October 18, 2018

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MICE Preview 2018

One of my favorite things about the Fall is that it means that it's time for the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE).  MICE is going into its eighth year, and it's a wonderful (and completely free!) showcase of small press and self-published comics (think Small Press Expo, but smaller).

This year's special guests at MICE include the terrific lineup of Vera Brosgol, Jim Woodring, Tillie Walden, Tony Cliff, Keith Knight, Rosemary Mosco, Andrew MacLean and Charles Forsman. These creators make up only a small amount of the talented creators that will be at MICE (including other fantastic creators like Lucy Bellwood, Nate Powell, Ben Hatke and Panel Pal Ansis Purins) along with thought-provoking panel discussions and a number of events for kids.

I think this will be my sixth or seventh time attending MICE, and each time I go I pick up something new and interesting and unexpected (and a few years ago had the opportunity at MICE to participate in a panel discussion on writing about comics, which was a great experience). As I said, it's a completely free event, and a great chance to meet some wonderful comics creators. 


October 20-21

Saturday 10-6
Sunday 11-5

University Hall at Lesley University
1815 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

October 17, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic Shop October 17th, 2018

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Welcome to Neil Spiers, our newest contributor! He's a good friend of the site and has been chatting with us for awhile now on Twitter. You can find some of his great, longer review work at our Panel Pals, Do You Even Comic Book? Neil's got some picks for you and they're good ones!

Neil's Picks:

Evolution #11 by James Asmus, Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebela, Joshua Williamson and others, published by Image/Skybound Comics.
Four writers on one series, surely not possible? But the team behind Evolution are one cohesive bunch. Having read all 10 issues last week (including the first trade), Evolution jumped to the top of my pull list. Human evolution is taking on a massively horrific change and only a few people are taking notice.
Elements of Cronenberg horror, mixed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers makes for an incredibly intense and disturbing thrill ride of a story.

Venom Annual #1 by Donny Cates, David Michelinie, Ron Lim and others, published by Marvel Comics. 
Surprisingly, this is Venom’s first ever annual. But with everything that has come before it, especially Don Cates incredibly gripping Venom run. This could be one of the best annuals released in a long time.
Cates has taken Eddie Brock’s character, mentally and physically destroyed him and taken us along for the ride. Never have I read a Venom run that had such emotional pull. One that by the end of the first arc almost brought me to tears…. Yes, a Venom book did that!  With numerous writers, including Jeff Loveness, who’s Judas on Boom was engaging as hell, this annual could be a huge eye-opener.

Death or Glory Vol.1 by Rick Remenber and Bengal, published by Image Comics 
Rick Remender continues to pump out stunning book after stunning book and Death or Glory is no different.
The first arc of Death or Glory was a joy to read. Remender pushed the writing to 11 as it never once let up. A mix of No Country for Old Men and Mad Max see’s the main protagonist Glory pull off four daring cross-country heists within three days. All while being chased by crooked cops, mob bosses and Mexican cartel members.
Bengal’s artwork blew me away and was a feast for the eyes. Never have I seen car chases drawn with such intensity. This trade is a must for your collection.

James' Picks:

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6 by Jeff Lemire and Rich Tommaso, published by Dark Horse Comics
Black Hammer has consistently been one of the best, most interesting comics of the past few years. Jeff Lemire is taking lots of interesting superhero tropes and mixing them together in a very cool, creative and creepy way. A reason to check out the new issue is that it's the first to be illustrated by the talented Rich Tommaso.  Tommaso is a creator who's done his own, fascinating creator owned work, and is a talented artist whose perspective I'm really curious to see brought to the world of Black Hammer. This new arc is meant to take place in a weird reality, and that's perfect for Tommaso's bright, weird, silver-age inspired pop-art.  

East of West #39 by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin and Rus Wooton, published by Image Comics
East of West one of my top 3 favorite comics being published now. Hickman and company have been building a complex, alternate history of America where the Civil War ended very differently, America was divided up into 7 nations, and beings of myth and religion walk around as the country moves closer to an apocalypse.  The book has consistently incredible art from the unparalleled Nick Dragotta, whose Manga-influenced style depicts aciton and motion better than just about anyone. The colors from Frank Martin are also amazing. This book is dense and complex and an incredibly rewarding read.
Black Badge #3 by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins and Hilary Jenkins, published by Boom! Studios
If you're a fan of stories of secret agencies and government conspiracies and covert operations, and stories about Boy Scouts, well then have I got the perfect story for you. Black Badge is telling the story of a most secret branch of the Boy Scouts, that carries out clandestine missions all over the world. Who would suspect a bunch of kids, after all? It's a fantastic premise and I've really enjoyed the story so far. Tyler Jenkins has a great, dreamlike style that's nicely colored by Hilary Jenkins. And Kindt is better than just about anyone at telling stories about weird, secret things.

Shuri #1 by Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire, published by Marvel Comics
After Black Panther, one of the best movies of the year, I'm very excited for more Shuri. Now grated, the Shuri of the comics is pretty different from the Shuri of the movies, but I'm really interested to see what this creative team does with this character, who is getting a bigger spotlight on her.  I wasn't familiar with Okorafor's work, but a best-selling author of Afro-Futurist stories? Telling stories about an important character in Wakanda? Sounds like something I want to read. And I am huge fan of Leonardo Romero's art - he's a great "neo-clacissist"/Toth disciple in the vein of Chris Samnee and Doc Shaner. He brings a lot of fun and personality to all of his work.

