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Review: BLACK RIVER

Fantagraphics-Josh-Simmons

There is no Black River to be found in Josh Simmons’s graphic novel, “Black River,” but that’s besides the point. The characters are all post-apocalypse survivors with nary a need to know one river from another. Nihilism prevails. For such a bare bones story, there are plenty of compelling moments, both grim and poetic.

People can be pretty hostile and dangerous even in the best of times, so it is quite something to have a group of youth running wild into the wasteland. No zombies to contend with, if that’s any consolation. It’s more the drip, drip, drip, of too many lost and rough souls wandering. All this Simmons depicts well. It’s something any hip cartoonist can revel in, if he or she chooses, and he does a good job of it.

With all the jailhouse craziness that ensues, Simmons is a careful artist. He has a deft way of creating just the right amount of detail to evoke a landscape or a town that has been left in ruins. And I really enjoy his rendering of the Aurora Borealis. It comes up a number of times in panels, enough to add to the spacey energy that charges this work.

Much like a good old-fashioned horror movie, a comic such as this, to be any good, relies upon setting up an interesting mood and environment. Without a doubt, Simmons succeeds in this. He gives us some compelling characters among his ragtag group of hardened misfits. And we’re left wanting to turn the page as a morbid sense of curiosity sets in. Of course, things will get darker, as well as more disgusting. This is raw stuff, kids. Mature content. Those familiar with it, will not be disappointed.

Josh-Simmons-Black-River

And if you’re in Seattle, be sure to visit the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery this Saturday, April 25, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm for a reception for the publication of Josh Simmons’s new graphic novel, Black River, and the release of the latest issue of Intruder, #15. Simmons will be joined by his colleagues from the Intruder comix collective. Simmons contributes a story in the latest issue illustrated by Joe Garber. Festivities include a display of Simmons’s original drawings, a black light room, short film screening, a book signing, and complimentary refreshments.

Black River is a 112-page trade paperback, priced at $18.99. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, Josh Simmons

Review: THE REALIST by Asaf Hanuka

Hanuka-The-Realist

For the last four years, Asaf Hanuka has been doing auto-biographical webcomics about his life in Tel Aviv, Israel, entitled, “The Realist.” In many ways, this is a pretty straightforward narrative but, as in any life, things can gain, at any moment, a razor-sharp specificity and intensity. This is, after all, one of the most watched war-torn areas in the world.

So, when a morning can simply consist of a father goading his little boy to eat his toast, that already carries potentially more weight than a similar moment somewhere else. That said, Hanuka seems to carry himself like a man on a mission wherever he might live. The Realist has now been collected for the first time in English as a graphic novel, published by Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.

The-Realist-Hanuka

Comparable to the work of R. Crumb and Daniel Clowes, Hanuka has a keen sense for depictions of everyday life. What really matters is that he’s FUNNY!

I actually laughed out loud from reading his comics. He wears his version of the average Joe quite well. There’s one strip where we follow Hanuka throughout his day, as if following the daily routine of a computer from start up to sleep mode. At each point of the day, he has options to choose: engage or ignore the bus driver, the neighbor, the co-worker, his son, his wife. End. Repeat the next day. It strikes close to home, and it’s hilarious.

They say that if if you try to call attention to your merits, people will gladly ignore you. However, if you revel in self-deprecation, suddenly you have a following. Well, Hanuka definitely has a following. But it’s more than having readers relate to your problems. Hanuka has an engaging style with his artwork. It’s a crisp rendering of his life that you can’t help but want to know more about.

“The Realist” is an original 192-page hardcover graphic novel, priced at $24.99, arriving in comic shops from Archaia on April 22nd with a cover by creator Asaf Hanuka. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.

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Filed under Archaia Entertainment, Asaf Hanuka, Boom! Studios, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East, War, Webcomics

Review: Insight Legends series and Marvel Comics

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN.

