Posts Tagged ‘Boom! Studios’

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The whole goddamn “drug war” is such a clusterfuck of bad ideas that it’s a wonder the premise in Justin Jordan and Raul Trevino’s new four-part Boom! Studios series — that of a frustrated DEA agent “going native” and crossing the border into Mexico to take the fight to the cartels using the same brutal methods that they themselves are infamous for — hasn’t played out in real life already. Or maybe it has and they’ve just managed to keep it out of the press?

It’s certainly been explored in fiction before, no question about that — Joseph Conrad’s timeless classic Heart Of Darkness did it first, and Francis Ford Coppola famously transposed that story into Vietnam for Apocalypse Now — so we can’t go so far as to give Jordan any particular points for originality here, but he adds an interesting new wrinkle into the proceedings by having the agent assigned to bring rouge operative Conrad Marlowe (methinks our author wears his influences on his sleeve) “in from the cold” turn out to be his own daughter. So, yeah, derivative or not, I’m liking where this one’s heading —

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Jordan’s other recent-vintage projects such as John Flood and Strayer have shown him to have a real penchant for creating strong and memorable characters, and the same appears to be true one chapter in here, albeit with a political and bureaucratic twist given that the powers-that-be on both sides of Donald Trump’s imaginary wall seem less than enthusiastic about the prospects of our would-be heroine actually succeeding in her task. Which rather leads me to wonder why she was even given it, but that’s just one of many intriguing questions that will hopefully be addressed in due course as events play out in this book.

Complementing the sharp dialogue and smart story hooks is the smooth, gritty-but-stylish art of Raul Trevino, who hails from Mexico himself and imbues his locales with an authenticity that is, fair enough, sometimes photo-referenced, but still wildly effective on the whole. His action sequences have a real snappy rhythm to them, as well, and as exposition gives way to violence in future installments that’s going to come in real handy, you can already tell. Juan Useche’s largely-subdued color palette aids an air of moody immediacy to everything, and the end result is a comic that both reads and, crucially, looks much like a William Friedkin crime flick.

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I’ve gotta give the brain trust at Boom! props for issuing a Spanish-language version of this comic,too — that can’t be a move without a considerable amount of financial risk attached to it, but given the subject matter it would almost seem remiss not to do it, so I hope it pays off for them. I’m a little bit less enthusiastic, it must be said, about them putting out this first issue with something like four or five different different covers, but that’s just how it goes these days, I guess, and if “main” cover artist Jilipollo continues to knock it out of the park as he does here (as pictured at the top of this review — Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi’s far uglier one being shown underneath it), well, there’s no real reason to pick up any of the variants, anyway, unless you’re some kind of die-hard completist. Which, fortunately for both my wallet and sanity, I’m not.

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Anyone who’s been around comics for any length of time can tell you that sometimes you just “get a feeling” about a book, and I’ve definitely got that — in spades, no less! — about Sombra. If Jordan and Trevino can manage to follow up this opening salvo with three more rounds that hit their target as surely and confidently as this one does, we’re in for one hell of a memorable ride. You’d be very foolish indeed to miss out on it.

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Welcome to the not-so-distant future , where a biological attack has rendered the entire American population, both male and female, incapable of having children. Sounds like the invitation to start a 40-or 50-year party to me, but let’s face it — in a nation where siring offspring is seen by most as some sort of God-given right, it wouldn’t take long for the entire population to have a massive freak-out. And to start looking elsewhere for little angels to call their own —

So goes the intriguing premise behind newcomer (at least to my knowledge) writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Matthew Dow Smith (geez, guys, I love ya both, but remember when people just went by their first and last names?)’s new four-part Boom! Studios min-series, Last Sons Of America, and while there’s definitely a distinct Children Of Men influence on the proceedings here, the idea that the “sterility plague” in this book is only affecting one country — and that said country just so happens to be the most powerful one on Earth — definitely alters the “no future for us, I guess” framework for the ( in my view,  at any rate) better, by opening up rather obvious possibilities for commentary on imperialism and the like. After all, it was bad enough when we just wanted your oil, but when we start coming for your kids, too, well — all bets are off.

