NEW TRADES

NEW TRADES
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I survived my wedding.

This was no mean feat. I had no idea how complicated and life-consuming this event was going to become. I literally lost months of my regular life and productivity to it. But here’s the rub: it was worth it. Totally and completely worth it.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, shall we?

A number of new Image trades have hit the shelves recently. Four in particular stood out to me, not just because they are good, but because they also represent what it is that Image does so well: variety and diversity.

Let’s start with MOONSHINE VOL.1, a high-profile release to be sure. Re-uniting the creative team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso of 100 BULLETS fame, this Prohibition Era story gives us a new take on the old bootlegging story. A big-time mobster sends one of his guys to Appalachia in order to broker a deal to bring a particular ‘shine to NYC. But the alcohol maker in question isn’t necessarily keen on doing so… in part because he or one of his family might just be a werewolf with a really unfortunate temper.

Hijinks do not ensue.

Instead, intrigue, back-alley negotiations, some violence, a bit of gratuitous sex, plenty of booze, and more than a few angry words do. As a monthly comic, I wasn’t necessarily all that keen on MOONSHINE; I thought it felt a bit disjointed. But as a trade/graphic novel, it reads perfectly well. Azzarello’s scripting feels livelier and the overall story arc are much more clear in this format. And of course, Risso’s work is staggeringly great in any format. Moody, evocative, and sensual, it alone is worth the price of the book.

Good to see these guys together again.

On the other end of the storytelling spectrum is Memoir, and writer/artist Sina Grace’s latest entry into the genre is a damned good one. NOTHING LASTS FOREVER chronicles a wide-swath of Grace’s recent life, including a bout with long-term illness that seriously impacted his life and work. The tales within also cover the comics industry, depression, dating and sex, the true meaning of friendship, and more. What makes the book work is the raw vulnerability that Grace displays in how he presents himself and his issues. He’s not shy about pointing his finger at himself in the mirror and criticizing how he uses his own agency. That removes any hint of narcissism from the book and keeps it an honest read.

Grace also skips polishing his art, instead allowing the book to have a rougher, more journal-like feeling. It works to match the mood he is trying to convey in his storytelling and enhances the power of what he has to share with his readers.

I’ve liked Grace’s work since I first saw it on L’IL DEPRESSED BOY, and he continues to show what he can truly accomplish with his talent when he puts pencil to paper with this book.

Dancing off to another genre corner, MAYDAY by writer Alex de Campi and artist Tony Parker mixes the 70s counter-culture with the classic spy-thriller. A Russian defector offers a list of the Soviet spies who have infiltrated America’s forces in Vietnam, and suddenly the race is on between our intelligence agencies trying to keep the list and keep the defector alive and two Soviet agents who might be a little too caught up in America’s party culture.

The story is full or more twists and turns than I could even begin to count. It’s not convoluted, thankfully; de Campi does a great job of keeping the narrative clear and concise. The characters and dialogue are a ton of fun, and she does a terrific job of making you invest in both sides of the story.

Enhancing all of it is Tony Parker’s excellent art. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him for years, as he was local until fairly recent, and it warms my heart to see just how much he has grown as an artist. With each successive project he just gets better.

There’s nothing else like MAYDAY that I can compare it to – it’s unique. Isn’t that cool?

I’ve quite enjoyed POSTAL from its inception, so when I saw that its writer, Bryan Hill, was the writer on ROMULUS VOL.1 I felt confident I was going to enjoy it.

Throw in artist Nelson Blake II, and this one seemed like a lock before I cracked it open.

I was not disappointed.

A centuries-spanning conspiracy. A lone warrior standing against impossible odds. These things are standard tropes, yet in Hill’s hands, they feel fresh and fun. The main character, Ashlar, is one you can easily develop a rooting interest in, thanks to the way Hill sets up her back story. He does the same as well with the tale’s antagonist, giving us a complicated villain, not one that twirls their mustache. Again, that’s one of the things that Hill always seems to excel at.

Blake II delivers some tremendous pages, particularly because his action sequences are dynamic and crisply executed on the page. His character design is also top-notch.

Four books. Four different genres. Not a cape to be found anywhere. Aren’t comics great?

