Posts Tagged ‘Image Comics’

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

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Remember Joe Matt’s Peepshow? At the height of the early-’90s autobiographical comics craze, Matt pretty much blew the whole thing up by going places even the most honest and/or foolhardy (depending on your point of view) of his contemporaries would dare venture — mostly by being probably a bit too forthright about the depths of his porn addiction, but he also wasn’t afraid to show what a self-centered, one-sided prick he could be in relationships, and frankly I found that far more candid and unsettling than watching him jerk off for page after page (after page, after page — in fact, Matt himself shared a funny story on facebook a couple of years back about meeting Guillermo Del Toro after a movie premier and Del Toro, upon their introduction, remarking to him that “I’m not sure I want to shake this hand”). The end result of all this, near as I can tell, is that there are a lot of readers out there who respect Joe Matt’s work, but have a rather low opinion of the man himself — which, to his credit, doesn’t seem to bother him in the least.

Still, for a time there it felt like the whole autobio genre had played itself out — I mean, where could anybody take it that Matt hadn’t already? Of course, that was before Chester Brown came along with his graphic novel Paying For It : A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John, but things had certainly been pretty quiet in the years before that equally self-revealing tome came out, and they’ve been damn quiet since.

So what would happen if a comics creator (or two) decided to take all that brutal “warts-and-all” autobio hyper-realism and actually make it fun as well as cringe-worthy? Such seems to be the premise behind writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle’s new — I kid you not — Airboy relaunch for Image Comics. You think Joe Matt shooting his load off in an old sock can’t be topped? Robinson starts this issue with a full-page splash of him sitting on the toilet taking a shit. And things don’t get a lot prettier from there.

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Piecing out what’s real  from what isn’t is part of the — and I use this term loosely — “fun” here, I suppose, but by the time the writer and artist get together to discuss ideas on how to go about re-introducing readers to the  lapsed-into-the-public-domain character last seen on the four-color page by virtue of Eclipse Comics’ short-lived revival in the 1980s — a “meeting of the minds” initially suggested by the writer’s (now ex-, we’re told) wife — it’s pretty clear that standard-issue autobiography has given way to “meta-fiction,” since I highly doubt that the booze-, coke-,and smack-fueled bender that the two of them go on  (and that sees them put a cap on their debauchery by having a three-way with some random chick they pick up at a bar) actually happened in reality. And when the character they’re working on shows up in “the real world” on the last page to admonish his creators for their wicked ways, we’re firmly into Grant Morrison territory — although this promises to be a more humorous take on the “meet your maker” trope than anything the shaven-headed Scottish mage has offered up.

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Where things go over the next three issues (yes, this is a self-contained mini-series) remains to be seen, but for a book that gives us a good, not-so-hard look at its writer and artist’s cocks, I gotta say, Airboy #1 was was — errrrrmmmm — enjoyable? About the only other place you’re likely to find anything this outright depraved on your LCS shelves is in the pages of Bob Fingerman’s resurrected/rejuvenated Minimum Wage (from which this book borrows it’s aqua-heavy color scheme) — and Image stablemate, wouldn’t ya know? — and to be honest, this title is even more over-the-top and apparently-conscience-free than that one can sometimes be. Whether you take that as an invitation or a warning is, of course, entirely up to you, but it’s safe to say that if you like the one, you’ll probably love the other.

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Now, purely as a matter of speculation,  I’m thinking that Airboy will probably “live it up” a bit now that he’s “here,” and then the three of them will get on about the business of making a comic together, but we’ll see. This entire project is so far outside of Robinson’s usual “wheelhouse” — I can only imagine what fans of his work on Starman and The Golden Age will make of the proceedings here — that, truly, any predictions as to where we’re headed are probably an exercise in futility.

What’s probably a solid bet, though, is that a sizable number of people won’t be sticking around to find out — the full-bore degeneracy of this first issue will be more than enough to drive off anyone who’s wandered in unaware, or who was expecting anything like a “traditional” take on the semi-forgotten fictional flying ace of WWII. Whatever “culture clash” ensues promises to be a memorable one, but probably not one that the faint of heart (or stomach) will opt to partake in.

Which means, of course, that I’m all in, dysfunctional reprobate that I am. And if you’re smart, you will be, too. Obviously, shame and self-respect are right out the fucking window with Airboy from the get-go, so hey — bad pun totally intended (sorry) — the sky’s the limit!

