Reviewed by Avril Brown
The final installment to CHEW’s eighth story arc, ‘Family Recipes,’ delivers just as much heartfelt relationship-centric moments and vague plot development as readers would expect from such an amazing chunk of issues. With such a bittersweet and enigmatic ending, there is no telling where in the universe CHEW may take us next.
The twin sibling Chu are reunited!…on an alien world. Well, not really. Tony has eaten the specially prepared Gallsaberry fruit and he is tripping balls while having a conversation with his dead sister. Or, as Toni herself put it: “You’ve just eaten half a psychedelic space fruit, in full bloom, and at peak potency, then slow-cooked in the juices of genetically-engineered psychedelic amphibian. You’re really freaking stoned right now.” However, Toni is on hand to pass along some more important information about the mysterious sky writing which debuted several story arcs ago and what doom it may portend, in addition to some sincere advice for her brother, and an apparently shocking bit of news (still hush-hush) to her niece.
There’s also a hilarious side story as ghost-Toni encourages Tony to join his partner John Colby on a mission, despite the fact he’s still picturing himself as a blue bunny. Naturally Colby helps himself to a solid bite of the freaky fruit before heading out, and sure enough, wackiness ensues. And when it comes to CHEW, you know that is wacky, indeed.
Guillory gives us a lovely opening page look at Altilis-738, and Layman balances this story arc out nicely with some touching family scenes, great character growth and just enough plot development to keeping things moving, but still in the shadows. Readers should be looking forward to the next evolution!
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Lots of new stuff flowing out of the offices in NorCal. Let’s take a look at some of it, shall we?
All it took was one page for me to get sucked into THE MERCENARY SEA #1 by writer Kel Symons and artist Matthew Reynolds, and that was the opening splash page of the book. A gorgeous silhouette shot of a beach landing on a tropical island, it’s poster-worthy and it grabs your attention perfectly. The book itself them dives into a tale of 30s smugglers searching for treasure on the high seas and dodging the law along the way, and it’s a rollicking good time at every step of the journey. Cannibal tribes, rival pirates, double-crosses… all the components you’d expect from this sort of thing, and executed magnificently. As mentioned above, a big part of it is the work by Reynolds – as fun as the script is, Reynolds’ work takes it to another level. He demonstrates a flair for the material, and his use of color as a storytelling device is breathtaking. Looking forward to more of this, for sure.
If I had to summarize THE FUSE #1, I’d call it “HOMICIDE meets DEEP SPACE NINE.” Detective Dietrich arrives at his new home on a space station just in time to witness a murder victim drop in front of him. This leads to a madcap series of events wherein he meets his partner, dives into the investigation, bickers, and is assigned a murder of his own to take lead on… all before he can have a cup of coffee or even go to wherever his home is going to be. Crisp dialogue, fantastic milieu, intriguing mystery, involving and interesting characters… writer Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood deliver it all in this one. I love the way they meld the genres and are able to stay true to the tropes of both while creating something that feels new. With all the hype around Image right now, this is one that flew under the radar a bit, but with something this good, people are going to swarm to it quickly.
There are different ways to tell a similar story. For instance, if you want to tell a story about a young boy going to a school that trains assassins, there’s the way Jimmie Robinson is doing it in FIVE WEAPONS. Alternatively, there is the radically different way that writer Rick Remender and artist Wes Craig do it in DEADLY CLASS #1. This is a much darker ride, focusing on a tragically homeless kid who is barely surviving, but who is also drawing eyes from the wrong kinds of people and about to meet a gruesome end before members of the School of Deadly Arts intervene. The violence has a sense of realness that catches you off-guard, and the danger presented feels like real danger, which is no mean feat. But the real star is Craig’s art, which is eye-popping. Inventive layouts, clever panel design… add in Lee Loughridge’s colors, and it’s one of the more striking books you’ll see on the stands. Definitely a book to keep an eye on.