 

BATGIRL AT SUPER HERO HIGH

BATGIRL AT SUPERHERO HIGH
Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

How addictively popular are these DC Superhero Girls books? Let’s just say that before I could review book two, focused on Supergirl, it vanished into thin air. Now, did my twelve-year old step-daughter “borrow” it?

I’ve never found conclusive evidence.

Now, the third book in the series, focusing on Batgirl, is here, and I am pleased to report it is an absolute gem, continuing Lisa Yee’s fantastic work in bringing this version of these classic characters to life. Here, Barbara Gordon puts on the cape and cowl and joins the ranks of the heroes, even though she is without superpowers. Not only is that a challenge, but she also must navigate a very real teenage existence. Issues of confidence, learning who to trust, developing strong decision-making skills, and more arise, and all of it entertains as well as develops the character nicely.

One terrific sequence takes place in the lunchroom as Batgirl and Supergirl decide to defy stereotypes and stand up for the bullied and shunned Big Barda, whose reputation makes the other students avoid her. By leading by example (even though the encounter doesn’t go perfectly) it encourages the reader to do the same in their own lives. It isn’t preachy, but Yee’s delightful prose does the trick. And really, she’s quite good at this; all three of the books in the series have moments that lead the reader to ideas for being a better person in their own lives.

Of course, this is not the end for the series, and BATGIRL ends on a cliffhanger. Whatever comes next, I am sure it will have the same charm and grace that the first three in the series have displayed. I know one thing for sure: I’ll be happy to read it… and pass it on to my younger reader.

 

THE OLD GUARD 1

THE OLD GUARD #1
Written by Greg Rucka and Drawn by Leandro Fernandez
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Isn’t it great when expectations exceed reality?

A while back, when THE OLD GUARD was announced, I thought to myself “That sounds like it’s going to be the best new comic of 2017.” I mean, what wasn’t to like? Greg Rucka writing the kind of intelligent action thriller that he does better than anyone else? Art by Leandro Fernandez, a massive talent with a gift for moody and evocative pages? So I rubbed my hands together and waited.

I powered through this absolutely delicious tale of immortal warriors still doing their thing in our modern world like a thirsty man attacks a water fountain, and all I could say when I was done was this:
“Yep. Best new comic of 2017. Good luck to the rest of the competition along the way. They’re gonna need it.”
Compelling characters. Intriguing story. A powerful plot twist. The hint that our old guard may get some new blood. Crackling dialogue. Eye candy art on every page. Letterer Jodi Wynne and colorist Daniela Miwa holding up their end and elevating their parts of the book as well.

There is literally nothing about THE OLD GUARD #1 that isn’t great. End of story.

No, wait – there’s the fact that I have to wait for issue two for a few more weeks. That kinda sucks. Because I really want to read that right now. I suspect that’s how it’s going to be as this series goes forward. Ah, well. Guess I’ll deal.

HILO – THE GREAT BIG BOOM

HILO: THE GREAT BIG BOOM
Written and Drawn by Judd Winick
Published by Random House Kids

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Let me get this out of the way immediately: HILO offers as much genuine pleasure to read as any book being produced today. It is, simply, as good a graphic novel series for younger readers that you will find on your bookstore shelves.

And I felt that way before this third volume arrived.

So it came as no surprise to me that Judd Winick outdid himself and that volume three is even better than the first two. Here, he gets to engage in significant world-building as the cast goes through a portal and lands on another planet. Oshun turns out to be the home of Polly the sorceress from book two, and hers is a place of magic and of belligerent alligators in medieval armor. The cast must navigate the oddities of this planet in order to try and find a portal back to earth or they could be stranded forever.

My goodness, is it a LOT of fun!

And Winick is clearly having a blast with the whole thing. The art gets more dynamic. The colors get more vibrant. The characters get deeper and more interesting. Everything here is filled with the joy possessed by a creative talent at the height of his powers.

My only complaint is that I have to wait a year for the next one. HILO is so much fun that I’m chomping at the bit for volume four.

