Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/07/2019 – 04/13/2019

Welcome to another Weekly Reading Round-Up, where first issues aren’t just a job, they’re a way of life. Here’s another four, from this Wednesday last —

Faithless #1 comes our way from Boom! Studios and the writer/artist team of Brian Azzarello and Maria Llovet, and it’s kind of hard to get a handle on what this one’s even about, much less where it’s going. A kind of occult take on the “erotic thriller,” I guess, revolving around an amateur practitioner of the magick arts named (big surprise) Faith, who makes herself a mysterious new “special friend,” gets pretty intimate with her pretty fast, and then — well, shit gets weird. Azzarello struggles to write youthful characters with any kind of authenticity, and he also struggles with the balance between erotic and prurient, so the whole story ends up feeling more than just a bit “off.” Boom! is going all-in on the variant cover hustle to move units with this one, one of which is an opaque-wrapped number by Tula Lotay, but Llovet’s vaguely Paul Pope-influenced art is strong enough on its own for no gimmicks to really be necessary — unfortunately, it’s wasted on a substandard, confused script that provides nothing so much as further evidence that Azzarello just ain’t what he used to be.

Orphan Age #1 is another Aftershock debut, this one from Ted Anderson and Nuno Plati, and while it didn’t knock my socks off or anything, it seems at least reasonably promising, even if its central its central premise seems like a riff on Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart, only this time the adults didn’t all split, they died. Now it’s 20 years later, and the kids they left behind are all grown up and trying to rebuild civilization. An outfit known as the New Church has risen to fill the power vacuum, and it looks like our protagonists make up a makeshift resistance movement against the rising tide of religious totalitarianism. The story here is fairly well-paced and involving, the art has a pleasing animation cel look to it, and the core concept is fairly wide open, so what the hell — I’m game to give it a few more issues and see where the whole thing goes.

Fairlady #1 marks the start of a new fantasy/adventure series from Image scripted by Brian Schirmer and drawn by Claudia Balboni that offers a complete, self-contained story in each issue with plenty of backmatter material at the end fleshing out their imaginary realm of The Feld. The art brings to mind Scott Godlweski’s work on Copperhead and is just as as good, and the story, centered on a private eye by the name of Jenner Faulds, is a fun and smartly-written yarn that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. I really love the idea of each installment telling a full tale with a beginning, middle, and end of its own, I dig the intricate “world-building” that’s going on, and there are some relevant feminist political messages under-girding the action that have clear and obvious real-world parallels. Count me as being along for the ride with this one.

She Could Fly : The Lost Pilot #1 is our “saving the best for last” entry this time around, as Dark Horse/Berger Books take us back into the world created by Christopher Cantwell and Martin Morazzo, picking up some months after the first series as Luna returns home from her stay in a mental health facility and tries to re-integrate into her school while solving the mystery of the flying woman that she just can’t shake. What’s up with her grandmother? What’s up with her dad? And which one of our cast members from last time comes to a sudden and violent end? There are intrigues galore in this comic, Morazzo’s finely-detailed art is gorgeous as always, and Cantwell does a nice job of weaving his larger points about mental health into a very solid, expansive storyline. One of the best mainstream books of last year returns, better than ever.

And thus we reach the end of another week loaded with new number ones. Which leaves us with the usual item of “housekeeping” at the tail end of things, your constant reminder that this column is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. Your patronage there not only helps keep things going, it also ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. I would be very pleased to have your support, so if you feel so inclined, please take a moment to check it out and consider joining by heading over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/24/2019 – 03/02/2019, “Oliver” And “Ice Cream Man”

Better late than never, right? Sorry for not having this Round-Up column ready last Sunday, as is my custom, but “real life” kept yours truly busy for just a bit there, and now I’m playing catch-up. Fortunately, what I’m catching up on are four very good comics, all published under Image’s auspices. Let us waste no more time —

Oliver #1 was a book I was a bit hesitant about, due to no fault of creators Gary Whitta and Darick Robertson. It’s just that the idea of a dystopian take on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist had already been done recently over at Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, and frankly, Olivia Twist was well and truly awful. This, on the other hand — well, let’s just say I’m more than happy I put my reservations aside and gave it a shot.