By Avril Brown
“Crying doesn’t indicate you’re weak. Since birth, it has been a sign that you’re alive.”
I am a somewhat emotional individual. While I am not overly effusive in the demonstration of my emotions I do feel them, all of them, rather intensely. I suspect this is the reason I am so quick to cry. Sadness, anger, frustration and overwhelming gratitude all bring forth the waterworks, and the longer I’ve gone since the last time I cried, the worse the deluge.
To help avoid embarrassment should I find myself in a confrontational situation, and also simply to provide an outlet for my constant abundance of sentiment, I occasionally make myself cry. When the urge strikes I secure a box of tissues, a bottle of wine and a tried and true method for calling forth the keening kraken.
Book - “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”
This is the first book that ever made me cry, and with good reason. Based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who developed leukemia nine years after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, this children’s book tells the tale of her brave and heartfelt struggle to fulfill a legend. The story says that if a sick person can fold one thousand paper cranes, their wish for health will be granted. Though young Sadako died after folding only six hundred and forty-four cranes, her classmates and other well wishers folded the remaining three hundred and fifty-six which were buried with her. Now a statue stands in her memory and the memory of the other innocent children lost to war, and sixty years later visitors continue to leave paper cranes in her honor and for her ultimate wish: Peace.
Movie - “Donnie Darko”
Anyone who knows me is also aware of my penchant for ‘happy ending’ movies. Typically if someone’s not riding off into the sunset or the world isn’t saved, I’ll pass. “Donnie Darko,” however, is a movie so filled with love, loss and some serious mind-fucks I couldn’t help but be drawn in, despite its (mostly) tragic conclusion. If you’re not familiar with the film it can be hard to summarize in only a few lines, but it is a young love story with a unique science fiction twist. Donnie is a brilliant but troubled teenager (his imaginary friend is a guy in a freakishly scary rabbit costume) who falls for the new girl in school. He ends up sacrificing himself to save his girlfriend’s life, but due to the nature of how he pulled it off (time travel wormhole is the best way to describe it) he dies knowing he saved a life, but his totally kick-ass family is left mourning his loss on their front yard. His father is wracked with sobs, clutching his youngest daughter, as the other daughter cries quietly nearby. His mother stands with silent tears, smoking a cigarette and sharing a moment with the young woman who, unbeknownst to her, is only alive because Donnie chose to die. For me, seeing a family grieving the loss of a loved one is carte blanche for unrestrained bawling.
Television - “Angel”
Who better to bring on the pain than Joss ‘I hate happy couples’ Whedon? There are actually several Whedon-inspired weepers I could choose from, but one has been removed from the docket due to hitting too close to home. ‘The Body’ is one of the more famous episodes in “Buffy” history; Buffy comes home to find her mother dead on the couch from an aneurysm. The episode is painfully well done and was shot in long takes with no musical embellishment, complete with stunning performances from the cast depicting very realistic reactions to an unexpected loss, and is more than enough to bring a tear to even the driest eye. However, my mother has an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is an abnormal connection of blood vessels on the brain. It is responsible for a few scares in recent years, so that particular episode, while very easy to cry to, gets me right where I live, and is avoided like the plague.
Therefore I turn to the ridiculously overdone “Angel” series. I still haven’t seen half of the series, but I have seen the fifth and final season quite a few times, particularly the episodes where Fred, the adorably bubbly girl genius, dies and her body taken over by an eons-old god. What kills about this two-part episode is not just that Fred is the only universally likeable character, but that she and paramour Wesley had finally gotten together and didn’t even have a whole episode of happiness (I think that was a new low for Whedon). Also, she was the think tank of the crew who had previously spent years in a hell dimension and who, by her own angry admission, “…would not be cut down by some monster flu; I am BETTER than that!” Seriously, all flights of fantasy aside, watching this strong woman slowly dying even as she struggles against the inevitable and tries to have faith in her champions, is guaranteed cry-material. As the infectious ancient entity Illyria ravages her body, Fred fights to experience every single second of life. Determined to the last to stay brave, she still can’t help but wonder at her final moment, “Wesley, why can’t I stay?” Gets me every time.
