Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/23/2020 – 02/29/2020

We might get an extra day this year, and it might even be today, but there were still only seven days this week — don’t ask me how that works. In any case, there was a hell of a lot that hit LCS shelves this week, and I’ve chosen four brand-spanking-new debuts to give the once-over, so here they are, arranged in descending order of quality —

Tomorrow #1 comes our way courtesy of editor Karen Berger and her Berger Books imprint at Dark Hose, and teams veteran scribe Peter Milligan with artist Jesus Hervas, continuing this line’s interesting pattern of pairing the old with the new. Milligan, for his part, used to be one of the most interesting and radical writers in the business — Enigma still ranks among my top ten comics of all time —but he’s been a pretty serious hit-or-miss proposition in recent years, with certain projects (Kid Lobotomy) having some of that same punk/surreal flair, while others (The Discipline) are just relentlessly awful. We’re getting “Good Milligan” here, fortunately, and if things continue as strongly as they started, who knows? Maybe we’ll even end up getting “Great Milligan” again for the first time in, like, forever. The premise here is that of a computer virus jumping the techno-barrier and infecting the real world, leaving all adults dead and a new generation suddenly in charge of the world, which sorta plays on contemporary coronavirus fears (although it was obviously written well before that outbreak hit), albeit with a clever sci-fi twist. Our protagonist is a cello-playing prodigy who goes in search of his sister, and the dystopian world we’re introduced to is at once interesting and well-fleshed-out, even if our ostensible “hero” really, well, isn’t so much yet. But I’m willing to let that slide for the time being, figuring that we’ve got four more installments to get around to all that, and Hervas’ art is workmanlike in the best possible way, communicative and polished without too much by way of stylistic bells and whistles. I’m really curious to see how this all plays out, so I’ll be sticking around for the five-issue duration.

Falcon & Winter Soldier #1 is Marvel’s latest attempt to do something with these two former Captain Americas (or is that Captains America?), this time as co-stars in the same book, and I like that writer Derek Landy is picking up on some threads left over from Secret Empire and trying to re-introduce Hydra as a force to be reckoned with — unfortunately, the “kid assassin” villain they dispatch to wipe out Sam and Bucky is an annoying as hell villain, and the cliffhanger at issue’s end is both forced and entirely non-sensical. On the plus side, the first 2/3 of the book was fun and absorbing, and artist Federico Vicentini turns in some really nice works that’s halfway between the Eurocomics-influenced stylings of Matteo Scalera and the personality-heavy-but-pleasingly-basic genre work of Scott Godlewski. I wasn’t blown away by anything in this book by any means, but I’m more than happy to give it a few more months to either win me over for certain or lose me for good.

Finger Guns #1 kicks off a well-publicized new series from Vault Comics, but unfortunately it doesn’t earn the promotional muscle spent on its behalf, as writer Justin Richards’ story about a couple of outcast teens who find they can make magical shit happen by pointing their titular “finger guns” at typical passers-by is a pretty lame slog. The two kids we’re asked to identify with are dull ciphers with blandly-generalized home lives (one’s perpetually neglected, the other has an abusive dad) and no real clue what to do with their ill-defined powers. Luckily, artist Val Halvorson has a nice handle on the more vaguely “cartoony” style that’s popular in these types of “YA” comics — but competent, if unremarkable, illustration alone isn’t enough to keep me around. The rest of the comics internet seems to like this book hell of a lore more than I do, and you know what? Let ’em have it. I can’t find any compelling reason to keep reading this one at all.

Hidden Society #1 brings us back to Dark Horse, and to the worst fucking comic I read all week. Writer Rafael Scavone and superstar artist Rafael Albuquerque collaborated on the solid graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s A Study In Emerald from the same publisher a couple of years ago, but they both turn in work that seems rushed and unimaginative here, with Scavone’s script reading like a watered-down, unfocused rehash of Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel’s The Magic Order (and if you’re half-assing things even more than Millar, that’s saying a lot), and the art looking exponentially more plain, and less inspired, than anything I think I’ve ever seen from Albuquerque. Not that there’s much interesting for him to draw here, anyway — the backstories of all these characters, and their 1979 environs, aren’t really fleshed out in any appreciable way, and we don’t even get a hint that there’s gonna be a villain in the offing, although the “next issue” blurb assures us that one’s on the way. This entire project seems like an attempted pitch for a Netflix series, but if they don’t improve things, and quickly, it’s kinda doubtful that this is gonna end up being the hot Hollywood IP they want it to be. Really, a pretty goddamn awful comic.

