Category Archives: Comics Reviews

Comics Review: MURDER #1

MURDER #1

MURDER is an intriguing new graphic novel series that will have you thinking twice about animals. It is written by the team of husband and wife, Matthew & Brittany Loisel. Art by Emiliano Correa. Lettering by Micah Myers. In all respects, this is quite a compelling work in comics. I have to admit that when I first took a look at it, my mind quickly went to the classic song, “Meat is Murder,” by The Smiths. I’m sure that the Loisels knew they would need to bring their A-game to a subject vulnerable to earnest polemics. So, yeah, the animals rebel and the meat industry is put on notice but it is all done with quirky style.

Meat industry put on notice!

One issue in and I am left curious for more. The narrative has a nice natural pace. We don’t know too much about our emerging cast of characters–just enough to be lured in. I’m intrigued by the one standout human in the bunch. We see him in a two-year flash forward going by the name of The Butcher of Butchers. He makes for a colorful vigilante. We start off by seeing him befriend a little baby chick.

Chicks and humans don’t mix so well.

The little baby chick, by the way, can talk–and the do-gooder human buddy of his understands and casually chats with the chick. Who knew. Humans and animals, just like Doctor Dolittle, can talk to the animals! Well, in this story, it’s only this one human who can parlay with the pachyderms, if he were so inclined. For this guy, chatting with a chick is plenty for starters.

Start to think about it, and there are all sorts of critters talking to each other, and the occasional human, in books, movies, and comics. “Animal Farm” and “Watership Down” are a couple of my favorites. This comic gets a thumbs, paws and hooves up for willing to go out on a limb with a story involving a dog and a cat plotting their overthrow of humans while playing chess.

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Comics Review: XERXES: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DARIUS AND THE RISE OF ALEXANDER #1

Frank Miller is back, baby!

Frank Miller is back, baby! What a treat to see our Dark Knight master cartoonist returning to this long-awaited companion to his masterpiece, 300! As I like to point out, there’s nothing quite like having a masterful storyteller in charge of both the writing and the artwork. You have Greeks and Persians battling it out left and right, all following the vision of Miller. And, best of all, you really want to pick up this comic book in print form as it has a deluxe format. And it is colored by Alex Sinclair, the colorist for Miller’s Dark Knight Master Race, third installment of his Dark Knight Returns master trilogy.

XERXES #1

Frank Miller returns to the world of 300 with this sprawling historical epic! Persian King Xerxes sets out to conquer the world to avenge his father Darius’s defeat and create an empire, unlike anything the world has ever seen. That is until the hardy Greeks produce a god king of their own, Alexander the Great.

This is an utterly gorgeous work, right down to the lettering. While he could be using a font, I doubt it. This looks like hand-lettering, and we’re talking very precise and professional–with the added bonus of the artist in full control of where he wants his text boxes to hit in relation to compositions and action. Miller offers up plenty of compelling action sequences, by the way. It is a pleasure to linger over how to arranges his military formations, often alternating between crisp details set off by silhouettes. There is a genuine urgency here, a joy of cartooning that brings to mind such happy warriors as Jack Kirby and Stan Sakai. I love this book and can’t wait for more.

10/10

Back to 300!

XERXES #1 is available as of April 4, 2018. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Comics Review: ETERNITY GIRL #1

ETERNITY GIRL #1

Caroline Sharp, aka superhero Chrysalis, has been put on administrative leave by Alpha 13. You see, there was this incident, where all sorts of things got blown up. It was no big deal. She just lost her cool, as she tells her therapist. In fact, Caroline has got a lot to say given that she’s been trying to kill herself ever since she was put on leave…and, as a superhero, she’s immortal. ETERNITY GIRL is a miniseries from the Young Animal imprint at DC Comics and it is easily one of the most engaging of new comic books.

Superhero Therapy!

Here is a comic that knows how to strike just the right balance with crisp writing that juggles serious issues and complex characters. And the main character just happens to be a superhero. We’ve gone down this road before but it’s always worthy of recognition when it’s done right. The script by Magdalene Visaggio (Kim and Kim) is so good that it all feels quite refreshing. And the art by Sonny Liew (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) jumps off the page, with a lively spirit reminiscent of Curt Swan.

