Zack Kaplan joins forces with the criminally-underappreciated Piotr Kowalski at Aftershock for Join The Future #1, a pretty clear-cut and unambiguous sci-fi tale about “wild west”-style survivalist hold-outs trying to make a stand for the old ways in the face of encroaching terraformed cities that provide a life free not only of toil, but of any sort of exertion (physical or mental) whatsoever. The parallels between the Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world are obvious here — as is everything, really — but the characterization is great, the good guys are easy to root for, and Kowalski (who also drew this week’s Wellington #3 from IDW — I swear, we’re spoiled) just plain knocks it out of the park with stylish art and eye-popping futuristic design work. This one’s also slated to go five issues, and I fully expect to be on hand for all of them.

And with that we kick back and hope for another solid week coming up. Until then, though, please consider helping out this jobbing freelancer by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up excusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Here’s the link for you to check it out :


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/02/2020 – 02/08/2020

What’ve we got this week? A one-shot, a first issue, the start of a new story arc, and the prelude to the prelude to a new story arc. It’s about as mixed a bag as it sounds, to be honest, but every one of these books has at least something going for it, and you can’t always say that. And so, with that in mind —

Never one to pass on the chance to squeeze as much blood from a rock as they can (and then some), Marvel is cashing in on the resurgent popularity of the Hulk with a series of one-offs from their main series, the first of which is The Immortal Hulk : Great Power #1, which sees Bruce Banner’s gamma powers temporarily take up residence in Peter Parker — and if one guest star’s not enough for you, the entirety of the Fantastic Four is on hand, to boot. On the one hand I wanted to hate this one, because it’s such an obviously cynical cash-grab and it’s priced at five bucks, but Tom Taylor’s script is actually pretty fun, and the art by penciler Jorge Molina and inkers Adriano Di Benedetto and Roberto Poggi is certainly more than serviceable. Yeah, nothing here is gonna make you forget about Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, and it’s far from an essential purchase, but if you’re looking for a nice little side-step, this provides it. I read it twice, so what the hell? I don’t even feel particularly ripped off by it — even though, logically speaking, who are we kidding? I was.

Our debut issue for the week is writer John Layman’s latest project for Aftershock, The Man Who Effed Up Time #1. Again, this is no re-invention of the wheel or anything, but for a predictable-enough genre yarn it’s not bad at all. Playing right into the standard time-travel trope of “if  you change even one thing, you’ll screw up everything,” this one’s about a schmuck lab assistant whose former best friend stole his work, stole his girl, and now treats him like shit, so when he invents a time machine, he goes back to try and “fix” all that — and ends up creating an alternate reality where Abraham Lincoln became an emperor (or king, or something), and his distant heir now sits on the throne. The script is light-hearted, heavy on the humor, and features smartly-written (if painfully obvious) characters, while the art by Karl Mostert is clean, simple, and almost admirable in its eschewing of the slick in favor of the effective. It is, however, another one that checks in with a five dollar cover price, so I dunno — you might be better off waiting for the whole thing to be collected in trade.

Moving on over to Dynamite, Red Sonja #13 kicks off the second year of this latest iteration of the series, and while interior artist Bob Q and cover artist Jae Lee (who’s done better work than he turns in with this one, that’s for sure) are both new faces, writer Mark Russell is still around, and let’s just be honest — he’s the engine driving this thing, and the reason everyone’s picking it up. That being said — Mirko Colak’s art was a lot better-suited to this sword-and-sandals stuff than Q’s rather workmanlike illustration, but for people just concerned with a continuation of the narrative, this shouldn’t disappoint. The new arc kicks off with Sonja having won the war that took up the title’s first year, but at a pretty steep cost — her people are now starving to death. What to do? Well, how about venturing into the territory of your sworn enemies to see if they’ll give you a hand? Hey, it’s comics — crazier shit than that has worked before. I’m still enjoying the heck out of this book, so I’ll probably stick out this storyline, even if it doesn’t look as period-appropriate visually, but it’s all riding on Russell from here on out — which is probably not anywhere near as dire as it sounds, given that he has yet to let me down on anything he’s worked on.