So, yeah, lots of ups and down this week — with more “down” than “up,” I’m afraid. Hopefully next week offers us a better batting average, but until then, it’s my job to remind you that 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. 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 https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/22/2018 – 04/28/2018

Anthologies, surreal vegetarian polemics, and smarter-than-average TV tie-ins abound, so let’s jump right in —

A haunting and frankly topical cover from the great Al Columbia kicks off  Now #3, and as we’ve quickly come to expect, editor Eric Reynolds has assembled a first-rate selection of cartoonists from around the globe in the pages within. Standout selections from this issue are Eleanor Davis’ psychologically and sexually complex “March Of The Penguins,” Dash Shaw’s soul-baring “Crowd Chatter,” Nathan Cowdry’s unsettling “Deliver Me/Sweet Baby,” Nah Van Sciver’s amusingly ironic (and that takes skill at this point, believe me) “Wolf Nerd,” Anna Haifisch’s unapologetically straightforward “A Proud Race,” Keren Ketz’s beautiful, elegiac “My Summer At The Fountain Of Fire And Wonder,” and Roberta Scomparsa’s disturbing and all-too-real “The Jellyfish,” but for my money (and at $10 for 120 pages you won’t be complaining about how you spent yours here) the absolute revelation is Anne Simon’s triptych of strips, “The Lady Equina,” “Renaldo & Armida,” and “The Washer Of Virgins,” which reveal a cartoonist in absolute command of her considerable skills creating a hermetically-sealed world that is by turns alien and familiar, hilarious and heartbreaking, mythological and timeless. Simon’s debut full-length graphic novel The Song Of Aglaia is slated for release later this summer from Now publisher Fantagraphics, and it just jumped to the top of my “must-read” list.

What’s perhaps nearly as remarkable as the quality of the “hits” in this volume, though, is the intriguing nature of the few “misses” on offer — Ben Passmore uncharacteristically doesn’t achieve quite what he sets out to with “The Vampire,” but it’s clear what he was aiming for and damn gutsy of him to go for something so utterly different, Marcelo Quintanilha is barely undone by the scope of his own ambition in “Sweet Daddy,” Jose Ja Ja Ja attempts to blend the unconventional with the mundane in “Grand Slam” and nearly pulls it off, and Jason T. Miles’ intro and outro one-pagers (the former titled “We Were Bound,” the latter being nameless) and Nick Thorburn’s back cover present tantalizing glimpses of situations that would merit further exploration, but don’t quite succeed in establishing and/or reflecting the larger tonal similarities (as with previous issues there’s no set “theme” or subject in this one, but Reynolds’ chosen running-order of stories invites readers to intuit at least subliminal connections) that flow throughout the rest of the collection. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t mind when a cartoonist swings for the fences and ends up hitting a long fly-ball out, and just a half-year (or thereabouts) into its existence, Now, with its well-chosen mix of already-established “regulars” and comparatively new faces, consistently provides readers with compelling, challenging, intelligent material that leaves preconceptions in the dust and demands rigorous examination. The anthology of the decade has finally arrived.

While we’re on the subject of anthologies — and third issues — Shelly Bond’s Black Crown Quarterly #3 continues the rather frustrating pattern of her IDW sub-label’s centerpiece title not knowing if it wants to tell actual stories, or just get you to buy the other books in the line. I’m enjoying Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub,” this installment being no exception, but the other regular feature, Will Potter, Carl Puttnam, and Philip Bond’s “Rich And Strange : The Return Of The Cud Band” seems to be running out of gas (just as well this chapter’s only a page long, then, I guess), and the strips set in the Cannonball Comics shop are decidedly feast-or-famine, with Leah Moore and Dilraj Mann’s “Comme Des Gorgons” leaning much more toward the “famine” side of the equation.