 

ROGUE ELEMENT 135

ROGUE ELEMENT #135: CHEW FINAL THOUGHTS
CHEW written by John Layman, Illustrated by Rob Guillory

Reviewed by Avril Kulla

The last issue of CHEW hit the stands several weeks ago, and with it the much-anticipated final piece to a multi-layered, utterly bizarre, often hilarious, surprisingly heartbreaking and overall genius comic book series. Layman said from the beginning that CHEW was a finite series previously plotted out with an ending already in place; he had a story to tell and he needed sixty issues to tell it, and then the tale would end. Though I originally got into comics by reading perpetually ongoing superhero stories, I have mad respect for a storyteller who commits to his/her plan and follows through. If upon its completion a story leaves the reader wanting more, it is either such a thrilling and addictive world you cannot bear to part with it yet you accept the ending because it was awesome and complementary, or the story is lacking an essential element that gives it a sense of conclusion.

I needed time after finishing CHEW issue #60 to figure out which category the story fell into. Immediately after reading it my jaw was literally hanging open, inviting all manners of flies to nestle within the cavern of my astonishment. There may have been a ‘what the fuck?’ here and there, and certainly some scrolling was involved, both up and down, to insure that yes, I read/saw that correctly and no, there is no more story. As there was no one I could vent to in the moment, I boxed up my feelings and waited for my poor unsuspecting husband to come home. With his arrival brought forth the tsunami of feels ranging from confusion to frustration, back to the ‘what the fucks’ and thankfully ending in a healthy discourse of what the ending truly meant for the story. One of the many reasons I married Jesse is that, on occasion, he seems to know me better than I know myself, and in this case he let me spew forth my vitriol before engaging me in intelligent and insightful conversation, thereby revealing my true feelings about the CHEW conclusion.

Time was also needed for a decision to be made: in my final review of CHEW, the only comic of which I have reviewed every single issue, should I freely discuss the ending? Though I have no evidence my words have any effect on any individual’s decision whether or not to read this comic, I still cannot reveal blatant spoilers regarding the culmination of CHEW, if only for the hope that there is one person who may be inspired to pick up this utterly unique book and give it a spin. I refuse to be that chick who divulged the ending before someone has a chance to fall in love with the beginning.

That being said, there is a minor, vague spoiler I do feel comfortable in sharing, and that is a fair warning for anyone who needs a tidy little bow on their neatly wrapped up ending: you’re not going to find it in CHEW. Consider the finale to Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,’ or the original British ‘The Italian Job’ which closes with a literal cliffhanger. The central story was told but those last moments are an unforeseen monkey wrench which is vibrating with tension and the mystery of what happens next. My good friend Jack and I sat down one night to watch an old Paul Newman movie entitled ‘Fort Apache, The Bronx.’ From the start there was a particular feel to this film, entrenching it firmly in the ’70’s action noir category (despite it being released in 1981) and giving enough away that my perceptive, movie-fan friend accurately predicted the ending in the last few minutes. “Watch,” he said, “they’re totally going to end on a freeze-frame action shot, with them jumping over a wall chasing a bad guy. You just watch.” I did, and it did, and we couldn’t stop laughing.

But I suppose that is part of the point in ending on such a note, to get you thinking, talking, arguing, laughing, whatever. To get you fired up one way or another. Despite my initial ‘wtf’ reaction I realized Tony Chu made an unsurprising choice given what we knew about his character and what he endured throughout his life. The subsequent unseen consequences of his actions, well, we all get to wonder and debate what those might be. Though I was initially hung up over the idea of Tony not giving a rip whether his remaining living loved ones would suffer due to his choices, ultimately I realized there was no choice: this was who Tony was. He reacted extremely poorly to betrayal of known individuals with whom he shared a personal rapport, but regarding unknown entities who came into his life to harm him and his, there was no debate, no doubt, and no remorse. CHEW ended exactly how it should have, with a magnificent ‘what the fuck’ moment, followed by the thought this comic, and its creators, may be a bit batshit crazy, the realization that duh, of course they are and finally, the wave of varying emotional responses detailed above.