Comic - Garth Ennis, “Battlefields: The Fall and Rise of Anna Kharkova”
The X-Men have a phrase about death as it relates to their teammates: ‘That trick never works!’ In superhero comics, death can be somewhat of a revolving door; those who head out could just as easily be on their way back in. There have been a few passings in the world of spandex that are irreversible and have tugged hard on my heartstrings, but no comic has made me utterly dissolve like Garth Ennis’s “Battlefields.” Ennis is a war history buff and his “Battlefields” series tells the story of many real life superheroes from various conflicts, and he does it right. In WWII Russia had a squadron of women pilots whom were dubbed the ‘Night Witches’ by the Nazis they hunted. They would glide their planes into enemy territory in the dead of night, drop their bombs and hightail it out of there before the Nazis even knew they were being attacked. Garth told their story in his own unique way, with his own unique character: Anna. One of the successful ‘Night Witches,’ Anna was a naturally gifted pilot. She suffered the loss of her love before the wars end and fought her way out of a POW camp. In her subsequent story arcs, she’s injured in combat and nursed back to health by a Jewish doctor, learning a level of compassion she never previously understood along the way. Back in the motherland she is ultimately supported by a fellow Witch who has gained some status in the Russian government, and is granted a stay of execution, but her rebellious nature leads her to piss off the wrong people, and she and her friend are thrown into a work camp. Supportive of Anna to the last and her desire/right to fly the skies like she was born, and once encouraged by her country, to do, Mouse dies in the camp, leaving Anna alone with a pathetic excuse of a ‘leader’ who goes out of his way to make her life miserable. Yet Anna never loses her fighting spirit, and screws him over in the most amazing and heartbreaking manner possible. She steals a visiting MiG, the ultimate in Soviet air warfare technology, for one final flight. Anna pushes the plane to the limits and is eventually confronted by a fellow pilot, an American. When asked of her intentions, Anna weighs her options. She could return to Russia, and to her execution. She could continue along to an American base, defect and live out the rest of her days in which would undoubtedly be a rather cozy manner given the fact she would be gifting them an invaluable plane, but instead she chooses the only avenue she feels is right for her unique position as a born pilot and a loyal Russian, by taking her beautiful plane and “throwing her at the sun.” It took me an hour to pull myself together after finishing that book.
Needing a good cry isn’t a ‘girl’ thing necessarily; my mother is one of the least lamenting people I know. Crying is not the only external passageway for my passions, but it is an effective one, and every single individual has to have a release of some kind, whatever form it may take. Be not ashamed of your tears, be grateful that you are feeling enough to shed them. Grab a tissue and a cucumber for those morning-after eye baggies, and just let it out.
By Avril Brown
One of the many, many things I love about CHEW is Layman and Guillory’s ability to create some really kick-ass women. At the end of last issue a depressed Tony Chu was about to be fed the mysterious Gallsaberry fruit by his girlfriend Amelia and his daughter Olive. In this issue, we see how this unique repast came to be.
With Tony stuck in a zombie-like state over losing one of the most important women in his life, again, the other two women dearest to him team up to bring their boy back from the living dead. This wouldn’t have been possible, however, without a little direction from the actual dead, Toni Chu, who left yet another useful tidbit behind before her untimely demise. The recipe Toni bequeathed to the Chu clan required a FDA controlled substance and with Tony out of the game it was up to Amelia and Olive to break a few federal laws.
Naturally there are a couple bumps in the road to collecting this rather interesting ingredient, but all turns out well as Olive is allowed to stretch her increasingly awesome legs, metaphorically speaking. Her training with Savoy pays off in spades as the two femme fatale foodies bring home the bacon and cook Tony a dish he’ll undoubtedly never forget, nor cease to appreciate.