It’s definitely not all bad, though, don’t get me wrong — Mann provides a crackerjack wrap-around cover, Peter Milligan and Kristian Rossi’s “Tales From The Raygun : Butterscotch And Soda” is a concise little Vertigo-esque tale of “high weirdness” done with more-than-requisite aplomb, Emmeline Pidgen’s “How To Spot A Galaxy” more than lives up to the high standard of previous installments of “Hey, Amateur!,” and the Tini Howard-scripted “Ghost-Walk With Me : Canon Street By Torchlight,” also illustrated by Monsieur Bond, is more fun than a blatantly promotional yarn probably has any right to be, while David Barnett and Martin Simmonds’ Punks Not Dead sidebar story, “Pretty In Punk,” provides an intriguing glimpse into the early years of Feargal Ferguson’s mother that goes some way toward explaining why she is the way she is today and fleshes out the world of their series considerably in just a few pages.

Tell you what, though, the less said about the text pieces in this ish the better — Barnett’s interview with Howard about her and Nick Robles’ forthcoming Euthanauts series is fine, but Cathi Unsworth’s “Swell Maps” (this time focused on Newcastle and featuring illustrations, once again, by the talented Cara McGee) suffers from the Black Crown curse of being too self-consciously “cool” for its own good, which is likewise my main “beef” with regular features “Four Corners” (Simmonds being forced to prove his “hipness” in this one) and “Beat Surrender” (which strong-arms Ms. Moore into doing the same). Things are simply becoming to repetitious and insular in this comic for it to maintain my interest much longer, and those are two “strikes” a series can’t afford when it’s saddled with an editorial vision as narrow and dated as Bond’s — and speaking of “can’t afford,” while this comic is printed on very nice paper and features high-quality cardstock covers, $7.99 for 48 pages is a more than a bit much, especially when you factor in that no fewer than six of those pages are eaten up with “house” ads for the other Black Crown books.

I dunno — I really wanted to like this comic, and there are things about it that I am perfectly well-satisfied by, at the very least, but I simply can’t keep justifying the expenditure at this point. I’m sticking with Black Crown’s other titles happily, but this is me saying “good-bye” to their “flagship” book.

Patrick McGoohan’s legendary ITV series The Prisoner has been “optioned” for four-color exploitation before — Jack Kirby started in on an adaptation while it was still running (or maybe shortly thereafter) that was abandoned before it saw publication, and DC released an “authorized” sequel by Dean Motter in the late 1980s — but Titan Comics seems bound and determined to give us the “definitive” funnybook iteration of Number Six with The Prisoner : The Uncertainty Machine, the first issue of which hit shops this past Wednesday. I grabbed the variant cover featuring one of Kirby’s stunning splash pages inked by Mike Royer (here presented in color for the first time — and in Mike Allred color, at that), but it was the interior of the book that actually impressed me most : Peter Milligan and Colin Lorimer would both be at the top of anyone’s list to helm this project, and they each deliver in a big way. Milligan’s script is tight, fast-paced, and sets the stage well for what promises to be a very intriguing updating of the concept, while Lorimer and colorist extraordinaire Joana Lafuente dial back the darkness a bit from their amazingly creepy Shadowline/Image horror title The Hunt and capture the tone and feel of the TV show pitch-perfectly. I swear, the double-page spread of The Village at the tail end of this comic is worth the $3.99 asking price all by itself. I am definitely in for the duration here.

And last but certainly not least, Richard Starkings, Tyler Shainline, and Shaky Kane are continuing to absolutely slay me with their Image series The Beef, and the just-released third issue continues their pattern of not so much subverting, but completely ignoring more or less every aspect of graphic storytelling convention altogether and writing their own rule book, which simply reads, in bold, block caps : “THERE ARE NO RULES.” We’re talking about a comic about a guy who turns into a slab of raw meat, after all. Dairy products and veal come in for special — and richly-deserved — shaming this time out, but the narrative also propels itself toward something that should serve as an approximation of a “conclusion,” as the asshole meat-packing plant owner’s even-bigger-asshole son puts The Beef’s lady-love in danger and the bought-and-paid-for local cop tries to fuck everything up for our ostensible “hero.” A savage take-down of the prejudice, gluttony, idiocy, and flat-out ugliness of Trump’s America that can’t decide if it wants to make you laugh or make you cringe and so, wisely, opts to do both, this comic is like nothing else that has come before it — nor anything that will follow in its wake. I’m in straight-up awe of this shit.

