Mainstream Comics Worth Paying Attention To : “King Of Nowhere”

As is generally known, I’m not one of those “too cool for school” types who dismisses out of hand everything produced by the major comics publishers. In fact, until the industry shutdown engendered by COVID-19 took hold, I ran a “Weekly Reading Round-Up” column on this very site that mainly concerned itself with examining whatever mainstream titles this nominal “Wednesday warrior” had picked up during the previous seven-day span — and I imagine I’ll get back to it before too long here. That being said —

Shipping schedules are still pretty light, even though most comic shops are, in fact, open again, and this means that most weeks since “the return” haven’t seen enough interesting stuff hit shelves to warrant me devoting an entire column to reviewing them. It’s just a fact : most recent weeks have seen me leaving the shop with two, maybe three comics, and while that’s welcome news for my bank balance, it means the “Round-Up” has remained dormant. That being said —

There’s still some stuff coming out of the mainstream that’s well worth your time and attention, and I kinda miss talking about it, so I figure why not shine a light on some of these books until the “Round-Up” returns? And so, lo and behold, we’ve got ourselves a running theme for the next week or two — although I still want to keep at least a bit off the beaten path, so we’ll be training our focus here on titles you’re less likely to be following than, say, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s The Immortal Hulk, Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell’s John Constantine, Hellblazer, or any other books that everybody already more or less knows are great. First up, then : a fun, smart, “trippy” little series from writer W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man), line artist Tyler Jenkins, and color artist Hilary Jenkins (both of Grass Kings and Black Badge renown) published by Boom! Studios called King Of Nowhere.

Our ostensible “hero” in this five-parter is a no-count drifter/loser named Denis who wakes up after a bender on the outskirts of a town called — you guessed it — Nowhere, with no idea how he got there, or even what and “there” even is.  And three issues in, those questions still loom large — but I get the feeling this book is at least every bit as much about the journey as it is about the resolution.

Which is absolutely as it should be, of course, even if it means there’s some pressure on Prince, in particular, to really stick the landing. He’s crafted a fairly likable protagonist with Denis, though, and you never know what sort of deformed or mutated person or anthopomorphic animal he’s going to meet next, nor what sort of significance these encounters are going to end up having when it comes to piecing together the delightfully-scrambled overall picture. The really interesting thing? There doesn’t seem to be a traditional “villain” anywhere on offer in this story.

Not that one is all that necessary, mind you, Denis being a pretty classic example of someone who’s his own worst enemy. Still, there’s hints of a conspiratorial undercurrent running through Nowhere, and he may just be the guy to get to the bottom of it, not least because the entire place might be a figment of his own subconscious. Or it might not. We’ll see.

Being a full-on “mindfuck,” the script calls for an endless array of inventively-designed characters, and Jenkins never fails to disappoint on that score, but in a larger sense his loose, free-form style is perfect for bringing a necessarily “otherworldly” atmosphere to life — and speaking of life, his better half’s watercolor-style hues breathe a ton of it into these pages. Everything looks vaguely recognizable, but distinctly “off” — and that goes for the tones of the sky, the ground, the water, the buildings. Jenkins and Jenkins do a superb job of creating an environment that’s distinctly alien without being alienating, and that right there makes all the difference.

Sure, with two issues left to go, this whole thing could still fall completely apart, but you know what? These creators have managed to steer a pretty circuitous path with remarkable aplomb so far, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t deliver the goods when it comes time to make sense of this whole thing. I. for one, will be looking forward to seeing how they pull that off — even as I’ll probably be just as sorry to see it end.

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Review wrist check – shaking things up a bit with my Formex “Essence” brown dial model today by swapping out its factory-issue brown “croco structure” strap for a blue one, also made by Formex. Their quick-release straps and, even better, quick-release carbon fiber clasp make changing things up on this watch a breeze, and it’s as fun as it is fast to shuffle the deck and play with some different looks for this chronometer-certified timepiece.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — 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 give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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 :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