The visuals in this issue are especially striking as we get some glimpses into what appears to be a different world. Guillory really makes this new scenery stand out, and the colors are psychedelic. As always the background jokes are worth seeking out, with not so subtle hints that FDA agents like punching people, and the ‘Enjoy your diabetes’ sign on the front of a vending machine was a nice touch. I for one cannot wait for the conclusion to the ‘Family Recipes’ story arc, by far one of the most emotional and action-packed CHEW arcs yet.
By Avril Brown
Balance is a bitch. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate balance and recognize it as a vital element in many aspects of our lives from checking accounts to yoga postures, but achieving an even, healthy balance can be a right pain in the ass.
We all have things that we have to do, things we want to do and things we dream of doing. In order to accomplish any or all of these projects, there must be a distribution of time and effort. How, though? How in the name of Odin’s beard is one supposed to find enough hours for the essential daily tasks in addition to the activities we not only want to participate in, but actually need in order to keep us sane?
Personally, I find the first step in solving a problem is writing it out. By laying the dilemma out in front of you, the better your eyes and mind will map out the solution. That being said, the time is nigh to explore Avril’s current life list of ongoing interests:
Work - There are a fortunate few who absolutely love their jobs and therefore never work a day in their life, as the phrase goes, but for the rest of us the daily grind is, and forever will be (‘forever’ translating to retirement age, if we’re lucky), an occasionally painful reality. While most of us do not universally loathe our jobs, ‘work’ is still typically that, and it needs to be done five to seven days a week, with precious few breaks. Unless your job consists of nothing but puppy snuggling, beer tasting and exploring the perks in every five star hotel the world has to offer, odds are when you wake up in the morning, you’d rather stay in bed. Nonetheless, work is a must and tends to be a lot more enjoyable when there is at least one thing to look forward to at your job. Like money.
Reading - I love to read, and my taste, while not exactly ‘varied’ is still expansive. I’m currently reading at least eight ongoing comic books so there is always something new to pick up at my comic shop. Though individual issues are no Tolstoy novel I tend to read last month’s issue before the current book which doubles my comic reading time. Other modes of fantasy are usually on the docket as well, both in novel and fan fiction format. I’m currently in the middle of a three-part series with the goal of starting the six-part ‘Vampire Academy’ series before the first movie comes out mid-February. The recently released ‘Veronica Mars’ movie trailer had me putting on blinders and racing to the nearest VM fan fiction stories where Veronica and Logan live happily ever after.
Writing - I’ve been slacking on this front lately, and my spirit has suffered for it. Though I become anxious over proper wording and cadence, I do feel better when I write, something I constantly need to remind myself of when I’m actively avoiding the commitment. I want to once again write regular columns, but I also want to dedicate time to completing my sci-fi story and start new projects. Not to mention I also journal to keep track of the good times, and write through the bad. Despite my steel vault memory for movie quotes, I do not always remember the truly important moments and feelings which make life worth living. From simple gestures to grand parties and the little tidbits in between, if it made me laugh, cry, crinkle my nose in confusion or furrow my brow in consternation, I want to remember that sliver of time as accurately as possible.
Gym - Once I was sucked into the world of pumping iron and sweating on purpose, I knew there was no going back. Though my willingness to work out tends to fluctuate quite frequently, healthy living is a long term commitment and as I’ve stated in the past, I do enjoy being strong. Sour attitude or no, I conjure up the image of me with badass guns, strutting confidently across convention floors in barely-there clothing, and I haul my ass on over to the gym.
Movies/Television - Have you seen the movie roster for this year? ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past!’ ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier!’ ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2!’ ‘Jack Ryan,’ ‘Veronica Mars,’ ‘300!’ While I’m not expecting stellar quality across the board, most of these films just have to be seen on the big screen, so it looks like I’ll be taking out a loan in the next few months. There are only a few television shows I follow in syndication but they’re still an hour a pop, and there are oodles of shows I want to catch up on, such as ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Sherlock.’ Thanks to Netflix it is far too easy to let an entire week disappear due to “marathoning.”