No Big Deal!

So, what do you do when you can live forever but you’d rather be dead? Quite a conundrum. And get a load of the featured villain: Madame Atom and The Night Terrors! Alright then! Turns out that Madam Atom may have a solution as to how Caroline/Chrysalis can kill herself. But who ever took advice from a villain? Sounds like pretty self-serving advice to me. We’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.

A perfect score: 10/10

ETERNITY GIRL #1 is available as of March 14, 2018. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.

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Comics Review: ‘Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things’ by Ted Naifeh

Never Trust a Talking Cat.

What an honor it was to chat with Ted Naifeh at Emerald City Comic Con. He is one of a number of master cartoonists that has not gotten on my radar, due to my own limitations. This is The New York Times bestselling author of “Courtney Crumrin.” Oni Press has recently re-issued all its collected volumes. I give you a taste with a review of “Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things.” The humor ranges from pithy to laugh-out-loud. I can tell you that, as I scanned the books, along with original pages, I couldn’t leave without getting a fix.

Mr. Naifeh has a dapper style with a touch of steampunk. I refer to his writing and drawing of comics–and to the man himself. Naifeh brings to mind a number of masters of a certain stripe of gothic horror, like Edward Gorey, Mike Mignola and Roald Dahl. Ask Mr. Naifeh to name an influence and he’ll get even more specific, like fellow cartoonist, Phil Foglio. Our main character, Courtney Crumrin, follows in this tradition of deliciously witty work.

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

Childhood is meant for children. Adults don’t totally get it, as far removed as they are. They may have even sugar-coated the whole experience in syrupy nostalgia. It is left to the kids to navigate the often scary, if not utterly dangerous, terrain as best they can. So it is for Courtney. In this first volume the reader gets to see her begin life at Crumrin manor. Her social-climbing and spendthrift parents eagerly take up the offer to be live-in caregivers to a wealthy but highly eccentric old relative, Great-Uncle Aloysius. Little do they know that the old man has supernatural powers, is as healthy as ever, and simply finds them useful for his own designs.

“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things”

The sense of dread and wonder is palpable as Naifeh has little Courtney navigate through wealthy brat bullies at school; and various hobgoblins lurking in every corner at home. Naifeh’s quill is precise with his depictions. Readers will quickly find themselves immersed in the narrative. The scenes with Courtney battling, and then bargaining with, a goblin are particularly creepy. Naifeh is spot on with his balancing and blending the otherworldly with harsh reality. Sometimes, you cross a goblin and you simply don’t come back. But, if you’re made of just the right stuff, it’s the goblin who is put on notice.

“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things” is published by Oni Press. For more details, visit Oni Press right here.

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ECCC 2018 Interview and Review: Terry Mayo and THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS

Terry Mayo is at the TPub booth, #1606.

Emerald City Comic Con provides so many opportunities to meet exciting talent. Case in point is Terry Mayo. He is currently on tour in support of his comic book, THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS with Alterna Comics; and his upcoming comic book, DISPOSABLE LEGENDS, with TPub Comics. If you’re going to ECCC, find Terry Mayo at the TPub booth, #1606. The TPub booth features all sorts of goodies, like the ongoing series TWISTED DARK.

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS #1 is a post-apocalyptic 6-issue comic book series from Alterna Comics. The creator and writer, Terry Mayo, describes it as “Mad Max meets Stranger Things.” We are midway through the series at this point so I’m catching up here. I can report that the first issue definitely sets the tone and proves to be a most enjoyable read.

When the Apocalypse hits, it comes down to survival of the fittest. Mayo plays with that concept with fine results. Think of this as having a bit of a Walking Dead vibe to with the focus being on one family clan in an alternate San Diego set in the future. You’ve got sophisticated government drones constantly hovering around and monitoring citizen activity. You’ve got a population that has been devastated by a mysterious plague. And you’ve got a civilization that is a mix of high tech and a throwback to another time more in tune with primal animal instincts.

