Comics Worth Reading » Indy Comic Reviews Independent Opinions on Comics of All Kinds Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:16:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 Sat, 21 Feb 2015 22:33:43 +0000 I was curious to try the launch of the Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor comic series, because I lost interest in the show in the second half of the Eleventh Doctor’s TV run. As a result, I haven’t seen any of the Peter Capaldi Doctor Who episodes. I thought the first issue might give me a good idea whether I should bother catching up.

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1 cover by Alice X. Zhang

Cover by Alice X. Zhang

If driving interest in the master property is a valid measure of success, the comic worked. I’m curious enough — in large part due to the companion Clara and the lead’s attitude — to watch the show again. In the opening scene with the two of them, he’s willing to take Clara to another planet for skiing, but he refuses to join her, preferring to stay warm in the TARDIS. That kind of practical lack of emotionalism strikes me as a welcome change from some of the other recent versions of the character. He’s almost too much ahead of everyone else in this story, and I’m curious to see how long that can last. On the other hand, I can’t speak at all to whether this is an accurate translation of the characters to the page.

There’s a lot that’s familiar, from the plot that starts with the Doctor promising a planet with certain characteristics, only to find that it’s now become the opposite, to the throwaway references to goofy, vaguely SF-sounding concepts (ice sharks?). Instead of snowy slopes, the two wind up in a bio-engineered tropical jungle. There’s an evil businessman, ignoring warnings of coming disaster for his own selfish purposes; the companion in danger, to be rescued by a gadget from the Doctor; anti-corporate moralizing; and an ignored warning from the Doctor of impending doom.

All of these elements I’ve seen in previous Doctor Who stories, but it’s how they’re recombined that shows promise. And the images associated with them are of the type and scale that couldn’t easily be done on TV, playing to the strengths of the comic format, from the odd creatures to the giant alien threat. There are a number of throwaway wisecracks, too, which were hit-or-miss with me — I loved hearing once again about Venusian karate, and the wall-breaking sofa reference was cute, but I thought having yet someone else say “Doctor Who?” wasn’t necessary. The Doctor’s voice feels right to me, though, which is the important thing.

I knew Titan Comics wanted to trade on its previous series adaptation successes, but I was a bit shocked at the sheer number of variant covers of this issue. Based on the list at the end of the issue, there were 32! Most are retailer-specific, rewarding those who heavily supported the new book launch. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Princess Ugg #5 Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:43:26 +0000 Princess Ugg #5 cover

With the first collection just out, this issue moves the story of our princesses-in-training forward by introducing the potent force of sex.

The group sneaks out to a tavern to socialize with soldiers, where Ulga’s more brazen talents of holding her alcohol and arm-wrestling are popular with the men. Although Ulga’s skills at diplomacy and fitting in are improving, she doesn’t have the forced restraint of the other girls, so she usually takes things too far. That’s what makes her such a dynamic character, her authentic, larger-than-life self.

It’s a pleasure to see her change and grow, even if I wish that some of the directions she’s forced to learn weren’t quite so twisty. And it’s sadly realistic for those who dislike her to refuse to acknowledge her concessions and alterations, continuing to force her into the stereotype they originally tagged her with.

The schemes and machinations of Ulga’s nemesis, raised in that world of deception, still remain beyond her — setting up a premise which I’m curious to see how it plays out. I’m also concerned about Ulga’s family and tribe, facing a threat that will be more deadly without her. While each issue is a satisfying chapter, it’s these larger themes that make the series rewarding. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Lumberjanes #8 Sun, 23 Nov 2014 13:01:21 +0000 The first storyline (the series will continue past this) concludes with the gal-pal campers saving the world from a remarkably authentic adolescent Artemis. She’s selfish and distractible and manipulated and focused only on getting the better of her brother. Unfortunately, her self-centeredness has resulted in grim consequences for one of the scouts, but the power of friendship will win through once again, as it has since issue #1.

Lumberjanes #8 cover

The diversely inspired, thick-line art style of the book is really growing on me. It feels handmade and enthusiastic and inspiring and energetic and well-meaning, much like the characters. I wouldn’t have expected blending camp tales with remade mythology to work so well, but it’s very much in keeping with today’s remix culture.

Lumberjanes is to today what the Dark Knight Returns was to another generation — a book that’s bringing in a whole new audience, an outreach book to a group that can love comics, once comics exist for them. Then it was older readers, those looking for mature content; now, it’s young women interested in active adventures, not appearances. It’s great to see a group of female lead characters (still rare in comics). Being a gang, they’re allowed to have different personalities and interests, instead of just being The Girl.

I’m also glad counselor Jen is getting more screen time. And I love the sense of humor in this title, from her facing down the goddess wannabe to the wishes granted from ultimate power. (Hint: One involves kittens.) Now that the major storyline is done, I’m curious to see where the series goes from here. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Lady Killer #1 Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:55:33 +0000 I’ve long admired the work of Joëlle Jones, who’s drawn, among many other things, You Have Killed Me, Token, Troublemaker, and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Now, she’s drawing AND cowriting a new miniseries with long-time collaborator Jamie S. Rich.

