Why are wrestling books always so good?!
Dark Space: Good Deeds #1 (w: Che Grayson, a: Kelsey Ramsay)
Publisher: Image Comics
I'm admittedly biased because this book takes place in St. Augustine, FL and seems to have the exact same love/hate relationship I have with that city...
Two stories unfold parallel to one another. One story follows a writer trying to recover from some unknown incident five years prior. She is handed a puff piece on St. Augustine's 450th Founder's Day. The second story follows a high schooler whose mother just purchased an old diner in the same town. She's having a hard time fitting in at school but is excited to help her mother with this new stage of life. However, both women find themselves surrounded by something mysterious. Our writer keeps seeing a strange, haggard apparition, while our student is saved from an assault by a mysterious and violent haze.
While not much happens beyond character development in this first issue, a satisfying air of mystery has been established. I like the angle Grayson is taking, focusing on the history of St. Augustine as a backdrop for a story about ancient, almost druidic horrors. We honestly don't see much of these mysterious forces of nature beyond the establishing pages and the aforementioned mist, but it's a cool set up for a spooky tale. I like the art and the characters feel real enough to be empathetic. I really liked the first entry in the Dark Spaces collection, Wildfire, so I'm hopeful that this one can keep up that same excitement.
Ghostlore #1 (w: Cullen Bunn, a: Leomacs)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
If there's one thing Cullen Bunn does well (and there's more than that, but come with me on this), it's a ghost story that simultaneously feels new and different, but well steeped in traditional horror tropes. It's like getting a new blanket; same coziness you expect, but still a new pattern or color or size.
In this tale, we watch a family struggle to connect. The father is a paster watching his congregation walk away from the church slowly but surely, the mother is cynical and struggling to keep the family together, the teenage daughter is moody and ready to leave the minute she's 18, and the son... has just stopped talking, for some reason. It's very standard dysfunctional family, but because they're so easily relatable, Cullen's able to dive right into the meat of it all without too much exposition.
The meat, by the way, is a car crash. And that, my friends, is when it all gets weird. Body horror, demons, ghosts, lies... The vibe changes FAST, but in a good way. It's a pretty quick read, and while it doesn't up-end the genre in any way, it's still a tasty morsel for horror traditionalists.
Arcade Kings #1 (w/a: Dylan Burnett)
Publisher: Image Comics
This book is cool AF. If you've been around for a while, you know one of our favorite new (and sort of random) new genres of comics lately have been wrestling-centered tales. Not really sure what happened in the industry, but all of a sudden a TON of new stories all centered around the ropes started happening all at once, and what's even stranger is that most of them are really, really good! This one, thankfully, is no different.
Joe, our "dragonfruit-headed" protag walks into town just in time to watch a video game nerd get pummeled right outside an arcade. After interrupting the fight and saving the victim with some super cool fighting moves, they become friends and Joe starts crashing at the arcade, laying low and dominating the fighting games. Laying low from what, we only have vague details about until the last few pages, but it's safe to say he's wrapped up in some hostile crime syndicate of some kind and searching for someone important.
It's colorful, it's creative, it's both based in reality while solidly not at the same time. Dylan clearly has a vision for a Joe's upcoming adventure, and I'm really excited to see it play out.
Who doesn't love a good slasher?
Monarch #1 (w: Rodney Barnes, a: Alex Lins)
Publisher: Image Comics
On its surface, this is a story about kids surviving a horrific alien invasion.
At its heart, this is a story about the difficulties of finding love and peace in a harsh world full of violence and hate. It's about the things that the world shapes us to be in the face of all that. How refusing to let go of isolated moments in our life can destroy us. Monarch is a story about hope as much as it is a story about the lack thereof.
It's a cool book and I'm wary to say too much about the story itself to take away any of the impact. The art is wonderful and shockingly visceral. The characters are sweet and their pain resonates with the reader. Barnes and Lins have hit on some magic with this one. Go pick it up.
Harrower #1 (w: Justin Jordan, a: Brahm Revel)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
A nice, straight-forward slasher that seems to be setting up some significant beats dealing with PTSD, loss and conviction.
Harrower takes place in the town of Barlowe, New York: a town gripped by superstition. Legends in this town tell of the Harrower, an avenging spirit sent to punish the wicked. On Halloween night, as all the adults prepare to attend the Harvest Gala, Jessa and her friends are preparing for a night of high school debauchery. However, this particular Harvest Gala feels especially grim, being the ten year anniversary of a massive tragedy that rocked the town. We don't know much about what occurred, but Jessa lost her brother, and others in the town also lost young family members. As all the preparation builds, we see a police officer attacked by the Harrower himself. The officer admits to wanting to reveal some sort of secret and blaming others in the town for his demise. His son, Carter, discovers the body and decides to take his father's mission into his own hands.
As I said, Harrower delivers a nice, recognizable slasher premise. Halloween night, small town, teens out to get murdered. What it provides to enhance the experience are hints of a deep web of corruption among the adults in the town and a very upsetting betrayal toward the end of the book. There is something happening - some secret behind the Harrower that will hopefully provide a very shocking reveal down the line.
This is a great book for slasher fans or people who like a good "teens getting picked off one by one" horror story. For people who need more, I feel confident that this can please them too, whether it be for the folklore elements or the general sense of intrigue.
