May 2015 Comic Book Reviews

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The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths Vol. 1
Writers: Brian Froud, Brian Holguin
Artist: Alex Sheikman
Archaia Entertainment
Street: 02.17
Eerily like the opening scene of Disney’s Aladdin, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths begins with the “age of wonder” (nothing like the Cave of Wonders, right?) being told by a Genie-esque figure promising a tale. This book is Part One of a three-part graphic novel prequel, set a thousand years before the crystal cracked. Origins of the world of Thra, Aughra’s missing eye, Gelflings and Skeksis are all focal points in the brilliantly illustrated book, providing the back stories to those characters and themes that were otherwise simply suggestions in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Brian Froud brings the world of Thra to life with deep, rich storytelling that he is perfectly suited for, as he was the concept designer for Henson. The artwork in this is really something to behold, as Alex Sheikman and Lizzy John draw a vibrant and colorful world of Thra that is brought to life in way that’s even better than the much beloved film. Although seeing these prequels recreated onscreen would cause my heart to explode, I’m totally OK with these. –Andrea Silva

Deep State Vol. 1 TPB
Writer: Justin Jordan
Artists: Ariela Kristania, Ben Wilsonham
BOOM! Studios
Street: 04.14
Deep State inverts the X-Files and takes the lead in investigatory comics today. In a spectacular opening, some sort of vessel hurls into the dark Pennsylvania woods, and it turns out that the truth isn’t out there, it’s already here, and it wants to be known. Dana Scully––I mean, FBI Agent Branch—not-so-subtly searches through a kidnapping cold case that she’s been told to stay away from, and right after, Harrow, a shadowy man (not quite the Smoking Man), confronts her at her apartment and recruits her into a side of the government that knows and keeps all the big secrets. But now, an unexpected something from out there has landed. It becomes their task to discover what’s happened and to “create plausible deniability” of any threat to the public. Ariela Kristania’s fast sketchy lines and Ben Wilsonham’s color scheme work well together to make a rough style that gives an engaging and smart edge to the hush-hush procedural work. Justin Jordan sets the bar high for himself, and it takes a few issues for everything to come together. The handling of the plot exceeded my expectations. Read it before it arrives on TV. –Taylor Hoffman

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain
Writers: Michael Mordecai, Steve Seeley
Artist: Emilio Laiso
Image Comics
Street: 01.14
Cassie Hack is a retired monster hunter who gets pulled back into the fray by a world-weary, badass mentor because … that’s what you’re supposed to do, apparently. The story itself is fine, but that’s also its biggest problem—it’s just fine. Cassie Hack does her thing—making wisecracks, trading quips with everyone, and battling monsters, but it never really feels like there’s much at stake. This is a world where dealing with serial killers, zombies, maniacs and pop culture crossovers (like Chucky from Child’s Play, Ash from Evil Dead and most terrifying of all, the Suicide Girls) is par for the course. All of those past incarnations of Cassie Hack’s life make the generic, evil-incarnated monsters in Son of Samhain a little bit of a bore. The art, by Emilio Laiso, only adds to the middle-of-the-road feel the book has. It’s far from the worst art on the stands, but there’s nothing that makes it stand out either. Son of Samhain is a book that’s marketed directly to Hack/Slash fans, and in that regard, it’s great. But if you’re not a die-hard fan, there are plenty of other books far more worth your time. –Trevor Hale

Katabasis I
Writer: Kasra Ghanbari
Artist: Menton3
IDW Publishing
Street: 01.15
I typically maintain a beggars-can’t-be-choosers attitude when it comes to the novels and comics I’m able to review. Putting up with bothersome watermarks that prevent redistribution of digital copies simply comes with the territory. However, I feel that IDW Publishing did Menton3 (Menton J. Matthews III) a great injustice by not providing a physical copy for this in-depth interview, conducted by Kasra Ghanbari, which entailed a style analysis of Matthews’ pieces for the Katabasis I solo gallery show at Last Rites Gallery. The book is the first in a series, which will be centered around two more gallery shows, Katabasis II and Anabasis. Each spread features one of the oil paintings done by Menton as well as the mythological history and insight behind its creation and reimagining. While the comic book format is unorthodox in its content and for its choice of target audience, the concept is beautiful, rich and suitable. It being my first introduction to Menton3’s work, I actually was quite pleased and will be seeking out a physical copy to better appreciate the vivid imagery provided.  It is a great book for art references as well as a must-have item for fans of Menton3 and his uniquely curious pieces–easily giving Katabasis I four out of five cool-kid Ray Bans. –Andrea Silva

