Weekly Reading Round-Up : 02/16/2020 – 02/22/2020

Once in awhile, you have one of those weeks that reminds you why you love going to the comic shop on Wednesday — assuming, that is, that you actually do go to the comic shop on Wednesday. If you do, here are some things that you may have picked up. If you don’t, here are some things that you may (or may not, your call) want to pick up next time you’re there —

Going back to the Marvel Zombies rip-off well, writer Tom Taylor revisits his breakout hit concept of last year (one of the few to come from DC in recent memory) with DCeased : Unkillables #1, the debut intstallment of a three-part series that shows what the villains got up to while the heroes were all (okay, mostly) getting either wiped out or fucked by Darkseid’s infamous Anti-Life Equation being unleashed on Earth and turning everyone affected by it into shambling corpses. Karl Mostert is on board as artist this time and illustrates the proceedings in a really crisp, lively style — two adjectives that also apply to this book’s minimalist scripting. Deathstroke appears to be the main protagonist here, which is a good choice since pitting the DCU’s biggest bad-ass against the walking undead makes  perfect  sense and, as a premise, lends itself to some killer fight scenes. This was a fun, breezy read that I’m happy to have picked up and intend to stick with, but the book’s $4.99 cover price is maybe a little steep considering you can read the whole thing in about ten minutes.

Also on the DC front, Joe Hill kicks off the latest fiver-part (I think, at any rate) series to come out under his Hill House Comics imprint over at Black Label with Plunge #1, a creepy and unsettling Flying Dutchman-esque story with superb art from Stuart Immonen that centers around a salvage crew that’s hired to look into the mysterious re-appearance of an oil exploration vessel called the Derleth (clever there, as any Lovecraft fan can tell you) that just popped back up out of nowhere after 40 years. I’d never thought of Immonen as being a natural choice for a horror book previously, but it turns out I was dead wrong, as he’s modified his typical style to accentuate the story’s Cthulhu-esque elements in a manner that perfectly complements Hill’s inventive (if extremely wordy) script. Maybe the strongest Hill House debut yet, which is really saying something considering they’ve all been pretty goddamn good.

Kicking off a new series (also slated to run five parts) that looks like it could go either way is writer Mark Sable and artist Maan House’s Godkillers #1 from Aftershock, a rather discombobulated introduction to a cool enough premise that’s focused on an off-the-books paramilitary hit squad tasked with securing and/or destroying artifacts of mystical power on behalf on Uncle Sam. Sable’s bio refers to him as a writer, futurist, and military consultant, which sure sounds to me like an indirect way of saying he’s a spook, and also seems eerily reminiscent to the background of Republican — sorry, nominally Democratic — presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, and while the script is a bit of a rolling info dump, odds are that’ll tighten up now that the particulars have been established, and House’s moody and sleek artwork is a great match for the material. I’ll probably give this at least one more issue — but again, a $4.99 cover price is a little bit steep for what you’re getting here.

My favorite pick-up of the week was Dark Horse’s Bang! #1, the opening salvo of yet another five-part mini, this one from the “A-list” creative team of writer Matt Kindt and artist Wilfredo Torres. Combining a basic James Bond premise with Philip K. Dick/ Steve Gerber/ Grant Morrison meta-tinged science fiction, this thing was a ton of fun, loaded as it is with intriguing unanswered questions and solidly expressive genre artwork with a marginally “mod” twist. Obliquely connected with Kindt’s earlier series Revolver, this nevertheless stands on its own just fine and lays out the contours of a highly creative, ambitious, reality-bending premise in appealingly broad strokes by means of snappy, stylish dialogue and just plain cool illustration. I have no idea what’s happening so far, but I can’t wait to find out, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

And with that, we’ll call it a day — or a night, depending on when you’re reading this. Just a reminder that this column is, as always,”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 bast way to support my ongoing 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 : 07/01/2018 – 07/07/2018

Still reeling from the shock of losing Steve Ditko here, but nevertheless, the show must go on, even if it feels like it shouldn’t. Is there any time afforded us, in this modern world, to slow down, catch a breath, and take stock of where we are — not just individually, but as a people? Funny you should ask —