Wedding Planning - Whenever someone asks me how the wedding planning is going, I tend to blink owlishly at them and reply, “Someone’s getting married?” He asked, I said yes; easy part’s over. Now comes the grueling work of planning one hell of an expensive (thanks Mom and Dad!) and expansive party. Guest list, invitations, seating arrangement, photographer, DJ, food, drink, dress, color scheme and so on. Want a partridge in a pear tree? No problem, that’ll be two grand for importing the tropical tree, one grand for the rare albino bird who can whistle the Imperial March while the bride walks down the aisle, and five hundred (not including tip) for the poor schmuck who is on cleaning-up-bird-shit duty. The waiting list is fifteen months, by the way. Thankfully, my tastes lean away from fowl perched in plants, and I’ve got family to hold my hand through this crisis-I mean, process.
Sleep - Sleep is a god whom everyone must worship. Personally, my faith requires a good solid seven to eight hours of honoring this deity in order to function properly. Lack of sleep can cause crankiness, a short attention span and, shockingly, fatigue. Though my subconscious can be quite cruel and often tortures me with ‘I haven’t gone to class all semester and I missed the final’ dreams, or ‘there’s an axe-murderer chasing me and my legs have turned to molasses’ dreams, those evenings of calm, peacefully slumber are a drug which keeps me coming back for more.
Relationships - I am in the happy position of having multiple satisfying relationships in my life, but all relationships take work. Jesse and I live together and though we have different schedules, we always end up in bed together for loving goodnights and snuggles. We also make time for the occasional date night as we both need a relaxing evening out on the town once in awhile. Friends only remain so if you take the time to see them, and maintaining a friendship can be challenging, long distance or no. With a family as awesome as mine there is no excuse not to make time to see them, particularly when they are an easy El ride away.
In addition to this lengthy list, I am unable to let go of one of my guilty pleasures: revisiting my favorite moments in fantasy. I’ve read X-Men #81, the first comic I ever bought, more times than I can count. I’ll never tire of watching Captain America rescue Bucky from Hydra’s clutches, or seeing the Avengers stand tall against the Chitauri. Every once in awhile the craving for a Buffy and Spike claiming fic will strike and it’s back to my selection of epic Spuffy stories.
The truth is there is never enough time for everything; one of the reasons I enjoy the thought of immortality. There will always be day to day duties which need to be accomplished, and there will always be a desire to avoid them for something far more fulfilling. Knowing me I will forever find time for relaxation and mindless entertainment, but I cannot let it interfere with the aspects of my life that truly matter, and that includes my own growth. I will continue to work and learn new things, I will continue to cultivate my relationships, I will continue to write and express myself. The balance between these factions of my existence will constantly be in flux, but as long as they all exist in some degree or another life shall be merry, and well rounded.
By Marc Mason
2013 is coming to a close. Let us pause and be grateful for that.
Good, now that that’s over… let’s talk the best of what happened in graphic novels this year, along with a couple of notes on comics.
As usual, I had the opportunity to read a staggering number of comics and graphic novels this year, yet for all that, I feel as though I barely scratch the surface of what actually hits the stands. Thus, I feel like I cannot truly offer up a “Best Of” list that would be comprehensive enough. I can, however, offer you a list of five absolutely great books that arrived on shelves this year. These are books that, even if I read another 200 books that came out this year, I feel strongly would still make a top-10 list if I made one.
MARCH vol. 1 (Top Shelf): Congressman John Lewis, a legendary figure in the civil rights movement, worked with writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to deliver a powerhouse memoir of growing up in the turbulent mid-20th century and finding purpose in civil disobedience as the American South was dragged kicking and screaming towards acknowledging racial equality. Captivating, fascinating, and educational, MARCH illuminates one of the most important human stories of the past few generations, and does so in a manner that enthralls and educates the modern reader. A powerful work.
