Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/20/2019 – 10/26/2019

My reading selection of books released this past Wednesday offers no real thematic connection to stitch together — no preponderance of first issues, no mix of firsts and lasts, nothing like that — so we’re just gonna get totally random with this week’s “capsule review” selections, and the verdicts for each are, likewise, all over the map —

Forcing a “milestone” label onto a book that’s been around for, like, less than two years seems a bit of a reach, but Marvel is no doubt eager to capitalize on the runaway critical and commercial success of The Immortal Hulk, and so #25 has indeed been marketed as some sort of “landmark” issue, and saddled with the extra pages and $5.99 price tag that comes part and parcel with such a purported “occasion.” Fortunately, cash-grabs don’t come much better than this stand-alone “cosmic” story that bears distinct echoes to Alan Moore’s legendary “Swamp Thing in space” arc and features absolutely gorgeous art from German Garcia to accompany Al Ewing’s magnificent, evocative script. Series regulars Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose are back for the last few pages that deliver a kick-ass cliffhanger, and the future for this series looks every bit as bright as the present. If they want another six bucks out of me come #50, guess what? I’m not gonna complain in the least.

Also carrying a steeper-than-usual price tag ($4.99, to be precise) and also from Marvel is Marauders#1, the first of the “X-Books” since the relaunch not to be written by Jonathan Hickman, although stylistically it certainly feels of a piece with his efforts, and the text pages design carries right over from them. The raison d’etre behind this team’s formation feels a bit forced, though, I have to say, and premises in search of a story to support them never actually work out particularly well. In addition, the characters writer Gerry Duggan has found foisted upon him are strictly “C-listers” (at best) all the way, as we’ve got Kitty Pryde leading this makeshift “pirate mutant protectors” outfit with Iceman, Pyro, Storm, and Bishop  in tow, and Emma Frost hanging in the background as financier of the hastily-conceived enterprise. Matteo Lolli’s art is okay, but only that, and overall one gets the distinct impression that this is a book with a 12-issue lifespan if it’s lucky. I won’t be hanging around to find out how accurate that prediction is or not, however.

Then again, who knows? Maybe I should. After all, you never know when a title might pull everything together and make your sticking things out worth the while. Case in point : Tommy Gun Wizards #3 from Dark Horse finally sees Christian Ward breathe some real life and drama into his “occult take on The Untouchables” premise, just in time for the big finale next time around, and the art by Sami Kivela, which in all fairness to this mini-series grabbed me right away and kept me around to this point, just gets stronger and more confident with each issue. The Ward-illustrated backup strip is over and done with after this one, the events within it now cleverly tying into the main story, and I gotta say that if the ending’s as good as this installment was, then these guys will have achieved something pretty remarkable, namely : delivering a memorable story entirely on the back end, the first half having basically been a confused — and confusing — mess.

Lastly but in no way leastly, the “Cruel Summer” storyline currently running in Ed Brubkaer and Sean Phillips’ Image Comics-published Criminal reaches another creative high-water mark in issue #9, as our narrative bottle-spin stops on teenage sorta-hood Leo Patterson, who finds himself being led down a dangerous path by his best friend Ricky, son of longtime on-and-off series protagonist Teeg Lawless. I was cooling on Brubaker/Phillips in a pretty big way after their last couple of projects, but going back to the well and expanding its scope and reach has proven to be a genius move for the duo, as they’re back to producing grade-A work month after month with this new “floppy” iteration of their venerable neo-noir “franchise.” Long may it continue.

And that was the week that was, the only order of business left on the docket being 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. If you have even so much as a passing interest in my work you’re sure to get your money’s worth by joining up, so give it a try by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse




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 : 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?

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/21/2018 – 01/27/2018

The small press/”alternative” comics world is in mourning this week — and will remain so, frankly, for some time to come — due to the tragic recent passing of Mark Campos, and while I didn’t know Mark “personally” beyond some social media interaction over the years, I enjoyed our brief conversations, as well as his work, and I know that he was one of the unheralded “glue guys” who held the scene (particularly the Seattle scene) together, and whose influence and mentoring helped others who came along after him more fully realize their own cartooning potential. His death definitely leaves a big void in the community, and there are a lot of heavy hearts out there, so it only seemed fitting to tip my own hat to him before delving into my weekly “wrap” column. For a more thorough tribute by those who knew him far better than I, head on over to TCJ, where you’ll find a long-form salute to both the man and his work right up top of the site. All I’m qualified to do from here is to offer my condolences to his family and friends and recommend that those who may be unfamiliar with his work definitely check it out because he had a singular voice that  will never be duplicated.