Who is it that loves superhero comics the most? Kids! Yes, superhero comics are for kids. There are plenty of stories geared toward older readers but, at the heart of the matter, if you stray so far from your younger readers, you have really lost something vital. Well, the focus shifted many years ago to mature and dark content to say the least. While an all-ages sphere of influence would prove quite interesting, we’ve moved past that model. Whatever the content, ultimately it depends on the creative team as to merit of each project. That said, kids must get their due. In that regard, Insight Editions has come up with a series with young readers in mind.

Tony Stark takes it easy.

Tony Stark takes it easy.

I can well imagine books like these being warmly received, taken at face value, by younger readers. Sounds idealistic? No, it’s just the power of childhood. Each one of these books is part of the Insight Legends series from Insight Editions. The series kicks off with a focus on characters from the Marvel Comics universe.

Thor postage stamp stickers.

Thor postage stamp stickers.

Each book comes packed with extras like posters, stickers, and “top secret” documents. Pages are full of intriguing facts, maps, and family trees, providing a veritable guidebook on a particular character. That’s the theme: a focus on one character and that character’s view of the world. Included in the series are Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Thor. Each book is around 64 pages with about 10 inserts, varies with each book.

For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions. You can find THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IRON MAN right here. You can find THE WORLD ACCORDING TO THOR right here.

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Filed under Avengers, Comics, Insight Editions, Marvel Comics, Superheroes

Review: MIGHTY STAR AND THE CASTLE OF THE CANCATERVATER

Mighty-Star-Koyama-Press

Alex Degen is working in a place that many cartoonists want to be working in. It’s a place of wonder and experimentation. He’s definitely someone I’d love to sit down and have a long talk with over tea, beer, whatever. What he does in this collection of comics hits close to home since it’s the sort of comics I like to create. I feel that I know a goodly amount about this as I’ve studied numerous similar work over the years and I know several cartoonists in a similar boat. That said, this is a pretty specific way of working.

Some label this type of cartooning as “dream logic” or “psychedelic.” What they mean is that the work evokes an anything-goes quality or follows a stream-of-consciousness narrative. This is seemingly loose work. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to get sloppy. Instead, you want to be pretty clean and precise with your presentation in order to go to some weird places and have it read properly. All this Degen does quite well.

This book collects six parts of previous webcomics which add up to one wild journey. Each part ends with a “to be continued” and it provides an essential pause. I say this because that may help break things down a bit for you, if you’re totally new. What you’ll initially find is a world where it seems as if anything is liable to explode or melt or some such surreal craziness. Let’s get one thing straight, the definition of “cancatervater.” It means, “to heap into a pile.” Does that help? Well, does it? Okay, think of this Cancatervater as a most sinister force plotting to take over the world. Now, add Mighty Star, our superhero, to the mix.

A-Degen-Koyama-Press

What happens is, well, a little of everything. It’s science fiction, fantasy, manga, and bit of a bodice ripper. Twice, we have two pretty young women suddenly bare breasted. One is Bijoux, a typical manga type in skin-tight clothes. The other is far less obvious, an aerialist, Zoe Trala. In both cases, it seems that a certain amount of tension, made up of pent-up hormones and angst, has reached a point of no return. The women’s clothes are not ripped off of them. They simply find themselves without tops. So, needless to say, this book has mature content, more for older teens and above. In the end, this book is more cerebral than titillating.

It’s after this second incident with Zoe Trala’s missing top that more nudity is included but it has purpose. It’s always of a rather understated nature, not offensive or particularly gratuitous. And it leads us to one of the most compelling scenes in the narrative. Mighty Star’s journey leads him to a forest. And hanging from the trees are numerous naked bodies of both men and women. They aren’t hung dead bodies. No, instead, they fall from the trees just like apples. In fact, they each have a big apple stem where each head should be. This is the most explicit symbol of the forbidden knowledge that Mighty Star has been confronting all along.

Alex-Degen-comics

All the characters here are elusive and enigmatic. Moreover, the superhero motif is not obviously vigorous but mysterious. In a setting for action there is farce and ambiguity. The style here is a somewhat rougher version of King City’s Brandon Graham. Offbeat. Off–kilter. Dialed back to just the right frequency. When you expect conflict, you may end up with a muffled sedate response. Sex. Violence. Superheroes. Leave it to a cartoonist like Alex Degen to balance all that with such a wry and ironic sensibility.

