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It’s the general consensus among comics fans these days that Rick Remender is absolutely killing it on his various and sundry creator-owned Image titles, and while his unique combination of four-color personal psychotherapy session/homage to fill-in-the-genre is a bit more hit-or-miss for me as a reader (Deadly Class being the only one that, for my money, never misses) than it is for many , even at their most clunky and heavy-handed titles like Low and Black Science remain thoroughly readable affairs whose earnestness is, at the very least, honest — even when it’s laid on a bit too thick. And he always gets the best artists to work with him, doesn’t he?

The recent wrap-up of Tokyo Ghost (and speaking of the best artists, how about Sean Gordon Murphy’s work on that book?) has left a gap in Remender’s apparently-24/7 production schedule, but fear not : no sooner does that series end than Seven To Eternity begins, which sees our guy Rick re-teamed with his old Fear Agent collaborator, the one and only Jerome Opena.

The idea here appears to be another updating on the Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven premise, albeit transposed to another planet, with one Adam Osidis, de facto leader of a clan of outcasts, as our chief protagonist. His adversary is the so-called “King Of Whispers,” or “Mud King,” a creature who excels at taking over cities/towns/outposts/whatever by means of the quiet but effective smear campaign coupled with empty to promises to fulfill the deepest desires of one’s heart, so that could be interesting — although it’s hard to see how it’s going to lead to much actual, ya know, combat and what have you.

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So-called “world-building” is the order of the day, then, in this debut installment, and Remender does a decent enough job giving his characters reasonably distinctive “voices” and imbues the proceedings with enough “broad-stroke” descriptions of the alien civilization he’s brewed up in his head to keep you interested in finding out more while eschewing the crass and clumsy “info-dump” at the same time. It’s a tricky balance for any introductory chapter, to be sure, but he manages to thread the needle just fine to start things off, and as we get introduced to our inevitably larger cast and more aspects of their society in future segments, one can only hope he continues to walk the fine line as successfully as he does here.

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I’m not going to kid you, though — the art is the real star of the show in this comic, and Opena has infused his work with a cinematic flavor (right down to movie poster-style covers!) that results in a level of greatness only hinted at previously. You know the old cliches about when you can tell someone is “pulling out all the stops” and “taking it to the next level” and all that shit? Well, in this case it’s absolutely true, and Matt Hollingsworth’s surprisingly vibrant color palette adds the finishing touches to work that is, as you can see from the samples included here, flat-out gorgeous — even, dare I say it, breathtaking at times.

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So, what the heck — count me in. The extra-sized first issue gives you pretty solid value for your $3.99, but even when we get “cut back” to a regular page count next issue, odds are that it’ll still be well worth the price of admission. I have no doubt that Remender won’t be able to resist his moralistic excesses at some juncture in the (probably very near) future, but as long as those aren’t indulged in to the point of subsuming his actual storyline, and as long as Opena continues to absolutely amaze, Seven To Eternity should prove to be a more than welcome addition to your pull list. It’s definitely got a spot on mine.

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The recent, tragic resolution to the Jacob Wetterling case here in Minnesota got me thinking back to other, dare I use the term, “famous” missing children stories of years gone by, and when I noticed that Netflix had recently added the 2014 documentary Who Took Johnny (I know, I know — I think the title should have a question mark in it, too, but it doesn’t), which focuses on the 1982 disappearance of then-paperboy Johnny Gosch while on his morning delivery route in West Des Moines, Iowa,  to their streaming queue (which is probably your only way to see it given that it’s not, to my knowledge, available on either Blu-ray or DVD), I decided to give it a go the other night. The idea that anyone would abduct or otherwise harm a child is anathema to most of us, I would hope, and the plight of any missing kid’s desperate parents is certain to be a tough thing to witness, but I dunno — I just felt it almost necessary to see what this one was all about.

Directed by the RumuR, Inc. crew of David Bellinson, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley, this flick quickly transitions from an examination of the particulars of the case —which was originally treated by the West Des Mines PD as a standard-issue “runaway” scenario — into a character study of Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosh, and her relentless pursuit of answers, which has cost her much : her marriage, her standing in the community, perhaps even her sanity. I understand that a shorter, 45-minute version of this 81-minute film aired on MSNBC, and while I didn’t see that, my assumption is that it probably trimmed things down to a more “nuts and bolts” package that would necessarily omit a lot of the laser-like focus on Noreen, and that’s a shame, because that’s where the truly heart-wrenching stuff is to be found here.