BOXERS & SAINTS (First Second): writer/artist Gene Yang spent seven years putting together this two-volume work focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the astonishing level of detail demonstrates every bit of his effort. BOXERS focuses on a young Chinese man driven to defend his land from foreign interests, while SAINTS finds a nameless Chinese girl given a name and a purpose by missionaries. As their stories parallel, you can’t help but feel like tragedy lies ahead if they meet, and meet they do. Ambitious, stunningly drawn, and intelligent, this two-volume work astonishes.
THE GREAT WAR (W.W. Norton): There are few accolades left that writer/artist Joe Sacco has not earned, so it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels. Instead, he produced his most ambitious and unusual work yet, this massive battlefield scene demonstrating one of the pivotal days in World War I. Drawn in excruciating detail and annotated like the finest textbooks, THE GREAT WAR offers up a fascinating look at the sheer scale that war encompasses, in space used, in terms of human lives lost, and in emotional toll.
RED HANDED (First Second): writer/artist Matt Kindt has been turning out spectacular work almost non-stop for the past five years, but this wonderful graphic novel really stood out this year. Set up as an homage to classic Dick Tracy comics, Kindt could have rested easy and let the entire book play out on a surface level. Instead, he delivered a bravura performance wherein he mixed plotlines, time, artistic styles, and snappy dialogue together until he had created a work that rose above the rest. It’s magnificent.
THE INITIATES (NBM): A book that deserved a far louder response when it hit, THE INITIATES is the finest piece of immersion journalism to hit graphic novel shelves… well, ever. Writer/artist Etienne Davodeau’s decision to spend a year working at a friend’s vineyard, learning the process of making wine, turned out to be a richly fascinating one. At the same time, he begins teaching his wine-making friend about the business and greatness of graphic novels. Two worlds don’t so much collide here as much as they come together in beautiful friendship and understanding. An astonishing piece of work.
Of course, I don’t just spend my time reading graphic novels.
I read hundreds of traditional comics every year, and certainly some of those are worth one last look.
BEST SINGLE ISSUE OF 2013: SEX CRIMINALS #1 (Image Comics): “People with the power to stop time by having sex decide to rob banks.” When I saw this book described that way, I almost skipped right past it. Thankfully, that description barely has anything to do with this incredible first issue, which is really about a young woman trying to navigate and explore her sexuality as she grows up. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky delivered the best character piece of the year in issue one, no question; a few pages in and I forgot about the robbery stuff and was completely sucked into the lead character’s story of growing up confused. Filled with an unusual level of pathos, it was one of the few comics I read this year that I wanted to read more than once, and it rewarded me for reading it again. And again.
BEST BOOK THAT NEEDS A BIGGER AUDIENCE: THE SHADOW (Dynamite): I’ve never been a huge lover of pulp; it’s a very hit-or-miss genre for me. But THE SHADOW changed all that with issue #13 and the arrival of writer Chris Roberson. Instead of street thugs and mobsters, Roberson gave The Shadow the best villain the character has seen since the 80s in The Light. An Easterner raised and trained in the West, she arrived to dispense justice in harsher and crueler ways than even The Shadow could tolerate. The rare occasion where a character meets his true “opposite” or “mirror” and the results elevate above everything that has come before, the six-issue arc delivered some epic thrills and excitement, and it made me like the character in a way I never had before.
And… that feels like enough. I’ll be back next year to talk more comics and graphic novels with you all. Until then, have an excellent holiday season and a safe and sound turn of the new year.
Reviewed by Avril Brown
Orange is the new black in the latest issue of CHEW as readers are given a glimpse behind the concrete curtain into former FDA Agent Mason Savoy’s life on the inside. Tony Chu takes a backseat in this particular bit of story arc as he’s still reeling from what to him must feel like the second death of his beloved twin, and while his girlfriend Amelia and his daughter Olive plan to team up to bring Tony back to fighting form, a different type of team is working a plan of their own.