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS

What’s so great about going to cons is stumbling upon little gems like this comic. I am always on the lookout for something that has just the right quirky offbeat factor. If something is just a historical saga, for instance, it becomes a much harder sell for me to be convinced I should take the time and effort to say anything about it. In the first place, where is my motivation? If a creator is a bit of a prima donna, again, I need a reason to overlook that. The list goes on. My time is valuable and so is yours. With that said, I like what Terry Mayo is doing here.

I will start to wrap this up by just emphasizing how essential it is to have some sort of hook in a work of comics. I don’t know how some readers are attracted to some of the stuff that for me, and for more careful readers, looks like it has been stripped of any shred of humanity. My hunch is that most readers are sometimes willing to take something for what it is and then just move on. What I think a comics publisher like Alterna Comics does best is to keep to a core of authenticity. I kid you not, people sniff that out.

Overall, I look forward to seeing the collected trade to THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS. I think the whole creative team here should be proud of themselves. The artwork by Lucas Romero definitely has got a real deal human touch and goes a long way into getting the reader involved. Colors by Christopher Hall are spot on with the moody atmospherics. Lettering by Brandon DeStefano fits in exceptionally well into compositions and enhances the genuine and organic feel to this comic.

Rating of 10/10

DISPOSABLE LEGENDS

THE WICKED RIGHTEOUS is available at comiXology right here. For more details, visit Alterna Comics right here.

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Comics Review: MATA HARI #1 (of 5)

MATA HARI #1

Any close study of history will reveal a vast array of ironies and contradictions. Both individuals and whole nations have checkered pasts. Which leads us to Mata Hari, charged with treason and espionage and executed by a French firing squad in 1917. France had been rocked by the Dreyfus affair only a few years earlier, another case of someone being wrongly accused and being used as a scapegoat. In a new limited series from Dark Horse Comics, we get a fresh look at the enigmatic and exotic Mata Hari.

There is more prose involved with comics than some would think. Prose, lots and lots of prose, is the bedrock to any comics project. Then it is a matter of matching up, balancing out, just the right fit of text and image. MATA HARI is an excellent example of this process as writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd) began with reading, of all things, a book! Yes, she read “Femme Fatale: Love, Lies and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari” by Professor Pat Shipman.

Mata Hari as Salome

And then one thing led to another. Artist Ariela Kristantina (Insexts) came on board and did her thing. Then, like a mini-orchestra taking form, colorist Pat Masioni added her special skills. And, finally, we have the mastereo, the conductor herself, editor Karen Berger, who has conducted quite a lot of masterworks in her tine at Vertigo. You know, I have to say this: (and I’ll say more at a later date) it is a very misguided myth that the best comics are being created by the misfit in a garret. True, amazing work comes from there but we need to always come around to what quality gems are put out my professionals. Europe, for instance, has understood that for a very long time.

The quality, especially of offbeat and daring content, that Karen Berger is bringing to Berger Books is right in step with what readers in other parts of the world have appreciated for generations. DC Comics added that extra layer of quirk with Berger at Vertigo. And now Dark Horse Comics gives us Berger at Berger Books! What more could you ask for, right? So, you see a comic book like MATA HARI and you snatch it up, that’s what you do, my dear discerning reader. This is a five-issue limited run. The first issue sets the tone quite nicely. We get a sense of the woman who came to be known to the world as Mata Hari. We get a look at her as a little girl, growing up, and discovering early on that her interests and passions would make for a challenging, but quite stimulating, life.

Rating of 10/10

MATA HARI is available now. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics and Berger Books right here.

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Comics Review: PRISM STALKER #1

PRISM STALKER by Sloane Leong

Sloane Leong is one of those special cartoonists who immerse themselves deep into a world of their own. This sort of artist-warrior is without exception, both writer and artist. Leong, following this highly individual tradition, has worked up her skills (never complaining since it never seemed like work) and come out the other side with comics of a caliber that has led her today to launching PRISM STALKER, her new title with Image Comics.