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Early on, Johnny became one of the original “milk carton kids” that traumatized many of us who were of a certain age in the mid-1980s over our breakfasts, and lots of leads turned up as to his potential whereabouts, but most of them turned out to be dead ends. That didn’t stop his mother from pursuing pretty much all of them, though, and as the case has grown “colder” over the ensuing years and decades, her single-minded determination hasn’t dulled in the least. And while parents such as the Wetterlings (mother Patty Wetterling in particular) have channeled that same sense of grief and unknowing into establishing national networks to help find missing and/or exploited children and gotten legislation passed at the local, state, and even federal legislation passed to help their cause,  becoming respected pillars in their community in the process, Noreen’s propensity for grasping at any and every straw has resulted in her own near-ostracizing in her hometown, where she’s viewed by many as a sad flake who “lost it” somewhere along the way.

Would — or, for that matter, could — any of us do any differently if it was our kid, though? She certainly does her part to help others in her situation, as the filmmakers here show, but as the years have gone on she has, for whatever reason, become convinced that her son’s disappearance ties into a secret “pedophile ring” of wealthy and powerful elites that isn’t just protected by the government itself, but is ensconced right within it. I don’t rule that out as being a possibility — Lord knows the privileged class has plenty of time on their hands for debauchery of the most vile sort if that’s their “bag” — but there is scant concrete, physical evidence to bolster that assertion in this particular instance, the “testimony” of one Paul Bonacci, who claims to have helped abduct Johnny when he was only a kid himself and part of this supposed “network” is unreliable in the extreme, and the cottage industry of so-called “conspiracy theorists” that have glommed onto the Gosch tragedy often have less-than-pure motives of their own for wanting to shoehorn Johnny’s disappearance into their larger, and perhaps self-created, tapestry of nefarious goings-on.

I’m not necessarily saying they’re wrong — in point of fact I just don’t know — but let’s not kid ourselves : the likes of Alex Jones, David Icke, and other peddlers of “the global elites are coming to get you!” -style modern mythology stand to make a lot of money from those who, to quote The X-Files, “want to believe,” and for those pre-disposed toward buying into the idea of a “New World Order,” the notion of a global kidnapping ring that provides kiddie sex slaves for the Rockefellers and Kissingers of the world fits in pretty easily.

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And while some of Noreen’s new “friends” may not be helping matters much, there are those who would argue that her own behavior is just as harmful. She claims, for instance, that Johnny himself came to visit her in the middle of the night some years back, and many folks in her area have taken that as either further evidence that she’s long since past the point of no return and exists now in a delusional pseudo-reality all her own, or that she’s so desperate to keep the case in the headlines that she’s willing to just plain make shit up in order to gin up a new round of media interest. I’m not willing to go that far — she seems too painfully sincere to me — but whether or not she thinks she was visited by Johnny means that she actually was is a question that I just can’t answer.

One thing I respect the hell out of her for, though, whatever her current mental state may be, is that she has absolutely never given up, and doesn’t appear to have any intention of doing so until she finds this increasingly-elusive “truth” that she’s after. I hope her son’s alive. I hope she’s reunited with him. And I hope no one else ever has to go through the living hell that she’s endured.

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In the final analysis, then, Who Took Johnny may not answer the question its own title (nearly) asks, but it provides a harrowing look into an understandably-damaged psyche and offers a portrait in determination and courage that makes for compelling, if unsettling, viewing.

 

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You know how it goes — you hear reasonably decent things about a film for some time, but for whatever reason, you just never get around to watching it. There’s always something else to see, read, or otherwise pay attention to, and something that you know you really should check out just ends up getting buried further and further down in the old baket of priorities.

Such was the case with me and Apartment 143 (or, as it’s known in its native Spain, Emergo), a Barcelona-filmed “found footage” number from 2011 directed by then-first-timer Carles Torrens and written by Buried director Rodrigo Cortes that’s been available on Netflix (as well as Blu-ray and DVD) for some time. Plenty of folks whose opinions I generally respect have had plenty good to say about it, but it never worked its way to the top of my “must-see” list for whatever reason. The other night, though, I decided to quit procrastinating and give it a shot, and ya know what? I’m generally pretty glad that I did.