Okay, I’ve bent your ear for long enough, I think. Next week’s round-up is a bit up in the air as I’m headed out of town for the weekend, but if I can get some stuff read before Friday, who knows? Maybe I’ll surprise everyone — myself included — by slapping a column up before I head west for a few days. If not, then I’ll hope to see you good readers back here in two weeks’ time!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/25/2018 – 03/31/2018

I dunno why I don’t do this more often with these Weekly Reading Round-Ups — well, actually, now that I think about it, I do: there have just been way too goddamn many first issues to talk about lately — but I figured this week I’d check in on the relative creative health of a handful of series that I’ve talked up previously and see if I feel as generously pre-disposed toward them today as I did when they came charging out of the gate —

Ales Kot and Danijel Zezelj just released the third issue of their 12-part Image series Days Of Hate, and while I desperately want to still like where this thing is going given its timeliness, topicality, and superb art, I find the book hitting the same stumbling block that too many Kot-scripted titles tend to, namely : his story is becoming subsumed under the crushing weight of the points he wants to make with it. Nobody is more dismayed at the rise of “alt-right” nationalism and xenophobia than I am — fuck Trump, fuck everything he stands for, and fuck everyone who voted for him just for good measure — but here in #3, our dystopian premise already firmly established, all we get is a lot of talking heads droning on at length. And truthfully they’re not even talking heads, they’re eulogizing heads, as our dual protagonists blather on about each other — and the problems of the world at large — to either captive, or capturing, audiences, and regardless of whether their monologues veer toward matters personal or political, they essentially have the same lecturing, heavy-handed tone, and read exactly like the clumsy info-dumps they are. Zezelj and colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire do their level best to maintain reader interest with their visuals — no easy task given that this chapter mainly takes place in an interrogation room and a car, and the only “variety” to be found is in subtle facial expression and body language “tics” — but it’s ultimately work done in vain, as Kot’s dreary sermons literally suck the life out of every page. I have all the time in the world for political comics, particularly those of a leftist bent, but I’m giving this book to the halfway point to get something resembling actual narrative momentum going, otherwise I’m out.

Also from Image this week we’ve got The Beef #2, and Ales Kot should take note : if you’re gonna go the “un-subtle diatribe” route, this is the way to do it. Writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline have plenty of points to make, none of them positive, about carnivores, xenophobes, spoiled rich kids, captains of industry, and cops, but they balance their politics with a welcome dose of absurdity, creepiness, and humor. This book’s not for everyone — how many comics featuring a splash page of the title character shitting his guts out on the toilet are? — but to hell with everyone : this is a comic for you, the discerning reader who can find a diamond amidst the degradation, the sublime within the sick. Shaky Kane is brilliant, of course — he always was, is, and shall be — but it’s the overall off-kilter tone of the series that’s really working for me at this point. This is dark, twisted, surreal shit that keeps you deliriously off-balance throughout. Yeah, they’re taking themselves seriously, no matter how whacked-out events get, but they leave it up to you whether you want to feel sympathy or contempt for their characters, whether you want to laugh or cringe at their actions, whether you want to burn your retinas out after reading the comic or go back to page one and start all over again. This is that rarest of books, the kind seldom seen since the heyday of the undergrounds — one that respects the intelligence of its readers while giving them a richly-deserved middle finger at the same time.

Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela’s Abbott just straight-up rocks, and #3 ranks as the best issue of this Boom! Studios five-parter so far. Our intrepid reporter Elana might just be in over her head with this supernatural stuff, which is saying something because cool customers don’t come much cooler than her, but the revelation of exactly what the force she’s up against can do kicks things into another gear altogether — even if it’s essentially an occult-ish take on one of the weirder powers of the old DC character B’Wana Beast. That doesn’t matter because me, though, because near as I can tell, sheer originality was never what this book was going for anyway. I’m still absolutely digging the socio-political authenticity of the early-’70s Detroit setting, the street-level grittiness of Kivela’s art, and the expertly-crafted, downright meticulous mystery-novel pacing of Ahmed’s script — but who are we kidding? It’s the Pam Grier bad-assness of the protagonist herself that sets this one apart and above almost anything else on the racks right now. I dearly hope this thing is selling, because even though this is barely over half over, I already need a sequel.