The Finder #1 (w: Christos Gage, a: Tomas Giorello)
Publisher: Bad Idea Comics
This book is a bit more actiony than what I typically prefer, but I really dig the overall premise. I am an absolute sucker for superheroes with very subtle powers, and the Finder fits the bill.
The story follows the eponymous Finder, a woman with the power to find anyone by resonating with something they cherish, as she carries out her duties of finding a kidnapped superhero, First Responder. We learn over the course of their interaction that this world is made up of two types of powered individuals: natural powers like the Finder, and scientifically enhanced powers like First Responder. The first category of hero make up the Ground Crew, a group of heroes who perform less than glamorous duties in order to set the stage for the enhanced heroes, known as Frontliners, to claim their glory or to clean up afterward. The Frontliners themselves are mainly government pawns, enlisted and enhanced by government units to perform bombastic tasks in order to grab media attention and whatnot. It's a really fascinating world, especially for anyone who likes superhero content like The Boys and such.
The story itself is a little bland. A lot of cliché action movie badass-ering, silly lines about being too tough for their own good, etc., etc. I did like the characters and the design of the world, just some of the dialogue felt a bit too "Vin Diesel movie" for me.
Anyway, cool book overall with some great art. Dialogue choices aside, I highly recommend.
Okay, so look....
The holidays happened and we were travelling a bunch. Then we got sick. Like the BIG sick, the *NINETEEN* sick, y'know. SO, we've missed some reading, but here are some things that have hit shelves recently that we think you should read. Here's to getting back on schedule moving forward.
Children of the Black Sun #1 (w: Dario Sicchio, a: Letizia Cadoniei)
Publisher: ABLAZE Publishing
This book is full of wonderful bait-and-switch moments. Taking place in a world where on two separate occasions the normal sun was replaced by a dark, ominous Black Sun. During the first of these events, millions lost their lives to despair. On the second, billions lost their lives to one another. We enter into a world trying it's hardest to feel hope. Ten years have past since the second event, and a collective paranoia has set over society. People want so hard to feel hope for a future free of more Black Sun events, but every slight negative emotion or chilly breeze is read as a sign of the end of days. People are angry, nervous, tired, and generally trying their hardest to keep it together.
Amidst this rising tension live the Children of the Black Sun, kids who were conceived during one of the two events. Though they sport grey skin, red eyes and white hair, science has found that they are genetically identical to normal human beings. Despite this knowledge, they are targeted by the increasing paranoia of their community resulting in discrimination and anger from their neighbors, classmates and even family members. We follow Matthew as he tries his hardest to earn the compassion and respect of his community: speaking in a soft, friendly way, constantly sporting a calm smile, and generally just being a good dude in the face of oppression. It is only when Matthew and his friend Clementine meet two older Children of the Black Sun from the first event that the kids realize what their true potential might be.
"Vampires, right?" But like, no. It doesn't seem to be vampires.
"So, the kids of the Black Sun are malicious, yeah?" I don't think so, no. Maybe? But it seems more like the world around them is malicious.
"Another Black Sun is coming, though, right?" Hard to say. After living through a pandemic, paranoia and societal infighting is scary enough without a big eldritch ball in the sky.
This is a nifty book. It's dark, dreary and oddly relatable. It hits on discrimination, specifically how painful it is being a child dealing with discrimination and having little control over it. Is it fantasy, is it horror, is it sci-fi: I honestly don't know. Super unique and fascinating, definitely gonna be a fun one to keep up with.
Black Cloak #1 (w: Kelly Thompson, a: Meredith McClaren)
Publisher: Image Comics
Good gracious, what an insanely cool book.
Black Cloak is a procedural crime drama set in a cyberpunk fantasy world full of corrupt elite, class conflicts and discrimination. This thick first issue drips with delightful world building as Thompson and McClaren carefully define the laws and layers of this beautifully dangerous world. We follow detective Phaedra Essex, a member of the law-enforcement agency known as the Black Cloaks, as she investigates the murder of her childhood friend and former lover. The murders pile up as Essex and her partner Pax dig deeper into the case. Eventually, Phaedra's own history is thrown into the mix as she has to meet with the victim's mother, the Elf Queen. We slowly learn about Phaedra's complicated history with her elven kin, namely that for some reason she's been exiled and they don't take very kindly to her presence.
This is just such a fantastic book. The story itself feels compelling and mysterious. The pacing through this first issue is spot on, providing enough additional detail to grasp your attention while leaving a strong air of mystery to keep you wanting more. McClaren's art is wonderfully adorable and fun, conflicting with the tone of the narrative in a way that provides a very interesting vibe to the book; one that challenges your initial preconceptions of the style at every twist and turn. Somehow magically, the art style fills the requirement for griminess and darkness expected by crime dramas or cyberpunk stories without dragging the whole tone down with it. It's a wonderfully playful art style and I'm glad I got to experience McClaren's work in such a fun setting.
It's a fun book, page after page, an absolute winner.
Gangster Ass Bartender #1 (w: Pat Shand, a: Renzo Rodriguez)
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Our pal Pat Shand continues making fun stories with fun characters.
Spinning out of one of our absolute favorite titles, Destiny NY, comes a story following Trinity, the foul-mouthed, Irish thug who is trying to turn over a new, less violent leaf as a barista. The first issue features illicitly earned money, the struggles of customer service, an annoying coworker, lady bikers, rotisserie chickens and more! It's a stellar, ultra-fun first issue for anyone looking for a character driven story grounded in a completely realistic and relatable world (give or take some details).