Letter 44 Vol. 2: Redshift
Writer: Charles Soule
Artists: Alberto Alburquerque, Dan Jackson
Oni Press
Street Date: 03.25
As yet another space-age comic already adapted for television, maybe this one will actually make SyFy a good channel again because Letter 44 lends itself very well to a live-action medium. As Charles Soule’s only ongoing indie book, this definitely has more original thought put into it, which means he’s making his own universe instead of fitting into a company’s established timeline (remember: “continuity” is a lie). This second volume starts out with the strongest issue of the series and ends with a big cliffhanger that will certainly keep your attention if you like political drama, super advanced scary war technology and, of course, aliens. Let’s just say that there’s much more to the presidency than President Stephen Blades expected. Something is building something in our astroid belt, more foreign threats on earth may destabilize the Middle East, and his colleagues in D.C. are plotting against him. The political commentary can be a little heavy handed, especially with the focus on the various facets of the military. It’s very House of Cards, but replace all the sex with alien terrorists. Alberto Alburquerque’s faces aren’t appealing to me and Soule’s a bit wordy, but it’s worth a read.   –Taylor Hoffman

Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Writers: Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters
Artist: Brooke Allen
BOOM! Studios
Street: 04.07
Aw yisss, Lumberjanes epitomizes “friendship to the max!” This adventure takes us to the best version of girl scouts imaginable. Here we have five distinct young female protagonists adventuring at the Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, finding mischief in the woods, fighting mutated forest foes and uncovering some weird cult secrets. Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters created a comic for everyone regardless of age, gender or orientation—it transcends it all to reach a level of fun and absurdity that’s infectious. Immediately, we’re thrown into a wild world of bright colors, fast-paced action and ultimate friendship between a group of totally rad and accepting gals on the search for answers that often are solved with math, science and the most glorious of puns. Brooke Allen’s character designs are flawless, and this team crafted each character’s unique style and mannerisms to make this ridiculous story heartwarming, charming and magical. It’s totally refreshing to see some intelligent, witty and goofy lady-types learning—and teaching us—what feminists do, like kickin’ monster butt and solving mysteries. My only complaint is that this volume only collects the first four issues, so, “holy bell hooks,” go pick up this book! –Taylor Hoffman

March Of The Crabs Vol. 1 : The Crabby Condition HC
Writer/Artist: Arthur De Pins
Street: 03.31
I had no idea what to expect from this book, but what I found was empathy for crabs. Specifically, the “cancer simplicimus vulgaris,” also known as those tiny square crabs doomed to scuttle the ground in one line forever, or so they thought! Back in 2004, Arthur De Pins animated a short called “La Revolution Des Crabes” and expanded on the plight of these creatures through comics filled with wit and fun philosophy. This hardcover collects the entire trilogy in English for the first time and it’s gorgeous all the way through. The overall style of De Pins is a modern ode to ’20s French Art Deco; it’s George Barbier meets Clone High. Just like the filmmakers in the comic who are desperate to show the world the fascinating life and fate of these crabs, I started to empathize with these stupid little crabs and their sad, but natural, predilection for routine and fear of humans. There’s a charm to the translation, too, because I just can’t help but imagine every character with French accents and the Amélie soundtrack in the background. Totally worth adding to your weird collection between some Daniel Clowes and Joann Sfar. –Taylor Hoffman

Punks The Comic – Vol. 1: Nutpuncher
Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Kody Chamberlain
Image Comics
Street: 04.28
Just when you thought you’d be miserable forever because your life lacked Abraham Lincoln hitting on a T-Rex Barbie doll, here’s Punks! Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain conceived their DIY abomination seven years back, and this new collection urges you to destroy your comics and cut out things like playing cards for Punks: The Game: NUTPUNCHER! like the true punk you are. There’s no real plot to the book, which is great because it allows for nonsense to just flow without any real direction. Essentially, it’s a zine with a constant stream of characters that are crude, self-aware of their stupidity and violent. Take SLC Punk! and God Hates Astronauts, and you’ve got this second round of Punks. The first issue almost entirely centers around ball-punching jokes, so you know it’s good from the get-go. The writing’s funny, and everyone involved must be unabashedly proud of its randomness. Think of this as a refurbished zine, especially considering original art proves that it’s a bunch of cut-up pictures taped down and Xeroxed. Join in dangerous, random, probably offensive and sometimes-gross shenanigans with Dog, Abe, Skull and Fist (self-explanatory). –Taylor Hoffman

The Returning
Writer: Jason Starr
Artist: Andrea Mutti
BOOM! Studios
Street: 02.15
Moments after her boyfriend and attempted rapist hits a mysterious man with his car, Beth wakes up only to find that she’s chained down to a hospital bed and everyone is suddenly afraid of her. She’s now classified as an abomination: a “changer,” a person who has had a Near Death Experience (NDE) and recent history shows that such persons snap to murder without cause. The Returning documents Beth’s loss of just about everything and the horrors that are truly lurking everywhere. It’s a psychological mystery with plenty of jarring twists. Jason Starr (The Chill)  uses his screenwriting talents to focus on the internal horror of paralysis and how it’s viewed personally and by a paranoid society. I felt there was an underlying analysis between P.T.S.D and living as a “changer,” which made for an in-depth reading. Andrea Mutti (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) illustrates the sheer hell of NDE with a mix of watercolor, sharp and thin lines, deep contrast in her shadows, and sickly green coloring. Every face appears just a little off, which plays into the grander scheme of the comic. This mini-series conjures the dread of not knowing who to trust, especially yourself.  –Taylor Hoffman