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Enter brothers Jackie (the ethically challenged one) and Julian (the one with at least some conscience remaining), two guys employed in the booming “adoption” business who have traveled to a particularly impoverished region of Nicaragua (the only factory in town having just shuttered) in order to “offer” dirt-poor parents the “chance” to “give” their children a “better” life by selling them off to well-to-do American couples desperate to hear the patter of tiny feet in their homes. Our pair of protagonists are essentially brokers or middle-men in this perverse economic equation, but when their latest “extraction” (that’s it for the scare-quotes, I promise) goes south, Jackie decides to resort to more direct means for obtaining his flesh-and-blood wares. Folks in his line of work, of course, are able to justify this sort of off-the-books appropriation as rescuing youngsters from a life of poverty and hardship (even if they don’t bother getting the kids’ — or their parents’ — consent), but you and I have no need for such pleasantries and can still call kidnapping exactly what it is.

There’s just one problem with Julian’s brilliant idea, though — he’s unknowingly snatched the last child in town that any person who went in with an actual plan would have, and now both brothers are well and truly fucked.

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The term “world-building” is a highly overused one in our media-saturated culture, but Johnson does a bang-up job of it here and sets the stage for what promises to be a highly immersive, if decidedly queasy at times, read. We get a solid handle on our main characters quickly, the desperation on the locale they’ve descended upon is palpable, and we even manage to piece together a pretty workable outline as to on the operational set-up of the region’s socio-economic power structure, both above-board and otherwise. Deliver all of this to us by way of  sharp, authentic dialogue that engages in only a minimal amount (really just a page or so) of “info-dumping,” (whoops, there goes my promise) , move events along at a brisk but far from overwhelming pace, and you’ve got a winner of a story on your hands.

Contrary to what some critics would have you believe, though, comics ain’t all about word bubbles and caption boxes, and Smith’s art might just be real star of the show here. It’s moody, atmospheric, and very pleasing to the eye indeed, and aided by the well-balanced colors of Doug Garbark, the overall aesthetic conveyed is a unique combination of stylish and grimy. You can feel the dirt from the Nicaraguan village getting right under your skin, but you’re not in any big hurry to wash it off. Wrap the package up with a suitably art deco-influenced cover by Tonci Zonjic and a really cool logo complete with an eager, squiggly little sperm, and the end result is a comic book with a singular — and successful — visual philosophy throughout.

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Chances are that your LCS went pretty light on their orders for this one given that it comes to us via less-than-well-established creators working for an independent publisher (I think my store got six copes total), so you may want to make tracks over there and grab up this first issue while you still can — or have them order one up for you from Diamond if it’s already gone. There’s not any burning need to wait for the inevitable trade here given that it’s just a four-parter, and picking it up in singles probably won’t cost you considerably more (if anything), either, so hey — if this sounds like your cup of tea, you may as well jump on board now.

I’m hesitant as hell to employ worn-out adages like “this is a book that deserves your support,” but damn if that’s not precisely the case. Last Sons Of America is flying distinctly beneath the majority of the comics-buying public’s radar screen, so if you do buy it and like it, do your part to spread the word — it would be nice to see these fresh, talented creators be able to pay their rent for at least a few months with income earned from this project, and to subsequently decide that comics is a business that they’d like to stick around in for the foreseeable future.

 

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It seems like most comic book geeks/nerds/whatever that I know of absolutely fucking hated high school. It’s certainly understandable — the constant popularity contests, peer pressure, incompetent teachers and administrators, and study of subjects that would prove to have no bearing whatsoever on real life are more than worthy of all the disdain one can possibly muster. The biggest drag, though, is that there’s no bigger crime at the average American high school than being different, and most kids who are into comics are just that.

I didn’t actively despise my high school years nearly as much as a lot of folks — I wasn’t “Mr. Popularity” or anything, but I seemed to find a way of fitting in just fine without having to be some total conformist asshole. I read comics, watched Doctor Who, and not only did everybody know it, no one really seemed to give a shit. I wasn’t “picked on,” bullied, or made fun of — at least not to my face — and generally went to the same keg parties and other social gatherings that all the admittedly “cooler” kids did. Here’s a tip for any high school nerds struggling to fit in who may be reading this : shower daily and wash your hair and take care of yourself. You’ll find no one really cares too much how “weird” your interests and ideas are if they can stand to be in the same general vicinity as you.

All that being said — I can’t claim to particularly miss those times, either. I don’t feel some warm glow of nostalgia when I look back at them. I didn’t suffer the humiliation and indignities that many other “outsiders” do, but even so — I’m glad that chapter of my life is over and done with. At my last class reunion, I cut out after about an hour — it was perfectly fine seeing all those people again, but watching them get drunk and reminisce about the “best days of their lives” isn’t something I’m terribly interested in. I wish ’em well, but if I want to keep up with any of my former classmates — apart from the small number I remain close friends with to this day — I’ll follow them on facebook. That’s good enough for me.

