Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/15/2020 – 03/21/2020, The Upshot Of It Is —

Don’t look now, but there’s a new publisher on the scene. AWA (short for Artists Writers & Artisans) is the brainchild of a pair of former Marvel head honchos (Axel Alonso and Bill Jemas), and right in the midst of the COVD-19 pandemic they’ve rolled out their Upshot comics imprint with no less than four titles in one week. Let’s take a look at ’em —

Unquestionably the “flagship” release of the company’s first wave is The Resistance #1, featuring the return to comics of one-time “fan favorite” writer J. Michael Straczynski, here teamed with superstar artist Mike Deodato Jr. This book has one of those immediately “ready for Hollywood” type of premises, centered as it is upon a global disaster (seem familiar?) that suddenly and inexplicably causes several thousand survivors across the globe to manifest super powers in its wake. I dunno, the story’s competent enough and plenty interesting, but it has a workmanlike quality to it that I found both difficult to put my finger on precisely and somewhat uninspired at the same time. Deodato’s art is anything but, however, and he’s pulled out all the stops here to make sure this series — and this line of books in general — lands with a huge splash. As a general rule where he goes, I follow, so chances are I’ll be picking up all six issues of this one.

Hooking itself upon a “religious vigilante” premise that doesn’t seem completely thought-through, Archangel 8 #1 is a bit of a mixed bag. Michael Moreci is the writer and co-creator of one of my favorite series going at the moment, Vault’s Wasted Space, but I dunno — the idea of God’s own version of The Punisher kicking ass in the ongoing war between heaven and hell just seems a little goofy to me, and the wooden dialogue doesn’t really help, even if it makes a kind of thematic sense. The art by C.P. Smith — a name I confess I’m not familiar with — is pretty damn solid, though, and kind of has a low-rent Bill Sienkiewicz vibe that isn’t especially original, but is gritty enough to get the job done, reminiscent of early-days Sean Phillips. I’ll probably give this one more month to impress me, just ‘cuz why not.

More up my alley was Red Border #1, a timely and topical horror book (one of two in Upshot’s initial roll-out) about a pair an idealistic young Mexican couple on the run from the cartels who cross over into the US only to end up “rescued” by someone who says his family will take care of them — but odds are that his family is probably reminiscent of the Sawyer clan from Texas Chain Saw Massacre . Jason Starr’s script is tight and dramatic, his characterization is pretty well spot-on if very much done in broad strokes, and Will Conrad’s art is detailed, crisp, and maybe a little too slick for its own good at times, but still has plenty of personality under the moody sheen.  Probably my favorite book of the foursome.

Or not? Because the new imprint’s other horror debut, Hotell #1, is pretty damn solid, as well. The script by John Lees has a definite EC vibe to it, but thoroughly updated for modern readers, with the owner of the dingy roadside Pierrot Hotel (off Route 66, no less) serving as our Crypt Keeper stand-in and relating stories about his guests, anthology-style. The subject of Lees’ first stand-alone yarn is a young pregnant woman named Alice on the run from her abusive husband — but it’s what she can’t outrun that’s even more dangerous. To say anything more would be to say too much, but this is actually creepy AF and Dalibor Talajic’s suitably low-fi art is absolutely pitch-perfect for this kind of material. Pass on this one at your peril, it’s really good.

So that’s AWA/Upshot round one. All in all, kinda promising, especially as far as their horror comics go. The one bummer about the line is that despite its co-operative sounding name and their pledge that they offer creators “the best deal in the business,” these books actually aren’t creator-owned. But that’s a topic I’ll be tackling in more detail in a day or two when I devote a write-up to the inner workings of the company itself on my Patreon — which I always close these columns by reminding you to check out, anyway. Here’s the link : :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/29/2018 – 05/05/2018

Prepare to be buried underneath a first-issue avalanche, unleashed upon you fair readers well before the week is over because your humble host is going to be out of town this weekend —