Spread Vol. 1: No Hope
Writers: Justin Jordan, Kyle Strahm
Artists: Kyle Strahm, Felipe Sobreiro
Image Comics
Street: 04.15
Justin Jordan’s and Kyle Strahm’s Spread may be off-putting by the outright violence in every issue, but there’s something special about this particular caliber of grossness that’s balanced out with superb storytelling, on top of what could have been a total failure. In this dystopian future, we have released a fast and worse-than-death virus that is creeping across the planet, killing everything in its wake, and it’s up to one man named No to save one child for the hope of humanity. Spread clearly has its cinematic influences, most notably John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi film, The Thing, and this works to the comic’s favor as it creates a very eerie, cold and desolate tone that is slowly infected by the attacking red muck. Jordan’s narrative is the strongest part of the writing because it lets Strahm’s style shine through, with spectacular detail of the grossest infections using steely blues and bold blood reds. The story contained very well, the plot is nicely paced and things come together just enough that you’ll probably need the next issue immediately after finishing this. As for the gore, it’s beautifully grotesque—I hate Crossed because it’s gore for gore’s sake, but I love the effectiveness violence has in Spread. –Taylor Hoffman

The Squidder
Writer/Artist: Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing
Street: 02.10
The recycled ideas and concepts in Ben Templesmith’s The Squidder are easily hidden among his flashy illustrations and colors, but not well enough to prevent me from reading the volume in a continuous state of déjà vu. While the familiarity of a post apocalyptic world being run by a hive-driven supper baddie that is harvesting humans (seemingly for art and craft purposes) isn’t revolutionary, I forced myself to see this one to the end just in case the ending had any sort of shock value. I almost wasn’t disappointed—the age-old ideology of breeding a super soldier (Jake aka Squidder) to save the human race took an unexpected turn when his designated womb (a Squid priestess named Persephone GreySpark) gives birth to a sword immediately after Squidder “plants his seed.”  My first instinct is to callously and metaphorically rip this book to shreds, but the reality is recycling stories provides an opportunity to create something better, if not more bizarre. Templesmith’s characters are extreme, but committed, and his panels completely immersive. His artwork perfectly pairs with the tone of the story—had it been crafted in any other styling I would have considered the entire experience a bust. On my own imaginary scale I liberally allow The Squidder three out of five rum hams. –Andrea Silva

Suicide Risk Vol. 4
Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Elena Casagrande, Filipe Andrade
BOOM! Studios
Street: 02.17
Reading this invoked those deep traumatic feelings that plague my dreams and linger in the seconds of paralysis before waking right before the doors open to reality. In this arch, we follow Tracey Winters’ attempt to discover who, or what, she is by searching for family, which is just one character’s journey in an encompassing and critical epic. The other volumes establish Mike Carey’s mythology full of Goddesses, Demons, and vengeful Gods. It’s a fascinating exploration of the difficulty of self-discovery and a reconstruction of  the superhero genre like nothing else. One main theme throughout this series is control, and more importantly who is in power, as the typical heroes die and humanity’s only hope may be Leo Winters, a stilted cop with a mission to destroy super-villains himself. Super powers are sci-fi drugs in conflicting worlds that provide a great high with unpredictable consequences. Forces of evil and good rage inside the minds of these characters, ultimately raising the question: would killing oneself destroy the other? Carey’s stated that much of the magic and power of names are influences from Ursula LeGuien and China Mieville, my favorite science-fiction writers. It’s trippy, gorgeous and a must-read. –Taylor Hoffman

The Twilight Zone Vol. 1 & 2
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Guiu Vilanova
Dynamite Comics
Street: 06.10.14 / 11.26.14
This comic is a perfect introduction for those who may be unfamiliar with what The Twilight Zone is. It is also an incredibly well put together story with the masterful writing of Straczynski. Following the formula that made the original series so interesting, our characters are granted what seems to be an incredible boon that soon turns into a curse. The characters (specifically the protagonist from Volume 1) aren’t necessarily people we’d consider feeling sorry for in any circumstance. However, the knowledge they gain from their poor decisions make them almost endearing and the unpredictable reactions from them keep the reader on the edge of their seat. This is a great read for someone looking for a unique story with some campy outcomes, and a fun way to experience a new take on The Twilight Zone. –Thomas Winkley