MCMLXXV #2 by Joe Casey and Ian MacEwan, published by Image Comics
She's a badass NYC taxi driver in 1975, wielding a magic tire iron that helps her defeat monsters. And she comes from a line of taxi drivers that protect the city from monsters. The first issue of MCMLXXV was so much fun. A wild, funny, exciting and sexy read.  So, I absolutely recommend picking up issue 1 and getting issue 2 as well, as this seems like it's gonna be something really fun and special.

Mike's Picks: 
[Welcome back, Mike!]

Simpsons Comics #245 by Nathan Kane, Rex Lindsey, and Jason Ho, published by Bongo Comics
This is a bit of a long time coming, I’d suppose. Bongo seemed to be sputtering to the finish line for a few years now, having canceled Futurama Comics and opting for increased digital first publications amidst a suspect digital distribution platform. Still, it’s a bit of a shock that one of the world’s biggest media entities could never seem to entirely wrap its head around the comics world. A few years ago, I began a quest to procure every issue of this series, and I’ll be especially saddened to read the final issue this Wednesday.

Exorsisters # 1 by Ian Boothby, Gisele Lagace, Pete Pantazis and Taylor Esposito, published by Image Comics
There are almost too many good releases from Image this week – so many that picking one or two is near impossible. Conventional wisdom would say that Gideon Falls, East of West, or The New World are the sure things this week. My own personal inclinations tell me to urge you toward Stellar, Skyward, or Proxima Centauri. However, if you’ve been reading any of those series, you already know they’re all strong, and you’re probably leaning towards purchasing them either in single issue or trade format. And if you haven’t . .  . well, I don’t particularly urge you to randomly pick up East of West 39 or Proxima Centauri 5 on a whim. Instead, I’ll urge you to drop your hard-earned $3.99 on Exorsisters from the creators Gisele Lagace and Ian Boothby (who, coincidentally, wrote more Simpsons comics than any other writer). Issue 1 was a romp. Boothby’s script is both goofy and wry, and Lagace and Pantazis put together crisp, bright panels that evoke and Archie-style vibe. On top of that, Esposito is one of my favorite letters working today.

What If? Ghost Rider #1 by Sebastian Girner, Caspar Wijngaard, and Aleksi Briclot, published by Marvel Comics
Maybe it’s the fourth wall shattering premise. Maybe it’s the promise of a completely awesome Heavy Metal premise. Maybe it’s the cover that evokes the best character from Mad Max: Fury Road. Whatever it is, I’m in for this What If Marvel Comics Went Metal offering. I’m by no means a metal head, but I love a good metal parody for the basic reason that metalheads fully embrace their music and lifestyle knowing exactly how absurd much of it is. We should all have that level of sincerity.

Mage: Volume 5 – Book 3: The Hero Denied by Matt and Brennan Wagner, published by Image Comics
Since I leaned towards new readers with Exorsisters, I’m going to take the opposite approach for an Image trade pick this week. While you definitely should pick up Gideon Falls, and while it’s going to be much more immediately accessible than Mage, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight this particular collection. Mage has played an incredibly vital role in my life, and this final series has been a stellar addition to the storyline.

Sean's Picks:

Gideon Falls 7 by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, published by Image
Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino return this week with Father Fred, Sheriff Miller, and Norton in what is arguably the most anticipated return of 2018. After a brief hiatus when the first chapter came to an end in early June the creative team behind this ambitiously eerie story of obsession, faith and mental illness come back with a vengeance just in time for Halloween. Just when ghosts and goblin one-shot comics have begun saturating comic stands we will soon see horror shudder itself back down to a spine shivering WTF. If I had to decide right now, I’d most obviously name Gideon Falls as my favorite comic of 2018, and maybe even my favorite piece by Lemire ever. Time will be the judge on if the latter remains to be true. At this moment in the Gideon Falls story we have only been given a beginning. To say I am excited for what’s ahead with its middle and end would be a careless understatement. The trade comes out this week too.. so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t read this one yet.. you’ve got an easy no-excuse trip to the comic shop this Wednesday to help you catch up in one swoop.

Submerged 3 by Vita Ayala, Lisa Sterle, and others, published by Vault
Submerged is so fresh and so intense, and when I read issues one and two a few weeks ago it left me immediately imagining possible directions this story could go. And that right there, folks, is when you know something is special.. when it grabs you so intently that it has you personally invested in its plot development as you hash out the varied details of where a story might go. That is what makes comics fun. That is what we are here for. That is a good time. A good time is appreciated when you can become unintentionally motivated to invest the imagination in a story being told. Though this won’t necessarily win any awards for groundbreaking territory, it will most definitely have you roped in with the joy ride this creative team is telling. Vault is currently my favorite publisher and distributor of comics. Everything they are putting out right now is at least an eight out of ten in my opinion.

Cemetery Beach 2 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, published by Image
This comic is everything you’d expect from something coming from Mr Ellis: high octane, fast paced, smooth talking criminals. He’s got a way with words and a knack for action. The delivery is just as impactful with Howard’s menacing and shifty illustrations that draw you in so deep that you’ll forget to turn the page. The first issue was 95% action and 5% foundation and developmental plot. I am anxious to see where the all-important sophomore release takes us. I recently reread the first issue of Cemetery Beach and I was surprised at how riveting this story is even after a re-read weeks after my own review.