What I love so much about the Destiny, NY world and more expansively about Pat Shand's writing as a whole is how incredibly detailed all the characters get in just a few panels. It's admittedly been a while since I've read anything Destiny related, but diving in I instantly knew Trinity's motivations, her hopes and dreams, the subtle things that pull her forward, all of it. Destiny, NY, and by extension Gangster Ass Barista, should be taught in creative writing classes as examples of developing fleshed out, real characters quickly and efficiently. It makes these stories so much more endearing and compelling than a lot of the books I've read. 10 out of 10.
Moseley #1 (w: Rob Guillory, a: Sam Lotfi)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
I'll admit that I'm getting a little burned out on the techno-dystopian theme in comics. It seems that everywhere you turn, you're hit with a book about a dreary future where people are slaves to technology and our main character is somehow more enlightened than others but that just means the people they care about treat them like a luddite but then they turn out to be right and blah blah technology bad, put down your phones millennials and zoomers.
This book was in that category for me and I spent most of the first bits just eye-rolling and "here we go again"-ing. Then the last like 8 pages happen and suddenly I'm enthralled. Possible mysticism or some sort of human spirit, I don't truly know WHAT I'm looking at, but the "I'm enlightened that's why I do everything the hard way and discriminate against the status quo" character is suddenly a lot more neato. It felt reminiscent of the way I felt about "Do A Powerbomb" which went from fun character piece to whacky necromantic thrill ride in it's last two pages.
Rob Guillory does a good job keeping interest up in the first few pages with solid character writing and a veil of mystery as to what Moseley's role in the new world order actually is. The bloody knuckles ending of this book just adds to the overall mystery of the world, leaving the reader ever curious as to what makes Moseley so wonderfully special and what his goals will be going forward. I would love to see this book introduce some grey area. Make it so that Moseley's mystical crusade against technology isn't necessarily right or wrong. Make the robot overlords generally benevolent, even if at times misguided. There is a lot of really cool storytelling potential here and it is definitely a book for thrill seekers.
When it's King, you know it's going to be just the tip of the iceberg...
Art Brut #1 (w: W. Maxwell Prince, a: Martin Morazzo)
Publisher: Image Comics
If those creator names sound familiar, it's because they're the minds behind the critically acclaimed and absolute Cover B Certified Fresh series "Ice Cream Man." Art Brut is actually a remaster of sorts of this teams first collaboration, which was originally named The Electric Sublime and published through IDW. What we're getting now is a book with new covers, new lettering, new design and delightful Silver-Age styled backup stories.
Much like Ice Cream Man, Art Brut is wildly inventive and astoundingly fun. The story focuses around a man name Arthur Brut, who is referred to as "the Dream Painter." He is contacted by the Bureau of Artistic Integrity after a spate of tragic murders/suicides/terrorist attacks all surface surrounding a similar image and culminates in the Mona Lisa suddenly winking. As things come to a dramatic head in the investigation, we finally see exactly what makes Arthur so special in the world of art. At the center lies mysterious artistic powers, the nature of art and mental health, and a creative look into the history of some of the greatest works of arm mankind has ever produced.
While tonally very different from Prince's other works like Ice Cream Man and Haha, which both take a very bleak perspective on their various messages, Art Brut still drips of the magic and whimsy that is common among Prince and Morazzo's work. It's an adventure on par with some of the most popular stories out there, be it Sandman or Umbrella Academy or whatever else might tickle your fancy. Morazzo's blending of various art styles not only gives credit to their skill as an artist, but also gives the story such incredible depth and beauty. It's a wonderful book and absolutely deserving of a revival.
A Vicious Circle #1 (w: Mattson Tomlin, a: Lee Bermejo)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Let me just start by saying that if you've never read a book with art by Lee Bermejo, then you are in a for a treat. Bermejo's art is so incredibly visceral at the best of times, and this book is a prime example. Bermejo takes some risks here, splashing in a bunch of different uses of color and bouncing his style around, borrowing from various different styles to absolutely magical results. It's a wonder to behold page after page.
This isn't to say Tomlin's story isn't holding its own. A dark, neo-noir tale about a pair of time travelers locked in an endless struggle. It's fatalist, it's existential and it's captivating.
I can't think of the last time Boom! did a magazine sized issue, if ever, but this is an absolute homerun. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up before it becomes impossible to come by.
Danger Street #1 (w: Tom King, a: Jorge Fornés)
Publisher: DC Comics
Look, when you pick up a DC book from Tom King, you know there's going to be a LOT more coming from underneath the surface. This interesting little title definitely has that, but also has some very classic charm we haven't necessarily gotten from his other titles in the same vein. The internal pages are printed matte, like an old school newspaper run. The story has a narrator (Dr. Fate's half-helmet, to be exact) who tells of intertwining tales of princesses and ogres and knights...
... when in fact, we're watching a man try to break back into the news industry after clearly becoming a pundit, a bunch of kids stuff up traffic with a 15mph forerunner, and a group of heroes who want so badly to be a part of the League of Superheroes they can't see their bad decision making as it happens. When I say it's a lot, I mean it. But I'm also very, very excited to see what sort of uncomfortable, timely commentary King is bringing to us this time.
The future's so dark, I need to wear a headlamp...