Comics have been a part of my life for almost fifteen years, and though it took me a long while to branch out from my familiar X-Men to other explorations of the medium, finding new, off-the-wall story arcs is now one of my favorite pastimes (as my budget allows). CHEW is a magnificent example of why the comic book exists: namely, it needs every storytelling aspect the comic book can provide. Still Art – Graphics are definitely needed to colorfully express the range of food powers displayed throughout the series. Writing – Where else would you find a story about people being able to do various things via food consumption, ranging from the awesome (power collector) to the um, what? (Immortal while stoned, paints tasty pictures, can string guitars with pasta, etc.). Captive Audience – Where else would you find readers more than willing to dive into such a random story?

Comic books never shine brighter than when a story like CHEW is there to be told. CHEW is one of the reasons comics endure. CHEW is one of the reasons people who aren’t into comics get into comics. CHEW is a defining moment in creative history, and proof that no matter how utterly cracked out your story idea may be, if you get coherent thoughts to paper and strike gold with a talented artist, then you have a career-defining tale to be told. You can be one of a kind.

As it turns out, converting someone to CHEW is not my primary goal with this column (though it is a close second); number one would have to be ideally inspiring someone to take action on their creative idea and do whatever it takes to see it in print one day. Then again, I think CHEW did that all on its own. One of the many reasons to be thankful for a comic like CHEW is not only giving a novel satisfaction for veteran comic lovers, or for enticing new readers into the fold, but for sparking a seed inside minds not even aware they could conjure something so singular. So here, I’ll make it simple: read CHEW and be transported. I cannot tell you where, I can only assure you’ll be more than pleased with the journey.

 

LAKE OF FIRE-DEMONIC

LAKE OF FIRE/DEMONIC
Written by Nathan Fairbairn and Drawn by Matt Smith
Written by Christopher Sebela and Drawn by Niko Walter
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

A little talk about two books I’ve been reading and enjoying quite a bit as of late…

We are four issues in to the five-part LAKE OF FIRE and I have to admit to having some very mixed feelings about that. That’s because this thing is so good that I don’t want it to end. LoF is a book that does one of my favorite things: mix genres in a new and exciting way. For instance: we’ve seen any number of alien invasion stories over the years. But have we seen one set in thirteenth century France? Not to my knowledge.

And it is glorious.

lakeoffire1

A young knight wanting to do his part for Christendom in wiping out heretics heads for the front lines, whereupon he is sent on a fool’s errand to roust some villagers. But unbeknownst to anyone, the villagers are not madmen or heretics; instead, they are the victims of a vicious alien race that functions off a hivemind and uses humans for breeding purposes. Hilarity does not ensue.

Rather, a series of terrible battles is undertaken, not only against the creatures but against rabidly insane clergy who see the creatures in the most suspicious of light. Yet at the same time, a path for hope is developed and explored in reconciling the prevailing religious classes of the day. It is thematically rich to watch it happen, and raises the book another notch in its execution.

Everything here absolutely works wonderfully. Nathan Fairbairn not only writes the book excellently (the script and characters are outstanding) he also colors and letters it as well. With Matt Smith’s incredible art and gift for smooth storytelling, the book is both a visual and mental feast. This is truly a collaboration between two guys who know how to play to each other’s strengths.

With only one issue still to come, I can only hope that these two are making plans to do something else in the future. It’d be a shame if they didn’t. Highly recommended.

There’s some interesting genre mixing in DEMONIC, too. Cops meets cults meets horror meets psychological thriller meets… well, there’s a whole lot going on here. But damn, it’s good. Dark. Seriously dark. But good.

The cop in question, Scott Graves, likes to think he has put his fucked up childhood behind him, but an encounter with a suspect changes all that. Suddenly it comes rushing back: he was raised in a cult that actually managed to raise a demon (or two). And oh, yeah, there’s one living inside of him that owns him, and now it’s gotten out and is demanding blood. Or Graves’s family will pay the price for his refusal.

demonic1

He complies (or there is no series, so this is not a spoiler) but the question lingers: is the demon really there? Or is he just imagining it and actually a serial killer?

That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

But it’s worth taking the ride to find out. There are four issues out of the planned six, and each one has been packed with incredible twists and turns, zesty dialogue, terrifically moody art, and enough intrigue to keep you wanting the next one immediately. I have genuinely no idea where the story is going to go over its last third, and that’s a great feeling to have. This one is maybe not for everyone, as again, it is damn dark, but for those who it is? You’re gonna love it.