Whitta is a veteran screenwriter known for his work on such films as The Book Of Eli and Rogue One : A Star Wars Story, while Robertson is — well, shit, you know who he is, and that he fills up every last millimeter of every panel with exquisite detail. Their version of Oliver is a cross-breed of one human and one clone parent, with the clones being second-class citizens of a post-Apocalyptic Britain that “bred” them as cannon fodder for some war or other and now uses them as slave labor. This first issue is mostly an exercise in “world-building,” but it’s smart, well-realized and immediately absorbing, even if its origins as a movie script (the first, in fact, that Whitta “pitched” around Hollywood, some 15 years ago) shows in terms of some of its “storyboarded” feel.  No matter. Robertson and colorist Diego Rordriguez put on a visual clinic here, and even if the script were only half as good as it, in fact, actually is, this would still be a “must-buy” book. So buy it!

Oliver #2, out just this past Wednesday is, if anything, even better, though, as the Dickensian parallels become ever more literal, and the Victoriana and steam punk tropes meld seamlessly into a story that’s as obvious as it is awesome. Yes, that’s me saying there are no surprises on offer here — but it’s also me saying you won’t care, because everything you think you want to see happen here does, all rendered with meticulous care and attention. You’re gonna feel the grime on the workhouse walls and taste how cold the fucking porridge is. Whitta and Robertson are such a simpatico team you’ll think they’ve been making comics together for two decades rather than two months. This is as near to “staggering” as mainstream “Wednesday warrior” books get.

Tell you what, though, the two-part “Hopscotch Melange” loosely-linked (aren’t they all in this series?) storyline begun in W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo’s Ice Cream Man #9 is damn near as good, as the scope of this book’s premise gets blown open wide — -as in, cosmically wide, eternally wide. Our titular Ice Cream Man as an infinite force with an “origin story” of his own? Believe it. This issue combines “revisionist Western” motifs with sci-fi with horror with religious cosmology for a comic that’s — quite unlike pretty much anything else, and very successful at achieving some damn lofty narrative goals. Morazzo and colorist Chris O’Halloran are proving to be a dynamite team, their pages uniformly crisp, sharp, and polished without losing an ounce of character or personality, while Prince’s scripts are brisk, economic, and precisely-worded for maximum impact. This is a killer title that everyone should be reading.

The second part of “Hopscotch Melange,” in Wednesday last’s Ice Cream Man #10, makes the cosmic personal as oblique thematic links carry over from last issue into this Romeo And Juliet-esque tale of doomed love in Old Mexico. A good chunk of the issue is in Spanish, so break out your Google Translate app, but damn, is this some creepy shit. Prince crafts one hell of a villain with the General Santa Ana stand-in here, and Morazzo’s art is painfully authentic — geographically and emotionally.

So, yeah, I had a little catching up to do on some titles this week — but am I ever glad that I did, in fact, get caught up. These are two of the best regularly-produced series being published by anyone these days, period.

And with that, a belated column reaches its conclusion — but on the positive side, you’ve only gotta wait a few days for the next one rather than the standard week. Just enough time to remind, then, you that these Round-Ups are, as always, “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Your support there not only keeps the whole thing going, but allows me to keep providing free content here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please check it out and consider joining at :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 07/08/2018 – 07/14/2018

It’s a veritable cavalcade of first issues this week, so let’s skip the stage-setting and get right down to the business of telling you which of these new series are worth your time (and, more importantly, money) to follow —

The major “event” book of the week is, of course, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest #1, which marks the beginning of the end not only for this two-plus-decade-old franchise, but for the legendary comics careers of the two creators behind it (although, at least in Moore’s case, we’ve heard that before). “Going out with a bang” seems to be the operative philosophy behind this six-parter, as well as settling every possible score on the way out the door, but this is, as you’d  no doubt expect, far more than simply a combination vanity project/victory lap — although elements of both are certainly present and accounted for. Roll call, then, of undeniably  positive attributes :  the latest all-female iteration of the League is certainly more than timely, one could even argue necessary, for the #MeToo era; nods to Shakespeare’s final work (from which, of course, the series takes its name) abound, particularly structurally; and our Bearded Wizard seems to want to use his last hurrah to, admirably, shed some light on the plights of various ripped-off cartoonists of years gone by. Throw in some heavy Silver Age references that look and read like a British version of 1963, a delicious deconstruction of the James Bond archetype, and Woody Allen getting shot through the head and what have you got? A comic as visually- and narratively-jam-packed as we’ve become accustomed to from this tandem, sure, but also something of a love letter both celebratory and somber to the medium they’re leaving behind. O’Neill’s art is deliriously good, of course, especially on the B&W comic-strip-style pages, where the detailed intricacy of his linework really shines through. Do you need this more than you need the $4.99 Top Shelf/IDW is asking for it? Oh, yes. Oh, God, yes.