For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Leong apart. Among the many independent cartoonists out there, just like any other artists, a number of them will take one detour or another. Some will feel most comfortable remaining within self-published cliques. Others may need to keep a project under wraps and work on it on their own terms. But, if the stars are in alignment, and the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In the ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe. The work retains its integrity. The artist retains their integrity.

What you see on the comics page, the merging of words and images, takes on an added significance when created by a cartoonist in the traditional role of artist-writer. You end up with a window into the subconscious mind. I would argue that you can feel a disconnect, perhaps subtle or maybe distracting, in a collaborative work. That is why you hear so much said on the importance of chemistry between writer and artist. But you don’t have that concern when you’re running the whole show. In the case of Leong, she has taken on the added roles of lettering and coloring. All of that adds up to a more personal perspective. And, by the way, it is no surprise that cartoonists at this level are attracted to and invest a lot of energy upon depicting dreams.

And then you add a passionate vision and you have the whole package. A look at Leong’s website shows us a person with a heart-felt desire to tell the stories of those who have been pushed to the margins. That is exactly what we see here: Vep, our main character is toiling away as a slave on a hive colony run by giant insects. Who doing what where? you may ask. It is a very dream-like sci-fi tale about very serious problems.

This is a story that casts a very wide net and succeeds by balancing all the details. Vep is a strong and compelling character who the reader is immediately drawn to. The setting is pretty outrageous and highly ambiguous and becomes a character in its own right. You could say this is a comic that is both character and atmosphere driven. It becomes a true meld of visual and literary delight. You feel that unique push-pull connection. You recognize trippy originality when you see it right down to that wildly eccentric title, PRISM STALKER!

Rating of 10/10

PRISM STALKER #1 is available as of March 7, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Review: THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 (of 5)

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1

You know how some comics get you right away? This is one of them. In fact, I’ll say THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON has provided me with just the spark I need–and inspired me to start my Best of 2018 list. This is for everyone who regularly follows comics as well as anyone who enjoys sly humor.

The aches and pains of post-superhero life.

Amid all the stories out there that are deconstructing the superhero genre, what I find here already is a good dose of that X factor: Nick Wilson, our down-and-out ex-superhero, is a guy we can relate to and we want to like. Nick has not only lost his superpowers but he has lost something even more precious, his zest for life. Thus, our story: maybe he makes a comeback; or maybe he has an epiphany.

It is important to note the impressive writing talent here. The story is by writer/producer Eddie Gorodetsky. His credits include Desert Bus, Mom, Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Mike & Molly, Saturday Night Live, SCTV Network 90, and Late Night with David Letterman. And this comic is written by Marc Andreyko, a comic book writer and screenwriter, known for his work on books such as Manhunter for DC Comics, and Torso, a creator-owned true crime series he wrote with Brian Michael Bendis. I sense from this first issue a real love for spinning the mundane foibles of life into compelling entertainment. Yes, indeed, funny stuff can be made of Nick Wilson, the former superstar, who has let himself become a low rent loser.

Despite Nick’s determined slide into mediocrity, there are signs that he seeks redemption. Even lower on the food chain, a permanent bottom feeder, is Nick’s so-called manager. Nick instinctively despises him. While all too prone to lying on the couch with his bong, there seems to be a flicker of hope. Ironically, Nick seems to be a bit more introspective now that all the fame and glory is behind him.

Sounds interesting, no? It’s not easy to really make a superhero character interesting but it works here, both with the writing and the art. Steve Sadowski’s art is masterfully natural, smooth, and funny. And that’s saying a lot. It takes a special skill, and sensitivity, to genuinely convey humor in a superhero comic book, even an ironic anti-superhero comic book. Oh, sure, there are many fine examples but there are only so many of them–and this is one of them. So, definitely, go take a look. We’ll go ahead and give this the highest rating. 10/10.

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 is available as of January 17, 2018. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Review: SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

SONS OF FATE by Jean-Paul Deshong

Jean-Paul Deshong is a professional in the comics industry. SONS OF FATE is Deshong’s first independent series. As he states in his introduction, his goal is to bring all the excitement from reading comics as a kid to this project. If you like adventures with a martial arts theme, then this is for you.