Besides, if I want to remember what high school really felt like, all I have to do is pick up the latest issue (there are three so far), of writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas’ ongoing series from Boom! Studios, The Woods. Granted, the situation presented in the book is an extreme one — the students, faculty, and entire building of Bay Point Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin are transported to another planet for reasons unknown — but damn if these kids, one-dimensional caricatures though many of them may be (as is common with both many actual high schoolers and stories such as this one with large ensemble casts) don’t read like the real thing, and behave precisely in the manner you’d expect them to if plunged into the deepest of deep ends. Right now, the asshole football coach is busy turning all the jocks into a makeshift vigilante disciplinary force, for instance. Sound about right to you?

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I’m not too familiar with Tynion’s work apart from his functioning as Scott Snyder’s unofficial understudy/fill-in writer of choice on DC’s Batman and Batman Eternal, but he’s crafting a very intriguing little suitable-for-all-ages adventure here that captures the tone and tenor of his characters in as authentic a way as is possible, and while I admit to being more or less completely unfamiliar with Dialynas outside of his work on this book,  he’s really impressing me with his non-flashy, but energetic and well-realized, visions of both the mundane realities of “life” in a school building and the completely unknown (and perhaps unknowable) alien forest (hence the series’ title — what? You thought maybe it was a comic spin-off of Lucky McKee’s film of the same name?) outside of it that one small, brave (or perhaps foolhardy) group of kids have set off into on a search for some answers to their current predicament — because, let’s face it, after awhile even life at home with your parents beats being stuck with your classmates and teachers all the time. Suffice to say that I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for future works from either/both of them, though, because The Woods shows both of them to be in possession of well-above-average sequential storytelling skills.

There’s a certain innocence and charming (but quite intentional, it seems to me) naivete to both of these creators’ outlook on their subject matter, but as the story goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that much of that will, sadly, have to be sacrificed if everybody — or at least as many people as possible — are going to survive. I suspect that we’re headed for a semi-traditional morality play on the tragedies of youth gradually slipping away, but who cares if it’s been done a thousand times before? As long as it’s handled this deftly and presented in a context this new and fresh, I’m cool with the underlying themes not breaking a tremendous amount of new ground. At the end of the day, most literature professors will tell you that there are only, what? Seven different types of stories or something anyway? Just write yours well and draw it well — both of which are happening page after highly-turnable page in The Woods — and this armchair critic will happily remain on board for the duration of the ride.

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The other thing that Tynion and Dialynas are to be commended for is making certain that each issue they produce is better than the last. Granted, we’re only on number three, and there are bound to be some hiccups along the way, but so far the art, which started out plenty strong to begin with, keeps on getting better and better,  and the story’s stakes are gradually, methodically getting higher while at the same time the personality of each character comes more sharply into focus. That’s the essence of consummate professional comics storytelling in a nutshell, my friends, and it’s a commodity in far too short supply these days. These guys are handling their respective duties in a way that all young creators should strive to emulate.

I’ve read some reviews out there that say this book is giving them a bit of a Lost-type vibe, and while there do appear to be some parallels, I have plenty of faith that our writer and artist here — faith that’s entirely earned based on the quality of their work thus far — will, by the time this is over (which I hope isn’t too terribly soon), have given us something that actually, ya know, makes sense. Even if the handful of kids out trudging through the wilderness are about to wander into an alien pyramid. Heck, maybe The Woods will end up being the kind of story that Lost could (and should) have been — but it’s more likely that it’ll just be its own unique take on subjects that remain fairly timeless. So what are you waiting for? It’s not too late to get in on this highly addictive series before the bell rings and we’re all told to siddown and stay in our seats.

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Tell ya what, friends — Boom! Studios is a publisher that’s been on an absolute roll lately. Suicide Risk is the best monthly comic that no one’s talking about (and honestly one of the top five series being published today), new ongoing monthlies Dead LettersThe Woods, and Evil Empire are all off to incredibly promising starts, zombie four-parter The Returning just concluded its uneven but intriguing run, and the six-part revisionist superhero story Translucid is flat-out blowing my mind. Image had better be watching its back, because Boom! is muscling in on their niche market for intelligent, well-constructed indie books produced by ambitious, upstart creators with a vengeance. It’s getting to the point where I’m ready to add every first issue  with their logo on it to my pull list, and i’m not exactly known for my brand loyalty.