Star Wars Adventures: Tales from Vader’s Castle 3 by Cavan Scott, Derek Cham, and Corin Howell, published by IDW 
This is a weekly release during the month of October in celebration of the impending festivities of Halloween, I am certain, and I have taken it upon myself to collect the mini series for my expanding collection of one-off’s and mini’s. The series hasn’t been anything too exciting, as it is marketed with the children’s banner of a star wars adventures spin off, but last week’s issue was exponentially better than the debut. Maybe it had something to do with it behind centered on more familiar characters to me? Who knows.. and at this point it will remain an unknown, but what I do know is that my favorite star wars characters are Han Solo and Chewbacca… and the issue coming out this week is featuring them. If you fancy yourself a conversation on how the space saga dynamic duo’s ghost story panned out… well, then find me on the twitter’s and ask me.. cause with everything else going on I’ll more than likely overlook going back to this series again. But believe me.. it’s a ghoulishly childlike good time.

Venom Annual #1 by Donny Cates, David Michelinie, Ron Lim and others, published by Marvel Comics. 
This is Venom’s first annual. Ever. And.. its written by one of comic’s hottest writers. (Rightly so, cause he is writing the character currently and that only makes sense, right?) Well.. but always. So I saw the movie over the weekend and just caught myself up with the current Cates run of Venom, and might I add.. good god damn! this series is GOOD! The movie coulda been avoided.. but the comic series: it’s nearly the best mainstream comic out there right now. There isn’t much needing to be said here by me to get sales translated over to its line in the spreadsheet come Wednesday, because it’s already smoking the competition. I try to steer clear of recommending the big 2 because, you know, they’re…Big. But Venom is that good.. and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a little scare. And may it come as no surprise to most of you, but after completing my list of 5 for this week’s Catch It at the Comic Shop I was pleasantly surprised that all 5 had at list a hint of horror to go with the theme of October.

October 10, 2018

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Punks Not Dead Vol. 1: Teenage Kicks

Punks Not Dead Vol. 1
Teenage Kicks
Writer: David Barnett
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
IDW Black Crown Publishing 

There's something to say about that middle ground of adolescence that is nothing short of a sweeping motion of awkward transition. Most moments where I've managed to recollect the times of me at twelve to fifteen are not something I'd prefer to refer myself back to, let alone tell you all about. Nevertheless, I give way to nostalgic remorse. It pains me to remember this period; the inventive fashion choices, the unexplainable vocal octave adjustments, and the skincare regimens (or lack thereof) all helped contribute to the time in our lives we collectively refer to as puberty. A prepubescent evolutionary assignment given to us without warning by mother nature herself. It's a time when we discover ourselves, our bodies, our individuality in personal taste in music, all simultaneously firing at every misunderstood perspective in our inner thoughts. We question our upbringing, we rebel against it, we chase boys and kiss girls (or both), and we don't understand anything about any of it. Nor do we even realize the necessity of our inquisition.

I say all this to preface the notion that with all things juvenile and adolescent, there are some things worth holding onto. One such thing is the love of all things comics. Punks Not Dead by David Barnett and drawn by Martin Simmonds is a new-ish comic book that has recently wrapped up its first volume. It has essentially rewritten an all-new definition to existential adolescence. It's a story of a young teen, Feargal Ferguson, with no defined direction and no firm circle of social circumstance to speak of. His only real meaning of existing, in contrary to the title of the comic itself, is the very real fact that a ghost of a punk rocker literally can not exit a specific and predetermined space near our lead character. The ghost of a punk rocker none other than Sid Vicious from the British punk band the Sex Pistols. Only Feargal (Fergie, for short) can hear, see, and communicate with this ghost punk haunting his every move with no firm explanation as to how or why.

Now, assume you were to refer back to your own prepubescent self in your mind, and your thoughts entertain also having a smooth-talking British punk rocker most infamous for his painfully short bit with the Sex Pistols stuck by your side. Pretty sweet, right? As an adult looking back, having a lost punk legend from the U.K. as your 24/7 BFF seems like something worth wishing upon a star for, doesn't it? Wrong. That's where this comic comes in and navigates us through the simple premise of a story assuming an awkward teen down on his luck with a punk rock ghost that he can't seem to shake off.

"Don't Let Them Take You Alive"
**I am so so fucking dead**
What would happen if during this most awkward time you had somehow summoned supernatural abilities reserved only for that kid in M. Night's debut, The Sixth Sense, but instead of Bruce Willis you were able to see the most notoriously downtrodden and also unapologetically obscene punk rocker from the UK? This is the oversimplified premise to IDW's Punks Not Dead but with it brings a hauntingly good time. This first chapter, Teenage Kicks, compiles the first six issues of the story and will be collected and hopefully stocked at your local comic shops this week. Just in time for autumn and Halloween Sid Vicious will co-star alongside his unassuming teenage human host, Fergie, in this compellingly silly story of a teenager down on his luck.

This is a teenage melodrama.
This is a ghost story.
This is an exorcism.
(Or an attempt, rather).
This is a British game of cat chasing supernatural mouse.
This is a good read with a very specific audience.