Ah, fate…

A look at this book reveals a lot of passion behind the work. Deshong revels in details. The origins to our narrative involve a fleet of medieval Japanese ships that are attacked by pirates. The ambush results in heavy casualties. One particular sailor ends up ashore a tropical island. The indigenous people are dark and savage in comparison to what our hero is accustomed to. But he gains their trust and even becomes a guardian to a boy from the village. It is this fateful union that moves our story forward.

The natives want something.

This is an involved and dense story that moves at a contemplative pace and is punctuated by lively action sequences. You can have a long interval with some characters opening up about their motivations and then, for the next scene, there’s a rampaging rhino. That works for me. You can never go wrong with a rhino. What I find most interesting and admirable is the level of dedication Deshong has brought to his work. That will carry him, and the reader, forward on this series and with projects in the future. SONS OF FATE is a solid adventure comic that a wide spectrum of readers will enjoy.

Visit the SONS OF FATE website right here.

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Review: THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

There’s a lot of thought and care that goes into a solid work of comics but the results should be magical for the reader. Within the multi-layered world of independent cartoonists there is a fair amount of intrigue mixed in with camaraderie. Creators can get lost in a fog of competing interests. The answer is to find your way and simply pursue your vision. Cartoonist Craig Johnson II has tapped a significant vein of New York City history to create a comic both purposeful and entertaining. THE LEGEND OF PINKY, an ongoing series ultimately to be a graphic novel, published by Carbon Age Comics, is set in the early years of gangsters (1920s to 1930s), specifically involving the interconnections between Jewish and African American players.

Harlem’s uneasy friendship with Pinky.

The main character is Irving “Pinky” Horwitz, a lean and mean trained killer in the Goldman gang. He is an exceptional assassin, when he bothers to do his job. Pinky’s biggest flaw is an utter lack of discipline. If there is a chance for him to feed his lust and ego, he will take it. And his favorite place to do that is Harlem. In that arena, reckless young women jump into bed with him and skeptical young men sometimes push back and sometimes accept him. With Pinky, and those in his orbit, Johnson has created one of the most fascinating comics currently available.

Pinky and his mom.

The story begins with a pivotal moment gone wrong. Pinky was supposed to report for an important mob hit of two rivals. Instead, he was in bed with his latest conquest. Meanwhile, Sam, his partner, attempted the complete the two-man job by himself but was only able to kill one of the two men. And so begins the conflict that demands resolution in the first issue of this comic. Pinky, no doubt, is due his comeuppance. But Pinky is not without some redeemable traits. Clearly, Pinky seeks approval. There are two women in particular that he cares about: his own mother; and Yetta, a union organizer of garment workers. He takes great delight in showing most people his disdain. But, for a select few, he values some connection, especially the friends he seems to have made in Harlem.

Pinky in his element.

I am often asked what it takes to create a graphic novel. Well, I like to add that this undertaking is, intrinsically (in the undertaking) and ideally (in the creator’s vision), a heroic work. And then I always say that a hero (or an anti-hero) is essential to the story. By and large, this is the model of the vast majority of successful graphic novels. Most of these works are biographies and borrow from history in one form or another. The fact is, to do this right, you don’t want to get bogged down by the facts. This is a work of entertainment, not a meticulous history. Johnson is spot on in how he incorporates history into the bigger picture of his narrative. Everything lifts off the page as we follow accessible characters and vivid action.

Pinky’s alright!

Graphic novels, when true to their original intent, are vivid works of sequential art that evoke the breadth of a prose novel within its own unique narrative structure. Johnson is sensitive to what is possible in the comics medium. He has done the legwork necessary to create a credible foundation as he goes about completing his full-length graphic novel. The artwork is dynamic and the pacing is compelling. Essentially, he has found something that can be quite daunting for many a cartoonist lost in a fog. Johnson has found something to care about. He is compelled to follow through on his vision. This first issue clearly demonstrates that.

Be sure to keep up with Craig Johnson II right here and THE LEGEND OF PINKY, and Carbon Age Comics, right here.

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