 

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Megachurches. I absolutely hate ’em. Stadium-sized suburban shrines to decadence that rake in millions every month tax-free which their pastors squander on lavish McMansions, plastic surgery, teeth whitening, hookers, and blow. A completely legal swindle that is so transparently phony that some of them now even embrace something called the “prosperity gospel, ” a rather forced interpretation (or deliberate misinterpretation, take your pick) which posits that a) the more money you give to the church, the more you’ll magically get in return from God in surprising and unexpected ways; and b) the richer you are the more God obviously loves you because he’s showering you with favors. So much for that “blessed are the poor” stuff, I guess — according to this latest twist on the supposedly “good” book, the wealthy are, quite literally, God’s chosen people.

Well, fuck all that. Fuck every single TV evangelist. Fuck every single megachurch. And fuck you if you’re dumb enough to have been suckered into their scam.

Granted, I’m a somewhat militant atheist who thinks that all religions are tantamount to a form of highly virulent societal pathology, but you know what? I think if I were a believer, I’d be even more pissed off about the megachurch “phenomenon.” After all, don’t true believers feel that God is more likely to speak to you in quiet, solitary, sincere prayer than in a noisy auditorium full of glitzy and gaudy spectacle? Megachurches cheapen religion while making their pastors rich. They’re a total affront to both the honestly religious and the non-religious alike.

All of which means that I’m openly rooting for the “villains”/anti-heroes in The Tithe, a new four-part series from (count ’em) the Minotaur Press/Top Cow Productions/Image Comics triumvirate, and specifically creators Matt Hawkins (who’s writing it) and Rahsan Ekedal (who’s drawing it). I wasn’t a huge Hawkins fan until recently, but his monthly ongoing, Postal, and his recently-concluded (with a sequel apparently on the way) eco-disaster thriller,  Wildfire,  have one me over, and with this, he’s continuing the trend begun by the latter of addressing timely and topical fare in a way that clearly expresses the author’s own viewpoint while giving nearly-equal time to the other side. It’s a fine line, to be sure, but he’s doing a damn good job of it.

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Case in point : while Hawkins makes his own stance as a non-believer plain as day in the “backmatter” text pages of issue one (released today), one of the two FBI agents investigating the megachurch mega-robberies performed by an Anoynymous-style outfit known only as Samaritan (who, when our story opens, have just graduated from cybercrime to pulling off a “real world” heist) is very much a theist — in fact, a Southern Baptist — and he’s treated as a thoughtful, rational, three-dimensional character rather than some superstitious buffoon. His partner, a twenty-something former hacker, is a bit more of a caricature at this point, but we’ve got three issues to go, and I expect he’ll be fleshed out more fully as events take their course.

As for Samaritan, they’re regular modern-day Robin Hoods who steal only from “men of God” who are under investigation for corruption and turn around and donate the cash to actual charities. Under our hyper-capitalist economic system this is technically a “crime,” but for anyone with a conscience, it’s just plain common sense. These folks win our loyalty more or less from jump as they liberate two million dollars from a crooked church’s cavernous vault and expose their charismatic preacher as a partying, womanizing con artist right in front of his entire flock within the first few pages of the book — and as they head for the casino employee bedroom community of Henderson, Nevada at the end, you’ll be wishing them good fortune against their next target, as well.

Oh, and the Jesus masks they wear as they go about their business? Very nice touch indeed.

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Ekedal is not an artist whose prior work I’m at all familiar with, but I like what I see here so far. His panel layouts are dynamic and engaging, his faces are reasonably expressive, and his action sequences have a pleasing flow to them. A good number of pages are spent with characters talking at their desks or over coffee shop tables, so there are long stretches where there’s not a lot for an artist to sink their teeth into, but he never half-asses it by getting lazy with the backgrounds and details, etc. His involvement with the script, even at its most “talky” points, keeps the reader involved, so kudos for that.

As for the quality of said script, while it admittedly has its rough moments and some of Hawkins’ work can be overly expository or weighed down by questionably-constructed dialogue, on the whole his characters speak with natural and authentic voices and the plot is well-structured and follows a clearly escalating scale. A bit more “hands-on” approach to the editing might have been welcome, but it’s hard to mess things up too badly when you’ve got a premise this solid and are unafraid to pose morally probing questions that take aim at institutions that aren’t criticized or even critiqued nearly often enough.