Finally, over at Image we’ve got Copra #5, which is the first of two issues that set the stage for the big confrontation with the villainous Ochizon that writer/artist Michel Fiffe has been building up towards since the start of this title’s first incarnation. Next issue is billed as the “prelude” proper, so yeah, this one is the “prelude to the prelude” that I mentioned at the outset of this column. It’s a fun ride with some great foreshadowing, even-more-creative-than-usual page layouts, and eye-popping colors — and I really gig the texturing effect that Fiffe is playing with in his art here. Of course, I’m always ready to follow this book wherever it goes, and even though this issue was pure set-up, it was good set-up, so if you’re enjoying this comic, it’s safe to say that you’ll be well-pleased with this most recent installment. I know I sure was.

And that’ll do it for this time around, apart from my customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/19/2020 – 01/25/2020

Just when you thought you’d probably seen the last of this column — anyway, it’s not that I’ve been missing my usual Wednesday comic shop pick-ups, it’s more a case of nothing standing out all that much. Which, in fairness, is also the case with a couple of the books this week, but I wanted to get “back in the saddle” with doing these Round-Ups every seven days, so now’s as good a time as ever, right? We’ve got one first issue and three last issues to look at this week, although it turns out that two of those last issues are actually anything but, which we’ll deal with in due course —

Guardians Of The Galaxy #1 marks yet another re-launch of Marvel’s premier cosmic super-team, this time courtesy of mega-popular Immortal Hulk scribe Al Ewing and artist Juann Cabal. This one referred back to events of the previous volume so frequently that I was frankly a little lost, not having read that run myself, and the team’s makeshift lineup seems more than a bit different, as it essentially amounts to Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, and last-second conscripts such as Nova and Moondragon, but the premise is pretty nifty : the Greek Gods are really aliens from another dimension and they’re popping in and out of ours in order to abscond with the energy needed to power theirs and, ya know, cause general havoc and such, but in all honesty this is a pretty discombobulated way to try to bring new readers into the fold — which may not be the point of first issues anymore, anyway, for all I know. Cabal’s art is fairly standard super-hero stuff, but he does serve up a rather inventive double-page spread or two, so points for that. All in all, though, I gotta say that there’s not a tremendous amount here that compels me to come back for the second issue. I’ve got a tremendous amount of faith in Ewing, but I think I’ll kick back and maybe come back to this one in trade if I hear enough positive word-of-mouth in the coming months. Now, let’s shift gears from the alphas to the omegas —

American Gods : The Moment Of The Storm #9 marks the conclusion of Dark Horse’s three inter-connected series adapting Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novel, and while writer P. Craig Russell and artist Scott Hampton have done a fine job with this long-term assignment, this issue feels more like an extended epilogue, the story proper having more or less wrapped up last month. Still, there’s one final situation for the luckless Shadow to face, and it’s nice to get one more frisson of tension before everyone goes on to their final reward. I’m kinda gonna miss this book — it’s been a constant, reliable, steady companion for a few years, after all — but I didn’t get overwhelmed by any particular pangs of premature separation anxiety as I read it or anything. All told, then, a low-key ending that’s faithful AF to it’s “source material,” but comes off as being a little — anti-climactic, maybe?

Once & Future #6 feels like a really solid and satisfying wrap-up to Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora’s revisionist Arthurian adventure yarn from Boom! Studios — and truth be told it is — but appearances can be deceiving. After some breakneck action, some last-minute unforced exposition, and some well-executed tying up of various plot threads — as well as page after page of killer art — a double-page “end credits roll” gives way to an unexpected “post-credit sequence” that sets things up very nicely for a sequel. Which, of course, I’ll pick up, because this series has been a hell of a lot of fun, but it stands well enough on its own, too, minus that little after-the-buzzer cliffhanger. So, hey, if you wish, you can blow that off and walk away from this one feeling as though Gillen and Mora have delivered a clever, topical, stand-alone story. Which they have, it’s just that more is on the way — and in this case, that’s a good thing.