Hexware #1 (w: Tim Seeley, a: Zulema Scotto Lavina)
Publisher: Image Comics
Tim Seeley does it again. He once again produces a comic that I fall in love with at the jump. Damn you, Seeley, you beautiful, beautiful mind.
Hexware is a Constantine story by way of Detroit: Become Human. We enter into a world in extreme class divide, with the rich and privileged, the aptly nicknamed "uppies," living in high rises above the city streets, and the less fortunate forced to endure a dank, dark world at street level. In the wake of a terrorist attack at a mall, a family suffers the loss of their teenage daughter Jesi. The family's android, who acts mainly as a maid and quality-of-life assistant, is forced to sit and watch as the family falls into their grief. Her programming compels her to constantly ask what she can do to help, eventually drawing the ire of the broken and mournful family. As a simple support unit, she is helpless. Until she suddenly springs into action and reads through the extensive collection of books the family has regarding paganism, mysticism and witchcraft. And here we find ourselves at the tagline for the book: "Why sell your soul when you can buy one...?"
Hexware is a beautiful mash-up of science and the supernatural. So often we see these two things crammed together in a way that results in one of them being more of a theme or set-piece than an actual setting. Whenever they are successfully blended, they result is some of the most unique examples of modern storytelling, and this book is definitely just that. Seeley quickly shows that he aims to truly examine how demons, souls, witchcraft, and other supernatural tidbits would interact in a world full of androids and advanced technologies. Moreover, it's that world itself that lends an exceptional quality to the story in that it's a world more advanced than that of the reader but not so advanced as to feel unreachable. Sure, we don't have in home androids, but we have AI slowly becoming more accessible, various companies working to bring robots to the masses, and entire generations brought up not knowing what it was like to not have interconnected supercomputers attached to our hips. This is a distant world, but it's not SO distant that it becomes hard to relate to, making the characters feel that much more real.
This book is a delight. I love it so very much.
All Against All #1 (w/a: Alex Paknadel & Caspar Wijngaard)
Publisher: Image Comics
All Against All is a fascinating story made even better by fascinating art. This book has a lot to offer and a lot to think on, from it's incredibly bleak outlook of the Earth's future to the existential nature of a race of aliens who inhabit the bodies of other creatures. The most interesting thing to me from the jump is that this is an alien invasion story told from the perspective of the invaders. Man-kind's position in the narrative seems to be that of an antagonist or even a monster. It's like someone threw an Uno-reverse card at a xenomorph.
We follow director B'tay, a highly decorated researcher for a race known as "the operators," as he examines the biomes of Earth, wherein his race is cultivating lifeforms that they apparently found in the Svalbard seed vault. The goal seems to be utilizing the animals of earth to build better bodies for their soldiers in order to end a war that we never see. However, B'tay has reservations for this goal and has restricted access to live specimens, making the station he operates one of pure observation. This lack of productivity has caught the eye of the military who have decided to step in and move things along.
All of the above takes place years after the book's opening scene, wherein Director B'tay comes face to face with a hostile human boy. By the end of the book, the boy has grown and is not too happy to see a new group of Operator scouts investigating his home.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot happening in this book. There's nepotism, a commentary on the military viewing people as tools, thoughts on conservation, reflections on loss, examples of panic attacks and anxiety disorders... It's a hefty think-piece wrapped in a beautiful, technicolor coat. It's absolutely stunning and a must read for sci-fi fans.
It's Only Teenage Wasteland #1 (w: Curt Pires, a: Jacoby Salcedo)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
I feel like a lot of comics nowadays are focusing on what it was like to be a teenager before - with lots of stories set in the '90s and early '00s, giving authors the opportunity to show what their world was like when they were teens, and pull on their own experiences. What was nice about this book is that it's from the perspective of teens right now, but it actually feels realistic. The things they say, the things they do, the behaviors they express, all feel true to teens today (from my limited experience with current teens & the relationships I see in others, anyway).
For the bulk majority of this book, those behaviors and actions are what matter. We follow Javi, a sort-of-in-the-closet-but-not-really teen boy, as he hangs out with friends and narrates his planning and throwing of a party while his parents are out of town. When the party gets crashed by the racist, sexist, homophobic d-bags no one invited, a fight breaks out and ends with... a massive twist out of left field that is not even a little bit hinted to or explained in the first book. Trust me, you won't guess it. Don't even try.
If you've ever seen the movie +1, it feels kind of like that. You're drawn in through a traditional teen-based story of relationships and clique-drama, only to be whisked away into some weird, (potentially?) sci-fi vibes that you can't reconcile and aren't entirely sure how it happened. I really like the characters they've established, and I'm interested to see where the heck this is going. Talk about a cliffhanger.
Know Your Station #1 (w: Sarah Gailey, a/ca: Liana Kangas)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
The first few pages of this book made my skin crawl - in a good way. From the beginning, we're introduced to "The First Resort - A Hub for the Future," and all the many drafts of marketing gobble-di-gook they worked through to get to that tagline. Then we meet, one-by-one, the C-Suite, all of which have nefarious, pro-capitalistic, marginally offensive backstories that generally make you feel really icky. Oh, and all the jobs on this station pretty well suck, too. The future is bleak for the not-1%, my friends.
The real story focuses on Elise, a Security Liason for the station, and an investigation into a brutal murder that just took place. Clearly, nothing like this has ever happened before, so they call in reinforcements from ground-level to help break the case. Before she knows it, Elise is wrapped up in something much darker than she knows how to deal with, and may be more involved than she even knows.