Lady Killer #1

Lady Killer will launch in January from Dark Horse Comics. (Today’s the last day you can preorder it from your local comic shop with code NOV14 0021. It’s going to be five issues.) It’s tag-lined as “Betty Draper meets Hannibal” because it’s a story, set in the 1960s, about a homemaker who’s also an assassin for some secretive organization.

I got an early look at the first issue, and I loved the period touches, from Josie’s smart suit to her cute pillbox hat. I’m curious to find out how she got into her particularly odd profession; I hope there’s space for it in later issues. This one brings us a scene demonstrating Josie’s determination and creativity — when her poisoning plan goes awry, things get more hands-on, with a well-staged sequence of butchery in the kitchen. And the idea of a killer Avon lady, while likely disturbing to the cosmetic company, tickles me.

The theme of nasty doings under the polished facade of mid-last-century domestic bliss isn’t a new one, although Lady Killer takes things further than Mad Men does. This one is more visceral, more pointed in the details, wringing humor out of the small moments. Jones captures all the small moments without the slick surface that would make it too superficial. There’s grit underneath her images, and that’s well-suited to her story.

Josie’s got a handler, an attractive man who pushes her beyond her comfort level, as well as a suspicious, hostile mother-in-law who will be causing trouble in future, I’m sure. Next issue features Josie undercover at the Kitty Cat Club — you can guess what that costume looks like, only the tail is longer than a fluffy bunny’s.

The creators talk about their inspirations in this interview, if you want to learn more.

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Critical Hit #1-2 Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:47:49 +0000 New publisher Black Mask Studios is gradually building its slate of titles. Some of the ones I’ve seen so far have been horror, so not my thing, but I was intrigued by Critical Hit. Although it’s apparently a sequel to a series I’ve never seen called Liberator, I didn’t feel left out.

[Note: I’ve since been informed that Black Mask is doing a lot more than horror — it was just my bad luck on the couple that I sampled.]

Critical Hit #1 cover

Sarah and Jeannette are animal activists, and as issue #1 opens, they’re busy destroying a hunting camp. Narration about how Jeannette grew up with a drunk father plays over top of the images, while Sarah previously got out of an abusive relationship. The narration at times veers close to pretension, providing an artistic overlay to the earthy spectacle, giving the reader an excuse for wallowing in destruction because there’s a more meaningful theme running in parallel.

Critical Hit #2 cover

Making the women terrorists for good is an interesting approach, a modern take on the classic vigilante. The laws don’t help them find justice, so they take matters into their own hands, operating outside the established system. It’s certainly more interesting than yet another superhero comic, particularly since I’m not sure I agree with them. Their cause is valid, but their methods are questionable. And it makes their danger even more potent, as there doesn’t seem to be anyone to help them.

Unfortunately, the two get captured by the hunters, and issue #2 shows how bad things can get for them. That’s the problem with taking on people brought together by their love of guns and killing — they’re willing to be violent. The hunters aren’t the kinds of hobbyists I know around here, but exaggerated backwoods stereotypes. Just to make it clear that they’re the bad guys, they’re also racist and sexist sadists.

There’s a fine line between putting our heroes in danger so we can get emotionally involved in their (presumably) eventual release, and creating an entire issue of beating up and torturing women. Thankfully, there’s a flashback to an earlier mission that went much better to lighten the tone and provide some balance.

I’m presuming that this is a four-issue storyline, so I hope the next issue provides more glimmers of hope, because I’d hate to lose these young women when I’ve just met them. (The publisher provided digital review copies.)

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Memetic #1 Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:56:37 +0000 The three-issue miniseries Memetic launches strongly.

Memetic #1 cover

James Tynion IV (The Woods) has come up with a dynamite, of-the-moment concept. We open on the end of the world, deserted streets with various bodies laying around and fires burning in the distance. That’s soon contrasted with two days ago, a normal, everyday scene where everyone’s on the internet in some fashion. Soon, they’re all talking about and passing around the latest meme, a picture of a happy sloth.

Weaponized sloth meme

(Isn’t it neat that they actually made an animated version for the internet?)

No one understands why those who view it feel so happy. It quickly sweeps the world, causing almost cult-like behavior. Unfortunately, bad things end up happening to those who saw it.

I’m impressed with Tynion’s acknowledgement of how different the internet can be for those with challenges. His two leads are a color-blind boy who needs a hearing aid and a former soldier who’s lost his sight. The meme doesn’t affect them, due to their impairments. They team up with a scientist who’s done research on “memetic warfare”, weaponized memes (demonstrating the problem of how to study something that’s not safe to look at).