Though it was recently revealed that Savoy’s stint in the pokey was entirely by design, he’s learning the hard way that prison life is no picnic, particularly for someone who is responsible for the arrest of many of the food criminals incarcerated in ‘The Can.’ With the help of an ex-cop (who has a connection with our favorite homicidal feathered freak) Savoy makes it through the day, but come nightfall his plan kicks into action and Chu’s former mentor/partner is finally able to extract something he, and loyal CHEW readers, have been after since the beginning: The Truth.
Naturally the big reveal for Savoy is kept hidden from us starved fans, but we’re treated to samplings of other things to come: several prisoners kept in the super-max security, most of whom are new faces, are bound to show up again, and Chu’s upcoming dinner is sure to have an interesting aftertaste. As per usual, there are snaky comments, hilarious nuggets (the prison menu is ‘Solitary Confinement, With a Side o’ Shank!’) and inside jokes galore, enough to soothe the burn of being so close to the mystery of the bird flu, and yet so far.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
One last review post for 2013!
The wave of big-name creators taking new works to Image continues with writer James Robinson and artist J. Bone delivering THE SAVIORS #1. SAVIORS is an alien invasion story done from a different focal point; most of these types of stories focus on the efforts of a scientist or upright military guy to try and fight an encroaching attack. However, here the main character is a paranoid stoner named Tomas Ramirez who has a tendency to get high and talk to the local wildlife. (Humanity = doomed.) With few friends, and an entire community that knows he’s a colossal screw-up, there’s not much he can do but look like a man ready to be locked away in a padded room when he starts to see lizard-men doing nefarious things in his town. SAVIORS is beautifully drawn in lovely black and white and grey tones, and the plotting and scripting are tight. Robinson injects exposition by making Tomas a chatty stoner, which makes it feel natural, and the pace of the book is brisk. The creative team also does a nice job of setting up Tomas’ world, making it easily recognizable. A total win in all ways.
DEAD BODY ROAD #1 from writer Justin Jordan and artist Matteo Scalera, drops us into the middle of a heist gone horribly, horribly wrong, and it only gets nastier from there. The gist: a lot of people are killed during the thievery, sending one member of the criminal team on the run from his own cronies, while the cop boyfriend of one of the victims decides to go rogue and track the bad guys himself. In the meantime, the rest of the thieves try to track down their runner because he still has what they wanted from the heist. It doesn’t take a genius at that point to know that a lot more people are going to die. But that’s okay; there’s a sweet noir flavoring to the entire mix here that sucks in the reader and gets you invested in the bullets and body count. There’s also a slow-building mystery as to what the robbery was really all about in the first place. Jordan’s story is elaborate and involving, and Scalera’s art is simply stunning. The action is swift and brutal, and the intensity the pages emit makes your fingers feel dirty while you read. Terrific stuff all around.
I’d be remiss in not talking about my old pal Brian Joines’ KRAMPUS! #1, as I’m pleased for him to see it hitting shelves. Joines is a clever writer with a gift for high-concept ideas, and that certainly describes this book. The remains of the man who originally inspired the myth of Santa Claus are stolen from a museum, which in turn steals away the powers of the group of men who actually do perform the duties of Santa Claus around the world every year. Their own powers fading, they are forced to bargain with the imprisoned Krampus, offering him freedom in return for tracking down the stolen remains and returning them their powers. It’s a fun story, and Joines plays it perfectly by playing it straight; to wink at the audience or not commit to the central conceit would rob it of its cleverness. He’s ably abetted by artist Dean Kotz, who has a gift for good sight gags and who also excels in drawing the fantastic mixed with modern day normal. This book is a good time; check it out.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Two new excellent works hitting shelves…
BETTY BLUES is actually one of Renaud Dillies’ first graphic novels, originally published over a decade ago, just now making its North American translation debut. But you’d never know it by reading it. Much like ABELARD and BUBBLES & GONDOLA, BETTY BLUES is a powerhouse piece of work, a rich, textured, emotionally wrenching journey that challenges the reader at every turn. The story, as usual, is deceptively simple: Little Rice Duck, a professional trumpet player, sees his girlfriend Betty leave him for a richer man. From such heartbreak, both he and Betty begin dark journeys down new paths. His sees him leave music behind, while hers sees her discover life as someone else’s trophy. Both have made horrific mistakes, but will they be able to fix them in time? Structured like a classic blues song… well, if you know how blues music works, you know that some things cannot be undone. I was captivated by BETTY BLUES from beginning to end, even knowing that it would likely break my heart by the time it was over, because Dillies knows how to create characters you can truly become invested in as a reader, and he never takes cheap shortcuts or the easy way out in describing their plight. I’m sold on this man’s talent, and I’ll keep reading them as long as NBM keeps bringing them across the pond to the English-speaking audience.