And speaking of potential sequels, or lack thereof, I really do wonder whether or not we’re going to be getting more of Peter Milligan and Tess Fowler’s Kid Lobotomy. The ending to #6 definitely sets the stage for further exploration of this surreal world — in fact, it propels things into potentially-quite-exciting new territory — but with the guy who brought Shelly Bond into IDW in the first place, Chris Ryall, now out the door, I get the feeling that the entire Black Crown imprint might be hanging by a thread. I know they’ve got a couple of new mini-series already announced, and good for them, but this is a damn fickle comics marketplace these days, and anything can happen. I’m fairly certain that I’d like to see more of this comic — the story’s been up-and-down, sure, but when it’s worked, it’s come as close to achieving that ephemeral “vintage Milligan” vibe as anything we’ve seen in at least a decade, and Fowler’s art has been consistently up to the task of delineating the unreliable-by-design proceedings at every turn. It feels like there’s plenty more as-yet-untapped “high weirdness” ready to burst forth from these creators, and frankly this reads much better as a stage-setting “story arc” than it does a self-contained narrative. A number of characters were given pretty effing detailed back-stories here, and if this is the end of the road it’s going to feel like a lot of set-up for very little payoff. It’s all down to sales, of course, so hopefully the volume one trade does well enough that whatever fence-sitting may be happening on a corporate level is overcome. No,this wasn’t the smoothest six-issue run by any stretch, but it was fascinating and curious and idiosyncratic enough to make me hope that this issue is just the end of the beginning, rather than “the end” proper.

Aaaaaannnndddd that’s a wrap. Next week we’ve got — new Frank Miller? That could be such a disaster. Unless, of course, it turns out not to be — but the odds really aren’t in its favor, are they?

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/22/2017 – 10/28/2017

Hey! Whatcha reading this week? I’ll tell you what stood out, for good ill, in my book pile —

R. Sikoryak breaks the mold and gets contemporary in The Unquotable Trump, done up in old-school “giant size special” format by Drawn + Quarterly, and man oh man is this a humdinger of unfortunate laughs. Real quotes from our shithead-in-chief transposed onto re-creations of classic comic book covers (ranging from Plop! to 300 to Watchmen to X-Men and everything in between) is one of those things that only seems like a “no-brainer” after someone’s already done it, and if that “someone” is Sikoryak, you know you’re in very good hands. I guess he originally did this as a 16-page b&w mini-comic, but 48 lush, gigantic, full-color pages is definitely a big step up and does the material justice. It’s all got a tinge of gallows humor to it right now, but if and when this verbally-flatulent, syphilitic asshole is finally impeached, hopefully we’ll all be able to laugh at this book with no strings attached. Your “must-buy” item of the week, right here. The $20.00 cover price is admittedly steep, but you can find it for $13.00-$14.00 easily enough with little to no effort — and you should.

Noel Freibert is a cartoonist I’m only vaguely familiar with by way of his strips in the last Kramers Ergot, but his new graphic novel from Koyama Press, Old Ground, is more than enough to ensure that he’s firmly on my radar screen from here on out. Frogs, dogs, bats, demolition crew workers, dead kids talking to each other from six feet under — it’s damn hard to describe this one, folks, and you really do just have to go with Freibert’s ever-shifting flow. Black, inky blotches coalesce into shapes and forms only barely recognizable as people, animals, or objects; actions make little to no concrete “sense,” at least as far as we understand the term; events start, stop, start up again with little if any regard to instantly-outmoded notions of linearity; giant 18-wheel trucks become small enough to be kicked by their drivers without explanation — and it all seems both inherently creepy and perversely funny. This book exists in a category of one, defies comparison, and challenges your comprehension at all times — but never, miraculously, your patience. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, then read it again. Might just do the same tomorrow.