ROGUE ELEMENT 134

Rogue Element #134: A ‘Strange’ New ‘Arrival’ of ‘Fantastic’ Films, aka Avril Goes to the Movies

By Avril Kulla

November has heralded a bizarre mixture of weather (70 degrees in Chicago? The Chinese have certainly created a believable climate change hoax), indescribable elation (Cubbies win!) and utter horror (at least for those of us who do not support nominating a racist, sexist, xenophobe who just settled a multi-million dollar fraud suit, and his homophobic, anti-choice running mate who is uncomfortably way more qualified for the top seat). So, what’s a gal to do when she just can’t even? Go to the movies, of course! (Spoiler free reviews below)

Doctor Strange

I am not as intimately familiar with the origins and adventures of Doctor Stephen Strange as I am of other notable Marvel characters. He has made cameos in the books I read, particularly when he started tutoring X-Men character Illyana Rasputin aka Magik in the intricate details of the sorcerous arts, but I went into ‘Strange’ about as blind as I could be. While the trailer appeared rather shiny I was not convinced based on the minimal compilation of clips and dialogue that ‘Strange’ was going to deliver a solid story, and that is ultimately how I felt about the film.

Telling an origin story alongside a good versus evil tale is a challenging undertaking. While I adore ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ most people feel it is the weakest of the Captain America films (even I can admit nothing beats ‘Winter Soldier’ for sheer awesomeness) partly due to the necessary storytelling aspect of having to introduce the character in a well-paced, believable manner, before setting him on his path of superhero greatness. ‘Strange’ did an excellent job of introducing the protagonist, but it missed several key details when transforming him.

Dr. Strange was a supremely gifted neurosurgeon until a horrible car accident robbed him of his fine motor control (but really, what did you expect to happen when you’re speeding down a narrow cliff side road while distracted by your phone?). Unable to find assistance in the realm of science he turns to sorcery. He insults The Ancient One until he gets bitch slapped into the astral plane and kicked out of the temple, but somehow proves his commitment to learning by waiting outside for five hours (big whoop; I’ve managed to not leave the couch for two days straight, saving sloth-like trips to the bathroom and kitchen).

His magical training was supposed to be a montage of his evolution from arrogant dickbag to humble sorcerer supreme, intent on using his gifts for good. Instead we just see a few snippets of his struggles but no real ‘Aha, there’s his good, self-sacrificing side!’ moments, find out that he’s a fast learner (but we already knew that) and he breaks the rules to better serve his own goals. Yes, he steps up and battles the bad guys, but only when forced to by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when someone else dies leaving him no choice.

The special effects are utterly outstanding and may be worth the ticket price alone, if that’s your thing. When the building and dimensions fold and expand like an accordion I swear I squealed a little, and their travel mode looks way cooler than first class. While the story wasn’t necessarily bad nor boring (the cloak was adorably comedic…yes, you read that right) it also did not feel complete. There are scenes needed to make the transition from smug surgeon to superhero sorcerer more believable, and while the movie was still entertaining I tend to desire a bit more quality and effort from my heroes.

Arrival

Twelve alien ships have landed at random points across the globe, and Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has been recruited in an attempt to communicate with the creatures. The trailer looked amazingly intense, and once again my initial gut reaction to a sneak peek was spot on, only this time it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

Reviewing this movie without divulging its secrets is incredibly difficult as one cannot talk about the elements of what makes this movie such a fascinating surprise without revealing core aspects of the film. However, there is one piece of praise I can freely give: it is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography of the scenery is quite well done, but it’s the alien language that really captures the imagination. When the communication first appeared on screen I gasped in shock, awe and delight at the beautiful and brilliant alien writing.

I went into this movie thinking it was a science fiction tale of first contact and in some ways that is entirely accurate, but the true essence of the film is…love. Most first contact concepts are typically centered around humanity banding together, whether it be to repel the alien invasion ala ‘Independence Day,’ or to learn from one another and/or deescalate aggression, in the case of the movie ‘First Contact’ and the Watchmen comics. ‘Arrival’ manages to merge several popular alien landing themes while also taking the plot in a slightly skewed direction and ending up in thought provoking territory. You can agree or disagree with the protagonist’s choices but you will also have to stop and really think about them.

