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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

FIX – RENATO JONES

THE FIX #1-2
Written by Nick Spencer and Drawn by Steve Lieber
RENATO JONES #1
Written and Drawn by Kaare Andrews
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Two newbies from Image that are deserving of your attention…

Boy, oh boy, is THE FIX a breath of fresh air.
We open with the main character extolling the virtues of being a criminal, and it’s done so in almost depressingly hilarious fashion. As he and his partner rob a senior citizen’s retirement home, you immediately know you’re in for a ride. One, what the hell kind of criminal robs this place yet also acts appalled when the residents aren’t being properly supervised, and two, how many of these old guys tend to have a shotgun in their bed?

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One too many, as it turns out.

From there it only gets crazier, as we learn these two gunmen are even more off the chain that you might have guessed… because they’re actually cops. Super, super dirty cops.

Hilariously dirty cops.

Not only that, but they are in debt to even dirtier cops, which causes them to make some… unusual decisions to try and clear the books. To tell you more would be just mean; suffice it to say that the plot goes off in absolutely insane directions, making THE FIX some of the most fun I have had in recent memory when reading a comic. Not once was I able to predict what was going to happen next, and that is a true gift to a reader. Genuine surprise doesn’t happen much anymore.

Spencer and Lieber continue the outstanding collaboration they developed while doing SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN, and the book soars because of it. The creative chemistry here is amazing, and both are working at the top of their talents on every page. I laughed consistently at THE FIX and at the end of each issue I immediately wanted the next one. Highest possible recommendation.

Also…

I was a little dubious when I heard about RENATO JONES. The concept sounded a little too calculated to me: a killer who preys on the 1%. That’s pretty much a meteor directly to the heart of the zeitgeist, and that made it easy to be cynical about it.

But here’s the thing: it turns out to be pretty good.

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Kaare Andrews uses his artistic imagination to do some amazing things in this one, engaging different art styles, multimedia, negative space, and more to tell the story of a young boy who rises from the streets to become a quiet scourge to those who place themselves about the rest of us. It is violent. It is profane.

Yet so are the actions of many of the 1%. There is justice here.

RENATO JONES didn’t set me on fire with its rage and anger, but it did engage and entertain me in a meaningful way. It isn’t like anything else on the stands, and that, for damn sure, matters.

LIMBO

LIMBO
Written by Dan Watters and Drawn by Caspar Wijngaard
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Marc Mason

I’m… pretty jaded as a comic reader these days. I read a LOT of comics, and honestly, most of them are solidly well done. More than a few are actually great. But for a while it has felt like you could see the great ones coming from a mile away. I mean, my favorite Image book is VELVET – but with Brubaker and Epting doing it, you just knew.

Surprise has become a commodity.

That brings me to LIMBO.

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Being completely unfamiliar with the creators, Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard, I opened up issue one with absolutely no clue as to what I would find within. What I found was really good. I mean really, really good. Like edging on “great” good. An exquisite surprise that I never saw coming. A comic that brought a rich, bold, inventive vision to the page.

I’ve been devouring it hungrily ever since, right up through the most recent issue, number five.

What is LIMBO about? A detective named Clay with no memory plies his trade in Dedande City, a town with a penchant for voodoo, crime, and the aesthetic of an 80s music video. It’s a noir infused with magic on its brain and Miami Vice on its style.

If that sounds strange, well, it is. Because I haven’t even gotten to things like the Teleshaman yet. I won’t spoil that for you, but let’s just say that what happens to Clay when he pops in the wrong videotape is a staggering, delightful romp of unfettered imagination.

I want more comics like LIMBO. There aren’t enough comics like LIMBO. Instead of another sequel-crossover-event-line wide thingy that exists solely to satisfy the marketing department, why not take your hard earned dollars and track down a creator-owned, highly imaginative, exists solely for the love of making a cool story comic instead? That’s what Watters and Wijngaard have done here, and they should be celebrated for it. I love LIMBO; you will too.

CHEW 55

CHEW #55
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

You know the best part about blindly following a narrative and never trying to second guess what a particular panel or sentence may or may not mean? The fact that I can say with completely unbridled enthusiasm, ‘I did NOT see that coming!’

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A couple of different birdies were singing at me that this latest issue of CHEW, the final installment in the second-to-last story arc entitled ‘The Last Suppers,’ would totally blow my mind, and I can hardly contain my giddiness when I report they were one hundred and ten percent correct.

This is one of those issues in a series a fan can point to as clear cut evidence that CHEW still has its flavor. The jaw-dropping twists in this book will keep readers on the edge of their seat, their overloaded brains scrambling to keep up as they attempt to process what in the damn world is going on. Something wonderful happened, something I dare not have hoped for, but at the cost of something tragic.