What I like about this book is that they subtly-not-so-subtly double down on horrible things being absolutely normal. For instance, Elise wakes up with an awful hangover, proclaiming she's quitting her job, only to receive some sort of medication provided by the ship's all-knowing AI that serves as the strongest upper I've ever seen - completely reversing her instinct to leave and pepping her step for the day ahead. It feels futuristic and surreal, but also, not. So much of our current news cycle is getting weirder and weirder, more and more dystopian, that this almost feels... about right? Like, if the world's richest men did have a pow-wow and decided to build a space station that accommodates their needs, this is exactly what it would be like. And honestly, I can't tell if I really like that sort of truth-telling, or kind of hate it. Either way, it makes for a compelling read.
Glasses that offer more than X-Ray vision...
Two Graves #1 (w: Genevieve Valentine, a: Ming Doyle, Annie Wu)
Publisher: Image Comics
I can't guarantee that I totally understand exactly what is happening in this book, but I find myself completely drawn into it. It's enigmatic in the ways that comic classics like Sandman are: cool and mysterious with emotions lingering just on the edge of the narrative, out of reach and building a strange tension. It's a dark book that ruminates on death at every corner, and in both tone and art style, it drips late '90s/ early '00s indie works.
A man with a smoky face and a young woman with a nihilistic streak are journeying to the east coast so she can lay her mother to rest. In the middle, we see them enacting vengeance for the dead, visiting people at the end of their life, and floating on a cliffside. We are unsure of the relationship of the two, and it seems they themselves don't truly know the nature of it. There are allusions to Greek myths, discussions of the nature of death and a general bleak romanticism permeated through the pages. The alternating art provides a unique flip-flopping of perspective throughout, giving the world each character exists in its own specific vibe.
From the title, I went in expecting another vengeance story in the style of a Brubaker title or a modern western like Undone by Blood. I suppose there is still room for this kind of story to develop, but the supernatural elements and ties to myth were a very nice surprise.
Specs #1 (w: David M. Booher, a: Chris Shehan)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
On the surface, Specs is a pretty straightforward "Kids on Bikes" story that flips the formula a bit by making the focus on things the kids themselves do instead of things happening in the world around them. In the '80s, two high school best friends are living their lives as outcasts. Our main character, Kenny, is struggling with his sense of identity as he navigates high school as a young gay man, a fact he keeps hidden from everyone around him, including his best friend, Teddy, who he confesses to being in love with. Meanwhile, Teddy is the only black student at his school, and his family appears to be one of the few, if not the only, black families in the town. The two deal with the expected amount of high school bullying that is common in these stories, but they stick together and do their best to defend each other. One day, Kenny receives a pair of wish-granting specs from one of those novelty ads found in an old comic book that belonged to his brother (who it seems has been kicked out of their home). They dive into the expected whacky antics of using the specs to get small amounts of cash, pass tests, win at video games, and many other silly 1980s shenanigans. They realize that the specs can't grant wishes too large, so things have to stay small. That is until the local bully, Skunk, comes at them with a knife and Teddy pushes a bit too hard.
Beyond that, Specs is a story about being disenfranchised in small town America. It's a story about what its like to get wins in a world that tries as hard as it can to keep you from success. Any win, however small it may be, feels magical or miraculous. It's a story about living under the weight of having to hide who you are, or the pain of not being able to hide who you are in a world that looks down on you for it. The struggles Teddy and Kenny have to endure are incredibly relatable to a lot of people, making their journey with the magic specs a fantasy deep from the hearts of those same people. David M. Booher is producing some of the finest queer stories in comics these days, and this is certainly not one to miss.
Knockturn County #1 (w: James E. Roche, a: Axur Eneas)
Publisher: Scout Comics
The first issue of Knockturn County consists of two stories under the premise of "Dr. Seuss but DARK." The first story plays out much as you'd expect: It's a story of drugs and murder and deceit all done in the cartoony art style and simplistic rhyme structure of a Dr. Seuss book. While it's fun, it's pretty generic as far as stories go. It's a noir tale about a cop falling for the girlfriend of a mob boss and ends about the way you'd expect. This story admittedly almost made me stop reading in that it was just too generic. We have seen so many "kids-focused IP but DARK" stories that rarely do more than just make the character do drugs and get naked. As such, I figured this book was going to just be another flash in the pan as many of its predecessors were. Then I got to story #2.
The second story in this book is about abuse, plain and simple, and while it is simplistic by nature in its structure, there is so much being said subtly about the ramifications of abuse and the effects it has on a child's mind. It was horribly dark and not an uplifting story at all, but it was an amazing use of a very specific storytelling style to portray something powerfully. It was fascinating to experience and I hope the rest of the stories in this series tackle equally as important subjects. This is published under Scout's "Nonstop!" imprint, so the next we'll see of Knockturn County will be a full trade paperback, which I definitely plan to pick up.
Just let people buy good books!
Orc Island #1 (w: Joshua Dysart, a: Alberto Ponticelli)
Publisher: Bad Idea
As with all Bad Idea titles, I am gonna preface by saying DO NOT BUY THIS THIRD PARTY YOU ARE OVERPAYING AND FEEDING INTO A SYSTEM SPECIFCALLY MANIPULATED BY BAD IDEA'S GIMMICKY STYLE.