I was pretty jazzed for Black Crown Quarterly #1, the debut installment of the centerpiece anthology for Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, but now I really can’t remember why. The format’s nice — heavy cardstock cover and thick, glossy paper — but $6.99 for 48 pages is pretty steep, especially when about half the book is promo material that you’ll be able to get for free either online or in the back of other Black Crown books soon enough. Of the original strips on offer, Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub” is probably the best (although Cindy Whitehead and Nicole Goux’s skateboarding-themed little one-pager is pretty fun, too), a rather cute and charming piece of cartooning that makes the pub at the geographical “center” of this fictitious universe seem a place very much worth exploring, but the other two we’re presented with —one written by CUD bandmates Will Potter and Carl Puttnam and illustrated by Bond’s husband Philip, the other written and drawn by Jamie Coe — are decidedly unimpressive and way too self-consciously “cool,” and the same exact criticisms apply to a short article on Leeds, UK and the interviews with Black Crown creators Tini Howard and Peter Milligan.

The biggest problem here though? The overall Black Crown aesthetic is being defined quickly, and it seems very narrow indeed : Bond’s anglophile and late-’70s punk rock sensibilities might make for a successful series or two, but as the guiding ethos of an entire line? I dunno, seems like things could get pretty repetitive (and dull) pretty quickly, and there’s just about nothing here for a person under, say, 40 years old to relate to. I still have every intention of seeing where Kid Lobotomy goes, and Beto’s art alone makes Assassinistas a guaranteed pull-list addition, but I didn’t need an expensive, overly-pleased-with-itself version of Image+ or Marvel’s Foom! to sell me on those. Who’d have thought that Last Gang in Town, one of the last Vertigo series to go out on Bond’s watch, would serve as the template for the entire next phase of her career?

The last thing worth a mention this week is The Ruff And Reddy Show #1, the latest debut from the DC/Hanna-Barbera partnership. There’s more than a bit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to this book, with flesh-and-blood humans and animated cartoon characters (known as “celimates”) existing side-by-side, but given that this one’s written by Howard Chaykin, you know there’s going to be extra layers of too-real darkness underpinning that premise, and so there is : the “celimates” are clearly second-class citizens, our two protagonists turn out to never have gotten along, off-color jokes have potentially disturbing implications — yeah, innocence lost is the order of the day across the board.

That being said, dull revisionism is hardly the raison d’etre of this six-parter, methinks. In the manner of Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintstones (although I’m in no way prepared to say this comic compares to that one in terms of quality — at least not yet), Chaykin seems bound and determined to use the apparently-free reign he’s been given in terms of “re-imagining” these characters as a means for shining a (bright, glaring) light on real-world social ills and inequities. Mac Rey’s animation-cel style artwork couches and even soothes some of the script’s heavier body blows. I think I like where this one is heading.

Okay, I think we’re good for this week. I’ve got a package on the way from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half, so chances are pretty good that there will be at least a couple of items of interest worth talking next time around in there. See you again in seven!

“Kid Lobotomy” Is First To Don The Black Crown

When Shelly Bond was let go by DC as head honcho of their Vertigo label, it marked the end of an era — the last member of that venerable imprint’s original crew had left the building, and its future was suddenly looking very uncertain indeed.

Truth be told, it still is — Jamie S. Rich took the reins for a time, and now they’ve been passed on to, if memory serves me correctly, Mark Doyle and Andy Khoury, so we’ll just have to see what happens there. Bond, though, for her part, landed on her feet pretty quickly — IDW offered her a line of her very own to oversee, and after a year (-ish) of planning and preparation, Black Crown is finally here. But for those either hoping or worried that a simple Vertigo redux was what we were in store for here, it’s time to get stressed or relax accordingly, because this looks to be a very different beast, indeed.