Second Coming #6 actually hit LCS shelves last week courtesy of Ahoy Comics, but my shop got shorted on it, so I’m a little late to the party having just gotten a copy this Wednesday — and, again, this isn’t really then end of the road, it just marks the finale to the first “season” of Mark Russell, Richard Pace, and Leonard Kirk’s Jesus-and-analogue-Superman “buddy book.” It’s a bit of a curious beast — Jesus and the devil face off one more time, complete with absolutely unexpected (and unexpectedly truncated) resolution, while our cape n’ tights vigilante and his wife get served the biggest surprise of their lives. The former is a genuine surprise in its tone and execution, the latter — not so much, really. Some of the overly-obvious takes on Christ’s teachings have seemed kinda heavy-handed to me throughout the course of this series, and don’t ask me where the hell the supposed “controversy” surrounding the whole thing even comes from, but Russell’s satire has been uniformly sharp, and both Pace and Kirk have done a bang-up job illustrating their respective sections of the book, so — what the hell, I’m down for more. And the extended preview of Russell and Steve Pugh’s  Billionaire Island at the back does more than enough to convince me that one’ll probably worth my time and money, as well, since a little bit of class-conscious commentary almost always livens up genre storytelling in my estimation.

Okay, the old saddle’s feeling pretty comfortable, so I’m ready to speed up from a trot to a gallop. Let’s do this again next week, shall we? Until then, it’s reminder time : this column 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. Do me a solid and check it out by directing your kind attention to :


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



Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/17/2019 – 02/23/2019, Starts And Stops

Two notable debuts and two equally-notable finales were among the “big stories” in the world of the “Wednesday Warrior” this past week, so let’s take a look at them all and see how they either kicked things off or wrapped them up —

Sharkey The Bounty Hunter #1 (Image/Millarworld) from Mark Millar and Simone Bianchi isn’t exactlyHeavy Metal for the whole family” (Sharkey has sex with a hot half-robot chick, after all), but it’s pretty close, as our hard-ass-with-a-heart-of-gold hero takes it upon himself to escort a kid he just made an orphan halfway across the galaxy (or maybe it’s the universe) to the home planet of his closest living relatives — until a big payday “score” falls into his lap when the most-wanted criminal in the universe (or maybe it’s the galaxy) gets a price put on his head that’s high enough to send every freelance scalp-chaser scurrying in his direction, that “everyone” including Sharkey’s mortal enemy. This isn’t taxing stuff by any means — Millar’s books never are — but it is a surprisingly likable mash-up of genres that was enjoyable enough to get even my cynical ass to overlook its calculated (again, a Millar specialty) nature and just go with the flow as it ticked every box on the list. Bianchi’s Eurocomics-influenced art is flat-out gorgeous and detailed “AF,” as the kids say, the colors rich and lush, and who knows? Between this and The Magic Order it seems that the oft-derided Millar may be on a bit of a roll following his big Netflix payday. There are a million and one reasons to turn your nose up at this book, sure, but I’ll be damned if I could remember a single one of them while I was reading it, and I expect to stick around for the rest of the ride.

Considerably more thematically ambitious is Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly’s Stronghold #1 (Aftershock), a “cosmic horror” that’s part The Matrix, part The Omen, and altogether interesting, if a bit jumbled out of the starting gate. Still, I dig the set-up : ancient apocalyptic Lovecraftian alien force of destruction lives amongst us as an unassuming insurance agent, his true nature unbeknownst to him thanks to the efforts of a secret society with global reach dedicated to keeping him in check. Turns out he’s got company in the delusion department, though, as none of us know that the Earth itself is just one big prison designed to hold this guy down. All that starts to change, however, when — nah, you should just read it for yourself. Hester’s a damn good artist but up and down as a writer — fortunately, he’s mostly “up” here, the only pitfall being that he’s playing with almost too much concept for a single issue to handle. I’ve no reservations about Kelly’s art, though, as his trademark thick and “syrupy” line and keen attention to even the littlest of little things has rarely been put to better use. This may just be the book he was born to draw, and again, I expect to be strapped in for the duration with this one.

Sticking with Aftershock but flipping the script to the final chapter, Eliot Rahal and Jorge Fornes’ Hot Lunch Special comes to a very pleasing end with issue #5, a nice mix of high-octane action and solid characterization that puts a nice bow on the package but still leaves the box-top ajar just enough for a potential sequel if the creators were to feel up for taking things in a very different direction. Yeah, this series was basically “Fargo The Comic,” but what’s wrong with that? Rahal’s scripts have been well-paced and loaded with a mix of bloody noir violence and gallows humor, and Fornes’ art is gritty, stylish, and basically pitch-perfect for a crime book like this. If you’ve been passing on this one in singles, rest assured that it’ll read great in trade. Speaking of which —