Punks Not Dead is a comic for the season without all the hemming and hawing of unnecessary spine-shivers driven by the intentional genre bursting that so many other horror books are doing nowadays. Simply put, this is a fairly light-hearted comic woven about with a handful of characters traveling through a story most often reserved for more better-suited shivers. The creators do a fairly decent job carrying this relationship of ghost and teen throughout the six issues after a very strong start. Issue one of Punks Not Dead does a tremendous job grabbing you by the slouched posture that you find yourself straightening from as you read me write this very sentence, and it takes the studded belt left hanging from your waist you hold dearly in the thoughts of your youth to jar your senses from panel number one all the way to the final page of the final issue. It is a fun read with enough pop culture references from the punk past of the 70s and 80s both visually and in the panel's dialogue to make this for quite a fun read. The story does struggle, though, for a brief moment toward the middle as it pains through some awkward growth spurts deciding upon which direction to go, and with what tone to tell it in. A case could be had to assume the intentional nature of the momentary struggle as it could literally assume the role of the chapter's very own pubescent stage in the nature of its progression.

We do have creator confirmation that Punks Not Dead will, in fact, continue and you can count me in on the second chapter. But also consider this: Teenage Kicks reads, feels, and exists as a stand-alone piece on its own right. This book can be picked up by anyone who loves comics, punk rock, faux horror, or supernatural failed attempts at exorcism without needing more to the story. When the final page is seen you will have an overall sense of satisfaction with the story that'd been told. A finite existence that won't need further storytelling, but you want nothing less than a continuous narrative. The closest thing to relate to this description that I can muster in a cohesive and explainable comparison would be when the 1985 film Back to the Future left us with a complete film having a beginning, middle and end while also teasing us with a possibility that there was more story to tell at the end of the tale... but we all know how that ended.. with continued narrative and more mishaps.

I'd be totally okay with a continued narrative of Sid and Fergie and anything that the open road might bring their way. I do recommend this book to those of you out there looking for something new and fresh and just a tad bit offbeat. It gets a strong 7.5/10 from me. Go buy this comic.

Go ahead and take my money, mister Barnett and mister Simmonds, 'cause at this point I'm all in with my investment.

- @argyleeater

October 9, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic Shop October 10th, 2018

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

James' Picks:

Infinite Dark #1 by Ryan Cady and Andrea Mutti, published by Image Comics/Top Cow
This is dark, psychological sci-fi with an intriguing premise. There are about 2000 people left, at the end of the universe. Literally, the universe is dying, and this is all the life that's left. All of the anything that's left. Why even hang on at that point? Well, if that weren't hard enough, there's a murder aboard the station. This is a promising, dark first issue with great art from the talented Andrea Mutti (whose work I discussed just a few weeks ago in Fearscape). This is one to pick up.

Murder Falcon #1 by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer. published by Image Comics/Skybound
This is a comic about a guy who can summon a crazy falcon-warrior guy with the power of heavy metal. If you're not interested in this you might be doing comics wrong (or need medical attention).  It looks ridiculous and fun and totally great (and the premise reminds me a little of Bill &Ted's, so that's always a good thing). I loved Johnson's Extremity. He's an incredible artist and also just an incredible storyteller overall. I'm excited to crank up some of of my old Anthrax cassettes and give this as listen.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, published by Image Comics
Any week you get new comics from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, it's a good comics week. This new novella is a quiet, emotional story of two people for whom rehab goes terribly wrong. It's an engaging story in its own right, but it also fits into the larger Criminal universe (which is a fantastic series of crime stories they've been telling over the course of many years). They've revisited the Criminal stories periodically over the years, and every time is a treat. This is no exception. It's an interesting, moodier, more contemplative piece, but it definitely packs an emotional punch. Brubaker and Phillips really know how to captue doomed characters, people who are themselves doomed, or they doom the people around them. As you can imagine, it's an absolutely gorgeous book, with colors a little different than you might be used to (it's not Betty Breitweiser), a little more abstract and ethereal. But it's a strong read. Give this one a look.

X-23 #5 by Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal, published by Marvel Comics
If you kinda like the concept of Wolverine (metal claws, exciting action, healing factor, weird mutant stuff), but have been turned off by brooding, moody "Bub"-spouting-Logan in the past, then I've got a comic for you, called X-23.  I'm not typically too much of a Wolverine fan but I loved Tom Taylor's All-New Wolverine. Laura Kinney took over the mantle of Wolverine after the "death" of Logan, and has been, frankly, my favorite Wolverine. I think she's a more interesting, fun character, the way she's dealing with both legacy, and the fact that she was made as a clone with the purpose of being a killing machine.  Seeing her progress has been great. As has the addition of her clone sister Gabby. So, when I found out that she was losing the Wolverine designation I was pretty disappointed, but I needn't have worried, as Laura has continued to be in fantastic hands, with writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Juan Cabal. This X-23 book has been wonderful so far - engaging, funny, emotional, and fantastic art. It' really worth a read.

Sean's Picks:

Crowded #3 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, and others, published by Image
Crowded is a fast-paced, light-hearted good time whose premise is completely terrifying (and plausible, when you consider it). Chris Sebela and company are only getting started with this spin on a reality not too distant from today. Our two main characters have some of the best chemistry in print right now. The dialogue is fresh and witty all while giving the creative team an opportunity to provide insight toward a version of our future that could actually come true...given some fairly obscene and unlikely paramount societal developments.