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My one semi-major gripe about this book is purely economic — Top Cow is the only Image-affiliated studio that charges $3.99 for their books, and this one’s sadly no exception. Yeah, sure, Marvel charges that for all their crap now, and DC is sneaking more and more of their titles up to $3.99 as well, but for a comic that takes a hard line against rip-offs and cons to charge a buck more than you pay for most other publications from the same company is a bit, well — ironic, to put it kindly. I still felt like I got my money’s worth from this first issue, though, and am confident that the entire series will be worth the sixteen bucks it ends up costing, so I’m more than happy to give The Tithe a strong recommendation — unless you spend your Sunday mornings worshiping at the Crystal Cathedral or something.

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If there’s one thing that sucked most about growing up in the 1980s — among many worthy contenders from that culturally blighted decade — it was the rampant anti-drug hysteria that started with our figurehead “leaders” at the top, Ron n’ Nancy, and filtered its way down until it permeated pretty much every corner of society. Drugs — even essentially risk-free recreational stuff like pot — were considered “bad,” and their users were “bad people.” This stuf’ll kill ya, kids — why, if you don’t believe us, just turn on the TV, because that’s what every single cop show is all about.

Never mind, I suppose, that TV is the most prevalent and most harmful drug of all, or that most of the pseudo-righteous political figures profiting from drug hysteria were either being funded to the tune of millions by Wall Street cokeheads or, in the case of Bush and his Iran-Contra cronies like Ollie North, directly responsible for bringing massive quantities of drugs into the US themselves in order to bankroll the psychotic  mercenary death squad armies they had the nerve to call “freedom fighters” in Central America. Do as we say, people, not as we do — we are, after all, your “betters.”

Hmmm — now that I think about it, maybe it wasn’t anti-drug hysteria in and of itself  that was the worst thing about life in the 1980s so much as the blatant hypocrisy surrounding it. In any case, make no mistake — each and every popular culture outlet extant at the time presented a united front in terms of “drugs are evil” messaging, comic books included.  In fact, it’s no exaggeration at all to say that every single superhero was conscripted at one time or another into the “war on drugs,” and look where all that propaganda has gotten us — over three decades later we’re still “fighting” that same “war” to the tune of billions, and we’re still losing. And why wouldn’t we be? We live under a brutally remorseless system of hyper-capitalism that provides very few avenues for escape, and people — particularly the ever-swelling legion of poor people — are desperate for any sort of  relief, no matter how temporary and/or risky,  from the full-time pain caused by a world this fucking heartless and cruel. Job got you down? Lack of a job got you down even more? The easy answer to either situation is the same — self-medicate!

Psst — I’ll even let you in on a little secret : all those PSA scare films you had to watch in school are all bullshit, anyway. The truth , which you probably already knew, is that most drugs that society has classified, usually for economic reasons, as “illegal” are actually pretty goddamn fun, provided you don’t go overboard. Yes, some of them (though certainly not all) can kill you, but as we’re all aware, so can nicotine, alcohol, and most prescription pharmaceuticals, all of which are perfectly acceptable to consume in the eyes of the law. And yet — what if the situation were completely reversed? What if psychoactive and/or other pharamacological (did I spell that right?) substances not only weren’t deadly in the least, but were, in fact, something you needed in order to survive?

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Such is the intriguing premise behind Dark Horse Comics’ new four-issue series Neverboy, which comes our way courtesy of author Shaun Simon (best known for co-writing Killjoys along with Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame — in fact, Way himself provides the variant cover for the first issue of this book, shown later in our little review here, with the main one displayed at the top coming our way courtesy of Conor Nolan) and artist Tyler Jenkins (who’s building a nice little following for himself thanks to his work on Image’s Peter Panzerfaust). Yes, our title character, odd name aside, may look just like you and me, and have a life much like yours or mine (complete with wife and young son), but appearances, as we all know, can be mighty deceiving indeed. Neverboy seems to spend a lot of time hanging around in hospitals and the like, looking to hustle up drugs by any means necessary, and when he’s not sufficiently medicated, folks seem to completely ignore him, almost as if — well, as if he weren’t really there.

In case you hadn’t worked it out already, that’s because he’s not. Neverboy, you see, is a former imaginary friend to a child who ended up dying, and he needs pills — lots and lots of pills, apparently — to remain in the real world.  Just to further complicate matters, though, it turns out that when he’s running low, not only does he begin to disappear, but so does the barrier between our solid, three-dimensional reality, and the “fantasy world” that he’s supposed to inhabit.Obviously, things could get pretty messy pretty quickly if he doesn’t keep himself good and “hopped up,” but he’s got one other big problem, to boot — the powers that be in “dreamland” have caught on to his scam, and they’re determined to drag him back “home,” whether he wants to come or not.