I’m not sure what’s left to be said about Rick Geary and his TREASURY OF 20TH CENTURY MURDER series. Time after time, Geary has delivered absolutely incredible volumes of work, telling sublime stories about the evil that men (and women) do in a way that massively entertains and yet also intelligently informs. That is the case, once again, with MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY, which tells the sordid tale of the murder of architect Stanford White. What makes this book different than many of the others is that we know who committed the foul deed: a deranged Pittsburgh millionaire named Harry Thaw. The meat of the tale comes in the hows and the whys of the story: why did Thaw do it? How did he get away with it when dozens of people saw him shoot White? Freed of the whodunit aspect, Geary seems to revel in building character studies of the two men and their foibles, especially as they pertain to the femme fatale who was at the focal point of their conflict. Evelyn Nesbit. Honestly, maybe the most remarkable thing about all of these books is just how consistent Geary is: each one is beautiful to look at, thoroughly researched, and delivers maximum entertainment value to the reader. If you’re looking for a good stocking stuffer for someone this holiday, MADISON SQUARE TRAGEDY would be a solid choice.
Reviewed by Marc Mason
New from Image…
Zoey Aarons seems like pretty much every other eighteen-year old. She’s heading off to college, worried about what the experience will be like. She’s experiencing some confusion about her personal identity. She’s even got definitive ideas about what kind of job she would like on campus. However, she is also quite unique in that she’s a murderer who has gotten away with it, and the homicidal urges inside of her have yet to be quelled. Thus, being dropped into a new environment with people she does not know or have attachments to represents not just a challenge for her, but a threat to the safety of everyone around her. Tricky balance, that. A VOICE IN THE DARK #1, from writer/artist Larime Taylor, does an excellent job in maintaining that balance, however. Zoey is a compelling character, and we not only understand why she killed before, we also get a solid sense of why she might break and do so again. VOICE is a story about the way our personal demons prey upon our weakest moments and mold us into the adults we eventually become. Taylor is a real find, with a nice talent for creating people the reader can recognize, and his art is simple and direct, always servicing the emotional story at the book’s core. This was a really pleasant surprise, and I’m looking forward to more.
Mix a tab or two of LSD with LOST IN SPACE and you get BLACK SCIENCE #1 from writer Rick Remender and art duo Matteo Scalera and Dean White. Grant McKay, his kids, and a team of scientists have wound up on a world of sentient, human-sized frogs and fish, landing in the middle of a conflict that sees McKay have to become a fugitive on the run so he can repair the machine that sent them there. Unfortunately, things on this world do not go well, and by the time his search is over, they will only be worse. I’d try and describe more of this one, but there’s really not much point in doing so. It would spoil the incessantly weird shit that Remender throws at you in scene after scene, and plot really isn’t necessarily the point here. BLACK SCIENCE is more an exercise in seeing just how gonzo a comic can get, throwing as many crazy ideas at you as it possibly can. A comic that has been made just for the pure fun of it. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But there’s room for a book like this, where the reader just wants to be entertained, not intellectualized, and for that reason, it works. Shut off your brain and enjoy it.