The boy, Aaron, doesn’t react the way his friends do, and that just reinforces how lonely he feels after a breakup with his boyfriend. Tynion’s dialogue is realistic and expressive, building the characters through the ways they interact naturally with friends.

That works because Eryk Donovan, billed as a newcomer, is able to draw both people going crazy and acting terribly and normal conversation scenes. He’s talented. His portrayals make me care about these folks, even when I know I shouldn’t get too attached, since this is a horror comic at its core.

I like that it’s a limited series, which means I know there’s an ending coming (not just continuing cliffhangers, a pattern which has sunk other hot, well-done series for me). It is high-priced, at almost $5 an issue (although it is oversized, with 32 story pages compared to the usual 20 or so, plus six behind-the-scenes pages). Given the limited run and the substantial cover price, I imagine many readers will want to wait for the collection — and to see if the conclusion lives up to the suspense of the opening.

You can read preview pages as part of this interview with the creators. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Spinner Rack: Copperhead and Thomas Alsop Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:28:36 +0000 Copperhead #1

Copperhead #1 cover

written by Jay Faerber
art by Scott Godlewski
Image Comics, $3.50

As Faerber starts off his editorial note, “I’m not the first person to think of this.” Many people have done space westerns, from Star Trek to Firefly and beyond. But what attracted me to this series was its sense of character and its unusual choice for the protagonist. Most Western leads are vigilantes, not the official voice of the law.

Clara Bronson has come to the mining town of Copperhead as its new sheriff with her son Zeke. There, she meets a resentful deputy, who was passed over for the job, he believes because of his species.

The dialog is wonderful, creating a strong sense of location on the post-war frontier, in spite of the mag-lev trains and spaceport and what looks like a land speeder and the domestic call for a squabbling family of frog-like aliens. Godlewski’s visuals are impressive and establish a solid world.

Bronson’s no angel, seen by her dislike of artificial humans. I get the feeling there’s lots of backstory to explore, whether hers or the town’s or the culture. This extended first issue (28 pages) not only gives her something juicy to explore — a family murder — but her son gets his own adventure as well, with a hunt for a lost dog that takes him out too late. The emphasis here is on the Western side of the equation, exploring the frontier and what happens when people move away from civilization, not the space trappings, which I like. A good start to what looks to be an intriguing series.

Thomas Alsop #4

Thomas Alsop #4 cover

written by Chris Miskiewicz
art by Palle Schmidt
Boom! Studios, $3.99

I know halfway through a miniseries isn’t a great place to start, but this is a good issue that shows off the various themes of this premise well. Thomas Alsop is “the hand of the island”, the home mage of Manhattan. It’s a family job, handed down over generations, but he’s turned his time in the role into a reality show and blog.

This issue introduces Emma, a British witch friend, and engages in a substantial flashback showing their early days together as a rock band made up of magicians. As Alsop explains things to Emma, the reader is also reminded of (or introduced to) the conflict and costs.

What some will find tricky about the series is the underlying concept: that Alsop is trying to exorcise (or otherwise handle) the ghosts at the World Trade Center from 9/11. It’s treated delicately, and while one might argue that the story didn’t need to be told at all, if you’re going to postulate a place-based magician in NYC, you sort of need to tackle it. It’s as valid a way of processing that event as any, in my opinion, through fantasy fiction. (And at least we aren’t presented with some kind of story about preventing or reversing the event.) There’s also the complication of the hull of an enchanted slave ship buried as landfill, reminding us of the tangled history of any long-standing place.

The art is spooky and good at setting mood, from old friends reminiscing before getting down to the business of why you’d ask someone from your past for help, to the dodgy edges of a society based around exploring the unknown. The story’s got an excellent sense of place and plenty of content to ponder.

(The publishers provided digital review copies.)

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The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:49:38 +0000 The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic cover
The Incredible Plate Tectonics
Comic: The Adventures of Geo
Volume 1

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic is a great idea, but I had some problems with the execution. Learning about geology in comic format seems like a good match, since the science is known for being visual, what with earthquakes and volcanos and such, plus exploded diagrams of the earth’s content.

Unfortunately, the authors — writer Kanani K.M. Lee is a Yale professor of geology and geophysics, while the work of artist Adam Wallenta can be seen at his website — seem to have fallen prey to the idea that comics = superheroes. Instead of concentrating on making the educational material clear and interesting, they’ve dressed it up with a silly and pointless daydream of being a superhero, just to provide the kind of flashy graphics seen on the cover.

George is concerned about his upcoming science test, so he dreams about skateboarding through ancient earth with a robot dog. This is unnecessary and distracting from the actual content, which is fascinating enough. Most of the art is dedicated to drawing George getting to school or these daydreams, with little left for explaining the science in depth. The educational material is dropped in, in large text chunks full of specialized terms. The diagrams are the same standard ones I saw in my grade school textbooks, without thought being given as to how they could be elaborated in a visual format or explained in more memorable fashion.