Yes, Alex, I’ll be waiting with tea, beer, or whatever. I’m sure we’d have one hell of a good talk.

MIGHTY STAR AND THE CASTLE OF THE CANCATERVATER is a 172-page, black & white, trade paperback, priced at $15.00, published by Koyama Press. For more details, visit our friends at Koyama Press right here.

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Filed under Alex Degen, Brandon Graham, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Koyama Press, Webcomics

Review: ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1 (ERIC POWELL VARIANT COVER)

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1 (ERIC POWELL VARIANT COVER)

Archie and the gang have been in quite a few adventures, including being turned into zombies, and for this latest romp they crossover to Dark Horse Comics and meet up with Predator. Yeah, Predator, as in “Alien vs. Predator.” As farfetched as this team-up might seem, the Archie magic makes it work as this first issue of a four-issue arc, demonstrates. It’s a mashup, folks, and nothing wrong with that.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR-01

Overall, it’s good fun. The script, by Alex de Campi (Grindhouse, My Little Pony), is amusing and keeps up a good pace. The artwork is pretty spot on for Archie fare. In general, over the years, I think the characters have been kept away from mothballs to an impressive degree. In fact, there’s no need for mothballs at all.

I sometimes wonder if, for each new event that is created to stir the pot, if the Archie gang loses something. I mean, after all, they are already iconic, and quite elastic, characters in their own right. Adventures right in Riverdale are playing to their strengths. Well, perhaps that’s why all roads eventually lead back to the gang’s hometown. And speaking of elastic characters, the art team here does keep everything Archie fresh: pencils by Fernando Ruiz; inks by Rich Koslowski; and colors by Jason Millet.

As the promotions to this comic state, Predator is “in Riverdale with a few days to kill!” Yes, and the key thing here is that he’s in Riverdale. Perhaps this meeting of Archie and Predator will be like that Brady Bunch episode when the Brady family goes on an exotic tropical vacation and brings home a voodoo doll. Nothing like a home-court advantage.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1 is available as of April 15. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Archie Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics

Review: BLOODSHOT REBORN #1

Bloodshot-Reborn-Valiant-Comics

Jeff Lemire is known for his quirky vision. Well, for this project with Valiant Entertainment, he gives us a washed-up grunt who was once the deadly assassin, Bloodshot. In Lemire’s hands, Valiant’s Bloodshot is truly reborn.

Bloodshot-Reborn-Jeff-Lemire

Lemire writes it and shares the artwork duties with Mico Suayan. All in all, it is a satisfying offbeat story placing a broken man in direct contrast with the large-than-life force that he used to be. And this sets the tone for the big guy’s return back into the game.

What will set something like this apart requires a great leap of faith since we’ve been down this road before. If the creative team is committed to the project, then readers will respond. The fact is, these type of adventures do sort of write themselves up to a point. You need the vision that Lemire can bring to make it special.

Bloodshot-Reborn

You’ve got all your goodies here: a lone wolf character who has been controlled by Project Rising Star, a shadow government agency. He was known as Bloodshot, all white skin and red eyes, like the scariest ripped clown you’ve ever seen. And all these little nano robots flowing through his bloodstream keeping him alive and in line. And then he escapes. And that wasn’t so good as life off the grid usually goes. But there was that one woman, Kay, the Geomancer, who believed in him.

Take all this Valiant universe stew and let it simmer for a bit. And here’s where you add the quirk. Bloodshot goes incognito. He ends up in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. He takes the name Ray Garrison and now works as the facility guy at the Red River Inn. He sort of becomes friends with Gene, the widower, and her grandson, 12-year-old Toby. But the whole time, he knows something has got to give.

Before too long, things do fall apart. Before we end this first issue, our hero is way in the thick of trouble. And what gets us there is done with good pacing and a certain style. And that’s because a decent story does not write itself! I think Lemire is on to something with his take on Bloodshot. The whole look of the comic is very promising. So far, it has that type of staying power that reminds me of a good Ed Brubaker pot-boiler.