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As I’m assuming is abundantly clear by now, I really dig what Simon and Jenkins (along with colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick) are doing here — the science behind it might be murky at best, but this is one of the most intriguing story pretexts to come down the pipeline in a long while, with strong characterization, smart dialogue, and nicely fluid, organic-feeling art, to boot. I’m not sure how much of a “built-in” audience a project such as this one has, so conditioned is the comics-buying public to “drugs are bad for you” nonsense, but hopefully positive word-of-mouth will see to it that it finds at least a semi-sizable cadre of fans, because this is a well-done, highly imaginative book that’s worthy of both your support and your dollars. In fact, it’s one of those “damn, I wish I’d thought of that” ideas that you actually root for, rather than seethe with envy over, simply because the creators have obviously put so much thought and heart into it.

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I admit it — hardened cynic that I may came off as (or, hell, that I may even be), I do still have a soul, and this is a comic that I’m rotting for to become the “little indie project that could” of 2015. Squares and cops may take offense to it, but since when do their opinions matter, anyway? Sit down, indulge in your favorite recreational substance of choice, and give Neverboy #1 a go. It’s definitely a trip you’re going to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

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Man, life’s a bitch sometimes. Here I am, trying to pare down my weekly pull list, and instead I find new things to add to it coming from the most unexpected places.

Case in point : I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up an “all ages” comic, but, sufficiently intrigued by a signing featuring writer/artist Otis Frampton at my LCS (Comic Book College on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota,  if you must know), I gave the first issue of his new Image Comics series, Oddly Normal, a spin, and — I’m hooked. How hooked, you may ask? Frampton told me that he could see this thing running for 100 issues or so if sales hold up, and I think I could happily go along for the entire ride. That’s how hooked.

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First off, credit to the man himself : Frampton (who hails from St. Paul) is a one-man comics-creating super-engine of creativity, doing almost everything here — story, art, letters, editing — single-handed. Thomas Boatwright is credited with doing the “flat” colors, which leads me to believe that Frampton is handling the “special effects” enhancements himself, as well. That’s a lot of work. And he does a killer job with all of it, as the page above shows. I can barely crank out more than two or three comic and/or movie reviews in a week, so — my hat’s off to the guy. And, yeah, I’m more than a little bit envious, I admit it. Sue me.

Backtracking quickly, then, to my “life’s a bitch” comment earlier, that’s certainly true for our titular protagonist here, a pre-teen girl with green hair, pointed ears, a witch for a mom, and a journalist from another dimension for a dad. When you’re her age, all you want to do is fit in, and that’s pretty well impossible for young miss Oddly. Living in a haunted house probably doesn’t help matters much, either. Nor does the cloud that’s always hanging over her head, sometimes literally speaking.

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Still, even the most miserable kids have to love birthdays, right? I mean, most of us generally don’t start hating them until we’ve had too damn many. When you don’t have any friends to celebrate with, though, it’s gotta suck — but still, you get to close your eyes and make a wish, don’t you? Friends or no friends, that’s just part of the deal with a child’s BD. So Oddly does just that, of course — and that’s when her troubles really begin.

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Or apparently begin, at any rate. The first issue ends on a nifty little zinger of a cliffhanger that promises to play the old “be careful what you wish for” axiom out very nicely indeed. Sometimes old stories are the best stories, especially when told from a unique point of view, and I think that’s what we’re going to be in store for with this series. I’ll refrain from using tired,  shop-worn cliches like “awe” and “wonder” when talking about a narrative that’s told from a child’s point of view, but — there seems to be a good amount of both waiting in the wings here.

I believe I may have already mentioned that I can’t wait to see how it all plays out, but I’ll say it again for good measure — I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. And at a reasonable-by-today’s-standards cover price of $2.99 there’s no reason not to. The art is flat-out gorgeous, the story is engaging and fun, and our-less-than-normal-despite-her-name young heroine is a terrific character that most readers —at least those with a heart — will develop an instant fondness for.

Good show, Mr. Frampton, roll on the next 99 issues — or more — please!