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Fair enough, this tale of recent widower Alan White (played by Kai Lennox) and his kids Caitlin (Gia Mantegna) and Benny (Damian Roman) moving into a new spread after being essentially “haunted out” of their old one — only to have the same shit only worse happen to them here — is nothing even remotely “new.” And calling in a paranormal investigation team to check out the things going bump in the night is as predictable as a Perkins breakfast special. But I dunno. Maybe it’s the fact that the head “ghostbuster,” one Dr. Helzer, is played by Micahel O’Keefe of Caddyshack. Maybe it’s the fact that I watched it when I was dead tired and I appreciated the fact that even though it’s a Spanish production, the whole thing was filmed in English so I didn’t have to read subtitles. Maybe it’s the fact that a glaringly obvious rip-off scene from The Exorcist actually plays out more like a respectful homage rather than a tired rehash. Or maybe it’s just the fact that Torrens has accepted that his material has been done to death and is therefore determined do it a notch better than those who have come before him. Whatever the case may be, the simple truth of the matter is that Apartment 143 just plain worked for me even though by all rights it probably shouldn’t have.

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I’ll be dead honest with you, though — if you’re completely burned out on “shaky-cam” horror (an opinion I can absolutely respect even if that same level of fatigue has yet to set in with me), then I can’t really offer much of a compelling reason to give this one a shot. Yes, there is an added psychological dimension to the paranormal goings-on here that makes for a more engaging and intelligent viewing experience than we’ve become used to from this by-now-venerable sub-genre, and Cortes’ script deals with themes of grief, loss, and blame in a frank and considered manner, but if you can’t get past the fact that this is all very old hat, none of that is going to matter much to you for any reason.

If, however, you still hold out some hope for the whole “mockumentary” thing, then Apartment 143 will go some way toward reassuring you that all is indeed not lost. The performances are damn good across the board, the tension and suspense are actually quite palpable throughout, the scares are incredibly well-timed, and the atmosphere of dread and unease hanging over things is honestly pretty intense. Of course you’ve seen this all before — so what? The point of this film, it seems to me, is to give you a better-prepared serving of a dish you’ve sampled many times over, and if you catch me in just the right mood — as Torrens and Co. obviously did — I really have no problem with that.

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Consider this, then, a ringing — if highly qualified — endorsement : you know exactly what you’re getting into with a movie like Apartment 143, and if you’re still capable of getting something out of that, then I think you’ll find an awful lot to like here.

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I suppose it was inevitable at some point : having emptied the respective wells of every single “found footage” framing device well past the point most of us would consider to be bone dry,  a couple of enterprising young indie filmmakers — in this case Israeli low-budget would-be auteurs Doron and Yoav Paz (who have upped the ante in the self-branding department by capitalizing their collective “handle” of “The PAZ Brothers”) — have gone and given us the first “mockumentary” horror filmed through a pair of Google Glasses with their 2015 effort Jeruzalem. It’s a clever enough conceit (that will certainly be done to death within a few years) to keep you watching , to be sure — but is what our protagonist is seeing through her prescription-specific toy worth keeping an eye on? I’ll give you the particulars and you can decide for yourself :

Vacationing students Sarah Pullman (played by Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel Klein (Yael Groblas) are headed to Tel Aviv along with Rachel’s new high-tech optical gadget when a chance encounter with a reasonably charming anthropologist named Kevin Reed (Yon Tumarkin) triggers an abrupt change of plans that sees our leading ladies checking into a hostel in Jerusalem instead so that Sarah can let’s-not-call-it-pursue-things with Kevin a bit further. Fortunately for Rachel, the joynt’s run by a local twenty-something named Omar (Tom Graziani) who takes a shine to her (and vice-versa), so a double-date of sorts turns into endless days of partying, clubbing, and all that annoying shit college(ish)-age kids do. Until, ya know, one of the gates of Hell (conveniently located right beneath the city) opens up and an onslaught of demonic entities — including one that’s Cloverfield-esque big — show up to usher in the apocalypse. Then all bets are off and fast-paced “survival mode”-style scrambling becomes the order of the day.