BLOODSHOT REBORN #1 is available as of April 15. For more details, visit our friends at Valiant Entertainment right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Jeff Lemire, Valiant Entertainment

Review: NEMO: RIVER OF GHOSTS by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Nemo-River-of-Ghosts-Alan-Moore

“Nemo: River of Ghosts” comes to you from the universe of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Kevin O’Neill. This is the last in a trilogy of Nemo adventures featuring Captain Nemo’s daughter, Janni Dakkar. Here, you’ll find Janni, the grand matriarch nearing the end of her life, on a most urgent quest. With all her resolve, she knows she has no choice but to find and kill Princess Ayesha before it’s too late. Ayesha is a great threat to Nemo and, after all, Janni already beheaded her thirty years ago! Of course, most people find this quest rather absurd. However, this is a world of gods and magic, so it’s not out of the question.

Everything revolves around this elusive Princess Ayesha. But, whatever the prey, we’re off on one mad adventure. And you can’t have a good adventure without colorful characters. Stealing the show is one Hugo Coghlan. With Janni in a vulnerable state, 80 years-old and in bad health, Coghlan proves to be her most valued assistant. It would be difficult for him to do otherwise as he intimately knows the Amazon jungle they are heading out for and he can easily lift a 1952 Buick with his pinkie finger and simply sigh, “Just as easy.” Hugo also happens to greatly admire Janni despite her chilly rudeness.

Once Janni has her crew on the mighty Nautilus, she has to deal with such classic nautical obstacles as mutiny and stowawys. But when the submersible’s token stoaway turns out to be her own ten-year-old grandson, Jack, Janni is forced to rein in her temper just a bit. In the end, the boy gets a pat on the head and a front row seat, so to speak, to what is about to unfold. Jack provides some useful added perspective. In the bargain, Jack also holds the link to possible further Nemo adventures.

This last installment of Moore and O’Neill’s Nemo adventures is one spot on adventure. There’s some mature content so I would place this as appropriate for teens and above. Overall, it’s quite a ripping yarn. When was the last time you had an 80-year-old as your main character in an action adventure? I think we all know the answer to that one. Brilliant. Simply, brilliant.

“Nemo: River of Ghosts” is a 56-page full color hardcover, priced at $14.95, and available now. For more details, visit our friends at Top Shelf Productions right here.

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Filed under Alan Moore, Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jules Verne, Steampunk, Top Shelf Productions

Review: REBELS #1

Rebels-Brian-Wood-Dark-Horse-Comics-2015

If Brian Wood were a high school teacher, he’d be the one any kid could turn to. Wood is at his best when he’s writing about rebellious youth, and just plain rebels. That’s why it’s brilliant to have him on this unusual comic book project. For those who read comic books, when was the last time you read a compelling comic book series set in the American Revolution. Never? Well, here it is.

Wood loves to get his readers deep into the story. He succeeds here as we can’t help but root for Seth, a boy with a very distant father. And then nothing is ever the same again. It turns out that his old man is keenly interested in killing redcoats. And he means to teach his son all he knows. And, before it’s too late, he might even get to express his love for his son.

In the first issue of “Rebels,” we begin a six-chapter arc, “A Well-Regulated Militia.” It is all about the education of one Seth Abbott. Wood does a fine job of laying out Seth’s journey as he, lucky for everyone around him, finds his voice. In time, Seth becomes a man who matters and who can contribute to the rebel cause.

Art bt Andrea Mutti perfectly compliments Wood’s script with authentic settings and characters. It’s very important to Wood to get you inside the story and he certainly succeeds with that.

Yes, if Brian Wood were a high school teacher, he’d be more concerned with a student understanding a subject than whether he or she got an A. So far, “Rebels” has got an A and it looks like it will maintain it.

“Rebels #1″ is available as of April 8. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Review: SEXCASTLE by Kyle Starks

Sexcastle-Image-Comics

“Sexcastle” is funny stuff from a dude named Kyle Starks. You may know him from his offbeat, yet sophisticated, webcomics. Sexcastle will have you laughing right from the start. It’s mature content, as you’ll notice from all the less than polite language in the first panels, but it’s totally immature goofy content too. The thing is, it only seems to be a slapdash free-for-all. This is a very well-built comic.