Continuing that strong trend is writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey’s The Empty Man, which debuted this past Wednesday and is positively brimming with the kind of tense, foreboding atmosphere that fans of horror comics love. It’s not without its flaws, sure — the cliffhanger ending seems to sort of thrust itself into the proceedings out of nowhere and it’s not even entirely clear just what the fuck it’s even portraying, for instance — but on the whole my gripes with the book are small and pale in significance when compared with what Bunn and Del Rey get right. If it sounds like I’m hopelessly hooked already, that’s because I am.

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Like any good mystery, the opening salvo of this six-issue series begins with a lot of disparate elements that we assume will come together by the time all is said and done, we’re just not sure how that’s going to happen yet. We’ve got a scene featuring an obscure fire-and-brimstone religious sect meeting in an old gas station for Sunday services that incorporates elements of both tried-and-true Christian holy-rollerism (check the preacher’s sermon in the page reproduced above) and new age-y symbolism (what’s that weird triangular logo they display all over the place about, exactly?) to kick things off, but before you know it we’re five years down the road, and that little fringe evangelical sect ain’t so little anymore : they’re all over the TV, preaching the kind of “end is nigh” message with which we’re all so depressingly familiar. The damn thing is, though, they just might be right : that’s because there’s a new plague sweeping our fair land, one dubbed the “empty man disease” by the media, that features, among other attractive symptoms : violent fits of rage, suicidal dementia, incredibly vivid and horrific hallucinations, and gripping panic attacks — all followed by either death or a catatonic, “empty,” comatose state of near-lifelessness.

I know, I know — it sounds like a shitload of fun, and I’d love to figure out how to sign up myself, but the causes of the syndrome remain entirely unknown despite the best efforts of the joint FBI/CDC investigation team tasked with getting to the bottom of things. Far all the time, effort, and resources expended on “empty man,” the simple fact remains that no one knows where or when it’s going to strike next. One thing’s for sure, though — wherever and whenever it does, you can bet that some annoying member of one of the “murder cults” that have sprung up in the wake of the outbreak will be there, genuflecting at the altar of the epidemic and telling all of us poor, lost heathens about how “empty man” has been sent by God to usher in his glorious return. Or something like that.

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What connection, if any, these disease-worshipers have with that first cult from page one has yet to be explained — as does the rise of that initial group in conjunction with the disease itself — but the questions are posed in a subtle yet compelling fashion in Bunn’s understated, eerily effective script that does a crackerjack job of setting an admittedly unfamiliar stage. He’s more about the task of putting us all in the right frame of mind with this first chapter, and even though the bulk of the issue is concerned with the kind of police procedural that often becomes a bit too cut-and-dried once he introduces us to our main protagonists (who are, as you might expect, partners on the task force investigating the outbreak), to his credit things never become dull or overly bogged down in “shop talk.” Events move along at a brisk and steady clip and the work of our erstwhile “disease cops” becomes increasingly immersive with each page.

Del Rey’s art complements the story without completely stealing the show — but damn, it does come close, especially toward the end, when events take a turn for — wait, that would be telling! Like a lot of horror comics today, there’s something of an  Alex Maleev influence that’s readily apparent in this book’s sketchy, heavily-textured style, but there’s also plenty of individual identity on display here, certainly more than enough to give this series a look that can be safely classified as “all its own.” It’s a dark and uneasy world we’re shown here, fleshed out with dark and uneasy imagery, and you’ve gotta tip your cap and say the writer/artist pairing on this one is just plain perfect for the sort of material that they’re dealing with.

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Last but not least, Bunn has come up with a terrific little tag-line for the book — at the scene of every murder/suicide/mass slaughter/take your pick related to the disease, the phrase “The Empty Man Made Me Do It” has been found scrawled on a wall (it also appears on this issue’s back cover, as well). It may seem like a small thing, but snappy little catch-phrases like that can go a long way toward building a kind of instant audience identification with a fictional world — after all, aren’t we all still asking “Who Watches The Watchmen?” some 30 years later? Do not underestimate the power of a pithy turn of phrase, my friends.

And whaddaya know? It’s a meme that’s spread from the printed page to the real world in no time flat, because “The Empty Man” has made me want in for the full six issues already.