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Fortunately for us all, Los Bros. Paz (or should that be “PAZ”?) know how to keep the pacing frenetic enough for you to not have time to be too terribly pissed off by the fact that you’ve seen all this before (albeit with the usual “shaky cams”), but their newfound gimmick does get pretty — well, gimmick-y — pretty fast, and the truly wooden and risible dialogue among the various leads goes from “not too annoying” to “okay, yeah, this is pretty goddamn annoying” well before the film hits its halfway point.

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All of which, I suppose, makes Jeruzalem sound like something of an endurance test, but it’s really not — the authentic location filming, well-staged chaos, and surprisingly decent CGI certainly keep the proceedings watchable enough, and the actors actually do their level best with the admittedly weak lines they’re asked to regurgitate. So there are any number of points for pure effort alone to be doled out to the principals both in front of and behind the camera here.

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Unfortunately, even collectively added together, this flick’s many “pluses” still don’t total up to anything like an essential viewing experience. I caught it on Netflix last night (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD is most regions, from what I understand) and it wasn’t the worst way to spend 94 minutes of my existence, but a final verdict of “well, heck, I guess that was worth a look” is hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

For hard-core “found-footage” fans like myself, sure, Jeruzalem offers an interesting wrinkle on the tried-and-true that makes for a fun enough diversion and/or preview of things to come — but for anyone else, this is strictly “take it or leave it” stuff, and you’re not going to go terribly wrong choosing either option.

 

 

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Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the word “sucker” is spelled S-U-C-K-E-R, but I’m here to tell you, friends, that simply isn’t the case. “Sucker,” you see, is actually spelled R-Y-A-N.

Honestly, I have no one to blame but myself : when a new foreign “found footage” horror flick — from Ireland, in this case — shows up on Netflix, my instinct compels me to give it a shot even though I know that it’ll probably suck. We all have our unhealthy obsessions, and these sorts of films are mine — which would cause any reasonable person to conclude that I must be a glutton for punishment, I suppose, but in my own defense, once in awhile a Die Prasenz comes along that makes enduring all the Archivo 253s and what have you worth it. Unfortunately, 2015’s Invoked, which I just caught last night (and is also available on DVD — though not on Blu-ray — in various international markets, but not here in the US) is very much a bottom-of-the-barrel effort.

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Granted, the deck is stacked against it almost from the outset — director Humberto Rosa (who co-wrote the script along with Aaron Gibson, one of the film’s nominal “stars”) and his credited “co-director,” (whatever that even means — why not just give ’em both equal billing?) Thairon Mendes, apparently shot this thing in three days on a budget of 2,000 Euros, but such limitations haven’t hampered skilled filmmakers in the past. Based on the evidence put forth in front of their HD camera in Invoked, though, these guys are in no way “skilled.”

To our plot recap we go : five friends (Patrick Murphy as Patrick, Lynn Larkin as Lynn, Craig Grainger as Craig, the aforementioned Aaron Gibson as Aaron, and, in a curious break from tradition — albeit only by a couple of letters — Ciara Rose Burke as Kiera) head to the sticks of County Sligo for an evening’s boozing and debauchery in an abandoned hostel that’s rumored to be, of course, haunted. And while they never state that they’re necessarily expecting trouble, they’re gonna record the whole trip a) just in case, and b) ‘cuz that’s just what navel-gazing, self-obsessed millenials do.Busting out a Ouija-esque scrying glass and some makeshift “spirit message” cards or whatever under such circumstances is probably never the wisest course of action, obviously, but once the two couples have finished fucking and everyone has gotten a few beers in them, really — what else do you expect them to do? They wake something up (of course), things go badly (of course), no one survives (of course), and this video “evidence” is all that remains to tell us what really happened (of course).

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As you can see, every box on the cliche checklist is duly ticked and accounted for here, but beyond that, there ain’t much to report. The girls can scream really well — and are called upon to do so often — but none of the cast can really be said to have any actual acting ability; there is less than zero suspense on offer; the limited number of effects on hand are beyond cheesy even for a production of modest means; the dialogue is inauthentic and frankly atrocious; etc. If things going bump in the night still scare you, then you might — I say might — find enough going on here to maintain your interest, but don’t count on it : this is just a damn bad movie that represents nothing other than 85 minutes of your life lost forever.