Sexcastle-Kyle-Starks-Image-Comics

We need more comics like this with an authentic energy about them. It looks simple and silly but simple and silly alone won’t keep your interest. Starks may not render the most complex characters and objects but he uses a keen sense of style to keep things moving along. I suspect he does his fair share of laying out and editing both on the art and the script.

Okay, Shane Sexcastle is supposed to be the ultimate professional assassin dude, like the character Bruce Willis plays in all the Die Hard action movies. Sexcastle seems to be a little more mellow, crude, and unfocused than John McClane ever was.

What makes this so funny is how in tune Sexcastle is to doing whatever he needs to do next. If a VIP pushes Sexcastle to do his bidding, Sexcastle just pushes back. If a child is crying, he swiftly confronts the kid to explain to him the only reasons anyone should be brought to tears. If a woman has been disrespected, he has no problem at all with pummeling the dirty perpetrator into submission. And the whole time, Sexcastle seems more comical than authoritative. He can’t help that. The guy is deadly serious and ready for trouble! As he puts it, “Trouble does my laundry.”

Image Comics collects the whole Sexcastle saga. Will there me more? Well, you never know. This collection should hold you for a while. In this adventure, Sexcastle is up to his neck in trouble, including a briefcase that’s a portal to the End of Days. Good thing he buried that in his friend’s backyard, right? But there’s even more trouble: The Assassin’s Union is hot on Shane Sexcastle’s trail!

“Sexcastle” is a 208-page trade paperback, published by Image Comics, priced at $15.99, for mature readers, and available now. For more details, visit our friends at Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Image Comics, Kyle Starks, Webcomics

Review: THE WITCHER: FOX CHILDREN #1

Paul-Tobin-Witcher-Fox-Children

The team of writer Paul Tobin and artist Joe Querio have created some more magic with their reuniting for another Witcher adventure. Does Witcher go on adventures? He’s such a low-key guy. He did end up on a misadventure last time.

That’s what Witcher does: sort of ends up on misadventures. For this one, he has a trusty dwarf. He’s rather tall for a dwarf and quite pudgy but he’s a feisty guy. The two of them stumble upon a bad idea that just keeps getting worse. Let’s say you were a wandering warlock/poet and you just happened upon a mighty ship heading to your favorite port. But it’s teeming with suspicious characters. You wouldn’t just jump on board and take your chances, would you? Well, Witcher does. And thus begins our tale.

You just got to love Tobin’s droll sense of humor and understated style. A Witcher tale can start any time and any place The dude is up for anything. But he can get quite adamant when he sees danger up ahead. Danger is a bad thing one should avoid. As a rule, Witcher doesn’t take foolish risks. Maybe a calculated risk here and there, mind you. But what was Witcher thinking this time? His overly cautious sense of danger was completely out to lunch. He really is on a ship of fools! One by one, we learn just how foolish and stupid these men are. And stupid is a bad thing, just as bad as danger.

It’s gets spookier from here on out. It is definitely a fine example of the Dark Horse danse macabre: gloom and doom, spiked with a touch of whimsy. Lucky for us, Joe Querio draws the hell out of this story, complimented by wicked earthy colors by Carlos Badilla. The opening scenes set the stage for all that is to follow. You’ve got Geralt, aka The Witcher, having to placate, Dwarf, his rotund assistant’s ranting. Out of nowhere, a huge wild boar nearly mauls Dwarf. Witcher instantly kills, and roasts, the boar, to Dwarf’s delight. No sooner has Dwarf set his sights on a boar snack than he confronts a rival for his meal. This creature mirrors the size and shape of the boar and is fives times bigger. It’s all a wonderful mash-up of the Brothers Grimm and Game of Thrones.

And what about the fox children? Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.

“The Witcher: Fox Children #1″ is available as of April 1. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Horror, Paul Tobin, Supernatural, Supernatural Horror