When the movie ended my husband and I both had tears in our eyes (yes, real men do cry) but not necessarily for the same exact reasons. While we typically discuss a movie the whole car ride home, this time we were equal parts chatty and contemplative. I honestly could not say whether or not I truly liked the movie until I had more time to process it, and that unusual delay in turn made me enjoy the movie even more.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I am a Potterhead. I have read the Harry Potter series dozens of times (with the exception of the last 100 pages of ‘Deathly Hallows;’ still not over Fred and you can’t make me), I attend every Harry Potter trivia night in Chicago (My team Pet My Niffler won FIRST PLACE at the most recent event!) and ever since I stowed away on the Draco/Hermione ‘ship I’ve read almost nothing but Dramione fanfiction for nigh three years. I may be slightly obsessed.

So when my fellow teammates and other Potter fans proposed a group date to see ‘Fantastic Beasts’ on the big screen I was all in. Given how expensive movies are regardless I am all about the added comforts of assigned seating, better screens and the alcoholic option for hydration. Surrounded by fellow nerdlings, being thanked by a ten-year-old for holding a door, having two different people compliment me on my Clinton/Kane button and engage me in pleasant conversation regarding what we can do to keep our heads up and how adorable toddlers are in pantsuits; well, this was the best I’ve felt in over a week. And that was before I saw the movie.

I was actually neutral regarding the trailer; I thought it looked pretty interesting but there wasn’t anything I was totally fangirling over or harshly judging as of yet, and I made a concentrated effort to avoid further exposure to extended clips or spoilers. I haven’t even read the book (though in my defense it is a Wikipedia of sorts regarding different magical creatures; no actual plot or storyline). Essentially I was relatively uninformed heading in, the way I like it, and I was blown away heading out, the way I love it.

‘Fantastic Beasts’ was utterly delightful and fantastical, in every possible sense. The multi-purpose plot included not only adorably awkward explorer Newt Scamander and his suitcase filled with wondrous creatures, but also the complexities of relationships (romantic and otherwise), foreign communications, as well as heavy themes of abuse, neglect and oppression. This film is loaded with story and yet does not feel convoluted or bogged down at any point, and the ‘slow’ bits are studded with amazing CGI magical animals doing their incredibly imaginative thing in JK Rowlings’ unique universe.

Action, adventure, romance, humor and darkness, all wrapped up in a delightful new Harry Potter series. I refuse to pigeonhole ‘Fantastic Beasts’ as another “chapter” in the Potter universe, because love him though I do, Harry Potter had nothing to do with this story. This was all Newt and Tina and Kowalski and Queenie and the cute as shit creatures and the gigglewater and dozens of other magical moments that make this movie one of a kind. ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is magic at its essence: simultaneously light-hearted and terrible to behold, and utterly irresistible.

If you are like pretty much everyone else regarding your tangible distain for the majority of the shitstorms 2016 has unleashed upon us, then by all means grab some candy from your local CVS, overpay even for a matinee and go hit the theaters, because if you’re into escaping reality then there’s nothing like catching a movie this November.

CHEW 58-59

CHEW #58-59
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Kulla

Riddle me this, readers: How does a comic book about people with food powers ranging from the badass (such as creating razor sharp chocolate shuriken) to the absurd (psychic gelatin hats comes to mind) who live in a world where chicken is doom and alien writing randomly appears in the sky end up making one ugly cry at the end of an issue? Most riddles have an easy answer, and this one is no different: Damn. Good. Storytelling.

Chew 11 cover

While CHEW has entertained its readers nearly every issue with bizarre abilities, curious crimes and off-the-wall adventures, this comic has also managed to ensnare us all in the emotional lives of the Chu’s and their extended family. After almost sixty issues of busts, break ups, reunions, laughter and heartbreak it is impossible not to care about these characters, but as it often occurs with well-told tales, caring equals crying.

