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.
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