Anyway, now that that's out of the way, this book was incredible. I am endlessly frustrated that some of the coolest, most unique stuff is coming out of a company whose sole focus seems to be making comics as predatory as possible for a laugh.
Orc Island is a familiar fantasy story in a lot of ways. A young street rat Half-Elf lives in a world of extreme economic disparity. The poor get to live in lower, filthy places called "shit alley" while the "High Patriarchs" live on floating temples of elegance and debauchery. One day, our main character, Cerrin Son Sion, is given the opportunity to earn some money fighting for the entertainment of the Patriarchs. He does a stunning job, though is nearly executed for saying some offensive things in the court. Having lost any opportunity to fight again, he is approached by a woman with a dangerous proposition: they are adventuring to Orc Island to collect skulls.
Again, a familiar fantasy premise of impoverished rascal is granted opportunity they never would have expected, but what sets Orc Island apart is two-fold. First, the bleakness of it. Cerrin is not a hopeful dreamer, he is a nihilist. His attitude and criminal actions are all in response to his no longer caring if he lives or dies. He isn't adventuring because he feels like he was made for more than what his life in poverty grants him, as many fantasy heroes do. He is adventuring because he feels he has nothing to lose. This unique and weirdly refreshing pessimism is then supported by Ponticelli's absolutely stunning art and character design. AT first glance, this feels like another "Fantasy but the Future" book in the vein of Shadowrun or the many books that take this approach. However, as you move through it, you see that while some modern or more futuristic styling exists, it all still remains archaic and magical. It's a very interesting style where everything feels so advanced and yet so medieval. The floating temples, for example, feel like many sci-fi vessels we've seen in the past, and yet they are effectively just slabs of marble levitating through the power of teams of sorcerers who are eventually driven mad from their service. Honestly, it feels very Warhammer 40K at times, just with less oil and cable. The characters are all brightly colored in various shades, and Matt Hollingsworth's colors make this elaborate magical world absolutely pop. I love the brightness as it works against the bleakness of the narrative. It's a dissonance that doesn't detract from the story but instead serves to enhance the mystique of the world we're experiencing.
There is a backing story by Mike Carey (w) and Kano (a) that is about Noah's Ark and is absolutely hilarious. I would be remiss if I didn't mention it as well and give it a big ol' thumbs up.
One day, if Bad Idea just stopped the gimmicks and printed comics, they would go down as one of the best publishers to exist in the industry ever. Unfortunately, we're already too into the gimmicks, so thus is life. If you're able to get your hands on Bad Idea books, I recommend. If you local doesn't carry them and/or hoards them until they're able to sell them online, pass and go find something else to read. Also, maybe report your shop to Bad Idea for giggles.
Behold, Behemoth #1 (w: Tate Brombal, a: Nick Robles)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
A social worker and a child at the brink of the apocalypse.
After the death of his brother, Greyson finds himself plagued with visions. He's losing time and seeing horrible, dark things. He sees monsters and demons. He see himself fighting back, destroying his enemies. At the same time, a young girl he's responsible for checking on finds herself without a family. She finds herself caught in a web of violence and destruction. All the while, the world crumbles around them both.
This book is wonderful, no other words to say. It's another book with a unique look on apocalypse storytelling, similar to Last House on the Lake, that focuses as much energy on the actual ending world as it does on the ended world. It's a deep, dark and painful read. I love it so much.
The Ones (w: Brian Michael Bendis, a: Jacob Edgar)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
I'm gonna start by saying that I am not offended by the F-word. I use it plenty in my day to day, probably well more than I should. That said, someone needs to take that word away from BMB. I feel like every new indie title I read from Bendis is just panel after panel of F's. He is one of those writers that we've talked about in the past that likes to throw it into the middle of words and it just makes the whole bit of dialogue cringe and awkward. I challenge you, Bendis, to write ONE book with no F-Bombs. See what you can do, friend.
All f***ing-griping aside, this book was pretty awe-f***ing-some. This book follows a man creating a team of heroes in order to stop a great evil from consuming the world. The catch is that all the heroes are "chosen ones," or people with some form of prophetic or fate-determined heroism. The group itself is comprised of a series of familiar pastiches, from Superman to Buffy to a man filling the trope of "chosen one baby" who never did anything beyond being a baby who was a chosen one. It's a fun cast of characters, and Edgar's design for them is rooted in our familiarity but with just enough uniqueness to feel fresh and fun. I personally think this is some of Bendis's better character writing I've seen. The characters seem very unique from one another and there isn't a ton of Bendis's own voice draped over them, which is a trend in his writing that I know divides some people. So, F-Bomb addiction aside, I think this is a slam dunk for BMB. The overall "mission" of the group is a bit bland and not anything we've not really seen before, but I'm hoping that the fun cast of characters working together and perhaps some creative writing choices keep everything feeling fresh.
Nature's Labyrinth #1 (w: Zac Thompson, a: Bayleigh Underwood)
Publisher: Mad Cave Comics
It's like Cube by way of Squid Games, and I mean that in the best way. Sure, there are some beats from both that crop up, but it's issue one and those things are somewhat necessary for establishing the stakes of a story like this. It's forgiveable.
Nature's Labyrinth sees the winners of some kind of tournament from all over the world finding their way onto a cruise ship. They party and chat, drink and dance. Eventually, they are invited to dine with the captain, and then things take a sharp turn. When the drugs wear off, they find themselves on an island somewhere, split into small groups, and then the rules of the game are explained to them.