It looks to me as though the authors fell in love with the concept but didn’t know enough about non-fiction comics to convey the material in the best form for education. Plus, already a slim volume, at 40 pages, the comic only takes up 22 of them. The rest are text pages that explain geology in more depth than the comic could handle.

This thin color comic is flashy and eye-catching, but I found it disappointing. It feels as though the authors felt kids needed to be pandered and talked down to in order to make exciting material entertaining. You can see a preview at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Spinner Rack: Quick Thoughts on Good Comics Out Recently Mon, 01 Sep 2014 04:40:08 +0000 Lumberjanes #5

Lumberjanes #5 cover

written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis; illustrated by Brooke Allen
Boom! Box, $3.99 US

There’s some weirdness going on here, since this issue was delayed twice in print, but the digital copy went out to subscribers. The print version will be out on Wednesday. Anyway, I’m surprised I’m still having things to say about this fantasy girl camper series, but it’s because of the creativity that goes into every issue. And a new crazy imagination monster in each outing. Here, it’s dinosaurs.

The girls’ friendship is so realistic and admirable. That’s a help, since there’s a mystical glowing disc artifact that’s causing nightmares and summoning monsters to the camp. There’s hilarious overacting and a surprise revelation about Molly and a were-bear-woman and dinosaur wrangling. Jen steps up to protect her campers, with some amusing exclamations. Plus, this issue teaches you to make friendship bracelets. How can you not love this series?

Princess Ugg #3

Princess Ugg #3 cover

by Ted Naifeh
Oni Press, $3.99 US

Another series about a fighting female that improves with every issue. This chapter takes a meaningful turn, as Ülga explains what brought her to the school for princesses in the lowlands.

She remembers her departed mother, who’s drawn in great glory, a truly admirable leader to attempt to live up to. The battle scenes are impressive, conveying just how different Ülga’s life is now in contrast. Yet her mother was also wise, disliking the cost of battle to all those involved, whether won or lost.

Ülga also enlists an ally, someone to value her for her own skills while helping her gain those she needs to live up to her mother’s last wishes. An important first step is learning to get along with her roommate Julifer, complicated by her new acquisition, a unicorn who isn’t yet broken to steed. All of this makes for gorgeous imagery with real heart and story behind it.

The Fade Out #1

The Fade Out #1 cover

by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Image Comics, $3.50 US

The best-known comic noir team returns with a new project, a series set in post-war Hollywood, full of the usual expectations: a beautiful dead blonde, cover-ups and secrets, and powerful bullies.

Events are narrated by a writer who had too much to drink the night before, so he’s as confused as the reader to start. He doesn’t remember what happened, but as he gradually recalls — and reveals events to us — things turn darker and more convoluted. In between, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes of the old-time movie biz.

It’s lovely work, full of atmosphere transporting the reader to another time and place, one that’s a lot more deadly. The text article in the back provides, to set the mood, a brief history of Peg Entwistle, the young actress who killed herself by jumping off the Hollywood sign in 1932. I’ve seen the movie mentioned, Thirteen Women, and I’m surprised the author didn’t mention the other reason (beyond being Peg’s only film) the movie is known today — it stars a young Myrna Loy in horrible Asian makeup.

Wayward #1

Wayward #1 cover

written by Jim Zub; art by Steve Cummings
Image Comics, $3.50 US

I’ve been turned off, a bit, from this series launch because of how hard they’re pushing it as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a new generation”. I feared that we’d be getting a watered-down version of someone else’s property — and there are better ways to say “monster-fighting girls”. Or just tell the story without having to catchphrase it (see Lumberjanes above).

I was relieved to see that this wasn’t as much of a copy as I feared it might be. It’s the story of Rori, daughter of a divorced Japanese mother and Irish father who’s just moved in with mom. She starts seeing directions, an odd but useful little ability, particularly in a new place. And visual, well-suited to comics.

The art, particularly in establishing the foreign city setting, is terrific. And I admire Rori’s initiative in exploring Tokyo on her own, even if it does lead her into a scary situation. Then a crazy blue-haired fighter jumps into the fray, and the bad guys turn out to be turtle demons. That’s the Buffy part, I guess. I’m curious to see where this goes, and if we get as much of the characterization in future, which I like, as of the monster-fighting, which I could take or leave.

The Wicked + the Divine #3

The Wicked + the Divine #3 cover

written by Kieron Gillen; art by Jamie McKelvie
Image Comics, $3.50 US

OK, three issues in and I no longer know exactly what’s going on. Absolutely wonderful to look at, though, and it feels like a puzzle that I don’t know enough about world mythology to work out (Wikipedia helps), or maybe it’s just that I’m too old and I’ve outgrown the absolute passion raised by just the right band or idol. (The letter column, with missives from those deeply affected by the book, suggests the latter.) It’s all terribly meaningful, in some other language, about fate and death and passion.