The Weatherman #5 by Jody Leheup, Nathan Fox, and others, published by Image
Nathan Bright in The Weatherman is flat-out, high-octane good times. This modern space saga is gut wrenching with every page turn. I hate to spoil the obvious developments for anyone who hasn’t been reading this comic, so I’ll save it and merely recommend this for new and returning readers alike. If you are current with your weather reports from Mars then you are fully aware of the intensity that is about to come in this next issue. It's probably a bit late to jump on here, but make sure you pick up the trade as soon as it's released, and know for those who like Weatherman that it needs to stay on your pull list.

Quantum Age #3 by Jeff Lemire, Wilfredo Torres, and others, published by Dark Horse
Quantum Age is one of several spin-offs of the Eisner-winning series Black Hammer. It isn’t necessary to read each of the spin-offs in conjunction to the backbone story in Black Hammer, as they each have their own individuality to them as a standalone. Quantum Age could be labeled Lemire’s pulpy satire on the love letter to super heroes he’s crafted in Black Hammer. This comic is still relatively early in stages and with its sporadic release dates it translates to easy catch up for the reader who was left behind. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve recommended a book by Jeff Lemire, but I'm a total sucker for most everything he writes.

She Could Fly #4 by Christopher Cantwell, Martin Morazzo, Miroslav Mrva, and Clem Robins, published by  Dark Horse
I cannot express the amount of anticipation that I hold for this series finale. This story has been so swift, so subtle, so brutally honest, and painfully heartbreaking. It will be difficult to see this story come to an end but I am anxious to see the ending to which it decides to develop into and how it sets up its second arc, which was announced recently

Moth & Whisper #2 by Ted Anderson, Jen Hickman, and Marshall Dillon, published by Aftershock
The Moth. The Whisper. Rivals? Collective unit? The debut issue of this comic had me so mesmerized by its captivating art and the manner in which it took upon itself to lay out the foundation of its story. It was a strong first issue. Stronger than most. I am eager to discover how this second issue navigates itself. The sophomore issue is more important than the debut when speaking of longevity.

Rob's Picks:

Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1 by Various Creators, published by DC 
DC continues its line of seasonal one-shots with an obligatory horror issue that looks to be homaging the old EC Comics line, based on the trade dress and promo text, which includes "Horror! Death! Uh...Face-punching! Witness ten all-new stories that promise to be the most terrifying, most shocking and most horrific comic that DC Comics has ever published!" The ghost of William Gaines smiles down on this, and I can only hope that this thing is "hosted" by either Cain or Abel or at least the Phantom Stranger. Thank you, DC, for making a comic book just for me.

What if Punisher #1 by Carl Potts, Juanan Ramirez, and others, published by Marvel
With great power comes great responsibility to end crime once and for all? What would Uncle Ben say? The idea of taking Peter Parker, who has (almost) always stood against everything Frank Castle represents, and making him a grim, teenager murderer is a really interesting concept. I'm not sure if it can work, but I have a feeling the long tradition of "Spider-Man dies in What if stories" will continue here. I also can't remember the last time Carl Potts wrote a story for Marvel. This is an odd duck, but they have my interest!

Incognegro Renaissance Collected Edition by Mat Johnson, Warren Pleece, and Clem Robins, published by Dark Horse Comics
Johnson and Pleece return to their news reporter who can pass for white in a story of how New York in the Jim Crow era wasn't much kinder to anyone black. A murder of a black author in a white author's home, along with a mysterious manuscript lands Zane in his first crime-solving caper. Zane can go where other black people can't, and he's not the only one in this engaging mystery that really brings home America's racism, past and present. The art (in black and white) is slick and has a good sense of the period and Johnson's sharp wit shines through even as he does a good job keeping the plot moving--and hard to solve. One of my favorite comics from Berger Books, and that's saying something.

October 8, 2018

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Reading Jason Lutes' Berlin as a Reminder of History

It’s weird to remember that Jason Lutes started his epic during the Clinton administration and has wrapped it up in the age of Trump. Back in 1996 when it began, Berlin read more like a history lesson, using the backdrop of 1930s Germany to explore the rise of fascism when his audience was on the cusp of the 21st century. Berlin could have been viewed then as a reminder of who we were during the 1900s and a warning to not forget the rise of Hitler and the destructive forces of his ideology. Now in 2018, it possibly reads the same way even if it feels like society is forgetting those lessons and what happened in the first half of the 20th century. Lutes’ story maybe hasn’t changed over the years it’s taken to tell it but we have. We’ve become meaner and uglier as Berlin reflects that back at us now in ways that it couldn’t have if it had been completed 20 years, 10 years or even 5 years ago.

At the start of the book in 1928, Berlin is a city full of wonder and life. Marthe Müller, a young woman from a small German town, travels to the big city, looking to experience art. On the train, she meets Kurt Severing, a reporter heading home after investigating the German government’s secretive attempts to rebuild its military strength after the restrictions of the Treaty of Versaille. In both people, we see Berlin as a monument to the German spirit and morality. It’s a city of art, politics, and society that seems poised in a post-WW1 world to lead the world. Lutes’ attention to the details of the time also shows just how oblivious people like Marthe and Kurt were to the destructive evil that festered just below the surface of the city. Through his investigations, Kurt was aware that it existed but as Lutes shows throughout the book, he wasn’t prepared how much it would become the culture of Berlin. Kurt is blindsided by the hatred that takes over his city in just a few years’ time. For Marthe, a young country girl, she doesn’t even know that any kind of corruption could exist in humanities’ hearts.