Tom Kaczynski has clearly been giving this very subject a great deal of thought, and in Cartoon Dialectics #3, the latest in an occasional series published by his own Uncivilized Books (pride of the Minneapolis indie cartooning scene, I assure you), he reflects on the siren-call power, and dangerous trappings, of nostalgia, and examines how yearning for an entirely mythologized past led us to where we are today — which means, of course, how it managed to get us stuck with Trump. Danish cartoonist Clara Jetsmark is his writing collaborator for this “main feature” strip, but a secondary one focused on nostalgia in a more general sense, and a third centered around life in an antiseptic future featuring a character who lives out his days entirely within a series of interconnected skyways (something we know all about here in the Twin Cities) are shot through with similar themes of alienation — from the world in general, and our own lives in particular. As always, Kaczynski’s loose-but-precise linework is expert at conveying just the right amount of visual information in each drawing, and expanding from mini-comic to half-size with this issue really gives the art much more room to breathe and increases the effectiveness of pages that utilize a generous amount of negative space exponentially. The choice of purple as a “third color” along with the requisite black and white is an interesting one, and gives the proceedings an interconnected look to go along with the uniform tone. This is astonishingly smart, literate cartooning well worth the $6 asking price — but you don’t even have to pay that much since Kaczynski is offering it on sale at $4 right now. Jump on the following link and order it if you know what’s good for you :http://uncivilizedbooks.com/

Sticking with Uncivilized — and with broadly anti-Trumpian messaging — we next turn out attention to Jenny Schmid’s awesomely-titled White Supremacists Are Human Farts, a concise but heartfelt look at what it means to raise a young child in the shadow of all the hateful right-wing bullshit that’s going on right now. Schmid’s adopted daughter Sinee is also an immigrant, so this is understandably personal for the both of them, and starting the (standard-sized, with heavy cardstock cover) comic off with a visit to the Anne Frank Museum sets the tone for all that follows perfectly — which isn’t to say that it’s all doom and gloom, as there are some genuinely touching and humorous instances of mother-daughter interaction on offer here that actually make this comic as charming as it is topical. Schmid’s cartooning is richly-detailed and saturated under a veritable layer of gorgeous, heavy inks in a manner at least a little bit reminiscent of Phoebe Gloeckner, but it’s also infused with a subtle but ever-present undercurrent of visual optimism that matches the narrative tone of these short vignettes perfectly. $8 is admittedly a lot to pay for a 16-page comic, but this one if worth every penny. Available from the same website as above.

If you need a genuine “feel-good” comic to escape from the reality our first two books concern themselves with, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Joe Casey and Ulises Farinas’ New Lieutenants Of Metal #1, released this past Wednesday from Image. Casey is at his most interesting lately when working through his “mid-life shit” (if you’re reading this, Joe, there are a lot of us who still want to see the long-promised return of Sex), and that’s exactly what he’s doing in this deliriously fun mash-up that’s part love letter to Image’s foundational titles (specifically Youngblood), part Kirby tribute (especially as far as the dialogue goes), and part celebration of ’80s “headbanger” music. There are some welcome nods to contemporary social attitudes with the book’s positive portrayal of gender fluidity and its inherent understanding of the absurdity of the (bloodless, it must be said) ultra-violence it revels in — robotic monster trucks trashing a city is never gonna be a “mellow” scene — but for all that this is a comic that is neither terribly preachy nor especially stupid. It’s just fun — thanks in no small part to Farinas’ bright, energetic and, yes, “cartoony” art. This is slated to run four issues, I believe, and if they’re all this good, I won’t mind forking over $3.99 a pop for them in the least.

Last up we’ve got Jeff Lemire and Wilfredo Torres’ The Quantum Age #1, yet another spin-off from Dark Horse’s already-venerable (and already-heavily-franchised) Black Hammer series, and while it’s true that they’re milking this particular cash cow for all it’s worth and then some, I’m really not going to argue when the results are this consistently good. This time out the setting is the semi-distant future, and Lemire does a damn fine job extrapolating his concepts and characters into a new and decidedly dystopian setting, while losing none of the inherent charm that has made the (God I hate this term, but) “flagship title” such a favorite with fans and critics alike. There’s nothing terribly original going on here — mysterious protagonist seeks to bring back the (once again) departed heroes to save the world from what it’s become — but originality has never been Black Hammer‘s stock in trade in any of its iterations. Rather, it’s all about well-executed storytelling that breathes a welcome dose of new energy into the decidedly played-out subgenre of superhero revisionism by acknowledging that, much as we may think we’re too “cool” to admit it, these absurd caped adventurers mean something to us — and, furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Torres’ art here, that’s for sure (not something I’m always willing to say about his work), and when you take his economic, smooth style and pair it with the always-perfect hues of colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart, the results are very eye-catching indeed. This one’s also a four-parter, and also well worth its $3.99 price tag.

And that should do it for this Round-Up, but there’s plenty to look forward to next week,  including the first part of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s final League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, The Tempest, so join me back here in seven days when we take a look at that, plus whatever else strikes my fancy!