Well worth reading and rereading, so next issue I’ll have more figured out.

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Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 15:30:40 +0000 Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 cover

I wasn’t as thrilled with the first issue of Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor as I’d hoped to be, but the second issue assuaged many of my concerns. Writer Nick Abadzis swings full speed into the wacky adventure mode of the David Tennant version, as he and Gabby Gonzalez run from a monster on a subway, talking a mile a minute the whole time.

I’m amazed at how well artist Elena Casagrande does in keeping the action readable in amongst all this dialogue, but it’s faithful to one of the things I enjoyed about the early days of the show relaunch. This kind of glorious nonsense is so very British, and part of the export’s appeal.

I also liked that Gabby managed to save yourself. She’s got strength and gumption and a willingness to take things on herself that make her admirable. She accepts the Doctor’s psuedoscience without blinking and even volunteers in spite of her instincts.

The comic format allows for interdimensional portals, scary psychic monsters, and all kinds of effects without them looking dodgy. This issue moves the plot along briskly, introducing the alien villains and setting up for more battle in the remaining three issues in the storyline.

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Madame Frankenstein #5 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:26:03 +0000 We’re more than halfway through the seven-issue Madame Frankenstein series, and so the characters are beginning to show more depth in their twists.

Madame Frankenstein #5 cover

Henry, who at first struck the reader as a jealous, spoiled, frat-boy type, is investigating what really happened to ex-girlfriend Courtney, whom he killed in a car accident. His apparent desire to atone makes him more sympathetic (although I suppose it’s possible that it’s just from selfish reasons, such as to once again punish Vincent). Vincent, meanwhile, is consorting with a stripper (or what passed for one in the 1930s — we’d call it burlesque). All the players come together at an alumni social, where Vincent wants to show off Gail, his reanimated creation.

As the story has progressed, Vincent’s egotism and general nastiness, the darker sides of his personality, have been revealed. At the party, Gail is doing her best, being out among people for only the second time since her revival, but her innocent attempts at small talk set Vincent off. Everything must be about him, of course, and his jealousy shows the small-mindedness under his accomplishment.

The craft is outstanding, with Jamie S. Rich’s dialogue revealing so much in just a few sentences, and Megan Levens’ art delineating the cast wonderfully. The slender Gail is perfectly suited for the fashions of the period, nicely done details, and she contrasts in more than one way with the plumper, earthier showgirl Linda.

I’m disappointed that there are only two issues left, since I fear we won’t have enough space to fully explore the ramifications of these characters and their interactions. Vincent has already moved from sympathetic to monstrous, and I’m eager for his comeuppance, but there’s so much more that could be done. Particularly, I’d like to know more of what Gail is thinking and feeling, following her mental growth into her own being. Madame Frankenstein #5 will be out on Wednesday.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6 Thu, 21 Aug 2014 21:19:29 +0000 Writer Christos Gage is really killing it on this series, with creative stories that are true to the characters but reveal new facets of their personalities, not an easy trick to do with something beloved and long-running. He’s back writing solo after being joined by Nicholas Brendon for a Dracula arc. Artists for this story, “I Wish”, are Karl Moline (Fray) and Cliff Richards, inked by Andy Owens.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6 cover

Cover by Steve Morris

Our ever-growing gang of friends start off the issue by facing a huge challenge for many young adults: affordable housing. Dawn and Xander have broken up, so at least one of them needs a new place. Buffy doesn’t want to live with her roommates any more. Giles has financial issues, being reincarnated as himself as a preteen. It’s all complicated by them being in California, where prices are sky-high. This is very easy to relate to, particularly at that age, when you’re still trying to figure out the adulthood thing. The best parts of Buffy, in my opinion, took these kinds of struggles and made them mean so much more because monsters got involved, which also allowed for symbolic theming. Gage is ably carrying on that tradition.

Their problems might be settled with a deal with the owner of a haunted house — they clean the place out and they can live there. Only the house’s inhabitant isn’t a ghost, it’s a demon with a particularly nasty sting in its tail. The promo copy describes it as fighting back “with blissful childhood fantasies”. Now, the idea of trapping a hero by giving them exactly what they want isn’t a unique one, particularly in comics. The best-known example is Superman’s Black Mercy in “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore, published 30 years ago in Superman Annual #11. Yet that plot is such a perfect choice for these characters — and perhaps the fans, since I can easily see the dismissive snarking about how they were “better when they were in high school.” Well, let’s see, shall we?

Gage clearly knows and loves the show, and I love the way he makes references to past events in such a way that those with more spotty memories can easily get the mention and appreciate the humor. See, for example, Buffy’s response to Andrew’s offer of guest room space. Unfortunately, when it comes to Willow’s clothes, the artist appears to be living in the past to less effective result: a belly-baring shirt with a velvet choker? How 1990s of you.