I have no idea what prompts a creator to launch a new series when a couple of the ones he’s already supposedly working on (LowSeven To Eternity) appear to have gone AWOL, but nevertheless, Rick Rememder and Image figured that now was as good a time as any to release Death Or Glory #1 — and with superb French artist Bengal on board, I guess I’d be itching to show it off, as well. Something of a socially- and politically-conscious take on the Fast And Furious franchise, this tale of bad-ass female street racer Glory attempting to pull off the first in a series of brazen robberies in order to get the money to pay for a liver transplant needed by her off-the-grid-living father figure sends plenty of mixed messages — Remender seems to venerate hard-core libertarianism on the one hand while pleading for nationalized health care on the other — but one thing that’s pretty straight-forward is this book’s full-throttle action scenes, which Bengal illustrates with considerable flair and fluidity. This is a “cinematic” book all the way, and one no doubt developed with eventual Hollywood exploitation in mind, but I’m not going to hold  that against it (much) simply because the results so far are immediately arresting and damned exciting. If Remender can avoid his usual penchant for turning his various titles into four-color psychotherapy sessions, as well as keep to some kind of regular publication schedule, who knows? This could prove to be something special. At the very least, this extra-length (and extra-priced, at $4.99) debut installment offered enough, particularly as far as the art goes, to get me to come back for the next one.

Previous projects such as The SpireGodshaper, and Motherlands have shown that Simon Spurrier has a real penchant for what’s now usually called “world-building” — particularly of the high-concept fantasy variety — and in Boom! Studios’ Coda #1 he’s at it again, limning the broad-stroke borders of a civilization where magic is not only real, but is widely-acknowledged as being the cause of a societal apocalypse of some sort. The book is populated with its fair share of con artists — not the least of which is our protagonist, who at least is pulling his various and sundry shady dealings in order to free the soul of his wife from supernatural bondage — but fantastic creatures and exotic wasteland locales abound, as well, all brought to stunning life by artist Matias Bergara, who imbues the proceedings with a distinct, and very welcome, Eurocomics sensibility by way of some stylish surrealism. I liked the story, loved the art, and definitely feel like I got my money’s worth and then some with this 48-page first issue, which also features heavy-duty cardstock covers and nice, thick paper (both of which are at least similar, if not identical, to what Boom! uses for Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’ soon-to-be-concluded Grass Kings), so count me in for the foreseeable future on this one.

On the “Big Two” front, Marvel is cashing in on the success of Avengers : Infinity War with yet another Avengers #1 comic, this one from the creative team of writer Jason Aaron and artist Ed McGuinness, and this time around they’re going for an “old/new” mix with the team’s line-up, with mainstays Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man  being joined by on-and-off members Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, and one complete newcomer, the Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider. It was fun to see Jack Kirby’s Celestials back front and center, but apart from that this comic was a strictly by-the-numbers affair, with Aaron establishing the sketchy outlines of the threat that brings the new team together but little else, and McGuinness cranking out some rather dull, uninspired, standard-issue superhero art. You get some extra pages with this opening salvo, though not enough to justify the $4.99 price tag, but what’s really lacking here, in addition to consumer-friendliness, is a reason to stick with the title. About as bog-standard as shit like this gets — which is very bog-standard indeed.

I have no idea why Action Comics Special #1 exists. It appears that DC had one last Dan Jurgens-scripted story (this one illustrated by Will Conrad) ready to go, but nowhere to put it with Bendis taking over the Superman titles, as well as a “leftover” holiday-themed story from Max Landis and Francis Manapul that either wasn’t quite ready in time for DC Universe Holiday Special #1 or simply couldn’t fit in with that book’s page count, so they took the two of them, padded things out with a new story featuring Lois Lane at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (how’s that for being accidentally timely) written by Mark Russell and drawn by Jill Thompson, slapped a five-dollar price tag on the whole package, and called it a “special.” It’s really only the Russell/Thompson strip that is, in fact, anything special, though, with the Lex Luthor-centric Jurgens/Conrad yarn being absolutely average in terms of both script and art (as you’d probably expect), and the Landis/Manapul “thang” being nice enough to look at and competently written — but not the kind of thing you’re going to be particularly interested in reading in fucking May. Save your time and money and skip this “inventory story” collection.

That should do it for this time out, but Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, and even though I’ll be in the great Pacific Northwest, something tells me I’ll find time to pop into a comic shop and grab a few of the offerings, so those are probably what we’ll look at when next we convene our column in, oh, about ten days or so. Hope to see you then!