Meanwhile, Moore’s former editor, Karen Berger, kicks off what’s being touted as the “second wave” of her Berger Books imprint at Dark Horse with writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Martin Morazzo’s She Could Fly #1, a four-part mini-series not so much about the flying female in question as it is about a teenage girl with an acute case of debilitating OCD who is the ostensible super-heroine’s biggest fan — and maybe even, somehow, connected to her in ways as yet to be determined. Or is that all in her head? The Berger Books output has been decidedly up-and-down to this point, but this is as “up” as it gets : a heartfelt rumination on adolescence and the pain of trying to “fit in,” a gripping and authentic family drama, and an honest exploration of mental illness, all prepared and persented with obvious care. Cantwell’s script is brisk and clutter-free, cutting right to the bone of every character and situation on hand, while Morazzo, whose work on Ice Cream Man over at Image has been blowing me away, delineates the proceedings with such a clean, polished, precise style that it’s honestly hard not to be taken aback by the leaps and bounds his art is making right before our eyes. This one, again, retails at $4.99 and is, again, more than worth every penny.

Speaking of Image (even if, fair enough, I mentioned it only in passing), our final two debuts for the week come our way via their publishing auspices, the first being Farmhand #1, written and drawn by former Chew artist Rob Guillory. I really wanted to like this one given my appreciation for Guillory’s bright, expressive, and decidedly tongue-in-cheek style of illustration, but it seems like he’s not entirely comfortable yet with his own admittedly creepy and inventive premise, that being some unethical corporate skullduggery taking place at a “factory farm” that organically grows human body parts and organs. Maybe layering a family estrangement subplot on top of it is too much, too fast, or maybe he’s just not sure how to translate a nifty (God, did I just say that?) idea into an actual story yet, but I found the plot here decidedly lacking, the characters less than involving, and the overall trajectory of the narrative haphazard at best. The art’s great, don’t get me wrong — Guillory is bound and determined to pull out all the stops on that score and manages to do so with considerable aplomb. But whatever chance I may have been willing to give this book going forward (I was thinking another issue, at least, before deciding whether or not to drop if from my “pull”) flew right out the window when this comic’s “climactic” three-page epilogue landed with a resounding thud. If I hear good things about future installments I may give the inevitable first-volume trade a go (from the library, mind you), but this marks the first and last time I fork over $3.99 of  my own cash for this series.

And, not to give away the game right at the outset, but — I felt much the same about Die! Die! Die! #1, a new Skybound/Image co-venture from writer Robert Kirkman (with a co-plotting credit going to Scott M. Gimple, former “show-runner” on The Walking Dead) and artist Chris Burnham better known at this point for its unorthodox marketing strategy (it was a “surprise” release unannounced until literally the day before it hit shops) than anything going on between its covers. Burnham’s a terrific choice to illustrate a bloody ultra-violent yarn about purportedly “strategic” assassins who work behind the scenes to murder key individuals in order to either set about or curtail key series of socio-political events, but Kirkman seems to have no real grasp on what he wants to do here story-wise other than his best Garth Ennis impersonation — which, as it turns out, is actually a really lousy Garth Ennis impersonation, given that this comic carries none of the philosophical heft or knowing self-deprecation of Ennis’ best works. It’s not that it takes itself seriously, mind you — it’s just that there’s no real brain or heart behind the OTT absurdity it wallows in, just forced pseudo-cleverness, and the fact that the Skybound titles have finally joined their other Image stable-mates at a $3.99 price point means that there’s absolutely no reason to pick this thing up, despite some pretty stellar artwork.

And, with that, we come to the end of another Round-Up column. Next week we’ll either talk about some new-ish minis that have come my way in recent days, or we’ll take a look at a book or two I’ve been looking forward to with a reasonable amount of anticipation that’s scheduled to hit shops this coming Wednesday (I’m looking at you in particular, Euthanauts). Maybe both? Join me back here in seven days and we’ll see.