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Beyond that, not much else to say about this one. The only reaction it Invoked in me was complete and utter boredom, and it’s best avoided at all costs. But was it bad enough to prevent from watching the next no-budget “mockumentary” horror that shows up on Netflix? Of course not! After all, that would make sense — and that’s something I almost never do.

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Question : you’re a comic book publisher and you’ve got yourself a high-profile “superfan.” What should you do about it?

Answer : if you’re DC, and said fan is Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame — who interned at your offices and was planning on pursuing a career as a writer and/or artist on your books before his band went and got famous — you give him not just a series, but an entire fucking line. For developmental guidance you pair him with veteran Vertigo editor Shelly Bond (who has since, sadly, left the building), but by and large you leave him to his own devices and let him come up with whatever it is that he comes up with. The end result? A new imprint semi-mysteriously called DC’s Young Animal. Its first title? A(nother) re-imagined take on the original misfit super-team : the one, the only — Doom Patrol!

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For anyone ancient enough to have been there in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when this series — then under the stewardship of Grant Morrison and Richard Case — was the place to be for high weirdness on the four-color page, the news that it was coming back with Way and artist Nick Derington at the helm was reason for much optimism Now that Doom Patrol #1 is here, though, heck — it’s reason to celebrate.

Yes, the book is good. Very good, in fact. But I have no idea what’s going on it or what it’s even all about. Which, to my mind, is exactly how it should be.

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At its best — and later, non-Vertigo iterations of the title were anything but that — Doom Patrol was always a comic that threw you in at the deep end and dared you to either keep up or drown. Morrison tends to get most of the credit for “turning it into” a strange and even dangerous book, but really all he was doing was picking up the baton laid down by the team’s creator, the great Arnold Drake, and his artistic collaborator, the equally-great Bruno Premiani. The DP (quit snickering, porn viewers) were outcasts from the outset, and waaaaaayyyy back in the the 1960s, after a lengthy run that saw the original line-up battle such surreal villains as General Immortus (who was more or less exactly what his name implied), The Brain (who was likewise), Monsieur Mallah (who was a hyper-intelligent talking ape) and The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (who — well, shit, you just had to see him to believe him), Drake and Premiani decided to end the book by doing the then-unthinkable : killing ’em all in a plane crash and leaving them dead.

Of course, bean-counters and editors can’t leave profitable characters and concepts mothballed forever, and about a decade later a listless new incarnation of the team came shambling along with only one original member (Cliff “Robotman” Steele) in tow, but it would take some time (and, crucially, a certain Scottish writer)  for the property to well and truly get its “mojo” back — once it did, though, it really did. Fictional cities made of bone that over-write our reality, the painting that ate Paris, a hyper-dimensional sentient transvestite street, a man of “muscle mystery,” and catastrophe worship were but a handful of the magnificently memorable ideas introduced during the legendary Morrison/ Case run, which reached its apex with a shattering climax that was appended by a genuinely heart-wrenching epilogue that still stands out as one of the five or ten best single issues of any comic that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Those who’ve read it will know exactly what I mean when I say that the line “There is another world. There is a better world. Well — there has to be” still sticks in my throat every time.

So, yeah — these characters have been around a long time and have seen some lows, to be sure, but have also had their share of breathtaking, consciousness-expanding highs. Way grew up on Morrison and Case’s run, and while the fact that his new take on Doom Patrol promises to bring back characters from that era who haven’t been seen since like Crazy Jane, Flex Mentallo, and Danny The Street warms my crusty old comic-book-lovin’ heart, what really matters more than anything is the fact that — as this first issue makes abundantly clear — he is determined to do his own thing with them.

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And not just with them, thank goodness, but with his own, all-new, creations as well. Like Casey Brinke, an EMT who seems to think she’s Mario Andretti. And Terry None, who — well, I don’t know what her deal is yet, any more than I know why Casey wears Cliff Steele’s old jacket while Cliff himself seems to be trapped in a universe inside a gyro (that you can get a glimpse of if you buy the cover pictured at the top of this review, which literally peels back). And while we’re on the subject of things that can’t, as yet, be explained,  Way is re-introducing readers to the team’s ostensible leader, once affectionately known as “The Chief,” through a series of one-page vignettes called “What’s Going On With Niles Caluder?” that answer that question before raising the inevitable next one of “okay, why?”and I. Am. So. Digging. That.