The chicken conspiracy has come to a close. We know what really happened during the so-called avian flu, we know who was behind the deaths of millions of people, and we know why it all happened. These last few issues we learned everything was leading towards preventing the end of the world, and the solution is not easy to swallow. There is no ‘James Bond kills the bad guys and presses the magic button to stave off nuclear war’ quick fix here. Horrible sacrifices must be made for the world as we know it to keep on spinnin’.

While my happy ending-loving heart feels like it was ripped out by Agent Caesar’s mechanical crab claw, and my brain is still whirring with ‘what ifs’ and various ideas of how to make John Layman suffer, I’m not only eagerly anticipating next issue to see how it all wraps up, but I’m also anxious to re-read the entire series from the beginning. There are details about the chicken conspiracy I know I missed here and there, and I’d like to revisit Chu and Colby’s best cases, and I want to catalogue my favorite food powers and background nuggets.

Essentially, despite the tumultuous upheaval my sensitive soul is enduring at this moment, I want to read Layman’s story unfold from a new perspective, and watch Guillory’s art evolve along with the characters. I want to experience it all over again. Undeniably a true hallmark of damn good storytelling.

KILL-SNOT-HORIZON

KILL-SNOT-HORIZON
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Three quite interesting new efforts from today’s house of ideas.

I’m a huge fan of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips’ oeuvre; they consistently turn out high quality stories and art, material that engages the read on multiple levels, and comics that do not give the reader and easy way out. They tend to sneer at happy endings, and why not? Why not challenge the reader? Why not lead the story to a natural conclusion, rather than a forced one?

These guys are brilliant at that.

KillOrBeKilled_01-1

With that, I have to admit that their previous book, THE FADE OUT, was not one of my favorites. That’s likely unfair on my part, but when compared the one before that – the astounding occult noir FATALE – it didn’t have the same energy. That leads us to KILL OR BE KILLED #1-2, a welcome return to occult noir storytelling, and a book that will set your nerve ending alight in the first few panels and has not stopped across the span of two outstanding issues to date.

The setup is clean and simple: Dylan is kind of a fuckup, and he’s approaching 30 with no signs of his being a fuckup going away. He’s in love with the wrong woman, his prospects are dim, and he pretty much has nothing going for him. So he decides to end it, jumping off the roof of a building.

He does not die (this is not a spoiler).

Instead, clothes lines and utility lines break his fall and he survives. Or so he thinks, until he is visited by a demon who tells him that he allowed him to survive, and in order to continue doing so, he owes a life a month in exchange. Dylan must become a cold-blooded killer in order to have a chance to live on and maybe – maybe – not become a total piece of shit.

Quite the conundrum, wouldn’t you say?

Phenomenal characterization, tasty dialogue, gorgeous art, fantastic story… KILL OR BE KILLED is, after two issues, looking like it could be the best Brubaker/Phillips collaboration ever, which is no mean feat. There isn’t a false note to be heard here, just page after page of amazing comics work, the kind that wanders off with a ton of awards. Certainly, if it maintains this level of quality, it will likely wind up at the top of my best-of list for 2016. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

Shifting gears, let’s take a look at another highly anticipated book that recently hit stands. Bryan Lee O’Malley is certainly a name that brings to mind A-list work. The SCOTT PILGRIM books vaulted him to the top of the comics stratosphere, and while the follow-up SECONDS didn’t sell as many copies, it was actually a stronger work that demonstrated just how talented the man truly is. Now he has arrived at Image to offer up his first foray into monthly comics, SNOTGIRL #1-2. What makes this branching out even more intriguing is that he is only writing the book; artist Leslie Hung is handling putting the pictures to paper, and seeing how their collaboration plays out is part of what makes the book so interesting to read.

snotgirl 1

Snotgirl is Lottie Person, a fashion blogger with a sharp sense of style and allergies that consistently make her miserable (I can relate to at least one of those things, and it isn’t the clothing). She’s young, attractive, kinda shallow, on a break from her boyfriend, and quite possibly… a murderer.

Not your standard comics setup, for sure.

O’Malley surrounds her with a fabulous cast of characters, each one with their own quirks and personalities, and he’s wonderful at putting them together on the page and seeing where those personalities take them. Aided and abetted by Hung’s incredibly energetic neo-manga artwork, the pages crackle with life and movement. It’s really quite something.