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Damn, but this week’s been a good one for Jack Kirby fans, hasn’t it? Between Dynamite’s successful (at least so far) relaunch of Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers — which I’ve already raved about — and the first issue of  the book we’re here to look at today, writer Adam McGovern and artist Paolo Leandri’s Kirby-esque new four-parter from Image Comics, Nightworld, hitting the stands, there’s not much more one could hope for barring the unearthing of some long-lost, previously-unpublished masterwork from the mind, heart, and hand of The King himself. In short, if any proof were required that the legacy of the greatest creator this medium has ever seen (and, frankly, will ever see) was alive and well,  this past Wednesday provided it.

So, yeah, I’m a happy guy. And you should be, too — because Nighworld #1 is all kinds of inexplicable, ridiculous, captivating fun. Sure, the cynics among you (what? I’m actually not among that grouping myself this time?) can simply say that Leandri is aping Jack’s style, but come on — I know the difference between heartfelt homage and a blatant rip-off when I see it, and so do you. Nightworld is definitely the former, while pretty much 99% of Marvel’s post-Kirby output is the latter. Go with the flow here and have a good time.

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And what a good time there is to be had! Meet lonely demon Plenilunio, a heartbroken undead creature who rules over a forlorn castle haunted by the spirit of his dearly departed (I think, at any rate) lover,  Lidia. Pleni’s plenty — desperate, sullen, and frankly probably bored. To that end, he makes the foolish decision to strike a bargain with the evil forces of something called the Empyre to wake his love, and soon finds himself in a race against time against hellborn teenager Hotspot and wicked demoness Hellena for possession of a mystic artifact of some unspecified import known as the Soul Key — but are his foes after it for Empyre, or for themselves?

A nifty little premise, to be sure, and one that bears a definite thematic resemblance (as does the art, in a purely secondary fashion) to some of what Mike Mignola’s done over the years with Hellboy, but shit — where’s the harm in a comic that seeks, first and foremost, to give us the kind of creepy fun that many of us love to indulge in? Nightworld may not be looking to re-invent the wheel by any stretch, but I like how they’re rolling it.

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I’m thinking that you probably will, too. Between McGovern’s lean, brisk scripting, Leandri’s heartfelt “retro” visuals, and colorist Dominic Regan’s crisp, lively palette, there’s a lot to enjoy on these pages. My only gripe? The $3.99 cover price is a bit steep, especially for a book that was funded via Kickstarter. I know Image has been sneaking up the price point on a lot of their titles lately ($3.50 is becoming the norm on most of their books rather than $2.99 and this, Low #1, and two recent (equally Kirby-inspired) one-shots from artist Shaky Kane — That’s Because You’re A Robot  and Cap’n Dinosaur — have taken things a step farther by going to a penny under four bucks) so it’s not like Nightworld is unique in this regard, but still — it’s kind of a bummer. Sure, Marvel is charging $3.99 for almost all their comics and DC has snuck a fair number of its titles up, as well, but I thought that Image was, as the saying goes, “holdin’ the line at $2.99.” I guess not anymore.

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Such economic considerations are beyond the purview of either McGovern or Leandri to control, though, I know, and as far as their work goes, I can find no fault in it whatsoever. I had a blast with Nightworld #1 and am all-in for the rest of the ride. Long live The King — even in the realm of the undead!

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I have a lot of faith in Warren Ellis. Granted, Transmetropolitan remains my favorite of his works and that’s getting to be a while ago now, but his other stuff has been uniformly solid and compelling in its own way, and even if his most-praised series, Planetary and The Authority, aren’t, at least in my view, the absolute masterpieces most people seem to think they are, the fact is they were better than 99% of the stuff they shared shelf space with at the time, which means they’d be better than —- ohhhhh, let’s say 99.999% of their contemporaries if they came out today. Suffice to say, when he debuts a new project, I definitely pay attention.

Right now “the other bearded fellow from England,” as he’s sometimes called, seems to be a very busy guy indeed — after laying relatively low for a couple of years, he’s got two new monthly series that seem to show him having adopted a new, more minimalist narrative approach:  Marvel’s Moon Knight with artist extraordinaire Declan Shalvey, and the one under our metaphorical microscope here today, Trees, a  creator-owned project for Image Comics done in collaboration with illustrator/co-creator Jason Howard that just hit the stands last Wednesday.