Problem is, most of his comics were self-published efforts with very small print runs that didn’t receive much distribution beyond the Seattle area. His most readily-available book for readers in other parts of the country/world is probably the anthology collection Moxie, My Sweet, which features a handful of stories written by him and illustrated by an all-star collection of small-press luminaries, and while it doesn’t offer  the “full Campos” experience given that he didn’t draw any of the strips contained in its pages, it’s still a damn fine collection that comes highly recommended, so do yourself a favor and grab a copy if you don’t have one — and as an aside, if there are any “connected” readers out there who know where and how I might be able to track down a copy of his latest (and, sadly, last), 2017’s Casino Son, please let me know as I have been trying to get my hands on it for some little time now.

Beyond that, not sure what else I can, or even should, say other than rest in peace, good sir, and know that you are deeply missed by many who were enriched by your presence in their lives. You made a difference, you left a mark, and your legacy lives on.

As far as new releases from the past week go, the second issue of the Eric Reynolds-edited Fantagraphics anthology Now hit stores this past Wednesday, and while I found its contents to be something of a mixed bag, the standout strips (Dash Shaw’s “Ford,” Tommi Musturi’s “Samuel,” Anuj Strestha’s “National Bird,” Joseph Remnant’s “Photo Case”) were either utterly sublime, absolutely spectacular, or both — and, as with the first issue, even the misfires (Andrice Arp’s “I Need Some Purchase,” James Turek’s “Saved”) didn’t come up short for like of trying and had interesting concepts at their core that simply missed the mark in terms of overall execution. 120 pages of eclectic and visionary cartooning for 10 bucks is still a fantastic bargain any way you slice it, and on the whole I like the direction Reynolds is taking with this series — no themes, no unifying strands, no particular statements being made, each issue apparently just concerned with presenting a varied and interesting assortment of unique comics from around the world in a format friendly to consumers and their wallets that doesn’t cut corners in terms of its production values, but doesn’t overdo its presentation (hardcover, ludicrous size, etc.) either. It’s economical, sure, but in no way done “on the cheap.” Every decade needs a great anthology to call its own, a product of the talents of its time that captures and establishes in equal measure the spirit of the contemporary zeitgeist — this is it.

Just a couple months back Dark Horse re-issued Troy Nixey and Mike Mignola’s Jenny Finn in single-issue format (and, crucially, in color for the first time), and in my capsule review of the first issue in this very column I mentioned that it would be nice to see Nixey get behind the drawing board for something new again — well, that something new is here in the form of Vinegar Teeth (also from Dark Horse), a new four-parter (I think, at any rate) that the publisher has billed as “Lovecraft meets Lethal Weapon.” Make of that what you will, but I found the first installment to be pretty promising in terms of its combination of the grotesque with the humorous, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes. For the time being the  fictitious Brick City locale, a weirdly effective mash-up of the modern and the Victorian, is probably of more interest on the whole than the broadly-drawn characters within it, most of whom are of the two-dimensional cipher variety, but it’s early days yet and more oozing, creeping fleshing-out of the principal players is sure to come. Hardest of the cast to get a handle on is probably the titular protagonist himself, who seems to be something of a fuck-up Cthulhu, but Nixey and co-writer Damon Gentry appear to have a solid handle on the comedic timing of his (accidental) actions, and the art in this comic is just plain fantastic. I’m in for the duration, but budget-minded readers may be just as effectively served, if not moreso, by waiting for the inevitable trade.

Last, but certainly not least, we come to Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela’s Abbott #1, the first of a four-part series from Boom! Studios. Ahmed is best known as a sci-fi novelist, and certainly his other comics project of recent vintage, Marvel’s Black Bolt (with art by Christian Ward) falls more firmly within his genre wheelhouse, but damn if he doesn’t prove in just 22 pages here that he’s anything but a “one-trick pony.” This comic plants you right in its world (1972 Detroit) right off the bat, and protagonist Elena Abbott is the most immediately-engrossing character I’ve come across in a “major independent” book in some time. Ahmed has clearly put a lot of thought into her realization, and while the blaxploitation influence on this story is hardly hidden, Abbott’s not just some Pam Grier clone, and the situation she fins herself in is more The Serpent And The Rainbow than it is Friday Foster. All of which means, I suppose, that comparisons to Sugar Hill are likely inevitable, but for my money I think the vibe Ahmed’s going for is more an occult take on Detroit 9000. We shall see, but all signs point in that direction.

As for the art, Kivela’s got the whole gritty thing down — the world he’s drawing looks and feels very much “lived in” and he manages to convey plenty of authenticity without, it would seem, falling back on the crutch of photo-referencing too heavily. Abbott has a visual style to match its script and its protagonist — real, resonant, and right in the middle of it all, and while the socio-political climate portrayed is very much of the “vintage” variety, the issues at its core are hardly dated. Hell, the depressing truth is that they’ve more relevant than ever in Trump’s America.  Quick summation : this is a comic not to be missed under any circumstances — so, ya know, don’t.

And that should do it for this week. A sad one to be sure but one that, nevertheless, offers some rays of hope for the medium that Mark Campos devoted so much of his life to. Join me back here in seven days for a round-up that will, hopefully, be written under far happier circumstances than this one was.