If you had told me of this premise and not told me of O’Malley’s involvement, I would have likely avoided this book like the plague. It doesn’t normally fall inside my interest range. But that’s what talent can do: overcome wariness and create interest out of nothingness. I’ll keep reading SNOTGIRL for the long term, I think, and that should tell you all you really need to know.

In the “best new concept” category, my vote goes to HORIZON #1-2, which spins alien invasion stories on their heads in an outstanding way. The setup: in the near future, Earth has truly hit a point where its resources are shot to hell, so a plan to leave and take over another planet is hatched. That planet, Valius, is not happy about that idea. At all. So a scout force of saboteurs is sent to Earth to make sure humanity’s plans for invasion never get off the ground.

Horizon_01-1

Told from the POV of the Valius scouts, HORIZON is an excellent piece of science fiction, an alien invasion story that asks you to root for the aliens. And the way that writer Brandon Thomas structures the tale, you don’t mind that at all. Thomas does an outstanding job of making the Valius crew interesting, complex, and heroic. He’s obviously put a great deal of thought into world-building, and it shows. Seeing Valius, and seeing what is will do to avoid invasion goes a long way into developing a rooting interest in the alien crew.

Thomas is partnered with artist Juan Cedeon here, and Cedeon’s work is terrific. His characters are grounded and realistic, his backgrounds and design work are lovely, and his action work is compelling. I liked the look of HORIZON all the way around.

Sometimes it can be easy for a book like this one to get lost in the mad jumble of Marvel and DC flooding the market, so I’m feeling a bit evangelical about it. HORIZON deserves all the eyeballs it can get. Pick up these first two issues, then pass them on to someone else so that they start picking it up. Let’s reward original thinking and good, solid comics.

CHEW 56-57

CHEW #56-57
Written by John Layman, Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Kulla

After a brief hiatus us food fanatics find ourselves once more emerged in the wild and crazy lifestyle of everyone’s favorite cibopath, but this time the roller coaster ride is nearly at an end. Knowing that all great things must come to an end and experiencing said end are two vastly different monsters, because when something is still so good you believe it will always be so. However, I keep reminding myself that nearly all of my top comic picks have been finite series because they told a wonderful, complex and intriguing story and left it at that, just like they had always intended. With that in mind I have to say I am just buzzing with excitement to find out how CHEW wraps things up.

Chew_57-1

When we last saw our beleaguered Tony Chu he’d discovered Mason Savoy’s body and his ever-so-subtle ‘Eat Me’ suicide note. After a few nibbles Chu swiftly discovered Mason’s last revenge: he had consumed beets, the cibopath’s kryptonite, with his last meal, making extracting Savoy’s font of knowledge rather challenging…and chatty.

First of all, seeing Colby’s reaction to Savoy’s last little ‘fuck you’ to Chu was priceless. Getting to read more of Savoy’s lengthy diatribes was an added bonus. Slowly but surely Savoy peels back the intricate layers of the series-long mysteries behind the avian flu, the core conspirators and the alien sky writing. By the end of issue #57 we learn both from food-ghost Savoy and Paneer, the head of NASA and Toni Chu’s mourning fiancé, what exactly caused the so-called avian flu, who was behind it and why, and the intense time crunch our heroes now labor under. Worse yet, Chu is apparently left with an impossible and terrible choice if he is to succeed in his mission.

After all of the ups and downs this series has provided, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if it plays out the way this latest issue is indicating it will. I have faith the creative genius team of Layman and Guillory still have a few unpredictable fastballs heading our way regarding the conclusion, but meanwhile I’m stocking up on tissue and preparing for some self-sacrificing, heart-wrenching CHEWy goodness.

Thankfully they provide some of the best digs known to man to keep things light even when they’re bleak, and these latest nuggets were gems. I enjoyed the ‘Castaway’ nod with the ‘Tom Hanks was here!’ writing on a cave wall just above a red handprint with a face, but my absolutely favorite, possibly of the whole series, was a billboard proclaiming: ‘FDA: We’ll put a wall around chicken.’ Well fucking played, gentlemen, well played indeed. Regardless of how things turn out for the Chu clan, these last three issues are going to be unforgettable.