Posts Tagged ‘Top Cow Productions’

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As a long-time fan of Blade Runner-esque dystopian sci-fi, the premise behind writer/artist/letterer/colorist Raffaele Ienco’s new Top Cow/Image series Mechanism sounded right up my alley — sometime in the not-too-terribly-distant future, a reptilian race of flesh-eaters referred to by the besieged populace of Earth as “Geckos” have descended upon us from above with a view toward turning the planet into their personal larder, and in response such humans as still remain have constructed a shit-ton of militarized robots to fight off the marauding lizard-men. Results have been decidedly mixed, however, and now a new “leaner, meaner” — and hopefully smarter — prototype has been sent into the field well before it’s probably ready, and it’s up to a pair of cops who well and truly don’t seem to like each other very much to show their new mechanical “pal” the ropes while it just sits (or stands) there, quietly and creepily observing everything until its programming tells it that it’s good and ready for action. The problem is, when it finally does get off its tin-plated ass, it’s going to be too late for either one or both of the “future cops,” or for the determined urban scavenger they’ve found wandering through one of those “unauthorized zones” we’re apparently going to be seeing any number of down the road according to one post-apocalyptic would-be epic after another. And then, of course, we’ll be confronted with the even larger existential dilemma of  which poses the greater threat — the Geckos themselves, or the robots ostensibly meant to “save” us from them? Who watches the Watch-bots?

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Ienco’s lush, fluid art — complete with its distinctive “digitally painted” coloring — has been consistently impressive over in the pages of fellow Top Cow stablemate (ha! Get it?) Symmetry, but whereas that book both benefits and suffers from writer Matt Hawkins’ propensity to ask “big questions” at the expense, at times, of his own narrative, here it’s a solo show all the way, and so far the results are encouraging, at the least, if not quite altogether impressive. Much of the dialogue, particularly between our mutually-antagonistic cops, is cliched and ineffective, it has to be said,  but the internal politics of both the police department and the corporate lab where the titular Mechanism is being rushed into service seem damn intriguing, and while the mechanics (pun only slightly intended, I promise) of the scripting can hopefully be improved on over time, there’s no going back and swapping out good core concepts for shit ones once the train has left its station, and the core concepts in this book are very good indeed.

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Who are we kidding, though? The art’s the real star of the show here, and I’m more than pleased to report that our guy Raff is pulling out all the stops when it comes to delivering a borderline-breathtaking visual experience. His style may be a bit too “computerized” for some tastes, I freely admit, but underneath that SFX-heavy digitized palette —which actually serves to embellish the storyline quite well given its setting and subject matter — is high-quality pencil-and-ink work that you simply can’t fake. Even if the script absolutely sucked — which, again and for the record, is hardly the case — this book might be worth your $3.99 for the art alone.

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All in all, then, I’m reasonably optimistic about the future of this — uhhmmm — horrific, nightmarish future. I have some concerns as to whether or not Ienco can keep up with two titles, sure, especially since he’s wearing all of the various creative “hats” on this one, but hopefully they’ve scheduled the now-customary breaks between story arcs for each in such a way that a lull in the publication of one will afford him the opportunity to concentrate more fully on the other. And vice-versa, of course. He’s got a lot on his plate, no question about it, but so far it seems like he can handle the heavy load not just fine, but really well. I strongly recommend giving Mechanism a look.

 

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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.