The Lone Ranger by Mark Russell and Bob Q has been a fun and reasonably thought-provoking ride that’s been a blast in singles, sure, but will be absolutely great collected. Russell refuses to “mail it in” on these Dynamite licensed titles (see Red Sonja), and while I highly doubt the term “human resources” even existed in the Old West, when one line of dialogue is my only gripe, shit — that’s small potatoes. The Ranger, Tonto, and Silver make their final stand against the corrupt Texas land barons out to partition the land with barbed wire here in #5’s (no lie) thrilling conclusion, a bold double-cross pays off, and a cannibalistic dandy bounty hunter gets his pound of flesh, plus we get some solid social commentary and even a few laughs. Tonto was the real star of this series, sure, but that’s cool with me, and there’s plenty of room here for a follow-up, which I certainly hope to see — provided the same creators are on board. Yeah, the writing was the big draw on this title, but the art’s definitely solid, too, and truth be told I kind of admire Bob Q’s commitment to craft over “flash.” The trade should be out fairly soon, and if you pass on it, you’re crazy. This is the best Western comic since the days of Lansdale and Truman.

And that’s it for this week — just enough time to remind you that this column is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I offer thrice-weekly exclusive rants on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and even politics. Your support not only enables me to keep things going there, it also allows me to continue providing plenty of free content both here and on my trashfilmguru movie site. Please consider joining up over at



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 : 04/29/2018 – 05/05/2018

Prepare to be buried underneath a first-issue avalanche, unleashed upon you fair readers well before the week is over because your humble host is going to be out of town this weekend —

I have no idea what prompts a creator to launch a new series when a couple of the ones he’s already supposedly working on (LowSeven To Eternity) appear to have gone AWOL, but nevertheless, Rick Rememder and Image figured that now was as good a time as any to release Death Or Glory #1 — and with superb French artist Bengal on board, I guess I’d be itching to show it off, as well. Something of a socially- and politically-conscious take on the Fast And Furious franchise, this tale of bad-ass female street racer Glory attempting to pull off the first in a series of brazen robberies in order to get the money to pay for a liver transplant needed by her off-the-grid-living father figure sends plenty of mixed messages — Remender seems to venerate hard-core libertarianism on the one hand while pleading for nationalized health care on the other — but one thing that’s pretty straight-forward is this book’s full-throttle action scenes, which Bengal illustrates with considerable flair and fluidity. This is a “cinematic” book all the way, and one no doubt developed with eventual Hollywood exploitation in mind, but I’m not going to hold  that against it (much) simply because the results so far are immediately arresting and damned exciting. If Remender can avoid his usual penchant for turning his various titles into four-color psychotherapy sessions, as well as keep to some kind of regular publication schedule, who knows? This could prove to be something special. At the very least, this extra-length (and extra-priced, at $4.99) debut installment offered enough, particularly as far as the art goes, to get me to come back for the next one.

Previous projects such as The SpireGodshaper, and Motherlands have shown that Simon Spurrier has a real penchant for what’s now usually called “world-building” — particularly of the high-concept fantasy variety — and in Boom! Studios’ Coda #1 he’s at it again, limning the broad-stroke borders of a civilization where magic is not only real, but is widely-acknowledged as being the cause of a societal apocalypse of some sort. The book is populated with its fair share of con artists — not the least of which is our protagonist, who at least is pulling his various and sundry shady dealings in order to free the soul of his wife from supernatural bondage — but fantastic creatures and exotic wasteland locales abound, as well, all brought to stunning life by artist Matias Bergara, who imbues the proceedings with a distinct, and very welcome, Eurocomics sensibility by way of some stylish surrealism. I liked the story, loved the art, and definitely feel like I got my money’s worth and then some with this 48-page first issue, which also features heavy-duty cardstock covers and nice, thick paper (both of which are at least similar, if not identical, to what Boom! uses for Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ soon-to-be-concluded Grass Kings), so count me in for the foreseeable future on this one.