In a nutshell, Trees appears to be intent on carving out a rather unique niche for itself : a “decidedly different” alien invasion book that actually is decidedly different. The setup is a reasonably simple one, but loaded with possibility : ten years ago, giant pillars descended from the sky, rooted themselves into the ground all over the Earth, and then just stayed there. Apparently all we know about them — and don’t ask me where this info came from — is that they were searching for intelligent life, somehow “decided” that we were neither intelligent nor living, and then hung around. No one knows what they’re doing. There’s no way of moving them. They’re silent. And everybody’s doing their best, in the wake of the initial wave of devastation their landing caused, to just get on about their business in the shadow of these new apparently-permanent fixtures.

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Roughly half of this first issue is taken up with an extended flashback sequence set in Rio, but in the present day the focus seems to be more on New York (and specifically some rich Wall Street asshole who’s running for mayor there) and a polar (I think) research station of some sort that has discovered that the titular “trees” are doing — I dunno, something. There’s very little going on here by way of characterization so far, and while a lot of first issues go overboard in the “pure setup” department, this one probably takes the cake, because that’s literally all that’s happening here. If this were a graphic novel — which I’m sure it eventually will be — this would better presented as some sort of extended introduction than a proper first chapter. One gets the distinct sense that the story itself, whatever it may be, hasn’t even really begun yet.

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I liked Howard’s art, to be sure — it seems to be miles away from standard super-hero work and employs some nice cross-hatching and a loose, free style. In many ways it reminds me of newspaper editorial cartooning minus the exaggerated physical features. It’s somewhat “sketchy,” no doubt about it, but that fits the tone of Ellis’ script, at least to this point, quite nicely. There are some big, bold action sequences for the artist to really sink his teeth into, and he delivers the goods with aplomb. All in all, the imagery here is very well-suited to the task of slow-burn “world-building” punctuated with instances of brash sci-fi ultraviolence and adventure. You can feel the tension in the air just by looking at folks and know that when it — whatever “it” is — finally hits, Howard’s going to land a big-time hammer-blow, visually speaking.

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Beyond that, though, it’s really impossible to say what we as readers are in store for — the premise seems more suited to a half-hour Twilight Zone episode than it does a monthly comic series. The “cliffhanger” ending is impossible to understand. And sense of mystery alone isn’t going to carry things for too long if Ellis doesn’t give us some actual characters to give a shit about. I really do want to like Trees — and my inner nerd is telling me that I should — but there’s simply not enough evidence to go on here for me to be able to even begin to guess whether or not I actually will.

 

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When we fist meet Army Intelligence officer Edward Finch in the opening pages of writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson’s new monthly ongoing series from Image Comics, Nailbiter, he’s about to blow his brains out. By the time events in this book play themselves out, who knows? Maybe he’ll look back and wish he’d done it.

I say that not because this is a bad comic or anything, but because it promises to be one dark and disturbing ride. Finch’s suicide attempt — undertaken for reasons as yet unknown — is interrupted by a phone call from an old friend, FBI criminal profiler Eliot Carroll, who tells our hanging-by-a-thread protagonist that his services are required in a sleepy n’ creepy little town called Buckaroo, Oregon, where Carroll is on the brink of some sort of major breakthrough in his quest to discover just what it is that makes serial killers tick.

Evidently, he’s picked the right spot to go sleuthing around, because Buckaroo, despite having a relatively small population, has served as the birthplace for no less than 16 of America’s most notorious multiple murderers, the most infamous among them being Charles Edward Warren, better known in the tabloid press as the “Nailbiter,” due to his penchant for selecting victims who bite their nails and then proceeding to do the the same thing — before continuing upwards along their hands, arms, etc. You get the picture, I’m sure.

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Right off the bat, it’s obvious that Williamson is onto a crackerjack premise here, despite certain key elements of his first issue requiring some seriously heavy suspension of disbelief. For instance, the fact that Finch, a guy who’s employed in a field that’s at least nominally related to law enforcement, has never heard of Buckaroo is patently absurd. Fact is, thanks to our 24-hours-a-day media cycle, if one tiny community were home to 16 serial killers, everybody would know about the place. It would probably, in fact, be something of a tourist “hot spot” for the morbidly inclined, with locals seeking to cash in on their hometown’s less-than-illustrious reputation. In the world of Nailbiter, though, human decency is apparently not as scarce a commodity as it is in the real world, and only one local yokel is shown trying to milk large-scale human suffering for a quick buck. So let’s call that unlikely scenario number two. The third, and most improbable, bitter pill we’re asked to swallow, though, is a real doozy — the idea that Warren, who was caught by the cops devouring one of his victims and is suspected, according to this issue’s text, “of 46 murders in California alone” would actually be acquitted by a jury and allowed to return home a free man is just flat-out nuts. People are convicted on flimsier grounds all the time, just ask any black guy from the South. Likewise, the fact that Finch was previously unaware of this acquittal until informed of it by the local cops in Buckaroo seems highly unlikely, as well.