Again, it's nothing revolutionary, but there are some mysteries afoot that I always find compelling whenever we get a story like this. I think Thompson and Underwood have done a good job making an interesting cast of characters, and our main protagonist is compelling in a stoic action hero kind of way. We learn a small tidbit about her later that makes things even more interesting. The highlight of the whole thing is Bayleigh Underwood, who is just an absolutely delightful artist. I first experienced their work in Marvel Action Thrillers, and I truly hope to see them more. The art in this book is loud and fast-paced, with moment of action sweeping smoothly from panel to panel. Underwood's drastic choices in the anatomy of characters builds such a bizarre and almost absurd world, and I am stoked to see them design even more deadly traps deep in the labyrinth.
The internet can be a dark and nasty place...
Lovesick #1 (w/a: Luana Vecchio)
Publisher: Image Comics
I almost didn't write about this one because I was having a hard time organizing my thoughts. This book is weirdly powerful in a lot of different ways. First, much like Piskor's Red Room, it takes a look at a (possibly) dramatized idea of these dark corners of the internet and the horrible things people say or do there. While I'll leave the validity of "red rooms" up to those more familiar with the Dark Web than I, I have seen first hand the disgusting things people can say online when protected by a wall of anonymity. In books like this, it's always the realness of the chatrooms that hits me. I admit to feeling a bit triggered at first in a "wow, they're gonna really GO there" kinda-way, but it's worth it. What seems like shock for shock's sake is an important call out. If you've never experienced some of the more hate-filled corners of the internet space, it might be easy to write off the things said in the chat windows of these books as over-the-top or unrealistic, but it's really not. It's time we start making these communities, these hate-filled men the true villains of the story. Much in the way the She-Hulk made the more misogynistic side of Marvel fandom the literal villains of her series, so too do these books shine a light on these dark, vitriolic communities. Sure, it's no secret that the internet is full of shitty people, but too often I feel it just gets written off as "trolls" and not taken as seriously as it should. Our art and media should reflect that reality, that danger.
This book also takes a wild look at consent as a concept. CAN consent have a dark side? What happens if you consent to too much and lose yourself along the way? Whose responsibility is it to dial you back? In this book we have men gleefully signing up to be victims of torture and murder. They want their final moments to be broadcast to an audience of thousands. They consent to this fully and are given what they ask for. We know little about the process at the moment, but it's assumed that there are lists and rules. I think there is an incredible analysis here both of the nature of social media and how it relates to things like violence and suicide, namely the idea that people will do incredible things for so called "clout," but also the idea of consent as a weapon wielded by a group of women. I won't get too involved in picking this analysis apart here (though I'm tempted to do a deeper dive if I'm being honest), but there is something to be said about the shift in power dynamic of women demanding consent from men to perform horrible acts, whereas the inverse in our real world often finds consent ignored, dissected, or discarded.
Finally, I think the character of Domino is absolutely fascinating and refreshingly unique. In the back pages of the book, Vecchio discusses her early concepts and sketches for the character. She mentions that a friend of hers once asked why the character always looks so sad. It's that morose quality that fascinates me. Often characters in these spheres, either that of BDSM communities or of the darker and deadlier internet side, exist as one of two tropes: the repressed and rage-filled animal or the playful, lusty controller. Domino holds more of a somber quality. She seems to want to do what she's doing, and certainly seems to enjoy it, but her focus seems to be more on the emotions and results of the action than the action itself. In a way, I liken her to more of a Pinhead character than that of a lingerie-clad slasher. She seeks to give something back to those she performs her work on. She also seems to want something in return, and I am excited to watch Vecchio perform a deep analysis on this character.
Sara Lone #1 (w: Erik Arnoux, a: David Morancho)
Publisher: Sumerian Comics
A story of mobs, murder and mystery. Joy Carruthers, whose stage name is Sara Lone, is called back to Texas from New Orleans with the death of her father, who was found gruesomely murdered on a beach. This kicks off a series of events that finds Joy in the crosshairs of the mob, manipulated by a shady federal agent, and wrapped up in a potentially cursed treasure. This book has a lot going for it, from a very nostalgic (at times old-fashioned) serial feel to a very pleasant art style. It's a hefty, text forward book and is definitely worth checking out for noir fans out there. Sure, at times it relies a bit too heavily on themes of it's period, basically turning every male character into a manipulative piece of crap, but I'm interested to see if going forward the creators let Joy shine as a strong, driven female lead. They've laid the foundation for an eventual rise above the misogyny, but we don't see it happen in book one. Still, this was a fun read, and there are a whole bunch of threads happening that will be fun to see conclude.
Damn Them All #1 (w: Simon Spurrier; a: Charlie Adlard)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Well then - I guess Si didn't feel like he was done with Constantine, either. Remember how mad I was when it ended, and I wanted more? Remember when I complained because it was basically my favorite book and I felt we just didn't get enough and that only Spurrier truly understood how to write that grumpy bloke the right way? I'm getting the vibe he felt similarly.
This has all that tasty, foul-mouthed, magic-doer goodness, but gives us a female "protag" (heavy air-quotes there, for now anyway) in Ellie, who works for a bunch of mobsters and has about the same level of self deprecation that big John C. always had. It's all that spicy UK underworld stuff mixed with demonic underworld stuff and I'm just so excited this book is happening I'm not really sure what to do with myself. If this book could last forever? I'd be down. If they wanted to give it a TV show? Even-bloody-better.