On the “Big Two” front, Marvel is cashing in on the success of Avengers : Infinity War with yet another Avengers #1 comic, this one from the creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness, and this time around they’re going for an “old/new” mix with the team’s line-up, with mainstays Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man  being joined by on-and-off members Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, and one complete newcomer, the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider. It was fun to see Jack Kirby’s Celestials back front and center, but apart from that this comic was a strictly by-the-numbers affair, with Aaron establishing the sketchy outlines of the threat that brings the new team together but little else, and McGuinness cranking out some rather dull, uninspired, standard-issue superhero art. You get some extra pages with this opening salvo, though not enough to justify the $4.99 price tag, but what’s really lacking here, in addition to consumer-friendliness, is a reason to stick with the title. About as bog-standard as shit like this gets — which is very bog-standard indeed.

I have no idea why Action Comics Special #1 exists. It appears that DC had one last Dan Jurgens-scripted story (this one illustrated by Will Conrad) ready to go, but nowhere to put it with Bendis taking over the Superman titles, as well as a “leftover” holiday-themed story from Max Landis and Francis Manapul that either wasn’t quite ready in time for DC Universe Holiday Special #1 or simply couldn’t fit in with that book’s page count, so they took the two of them, padded things out with a new story featuring Lois Lane at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (how’s that for being accidentally timely) written by Mark Russell and drawn by Jill Thompson, slapped a five-dollar price tag on the whole package, and called it a “special.” It’s really only the Russell/Thompson strip that is, in fact, anything special, though, with the Lex Luthor-centric Jurgens/Conrad yarn being absolutely average in terms of both script and art (as you’d probably expect), and the Landis/Manapul “thang” being nice enough to look at and competently written — but not the kind of thing you’re going to be particularly interested in reading in fucking May. Save your time and money and skip this “inventory story” collection.

That should do it for this time out, but Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, and even though I’ll be in the great Pacific Northwest, something tells me I’ll find time to pop into a comic shop and grab a few of the offerings, so those are probably what we’ll look at when next we convene our column in, oh, about ten days or so. Hope to see you then!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/31/2017 – 01/06/2018

Happy New Year everyone, hope your 2018 got off to a rousing start, certainly the comic-book world seems primed to have a good year if the way things have started off is any indication —

It’s no secret to anyone following my writing, here or elsewhere, that DC’s line of licensed Hanna-Barbera comics has been something I’ve been singing the praises of pretty much since they made their debut nearly two years back, and trust me when I say that no one’s more surprised about that than I am given that most of these cartoons hold precisely zero nostalgic value for me and the overwhelming majority of DC’s publishing output is creatively worthless. Still, the free reign they’ve been giving to some of their best freelancers to “re-imagine” these moribund properties has paid off big time, and to date the absolute cream of the crop has been Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintstones, a 12-issue examination of decidedly modern social, economic, and political challenges filtered through a disarmingly charming pre-historic lens that offered some of the most smart, hilarious, and heartwarming stuff we’ve seen in any “Big Two” comic in, quite literally, years. In my “Top 10” ongoing series column of last year (okay, that still only means last month) I said that more than a simple Bedrock redux the book was actually a spiritual heir to Howie Post’s sublime Anthro, and I stand by that claim 100%. I was genuinely sad to see it come to an end. And yet —

Russell quickly transitioned over to another Hanna-Barbera book, and if anything, Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1 is an even stronger debut than The Flintstones #1 was. The set-up here is as obvious as it is genius : Snagglepuss is essentially Tennessee Williams, a celebrated gay playwright in the repressive early 1950s, and draping his exploits against the backdrop of HUAC and the “Red Scare” both grounds events in historical reality (even if a few liberties are taken) and offers the chance for cameos from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman to actually work within the context of the story rather than being mere attention-grabbers. The scene at the start of a couple out for a big night on the town ends up having a decidedly “gallows humor” punch-line to it at the end when it turns out that they’re dressed to the nines to witness the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, so yeah, as always, Russell is pulling no punches here and wearing his politics right on his sleeve — and I say good for him, and fuck the small handful of square right-wing “critics” who have been trashing this book online. This is a comic with a heart as big as its brain and if you don’t like stories that present an actual point of view, shoot — there are roughly a hundred other DC books for you to choose from this month that are cowed, derivative, completely vapid slug-fests. Go read any of them. Hell, go read all of them. Let those of us who actually value relevance enjoy this rare foray into it from a major publisher. And hey, icing on the cake — the book looks great, too. Penciller Mike Feehan draws with a clean line that’s a nice blend of “cartoony” and realistic, inker Mark Morales does a faithful job on embellishments, and superstar colorist Paul Mounts utilizes a lavish, multi-toned palette that makes every panel look like a million bucks. Not only is it a fairly safe bet that DC won’t put out a better book this year, it’s a fairly safe bet that very few comics, period, will be this good. I’m bummed it’s only scheduled for a six-issue run, but heck — I’m ecstatic that it even exists at all. Proof positive that great things can still emerge from highly unlikely sources, and the best four bucks you’ll spend this week, if not this month. Shit, maybe even this year.