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Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Actually, pretty damn good. Once Finch shows up in Buckaroo and finds his contact/friend has disappeared, a palpable sense of dread hangs over all the proceedings, helped along in no small measure by Mike Henderson’s unassuming-but-solid pencils and inks and Adam Guzowski’s moody, atmospheric color palette. The script might be a little rocky in places, but the art here is rock-solid, and Williamson, who’s made something of a name for himself with his popular Ghosted series, definitely redeems himself by making what could — and by all rights probably should — feel like a contrived set-up at issue’s end that sees Finch going to the home of Warren in order to enlist his assistance in tracking down Carroll’s whereabouts seem, instead, to be at least a reasonably natural progression of events. And the cliffhanger he concocts to end things on, while admittedly a simple enough one, is delivered with genuine aplomb and packs a real wallop.

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It’s fair to say, then, that Nailbiter #1, warts and all, is still a grimly intriguing book that should have no problem appealing to fans of Hannibal and the like. I’m not exactly “hooked” yet, per se, but I’m ready enough to bite,  and subsequently be reeled in,  despite the fact that I can see the bait clear as day dangling in the water.

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Anybody who “came of age” in the 1980s can tell you one thing — this whole nostalgia trip some folks seem to wallow in for that decade is seriously fucking misplaced. I was there and I can relate, in no uncertain terms,  that the ’80s absolutely sucked. Yuppies wearing Polo shirts with upturned collars. Journey and Air Supply blaring on top 40 radio. The rise of truly repugnant social forces like the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition. Illegal arms sales to drug-running terrorist armies that our government had the nerve to call “freedom fighters.” Skyrocketing federal budget deficits. People so hysterically freaked out by the rise of AIDS that they had the idiocy (not to mention the unmitigated gall) to claim that it was “god’s revenge on gays.” Horrid TV sitcoms like Family Ties and The Golden Girls at the top of the ratings charts. Reagan looming over ever part and parcel of the decade like the grim shadow of death that, for all intents and purposes, he looked like (or probably looked like — it was hard to tell under all that stage makeup he wore).

About the only thing that seemed to offer any hope of escape from the cultural, social, economic, and political death spiral we were stuck in was the deep-seated fear we were all being inculcated with courtesy of the horror story spoon-fed to us by the media, our teachers, and in some cases even our parents,  that those evil Russkies might unload their purportedly enormous stockpile of nuclear missiles on us at any minute and put us all out of our collective misery.

It was all a hustle, of course. The Russian people were starving to death and the Cold War was just a cheap scare tactic being used to prop up our out-of-control warfare — excuse me, “defense” — establishment, but shit : it sure sounded good. A mushroom cloud waking you up in the morning or an alarm clock radio playing “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Survivor — which would you pick?

Of course, I was a young, stupid kid so it all seemed perfectly “normal” to me. And besides — I had comic books, goddamnit, and if there’s one thing the ’80s actually were a good time for, it was being a comics fan.

There were a couple of forces at play that were revitalizing our favorite beloved but beleaguered medium at the time — on the one hand, you had superhero revisionism in full force at DC, with books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen redefining the possibilities inherent in the guys-n’-gals-in-tights genre by pointing out, in the most stark manner possible, what a bunch of bullshit the founding pillars of said genre were in the first place, while brewing just underneath that was a booming independent comics scene that was allowing mostly amateur creators to tell — well, whatever kind of stories they felt like, basically. Between the two trends, it honestly felt like the possibilities were endless. As Timbuk3 were telling us, the future was so bright we had to wear shades.

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It all fell apart, of course. The “Big Two” grasped the superficial appeal of the superhero  revisionist genre easily enough without understanding — or even caring to understand — the deeper implications of why those two seminal works of 1986 mentioned earlier were so important, and as a result we got a steady stream of “darker” and “grittier” masked vigilantes that continues unabated to this day, while the “black and white boom” the small press enjoyed soon became a “black and white bust” when the market was over-saturated with a bunch of third-rate, quick-cash-in books that didn’t sell because,hell, they sucked.