But back to the story. It’s hilarious who falls for it (and how) and who doesn’t, and along the way, we get plenty of great wisecracks and some thought-provoking moments. Overall, I like spending time with these characters once again, and after reading an issue, I want to read more or watch the show again, the best compliment (I think) for a multi-platform franchise.

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Gun #1 Launches Kickstarted Noir Superhero Series Sun, 27 Jul 2014 18:38:23 +0000 I was asked to review Gun #1 because the creator, Jack Foster, is currently running an (already backed) Kickstarter to fund production of the intended ongoing series.

Gun #1 cover

It’s not a Kickstarter I’d support, because I think the world has enough noir takes on superhero worlds; I’d rather read indy comics as books, not series, these days, because you never know if they’re going to conclude; it’s his first comic, so there’s no track record to trust; and it’s awfully expensive! $10 for a digital copy of a 28-page issue, and $25 (!) for a print comic book. It will have a premium cover and be signed, but since the same story is supposed to be available through Previews later for $4 an issue, this seems excessive.

Darn it, though, if the comic didn’t keep my attention. Trevor Maxwell is Mr. Twist, a villain who can make people dizzy. At a henchmen anonymous-type meeting, he chats up Olive Armstrong, who has limited super-strength, and Agent Orange, a demented chemical creator. They find an unconscious, wounded “cape” and decide to sell her off to the highest-bidding supervillain.

In spite of them all being reprehensible, I found myself rooting for them, particularly once things go wrong (who would have guessed?) and they’re on the run. The art’s done in a style that’s a good choice for a story focusing on the seamy side of underground life, with tones of grey, green, and tan making everything seem murky… yet staying readable. It feels properly noir, with no one doing the admirable thing.

You can see several preview pages at the comic’s website. Gun #1 is planned to be out in October. I believe it’s the first part of a three-issue story arc.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #5 Tue, 22 Jul 2014 23:28:08 +0000 The “New Rules” storyline concludes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #5, out tomorrow, quite satisfactorily.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #5 cover by Steve Morris

Cover by Steve Morris

Writer Christos Gage has managed to lay out clearly for readers the idea that things will be different, now that magic is back but in as-yet-undefined changed fashion. Yet he focuses first on the story, not the message — the main Scooby gang, all together here once again, and enjoyably so, are still fighting to save the world. I’m impressed by the way Gage has a new threat each issue, yet it’s all built upon the previous installments of the storyline. Here, as suits the climatic issue, it’s a big ol’ monster.

Speaking of the team, Buffy is more confident of herself as a leader, which means she delegates more and allows others more focus because she has less to prove. The teen Giles is a terrific change that plays into and is a constant reminder of the fantastic universe setting. Willow has her magic back, with a good amount of power tempered by uncertainty over what will actually happen. Xander and Dawn are contributing while struggling with their relationship; the return of magic has affected Dawn in an unexpected but surprisingly logical way. Best of all, Spike is still around.

Gage does an amazing job capturing everyone’s voices and conveying an awful lot of story while still providing the wisecracks and humor and characterization we expect from this beloved property. It’s a wonderful way of capturing the appeal of the show, now that it’s impossible to do the same anywhere but in comics. (I wish the other franchise book had as talented a writer on it.) I also like how he calls back to previous plot elements and series without being exclusionary to those who have only begun reading recently.

Since Nicholas Brendon (who played Xander on the show) began co-writing with this arc, one shouldn’t be surprised that Xander gets some significant character development here. It’s fully in keeping with the character’s history, though, and others don’t get short shrift because of it. As the “everyman” character, it’s easy to overlook his contributions, and it’s good to see him get attention without maiming or torturing the character (part of the final TV run I disliked). The universe is so rich that I’m also glad to see more supporting cast members get a bit of focus, including here Andrew and (surprise!) Anya. There’s a lot more story there that I hope to see in future.

I’ve given no attention yet to the art, which is equally talented and accomplished. The biggest problem with licensed work is likenesses that resemble the actor so closely the art becomes stiff and photo-referenced. That isn’t the case here. Everyone looks the way they should, but the characters are full of emotion, expression, and motion. Rebekah Isaacs also does a great job with scale, when it comes to giant monsters and fighting battles.

Gage and Isaacs on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 have captured the best parts of the original TV show: the way relatable personal struggles can be shown with plenty of action, humor, and scary beasties. Life lessons are gained while the support and strength of friendship carry us all through. Highly enjoyable for fans. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)

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Dash #1 a Gay Twist on the Classic Private Eye Sun, 13 Jul 2014 23:09:42 +0000 Dash #1 cover

Dashell “Dash” Malone is your typical 1940s private eye. He never has enough money, he’s got a wise-cracking secretary he couldn’t do without, and his latest case involves a mysterious, well-built woman with a secret she won’t share. Only Dash is gay, and he’s distracted from all of the above by not hearing from Johnny, his former con artist lover, for too long. Of course, there’s a murder, and the mysterious woman, Zita Makara, is likely involved.