Told on layers, Berlin firmly establishing Marthe and Kurt as the two characters who have the most to personally lose in the face of the growing fascist culture because they are among the most privileged in this struggling city. Lutes knows that a city cannot be defined by two people but two people can experience the many aspects of a city. To understand the city of Berlin, you’ve got to see its rich and poor, its establishment and its revolutionaries, its accepted people and its rejects. In developing a deep cast of characters, Lutes examines the effects of the changing Berlin on its people. We see all manners of people at their best and at their worst and understand that for most of them, the truth of who they are is somewhere in between. Some of those stories intersect directly with Marthe and Kurt while others sit on the periphery of the city, almost out of sight but still reflecting the moral crisis of Germany. These layers create a comic that truly deserves to be called a novel.

As we journey with these characters between the years 1928 and 1932 (and beyond in a wonderful coda that reminds us that history never stops,) it’s easy to lose sight of the city and its place in history and witness the human nature that gives rise to bullies and dictators. And maybe the opposite is true as well; that we can get lost in the ugliness of the world and forget to appreciate the humanity that exists in most of us. By weaving together this wonderful quilt of lives and experiences, Lutes unveils a microcosm of reality, all of these separate and unique lives that are somehow connected through people, places, and events. For as specific as it is to a time and a place, Berlin wonderfully reminds of the variety of people all around us every day. Some of them are our friends and lovers while others are strangers or even enemies.

Charting the political turmoil of the post World War I Germany, Berlin is a densely political book even as one of its main characters is barely cognizant of the conflicts between the Communists, the Nazis, and the republican Germans. As every other character makes decisions based off of politics and loyalties, Marthe experiences a city that seems so much grander than the small town that she came from. As everyone else declares their allegiance to some ideology, Marthe’s ideology is ultimately Berlin itself, a city where all of these events can happen. It allows her to love a man and a woman; it allows her to discover herself regardless of the politics. But Berlin at this time will not allow a young woman to go along without a care in the world. As the reality of the coming conflicts and war begin wearing in on her lovers, Berlin shows its true self to Marthe as it eventually infests everything in it with the ugliness and brutality of the time.

The layers of Berlin, the days, months, and years it covers but more importantly the characters it finds in this city, are built on moments and events. Comic pages are the events and their panels are the moments that Lutes uses to sculpt time. Using a very traditional gridded page structure, Lutes’ panels are revelatory in nature. No panel is wasted as he uses every single image in the book to capture defining moments in the life of this city. His clean line and economical choices almost appear plain on the surface as Lutes doesn’t want to call attention to his style or storytelling. But when you get past that simplicity of the image, you can watch how he builds his sequences and uses the comic page to tell this story in ways that no other artistic medium could.

Lutes’ architecture of those moments builds on the freedom and oppression that are in constant conflict in the heart of this city. Almost every scene and every panel is character revealing as Lutes’ images show how people like Marthe and Kurt are shaped by the culture that they find themselves in. For Marthe, it’s a freeing experience as she takes on lovers and gets lost in the euphoria of the big city. She’s largely separated from the politics of the time even as her lovers, Kurt, and the boyish Anna, are helpless against the forces of society and Naziism. Lutes’ drawings create this world where Marthe could be isolated somehow from the forces that are tearing the man and woman that she loves apart.

It’s limiting to think that Berlin is just Marthe and Kurt’s story. Using the city as his canvas, Lutes creates a tapestry of stories and characters that deeper define the spirit of the city. More than a city of just lovers, Berlin was a city of workers who Lutes uses to explore the changing values of the time. Silvia, a motherless girl who lives on the streets, is more representative of the city than either Kurt of Marthe are. For Silvia, Berlin is the fight for survival. Through her experiences, Lutes demonstrates how the city and country turned parts of their population into revolutionaries. Silvia’s own parents represent the growing divide between people in Berlin and she’s a casualty of that divide. Kurt observes the growing rifts in Berlin, Marthe is largely oblivious to them but Silvia is caught in the fighting, both a victim and a soldier in the war that exists in the streets of Berlin.

As it’s taken Jason Lutes around 20 years to complete this classic, his time away from the drawing board has been spent teaching new generations of cartoonists at The Center for Cartoon Studies. For those of us unable to attend his classes, Berlin gives us a master course in the depth and complexity of comics. Jason Lutes’ Berlin is far more reflective of 2018 than he could have planned for it to be. While we’re hopefully not on the same destructive path as the citizens of Berlin, it is hard not to see the conflict, the fights, and the people of 80 years ago reflected in our own conflicts today. Maybe Lutes is some kind of prophet and has been warning us of this for the last two decades and we just haven’t listened to him. Maybe the majority of us are Kurt and Marthe, living our lives and setting ourselves up to be blindsided by the inevitable march of history. It sure feels like that is what’s happening right now.