Still, a lot of talent that would go on to take the “major leagues” by storm got started in the independent “minors” — maybe names like Adam Hughes, Eddie Campbell, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and Matt Wagner (to mention just a small handful) ring a bell? And plenty of titles from that time hold up pretty well, it has to be said : MageGrendelStrange DaysNexus — all of these are better the 30th (or 300th) time around than most of what’s being pumped out by Marvel of DC these days. Heck, even Fish Police wasn’t too bad.

Maybe it’s just the first sign of my inevitable mid-life crisis, but shit — I really do miss the “anything goes” spirit of some of those indies. Which is why I’ve found myself smiling ear-to-ear through each of the first two issues of Protectors Inc., the latest offering from J. Michael Straczynki’s “Joes Comics” imprint, which seems to have found a new (and hopefully permanent) home at Image Comics.

It’s not that it’s a perfect book, mind you — far from it. But it seems to be taking a fresh angle to the by-now-thoroughly-played-out ’80s trope of super hero revisionism by applying the loose, maybe even amateur (and I mean that as a positive) stylistic trappings  of the ’80s indie boom and the end result is a title that , at least so far, is a hell of a lot of fun to read.

Sure, Straczynski probably has this sucker tightly plotted out from the fist page to the last, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Some WW II soldier gets super powers, starts calling himself “The Patriot,” and saves the world time and again. But then one day he just disappears. And a bunch of rich people with nothing to do suddenly declare that they, too, have powers beyond those of mortal men, form an outfit called Protectors Inc. (obviously), and take up The Patriot’s mantle of saving us all from — shit, I dunno, ourselves, I guess, because there aren’t any super villains to speak of in this world.

A bunch of good guys with no bad guys to fight — that’s either gotta be the best, or the dumbest, idea anyone’s ever had. I haven’t decided which is the case here yet, but finding out is certainly going to be interesting.

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In the meantime, some ex-spy from the “wrong” side of the former Iron Curtain disappears in a flash of blinding light, there are un-natural thunderstorms every night, and some Chicago homicide detectives are investigating some apparently unconnected murders. Don’t ask me what any of this has to do with anything yet, but again, it’s a blast seeing it all play out. Straczynski seems to be in no hurry here, and that’s a good thing — he’s giving his characters time and space to breathe, to reveal themselves, and even folks you know probably won’t be central figures to the proceedings are provided ample opportunity to develop somewhat distinct personalities. Like the best of those ’80s indies, it all feels very organic, maybe even a little bit “loosey-goosey,” but the book’s core premises are intriguing enough to convince us folks out here in reader-land that we should stick with Protectors Inc.‘s creators and trust that they’ll get us all to wherever we’re all going. Even if we don’t have the first clue as to where that is yet.

On the art side, seasoned veteran Gordon Purcell (who, ironically, I knew pretty well back in the ’80s when he was just starting to break in at DC and worked part-time at the local comic shop where I was known as the loudest-mouthed, most opinionated little bastard who frequented the store — before growing up to become a loud-mouthed, opinionated, not-so-little bastard on the internet — the more things change, the more they stay the same) is handling the pencilling and inking here, and seems to have found a perfect style match for Straczynski’s script. There’s something deliciously eager and enthusiastic about Purcell’s (sorry for calling you by your last name, Gordon, if you ever happen to read this) art here,  and while I hesitate to say that it invokes memories of some of the better, still-not-quite-ready-for-prime-time artists of those ’80s indies I keep blathering on about, it definitely feels more like the work of an ambitious young talent who wants to draw the coolest super-heroes he can think of rather than that of a guy who’s been at the game for well over two decades. It reminds me of the kind of art that used to be in the modules for that old Champions role-playing game, and that’s just plain beyond fucking perfect for the tone and mood of this series. Michael Atiyeh’s atmospheric and sensitive color palette complements the images to a proverbial “T” and the end result is a book that, again, isn’t perfect to look at, but has a kind of raw, vital, youthful energy to it that just can’t be faked.

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All in all, Protectors Inc., at least through its first two issues, is that rarest of anomalies — a comic done by two veteran hands with something like a half-century of combined experience between them that reads, looks, and feels as dynamic, honest, and downright fun as the work of a couple of promising up-and-comers. Sometimes it’s maybe a little too eager to please, and a little scattered or unfocused, but I have faith in these kids, and if their work here is any indication, they’ve both got bright futures ahead of them in this business.