Dave Ebersole and Delia Gable have put together a very readable comic. I particularly like Gable’s clean lines and period detail. It’s a clever twist, too, for Dash to be rather insecure about his relationship, given how cocky the traditional noir detective can be. Dash isn’t hiding who he is — although a friendly cop makes it clear his public exercise of his emotions is illegal back then — but he’s not at all sure he can count on Johnny. Plenty of snappy dialogue, too, well-suited to the genre.

Dash #1 is a 24-page color comic due out in September that can be ordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code JUL14 1331. The series is intended to be an ongoing monthly, and I’m already looking forward to issue #2. Find out more at the book’s blog. (The creators provided an advance digital review copy.)

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The Woods #1-3 Sat, 05 Jul 2014 00:27:22 +0000 The Woods #1 cover by Ramon K. Perez and Matthew Woodson

The concept behind The Woods is familiar, especially to manga readers. A high school full of students and faculty is transported to a mysterious world? dimension? where they have to quickly learn to work together or die. The best-known example exploring the rapid devolution of society when teens are stranded may be Lord of the Flies, but comic readers are likely thinking of Battle Royale. Although here, the kids aren’t told to kill each other — they just may cause deaths by not paying attention or refusing to take the situation seriously.

The Woods #2 cover by Ramon K. Perez

What recommends The Woods to me is the quality of the characterization by writer James Tynion IV. The few students we get to know best aren’t quite as stereotypical and one-dimensional as one might expect. Karen, the first girl we meet, is freaking out because she has no idea of what she wants her future to be, and she’s frightened of what her parents will do when they find out she didn’t apply to any colleges. The second, Sanami, just wants to get out of their home state of Wisconsin. Both, here, will likely learn to be careful what you wish for.

These are not your typical jock/nerd/cheerleader school breakdowns. I’m curious to find out more about Ben, a large black guy who keeps getting pursued by the coach to play football but refusing. He seems to have depths we haven’t seen yet. Similarly, Adrian, the geek loner, has a weird connection to an alien artifact, which drives him to lead the group of students that sets out to investigate.

The Woods #3 cover by Ramon K. Perez

The generational aspect is more developed here, with a pushy student council member locked up by an adult coach who’s using the figurehead principal to establish his own power. There’s also more of a science fiction feel, with the runaway group quickly threatened by a giant green bear-like creature and some huge insects. Michael Dialynas does an excellent job creating the feel of a world like ours — until the local fauna makes it clear that it’s not. The diversity of character types and expressions are also welcome.

The build is slow. That’s one of the toughest challenges of an ongoing story like this, trying to balance the pacing. We need to keep finding things out to stay interested, but too many reveals at once would make few of them mean anything. So far we know, without revealing too much, that nature is gross, but humans feeling threatened are even more gross.

It’s the details that make this worth reading, with little moments and statements making this situation feel realistic and making these characters sympathetic… even when they’re doing stupid or foolhardy things. Every issue also ends with at least one cliffhanger, keeping the reader on tenterhooks wondering how the kids are going to survive the next challenge.

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Mixtape #5 Mon, 30 Jun 2014 20:35:34 +0000 Mixtape #5 cover

The fifth issue of Mixtape concludes the series’ first arc.

It’s got an excellent concept behind it, one of those ideas that seems so simple but so elegant: What song do you want played at your funeral? The high school kids, already facing the end of the school year, are grappling with the unexpected death of a student. He was a jock, and they didn’t really know (or like) him, but the activities that go through the school affect them nonetheless.

Some are wisecracking, which annoy others, who respect death, if not the deceased. Others are taken back to unpleasant memories. Some get philosophical, reflecting on what friendship means. Others reveal unexpected heroic sides. In this short space, 24 pages, a gamut of reactions are shown — and shown well — adding up to a good metaphor for where the characters are going. It’s an impressive issue, and one I hope those looking for substantial comic reading will find.

Writer Brad Abraham, on his website, has talked a little bit about future plans for the series. I hope there’s more. Mixtape #5 can be ordered online in print or digital formats. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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The Legend of Bold Riley #1 Mon, 30 Jun 2014 01:30:13 +0000 The Legend of Bold Riley was a 2012 graphic novel fantasy about a royal seeker of adventure and beautiful girls… only the seeker was a woman. Now Riley is back in a comic book series with the same title.

The Legend of Bold Riley #1 cover

Given the series’ episodic approach to storytelling and use of different artists, it fits better, in my opinion, in issues instead of thick books. This first issue, “The Talking Bone”, is drawn by Jonathon Dalton, with a cover by Brittney Sabo. All the princess’ adventures are written by Leia Weathington.

Apparently, something bad happened in the previous stories that left Riley heartbroken, according to a brief introduction. You don’t need to know, though, because a wandering hero is easy enough to understand, and the story works fine without the background. Visiting a new city, Riley finds a finger bone that promises her, “Give me something to drink and I will tell you my story!” Of course, since this is a magical fantasy, the deal isn’t so simple, and the story involves a haunted pool and a forsaken love.