Black Crown’s scope seems equal parts ambitious and grounded — various and sundry creator-owned titles that tell very different stories about very different characters? I’m all for that. Setting them all in an interconnected “universe” — hell, an interconnected town or even neighborhood — with the titular Black Crown Pub (I think, then, it’s fair to assume these series are all taking place in the UK)  in the middle of the street so they can all meet up on occasion, share a drink, and maybe get in some trouble together? I’m taking a “wait and see” approach on that conceit. As long as it doesn’t limit the kind of stories on offer, chances are that everything should be fine, and Bond is on record as saying that she wants to imbue her new range with a “punk rock sensibility,” which I find a promising (if malleable) statement, but let’s be honest — I’m in my forties, and an ethos of that sort is pretty much guaranteed to appeal to me. Will these books have any “drawing power” for readers younger than me, though? I guess that depends on who’s making them.

In that sense, then, kicking things off with a series scripted by veteran “British Invasion” author Peter Milligan is something of a curious choice. Milligan’s responsible for what I still contend is the best thing (as well as one of the first things) Vertigo ever published, Enigma, and he had a solid decade or so of nothing but quality creative output, but things have been pretty hit-or-miss with him in recent years. The Names, for instance, was a tense and multi-faceted conspiracy thriller, but New Romancer and Terminal Hero were decidedly middling affairs, and the less said about The Discipline the better. What, then, are we in store for with Kid Lobotomy, Black Crown’s debut offering?

Well, one issue in, I’m not really sure we have much of an answer. Milligan’s on comfortable, Kafka-esque “mindfuck” grounds here — his best work has always combined elements of the surreal, the post-modern, and the absurd — but our eponymous Kid doesn’t offer much to latch onto as a character, and what little we firmly can piece together doesn’t necessarily seem likable. He’s got an unhealthy sexual fixation on his sister — who may or may not exist, just like everyone else here — but I guess that (god, I don’t want to phrase it like this, but) runs in the family given that their father (known only as “Big Daddy”) does (or did?), as well. The old man’s infatuation with his little girl didn’t prevent him from passing on his dilapidated hotel, simply branded as The Suites, on to his mentally and emotionally unbalanced son, though, so yeah — what we have here is a rich reprobate in the hotel business who wants to fuck his daughter but is very much an obvious sexist in matters both business and personal. Next stop, the White House.

All of which makes Kid, what? Our stand-in for Donald Trump Jr.? Somehow, though, I don’t think any of Trump’s dipshit kids would be dropping the Burroughs and Bowie references that our protagonist does here, nor would they be opening the family’s hotels to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder the way Kid does, so I might be stretching the analogy past its breaking point, and that’s even before we get into the shape-shifting maid. It all seems like it could be so very intriguing — the only thing missing is a “hook” to make us care about these characters (imagined or otherwise) enough to be intrigued by them.

While misgivings abound on the story side, though, I’m nothing but enthusiastic about the art. Former Rat Queens illustrator Tess Fowler handles pencils and inks here, and her style is matter-of-fact enough to feel comfortably at home delineating scenes both down-to-Earth and deep inside the disturbed id. She doesn’t go in for flashy visual gimmickry, content instead to let her figure drawing and strong characterization (her faces say a hell of a lot) tell a story rather than bowl you over. This kind of ego-free illustration is as refreshing as it is effective, and while her backgrounds can be sparse (bordering on the altogether absent), that’s not necessarily a strike against her in this book, as it helps establish the environment of The Suites as being a vacuous, foreboding space. Lee Loughridge’s colors accentuate mood and atmosphere without, again, upstaging either, and so we needn’t worry about anything on the art front with this series — we’re in very good hands indeed.

Perhaps, then, cautious optimism should be the order of the day here, both with Kid Lobotomy itself and with Black Crown as a whole. Two really effing good covers (A from Fowler and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, B from modern-day legend Frank Quitely), a quality physical product that gives you plenty (glossy paper, heavy cardstock covers) for your $3.99, nice art, and a story that at least could go to places both interesting and uneasy are enough to keep me around for at least one more issue of this book, and I’m downright jazzed to give next week’s Black Crown Quarterly #1 anthology a shot. An unqualified “buy” recommendation would be a reach, it’s true, but if you’re the kind of reader who’s willing to allow a new line to have a few growing pains as it coalesces into whatever it’s going to be in the hopes that said “whatever it’s going to be” turns out to be something very-good-to-great, then hey — now may be a good time to be not just interested in, but downright excited by, the possibilities offered by both this series and this new imprint.