Be careful what you wish for: I’d wished a terrible fate, loaded with pain and suffering, for one particular character because of an unforgivable act he appeared to commit. Well he did suffer, but instead of the savage joy of justice well-delivered, there is only sadness, confusion and an even more burning desire to discover the truth. Honestly I cannot imagine how the brilliant CHEW creators can wrap up this singular series in a scant five issues, but holy Jebus, I am dying to find out.

As per CHEW’s amazing balance of duality, alongside the rollercoaster drama ride are the delightful background nuggets, and one in particular I found particularly rewarding. Perhaps they’ve mentioned it before or since, but I recall Layman or Guillory, or perhaps both, spoke of an abhorrence of Chipotle’s cuisine at a panel at C2E2 several years ago, and in the first scene of this issue there’s an errant paper on the ground stating: ‘Chipotle Food Review – Rating: Sadface.’ I felt as if I was reading an inside joke, which is just too damn cool.

The end to one of my favorite finite series of all time is drawing nigh, and if the final five are anything in comparison to this particular issue (I have complete faith they’re going to be even more astonishing) then this concluding excursion is going to be uttering unforgettable.

CHEW 54

CHEW #54
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Oh, CHEW, I just can’t even with you. My heart hurts and my hands are shaking and I almost wish all of the last issues were here so I could just rip off the Band-Aid and be done with the pain, rage and mystery. I am not a particularly patient or thick-skinned individual.

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Neither, apparently, is Mason Savoy. Still smarting over Chu’s rejection of his proposal they set aside past differences and work together once more, Savoy has gone and done something unforgivable. While he threatened that the dark, inevitable future is on Chu’s shoulders due to his stubborn refusal of a partnership, Savoy’s actions in this issue are quite possibly what set the potentially apocalyptic ending in motion.

Or maybe I just want Mason Savoy to suffer. Like a lot.

Pain and power is this name of the game in this issue, and the evolution of the main characters’ food powers is fascinating to behold. Amelia’s writing skills have turned her into the most gripping author since J.K. Rowling, and Tony can now solve a case as easily as taking in a deep breath given he can absorb and analyze the particles in the air. Badass.

However, it was really the chog hybrids which stole the show this issue, from the Punxsutawney Phil chog to the Free Willy chog. Though I think a lot of people would pay good money to meet the product of one avenue of their research: there’s a file labeled ‘Chog/Christopher Walken trials’ on a desk, in what has to be the most mental image producing background nugget yet.

I am looking forward to the final issues as much as I dread what comes next, which is just a hint of the complex and tumultuous feelings CHEW has always inspired within me. Until next month…

CHEW 53

CHEW #53
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

In the words of Paneer Sharma, the Executive Director of NASA and deceased Toni Chu’s devoted fiancé, “Holy shit!” This brilliant and compassionate man has taken his newfound power and used it for good: he’s cleaned out financial corruption and rebuilt the long range telescopes, which in turn brought expletive-inducing information back to planet Earth. The sky writing is visible once again, this time surrounding a distant planet known as Artocarpus-3. Now according to Google (which is never wrong), Artocarpus is a genus of various fruit bearing tree and shrub species. A connection to the space trippy gallsaberry fruit seems likely, n’est pas?

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Speaking of parlaying Francais, Paris is where we find Mason Savoy and Tony Chu, out for a café and a croissant to discuss the past, the future and a possible present partnership. Alas, when in the presence of food powers, there’s no such thing as a simple conversation.

Enter the new power: a victulocusire, someone who can psychically transport his fellow diners to the place, and even time, of their meal’s origin. Mason has a point to make so he asks his fellow foodie to dine with him and Chu at the Bon Vivants, familiar territory for FDA Agent Chu. Thanks to their victuals, however, the familiarity fades as they soon find themselves in the prehistoric age bearing witness to some rather advanced avian ancestors. Mason has a theory of how these creatures are connected with the various troubles of today, and he wants to team up with Chu once again.

In some ways these two powerful and intelligent men are too alike, especially when it comes to certain volatile character flaws. Chu carries a grudge with a vice-like grip, and Savoy has a Mike Tyson level explosive temper. Another confrontation is fast approaching, and this reader has a bad feeling about the likely fallout.

CHEW is doing an amazing job of coming around full circle; the writing, the art, the storytelling in general, all massively entertaining to begin with, have improved with each panel. These last several issues are bound to be bittersweet, knowing there’s more pain and death to come for these fascinating characters, along with the conclusions and revelations we fans are desperate to experience. Can’t have one without the other, I suppose, and if there’s one thing CHEW fans can do is take a punch to the heart and still beg for more.