Written and Drawn by Jason Lutes
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

October 5, 2018

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Halloween Horror: Wolf Moon by Bunn, Haun, and Loughridge

Written by Cullen Bunn
Line Art by Jeremy Haun
Color Art by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Travis Lanham
Published by DC/Vertigo

The stories you know about werewolves are lies. They don't linger with one person until they die tragically. Instead, it's a force that inhabits a host, destroys their life, and leaves them broken. Unless you're Dylan Chase, who wants to destroy the force once and for all, or die trying. This is his story, and it's bloody, violent, and an entirely fun romp.

October 3, 2018

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Halloween Horror: The Promised Neverland Volumes 1 and 2

Story by Kaiu Shirai
Line Art by Posuka Demizu
Translated by by Satsuki Yamashita
Published by Viz

Halloween Horror? Rob, did you miss the memo? Those kids are smiling and laughing! The sky is blue! What's that got to do with horror? Well, if that's your reaction--it certainly was mine at first--you're in for a great surprise once you start reading.

Emma is the red-head on the cover. She's an orphan, living at an orphanage with a cast of quirky kids ranging in age from babies to those headed for middle school. They're cared for by a loving matron, praised for their education, and given free reign--within reason--across the entire grounds. Each of them lives for the day when they are adopted off the farm. It's idyllic, almost too good to be true.

Not-so-spoiler alert: It IS too good to be true.

October 2, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic Shop October 3rd, 2018

Welcome to Catch it at the Comic Shop, where the Panel Patter team looks at what's coming out at your favorite store or digital device this week. Each one of us that participates picks up to five items due out this week, with a little bit about why we like them. (NOTE: We use solicitation material for this, so if we miss creators, please talk to your publisher!) Sometimes we might only have a few items to share, other weeks, keeping it to five will make for hard choices. Here's what the team wanted to highlight this week...

Rob's Picks:

These Savage Shores #1 by Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault Comics
It's the 18th Century and some elites in the British Empire need to export a troublesome peer, so they send a sloppy vampire to the Silk Road. The problem is that there are even greater monsters at the edges of the East India Company's reach, as we find out in this first issue that does a wonderful job of meshing the arrogance of vampires with the arrogance of Europeans when it came to their various colonies. Ram V's script is a slow build here, but it works, and gives you plenty of time to linger on the linework of Sumit Kumar, which, combined with Astone's colors, is absolutely lush and gorgeous. This is yet another hit from Vault--a perfect gothic horror romance for your October reading pleasure!

October 1, 2018

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Menstrual Mayhem: Maneaters #1 by Chelsea Cain

Written by Chelsea Cain
Line Art by Kate Niemczyk
Color Art by Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Image

Ah, puberty. It's not a fun time in any young woman's life, but in the world of Chelsea Cain and company's new series Maneaters, the arrival of shark week leads to a lot more than just ruined underwear. A rash of killings by giant cats leads to the discovery that menstruation causes teenage girls to transform into werecats through the power of mutated toxoplasmosis virus. (If this seems scientifically implausible, you should really just relax.)

September 30, 2018

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Halloween Horror: H.P. Lovecraft's The Hound and Other Stories Adapted by Gou Tanabe

Original Text by H.P. Lovecraft
Adaptation and Art by Gou Tanabe
Translation by Zack Davisson
Lettering by Steve Dutro
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Three stories from one of the foundational pulp horror writers are turned into creepy comics by Gou Tanabe, providing atmospheric horror that touches on the start of the Mythos. Featuring a crazed German sub commander who dives the deep waters of madness, two grave robbers who encounter secrets men were not meant to know, and an explorer's trip to a city older than time, Tanabe captures the best of Lovecraft's thematic brilliance while leaving the more problematic pieces behind in this great series of adaptations.

While I'm not the biggest fan of Lovecraft's original material (both for the racist aspects and the fact that I find his prose too dry to properly capture the potential of his imagination), I really dig the concepts. (I've even co-written a prose story using Lovecraft's toys, for a Broken Eye Books anthology.) Comics are a great place to explore Lovecraft's worlds, given the right artist. If the artist manages to capture the visual aspects of the cosmic horrors, either of their own creation or based on Lovecraft's descriptions, the reader is in for a treat. Tanabe delivers this in spades. Just look at this opening for The Hound, the middle story in this collection:

The linework here is spectacular! The eyes pierce through the reader's skull, daring you to turn the page or be filled with nightmares forever. This hound has snarling teeth, but the inks here, which feel as though they were violently applied, scream primal figure--their irregularity adding to the feeling of unease, even as the way in which the blacks of the piece keep you confused as to whether they confine the size of the beast--or conceal it.

It's amazing work that continues page after page. In the opening story, The Temple, Tanabe makes us feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic, just like the sailors who know they are going to die, by creating a series of tight panels, page in and page out, with anywhere between 8 and 10 small scenes tucked into each page. It both enables him to keep the dialog between the characters going and makes you feel the tension of being stuck in a disabled sub whose commander won't surrender. When Lovecraft moves the story into an underwater structure that shouldn't exist, the large spreads open us up, just like the main character, to behold the wonder and mystery--and madness of what we behold.

Here's another example of that amazing linework, different from the hound above, yet showing the same kind of thought and care--how can something this nearly pristine be living under waters of the deep?

It's positively George Perez-like in its detail. I can't think of a better way to describe it. And again, the haunting, unearthly eyes come out in the figure on the throne. I'm so incredibly impressed by Tanabe's work, and it looks like this is the only thing available currently in English, which is clearly a plot by the Elder Gods to torment me.

