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.
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