Those inclined to think more deeply about their reading may find a useful message in the idea that meddling in someone else’s romance may not be a good idea, and humor in how she gets drunk before she does it. Some relationships are better off left alone, in the past.

It’s an amusing, thought-provoking tale, and I like Riley’s non-typical responses to the usual fairy tale conventions (albeit portrayed with a bit more horror). It’s clearly told through solid art with touches of eastern mythology. The Legend of Bold Riley is a great modern approach to fantasy expectations, and I look forward to seeing more. The next issue is due out any week now, since the series is intended to be monthly for five issues.

There are preview pages at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Princess Ugg #1-2 Sun, 22 Jun 2014 22:31:49 +0000 Princess Ugg #1 cover

I previously ignored the new Oni title Princess Ugg because I thought it was some kind of fantasy story, what with the barbarian princess with the battleaxe on the covr. (Author Ted Naifeh is best known for the Courtney Crumrin series.) I was wrong. It’s set in a fantasy-style kingdom, but it’s really a social satire, a fresh take on what it really means to be a princess.

Ülga is princess of Grimmeria, a cold and forbidden mountain land where strength is valued. She’s being sent off for schooling to a lowlands school for royalty. There she meets other princesses, the more typical kind, raised in luxury. The contrast is hilarious. Of course, she ends up rooming with the fussiest of them all, Julifer, who hates her from the moment they meet.

Princess Ugg #2 cover

Naifeh’s art is as impressive as always. The settings are amazing, giving the impression of a fully thought-out world. The young women are expressive and moody, as they need to be to sell the comedy. I particularly like Ülga’s ride to school, a wooly mammoth named Snorri. There are hints that there will even be a moral, with mentions of looking for “true worth”.

The second issue, sent out as an advanced digital preview, explores more of the Academy. The first issue deals with Ülga’s arrival; the second puts the girls into direct, long-term contact. There, Ülga struggles with their definitions of proper meals and fashion and behavior. That’s some classic “fish out of water” comedy, but the new girl isn’t just made fun of; she’s also due sympathy, as many readers will identify with feeling like they don’t fit in. This is a portrait of different ways of living and different talents valued.

She’s bored by their lives, leaving the reader to wonder why she’s so set on being there in the first place. That’s promised to be covered in an upcoming issue, based on the last page of this one.

Retailers can adjust orders on this title through June 23, so if you’re curious, let your comic shop know you want to see issue #2 when it’s due on July 16. You can see an eight-page preview online.

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The F1rst Hero #1 Sun, 22 Jun 2014 16:27:42 +0000 Still available to order for a few more days is the first issue of a new miniseries from Action Lab Entertainment.

The F1rst Hero #1 cover by Lee Moder

Cover by Lee Moder

The F1rst Hero is planned for four issues, beginning in August. It’s written by Anthony Ruttgaizer and drawn by Phillip Sevy. There are two cover choices, both by artists who aren’t doing interiors; the Lee Moder cover will be $3.99 for 32 pages (order with Diamond code JUN14 0756), and the Jamal Igle (limited to 1500 copies, which strikes me as ambitious for an indy superhero comic; code JUN14 0757) is priced at $4.99.

The F1rst Hero #1 cover by Jamal Igle

Cover by Jamal Igle

The publisher provided a digital advance review copy. The concept, as described, sounded pretty interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The entire world knows the stark reality: everyone who manifests superpowers goes insane and becomes a threat to society. So, when Jake Roth develops superpowers but somehow keeps his sanity, he must decide whether to put himself at risk by using his powers to help people or do nothing and save himself while innocent people around him get hurt.

Unfortunately, the first issue doesn’t, in my opinion, accurately reflect the description. Instead, it’s mostly the story of a soldier in Afghanistan. There’s a sniper, a prisoner situation, and plenty of violence, all overlaid with a generic self-focused (“you can do it”) monologue. There’s no helping others, unless you want to start talking about the validity of U.S. military activities in the Middle East, and that’s more depth than I feel this comic deserves.

War comics aren’t my favorite, but some of them can be done well. However, I was put off by expecting a different twist on the usual superhero work but instead getting something in another genre, told in mediocre fashion. The first few pages, the ones that set up the powers = insanity premise, would have been better attached to different content. Or perhaps this is just the latest example of how people feel they have to start comic series with origin stories, even when other material would be more compelling or a better read. Once we saw the lead dealing with the promised challenge, we might have cared more about flashing back to his soldier days and his first discovery of his abilities.

For the first of four issues, I don’t even feel that I have a good handle on what’s going on. I don’t know why the lead became a soldier or what he wants to do (other than “not go crazy”, which isn’t the most sympathetic motive) or even exactly what his powers are.

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