And yeah, it just occurred to me that I may end up eating those words, but you know what? I kind of doubt it. I know I’m probably losing a ton of credibility in the eyes of a lot of people I respect by saying this, but I have to call ’em like I see ’em, and Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles is straight-up brilliant. And that’s a term I never use lightly.

Keeping our “Big Two” theme going, we also got the second issue of Ed Piskor’s X-Men : Grand Design this past Wednesday, and for my money (specifically, for my $5.99) it’s every bit as good as the first, maybe even moreso, as we dive pretty deeply into the some of the weirdest areas of X-history (Lucifer and all that) this time out. The story here is way more involving than a historical re-hash should be, the art’s terrific, the colors are eye-popping, the book’s production values are first-rate, and it’s more than fair to say this big experiment from Marvel has absolutely paid off. Piskor will be back this summer for his second go-’round (likewise comprised of two over-sized — and no doubt jam-packed — issues), and you’d better believe I’m counting down the days already.

Alright, let’s get to the small press since that’s still, in theory, what this site’s all (okay, mostly) about : I got a copy of Simon Hanselmann’s 16-page newsprint broadsheet Performance this past week, and this thing is absolutely gorgeous. Clocking in at a whopping 15″x 22.75″, this selection of exquisite full-color gallery paintings of Megg, Mogg, Owl, Werewolf Jones, Booger and the gang showcases Hanselmann at his best, and couldn’t come at a better time considering that I number myself among those who think that his shtick has gotten more than a bit stale as the years have gone on. Maybe the fact that this is an “all-art” publication that features none of his repetitious, dead-end “stories” is just what I needed to remind me of why I initially loved his stuff so much seven or eight (or whatever) years ago? I dunno, but whatever the case may be, this is as pleased as I’ve been with a Hanselmann project at any point since Megahex first came out. Yeah, I still think it’s well past time that he tried his hand at something new, but unless and until that day comes, this is $8.00 very well spent. Get it from the publisher, Floating World Comics, at

I got on the Eric Kostiuk Williams train late, first encountering his work in his late-2016 Retrofit/Big Planet release Babybel Wax Bodysuit, and I’m getting to his newest offering — the Koyama Press-published Condo Heartbreak Disco — late as well, given that I guess it actually came out a few months ago. Well, sorry, but I didn’t buy a copy until the other day — but fortunately, it was worth the wait, even if I didn’t know I was waiting for it. At 48 pages of story and art it’s probably not fair to call this a “graphic novel” per se, but it’s nevertheless a dense (visually and narratively) story, centered around “purveyors of socially-motivated revenge and personal guidance” Komio and The Willendorf’s Braid as they attempt to save Toronto from an onslaught of high-end “luxury” housing that is, quite literally, decimating once-vibrant neighborhoods and communities. A decidedly camp-infused and “snarky” anti-gentrification fable/superhero parody mix, this book is illustrated in Williams’ highly fluid (hell, borderline anarchic), richly-detailed style, and his page layouts are as incredibly inventive and free-flowing as his plot — or, for that matter, his protagonists’ identities. Things happen at full-throttle speed here, but the eye is guided through the pages in such a graceful, naturalistic manner that you won’t even know that you’re not being given time to catch your breath, and for a book centered around buildings and structures, it sure feels — and looks — incredibly organic. Yeah, I lament the fact that Williams is working is black and white here since he’s one of the strongest cartoonists out there when it comes to his use of color, but that’s a small gripe in the scheme of things when art and story both are this unique and confidently-realized. Cover price is ten bucks, but I wouldn’t feel bad about paying twice that, truth be told, and it’s not too hard to find it from unnamed major online retailers for even less.

Okay, that’s the first week of 2018 down! See you all in seven short days as we go over whatever week two has — or, by then, had — in store!