The middle story, The Hound, was the weakest of the three stories, not so much for the art as for the fact that it doesn't stray far from the "grave robbing has a price" trope. It's got a cameo by a Necronomicon, but the main feature is a small icon that leads to the death of the dandies. Tanabe does a great job with shadows here, and switching the faces of the main characters from being eager and gleeful to terrified. The pacing lags a bit, but I blame Lovecraft for dragging out the denouncement too far.

In the final story, The Nameless City, Tanabe gets more to work with and it positively shines. There's a two-page spread of a demented cathedral that is so spectacular I want you to experience it for yourself on the page, because doing a photo pick wouldn't do it justice. Like the fresco I showed above, the detail is phenomenal, with the main character looking at it, dumbfounded. This particular tale is all about the main realizing he's stumbled into something so ancient and horrible that nothing he does afterwards really matters, and Tanaba nails that feeling in his expressions, such as the panel sequence below:

Page after page of The Nameless city is our "hero" learning that what he's stumbled into spells nothing but doom for anyone who meets the creatures depicted on the walls. It's a mix of terrified reaction shots with gruesome drawings, and by the end, as he tries to escape, we return to the claustrophobic panels just in time for a freedom--that doesn't truly exist.

As I said above, I'm an easy mark for Lovecraft related work, but this is some of the best I've seen. I understand that Tanabe has done more adaptations, and I hope we get more in English soon. Regardless, anyone who loves cosmic horror and/or Lovecraft needs to pick up this collection and enjoy the images--which may soon become part of their nightmares.

September 28, 2018

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Vault Week: Submerged #1 and #2

Written by Vita Ayala
Line Art by Lisa Sterle and Ted Brandt
Color Art by Stelladia 
Letterer: Rachel Deering

Ah, yes.. the all-too-familiar story of the older sibling coming to the rescue of the always-in-trouble delinquent baby brother. Is it really all that familiar though? Or is it told so many times over that we overlook the nuanced surroundings that encapsulate our existence? I'm not certain that I personally hold the credentials to answer this self-evaluating supernatural inquisition, so let's just pass Vita the mic. 

Vita Ayala has conjured up quite a journey here within her new comic, Submerged, but (full disclosure) when it was first introduced as an upcoming new title for Vault comics my initial reaction was difficult to ignore. I am a horrible person when I become busy and time is of the essence, which was exactly what this comic fell victim to. My brain had a quick stroke of ignorant assumption laced with knee jerk attitudes of missed opportunities. As I read pre-release excite-and-hype columns about this comic they left me a bit lackluster with excitement. Nothing seemed suited for my genre specific brand that often leaves my hindsight in desperation as I regret missing the earlier buy-in on so many other titles. Against my better judgement I ignored my intuitions and found myself to be just what I had described earlier: a Jerk (capital J) assuming way too much about a specific comic I hadn't yet read that deserved to be read before the critique had been calculated. 

I digress.  

Vault has been consistently printing some of the better comics since it came onto the stands. They have produced many imaginative and under-appreciated titles early on such as Failsafe and Heathen, to the more recent ones like Wasted Space and the now-on-comic-stands Fearscape, all of which deserve way more press and attention than they have gotten on their own. These are stories that make you come back for more, like a simple boy loyal to his brand. Submerged is one of these to add to the ever-evolving list of genres for a comic publishing company not even finished with its second year of publications. 

Submerged is a good time. It immediately places us in the footsteps of Ellie as she begins retreating to her apartment to end her night alone with nothing much else to do but catch up on her many voicemails as she decompresses in solitude. Coming as no surprise other than Ellie herself she ended her personal listening party hearing her brother, Angel, explain another troubled situation he had found himself in. As she stumbles out to find him she discovers the plain possibility that he had mysteriously gone missing on the eve of the biggest storm these characters have ever known.

Ellie is a frustrated sister that resents certain aspects of her past that involve her mother. Those frustrations are intricately woven throughout the narrative as washed out filtered flashbacks sprinkled among the rich and dark pages of the scavenger hunt for her brother. Anyone with a parental figure can utilize most any memory to bridge comparison so that a relating fraction could resonate between reader and page. These subtle interconnections assist to make this story worth a recommend. The setting of scene, the character development, and the pacing are all modestly held back so that we aren't overwhelmed with the chaos amidst the building of the foundation to the story being set.  
The story reaches far back into the psyches of the characters as it takes us deep into the tunnels of the earth as we help Ellie search for Angel. 

If the slow pacing and dense character development are any indicator with Submerged one could only assume with high certainty that it will have similar payoff as its predecessor with another name. This comic wants to be spookier and it wants it bad, and at some point even though I see it coming I probably will still feel my spine shiver when payoff finally arrives. It has my attention and I am along for the ride until the very end. With the story developing at a pace begging to burst out of its seams, and art to match the intentions of the edge-of-your-seat fright, we are on verge of having another star performance from another up-and-coming. Look out, here comes Vita!

As I gather my thoughts here I feel the need to recommend this slow paced, but intriguingly interesting development happening. Submerged easily gets an 8/10 from me and is worth a checking out from anyone seeking a comic that seems lighthearted on the surface, but feels that it could jump right out toward you at any moment and scare the living Tom Waits from your soul.  

There's a bit of a line developing, Ms. Ayala, but go ahead and take my money now.

- ArgyleEater