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Derington, for his part, is being tasked with having to figure out which of the obviously many styles he can draw in that best brings Way’s absurdist sensibility to life, and so far he’s handling the task with flying colors. His rendered worlds range from the blase to the hyper-kinetic to the quite-likely-dystopian, but labeling them sort of takes the fun out of everything, and if there’s one thing that Doom Patrol has always been — even at its darkest, most confusing, or most terrifying — it’s fun. Derington, like Way, gets that. And we feel it in every last goddamn panel.

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There’s a definite synergy, then, going on here between artist and writer here that can’t be faked, and can only take us in new and interesting directions — even if they can’t really be adequately described (at least by someone of my limited skills). There’s dangerous imagining happening in the gloriously haphazard pages of Doom Patrol #1, and that can only mean two things : I have no idea where we’re going, and I’m desperately eager to take the trip.

 

 

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Truth be told, I almost passed on this one when I saw it on the new release shelves last week. Image Comics first issues are a dime a dozen these days, as anyone can tell you, and while I’m marginally familiar with the work of writer Jim Zub, artist Djibril Morissette Pham is a name that’s entirely new to me. It was the pull quote from former Vertigo head honcho Karen Berger on the back cover of Glitterbomb #1 that convinced me to give it a whirl — after all, if it’s good enough for Ms. Berger, it should be good enough for me, right? Well, I’m glad I took her advice, because this book is considerably more than “good enough.”

Hollywood is always a target ripe for commentary of the seething and hard-hitting variety, vacuous wasteland of the talentless and over-privileged that it is, and Zub’s aim here appears to be the utilization of Lovecraftian horror tropes to take aim at the Tinseltown rat race and, by extension, the very “culture of celebrity” itself. Which is all well and good, I’m sure we’d agree — perhaps even noble — but the best intentions in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans if the story and art don’t get the job done, do they?

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Rest easy on that score, friends — very easy. Zub’s script is fast and economical, plunging you right in at the deep end by means of a bit of Tarantino-esque timeline-fudging as we learn that middle-aged actress Farrah Durante is about to be dumped by her agent. She ends that conversation both viscerally and on her own terms (see the splash page near review’s end), and then we get to see how she got there, as a dead-end audition (one of many, by the sound of things) leads to an unscheduled dip in the ocean leads to possession by an evil aquatic entity leads to desperately trying to make things up with her babysitter leads to a near-accident with her son (Farrah’s a single mom on top of everything else) leads back to her agent’s office. The dialogue along the way is razor-sharp and infused with a palpable sense of both desperation and weariness, and for a male writer to have this firm a grasp on a largely female cast is pretty impressive, in my book. Everybody sounds so painfully real.

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Now, about that artist I’ve never heard of — turns out there’s a good reason for that. This, ya see, is Djibril Morissette-Pham’s first-ever professional work. He’s 22, he’s got all the talent in the world, and yes, I’m appropriately jealous. The guy can just plain do it all, from the everyday to the horrific to the everyday horrific and everything in between. Marvel and DC are going to be knocking on his door right quick after they see this comic, but fuck them and their higher page rates and their corporate ownership of IP — Djibril, my man, stay right where you are. And if you can keep colorist K. Michael Russell as your steady collaborator, that’d be a good thing, too, because his work on this book is just right : not too flashy, never overpowering, walking the fine line between drab and otherwordly, this guy knows his hues.

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So, I dunno — have I gushed enough praise yet? No? Okay, then let me up my game — a couple weeks back I hesitated to call Lake Of Fire #1 the best Image debut of the year (even though it’s fantastic and you should definitely buy it if you haven’t already), and now I’m glad I was gun-shy in awarding that designation, because Glitterbomb #1 definitely deserves the title. Throw in some killer “Real Hollywood” backmatter at the end (which you absolutely must not skip over), and this is the whole goddamn package. You could, in theory, ask for more out of a comic, but odds are you’re not going to get it (unless we’re talking Providence, of course) — this feels like the first installment of something very special indeed.

And to think, I almost passed on it —