Okay, I don't write comics, but if I did, they'd have a samurai...
Hack/Slash Hot Shorts One Shot (w: Tim Seeley, Daniel Leister, a: Felipe Sobreiro, Triona Farrell, Carlos Badilla)
Publisher: Image Comics
Look, I'm always gonna want to talk about Hack/Slash. This series is one of my long standing favorites and while it hasn't always been perfect, I just can't get enough. This book features 3 short stories set in the H/S universe. The first follows Johnny Cash (not named such in the story but obviously Johnny Cash) as he has a weird vision of Elvis's death at the hands of demons and/or otherworldly beings. He decides at that point to dedicate to fighting evil. Story #2 is simply Cassie and Vlad, seemingly early in their relationship, washing blood off each other. The final story follows Mary Shelley Lovecraft, a reality skipping villain who feeds on fiction, who has found herself trapped in a superhero universe and absolutely hates it. The stories themselves are definitely more targeted at the fans of H/S, as I don't know if they'd be as fun if you didn't already have some familiarity with the content. That said, it's Halloween time, so some fun little bite-sized tales of a sexy monster hunter can't be so bad. Also, there's a bunch of Dynamite cameos, so that's neat.
The Approach #1 (w: Jeremy Haun, Jason A. Hurley, a: Jesus Hervas, Lea Caballero)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
It's like 30 Days of Night meets the Thing.
This book has a really cool premise right off the bat. A small airport is receiving a plane for of passengers that got diverted in a snow storm. They go through the motions and we see that they are clearly not prepared for this kind of emergency. As they are taking in the passengers, a mysterious single-engine plane crashes to the runway. They manage to pull out the pilot, who unfortunately perishes from his injuries. What chaotic night, right?
As the power goes out, the crew prep for a long, cold night. At least it couldn't get worse.
Until the tower researches the tail number on that small plane... and someone goes to check on the deceased pilot...
Hitomi #1 (w: HS Tak, a: Isabella Mazzanti)
Publisher: Image Comics
Oh dang, this is a cool book. A samurai tale of vengeance and regret. We follow a young girl on her journey through the cold mountainlands as she seeks out a samurai that killed her family. Meanwhile, we follow said Samurai as he is currently older and employed as a sumo wrestler, traveling with his small group from town to town in hopes of earning a charter back home. Eventually, the two paths collide as the Samurai saves the girl from frigid waters, unaware that her quest ends in his blood.
This book was described as a Kurosawa/Tarantino fusion, and I can't honestly think of a more fit description. The art is absolutely beautiful, just dripping with respect for the culture and history of the world in which the story takes place. This is some top tier comic work and it is NOT one to miss.
Chilling Adventures of Salem (One-Shot) (w: Cullen Bunn, a: Dan Schoening)
Publisher: Archie Comics
You can always count on Cullen Bunn to come in with a Halloween goodie, and you guys know I can't pass up an Archie Horror book. This one is simple, classic, and perfectly paced - Sabrina's cat Salem, who was formerly a magician/warlock who got bound to being a cat for doing something nefarious, finds out someone is trapping demonic entities inside people's lost pets. Normally I shudder at this kind of thing, being an animal-lover and all, but I can't get mad when the bad guy gets what's coming to him. The art is that same delicious vintage-gothic-Sabrina flavor, and the writing is perfect for the spooky season. A quick read, but a good one to get you in the Halloween mood.
You can't kill the metal...
Briar #1 (w: Christopher Cantwell, a: Germán Garcia)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Cantwell's strength has always been his ability to look at narratives from a creative, often unexpected angle, and Briar is a perfect example of this. This book is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty wherein the princess was never awoken by love's true kiss, or whatever fairy tale nonsense. Instead, she is left in perpetual sleep as her family's kingdom falls to ruin. When the shattered remains of her castle are raided by a lone thief a hundred years later, the thief decides to steal a smooch in addition to stealing her necklace, which awakens Briar Rose into a horrible, twisted new world full of danger. She soon meets a Norrish woman who calls herself "Spider," and the two women are thrust into a campaign of survival. Dripping with style and Cantwell's brand of subtle humor, this book is an absolutely fascinating tale beautifully rendered by the softness of Garcia's art. Incredible book and easily the next big thing.
The Roadie #1 (w: Tim Seeley, a: Fran Galán)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cringe lyrics and bad takes on music aside, this is a pretty fun book. It comes in with a very Tim Seeley premise: A Heavy Metal roadie who is the son of a warlock and travels around with bands so he can banish the demons they inadvertently summon with their gosh dern devil music. Mixed in is a commentary on the evolving nature of the music industry and what it's like being those that have been left behind. Now, it's possible that said commentary could go in the "thems was better days, darn this hip hop music" kind of direction, and while we see two characters dunk on rap music, it's possible that line of thinking is just limited to the characters themselves and establishing their POV instead of that of the creators, which I'm hoping is the case. Time will tell. Anyway, our lead man Joe is living a mostly boring life as the tide of Heavy Metal has slowed in recent years. He works at a car shop and lives modestly - until he is contacted by a demon and drafted into saving the world from a rising demonic power out to assassinate a daughter he never knew he had. It's old school heavy metal versus MAGA vs pop music. It's weird, but I dig it.
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