November 21, 2018

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Black Badge: 1-4

Written by Matt Kindt
Line Art by Tyler Jenkins
Color Art by Hilary Jenkins
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Published by BOOM! Studios

Yesterday I read the hauntingly ignorant Bill Maher blog about how comics are meaningless and how Stan Lee inspired us all to... go watch a movie. Then I re-read Black Badge issues one through three to prop myself up in preparation for the fourth issue coming out this week. I say this to remind myself that Bill Maher is consistently a troll looking for attention and his opinion literally means nothing... oh, and Kindt comics fly so consistently under the radar that it's despicable more people don't take notice.

But that's why I'm here. Allow me to seek refuge in discussing what makes comics so kick ass for a brief moment or two with Black Badge as the case-in-point.

Comics are like music to me, just as songs draw me in to find the good in the mundane so is also that I am able to find something within a comic that is pure and good for the simple and literal definition of being good. No song exists that is bad from moment start to moment finish just as no comic is undeserving of attention from an audience in need of its intended message. I'm willing to go up against anyone who finds that observation absurd. Point being:  I enjoy most all music for what it is, and the same is true for comics. I enjoy the medium that comics utilize to convey the message it is able to present while using a simple, yet unique and obscure, platform of panel art. Sometimes creators will take this medium and push it beyond any predetermined boundaries.

Matt Kindt is a creator I find most captivating in the way his stories are told and the vivid attention to detail he has for manipulating the imagination of his reader. His stories always have a foundation of such elaborate visual planning that he has it illustrated in ways not too dissimilar of a treasure map. Black Badge is no exception to this trend as he has Tyler and Hilary Jenkins illustrate us a labeled aerial view of select scenes from the story. Also included in this unique approach to comic illustrations and storytelling is his breakdown of a character's gear and uniform, something I've always appreciated from Matt. I find myself painting the page with my eyes, back and forth, up and down, studying the layout and design of the character. This makes the reader's imagination consider so many unsaid possibilities given the inventory of devices listed on that previously mentioned illustration.

I've enjoyed Kindt comics for a while now. Grass Kings is probably in my top ten ongoings of the past several years, and last year's Dept H was one of my favorite mini-series of pretty much... ever. Matt has a certain sizzle to his storytelling that lets his readers know exactly what is going on every step of the way but manages to sneak in unexpected surprises and simple yet modest amounts of social commentary. The subtlety is where Matt's charm lies. He knows how to tell a story with purpose and with meaning without mimicking your Sunday School teacher.

Black Badge is Matt's latest endeavor. He has teamed with Tyler and Hilary Jenkins to tell a story of rebellion and loyalty through the eyes of something similar to a boy scout. Our team of protagonists includes Kenny, Cliff, Mutz, and Willy; four adolescents making their way toward something largely unknown, but along the way they seek and destroy questionable missions to earn progress toward the larger goal of achieving black badge excellence among peers and authorities alike. This rat-pack of four juveniles challenge the boundaries of loyalty, rebellion, cooperation, tolerance, and the mindful attention to brotherhood. It gives the reader, if engaged, a chance to consider their own intent of any such patron of honor.

So often we are told to fall in line for the sake of conformity. We base our significance on how little we stray from the expected obedience of our actions, or maybe it is vice versa if rebellion is more your thing. This comic seems to explore these elements of self-identification by telling the story of four adolescents as they go on adventurous missions to obtain the status coveted by all who desire recognition. In the end, it is the bond of friendship that tests the pre-ordained expectation of obedience to the cause so that the directive is lost and hope is now being found on a more personal level. Issues one through three illustrate the story as blind tests of faith by these young scouts, but something is rumbling in the distance. Something seems unsettling and an unraveling of order is unmistakable as you read between the panels.

The characters in Black Badge are written as somewhat ambivalent toward their own intent making the story arc from issue to issue seamless and mesmerizing. Seeing one question the actions of the group only to fall on deaf ears could easily translate to a foreshadowing of trouble ahead. But by the end of the fourth issue, you will see that maybe the questioning of blind obedience has laid enough of a rebellious seed to cause what is about to happen.

We all share this life together, collectively populating the same planet. The simplest form of tolerance is to respect the situation of someone you cannot seem to understand. Borders, wages, ethnic background, social construct, or even our individual interpretation of free-will all contribute to our differences. In those diverse differences, the foundation of what makes us all the same is that anyone's interpretation of greater-good factors down to interpersonal relations. Without those around us whom we call family, we have lost essentially any meaning in the very existence we have been given. To live is to mingle, and to mingle is to bear family, and to bear family is to share love. Black Badge is that story transcending any specific reason to not fall out of line for the well-being of another. This is a story taking shape that feels like an act of rebellion against an unjust authority so that brotherhood and friendship is constant no matter the cost. Considering the current state of everything America these days, I find this ironic I pull this theme from this comic.. or maybe it is just me who translates this from it.

This is a terribly fun story. It is something unlike anything else on the stands right now and Matt Kindt is, in my opinion, the most underrated creator of our time. Black Badge 1 - 3 easily get 8's out of 10's from me and that changes only in the upward direction for issue number 4. Black Badge 4 is a solid 9/10. Go pick this one up at your local shop this week, as this one comes as a highly recommend from me.

November 16, 2018

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Neil Spiers Reviews Bitter Root #1

Bitter Root #1
Writer:s David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Line Art: Sandford Greene
Color Art: Rico Renzi & Sandford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

My first introduction to anything written by David F. Walker and artist Sandford Greene was their highly entertaining run on Power Man and Iron Fist back in 2016. Taking both characters back to street-level and away from the grand, epic storylines of the Avengers made me more invested in these characters. Witty, fast-paced and full of nods to 70s blaxploitation, all set in modern day New York. Greene’s art was one of the main things that pulled me in and I started to track down more of his work. If you haven’t already, I insist you check Greene and Brown’s webtoon “1000”.

Jump back to 2017 Rose City Comic Con when Image Comics announced that David F. Walker and Sandford Greene would be working with Chuck Brown on a new title, Bitter Root. Set in the 1920s when the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Walker then went on to give some background.

“Bitter Root is going to be unlike any comic book people have seen, we're mixing action and horror, with a cast of characters unique to the medium to tell an epic tale of the Sangerye family and the sacrifices they are willing to make for humanity. I'm excited about this series for several reasons. It gives me the chance to work with Sanford again, Chuck, who is a great co-writer, and Image, which publishes some absolutely amazing comics.”
Due to having a love of horror comics my interest piqued and just over a year later, I finally get the chance to read the first issue. Let me tell you, it’s one you must pick up.

Bitter Root looks to follow the lives of the Sangeryes clan, a family that through generations has battled with Demons, Monsters and Jinoo who corrupt human souls. Souls that are consumed by hate and turned into monstrous beasts. You may be thinking that this kind of story sounds familiar. But am going to go out on a limb and say I know of no comic that is set in 1920’s Harlem, where an African American family battles hate filled Demons.

And that’s what makes the writing of this comic exceptional--it features reminders of the real issues black people faced (and still face) in America but integrates them into the supernatural elements of the world. Written by two African American writers who are passionately portraying a critically important time in American History, when white America started to recognise the creative and intellectual contributions of African Americans, who in turn upheld their identity intellectually. But at the same time, there were those that stuck to their discriminatory beliefs. Which is touched on towards the end of issue one, in a brutal but satisfying way. Add to all this the supernatural, and you have something that has never been seen before in a comic. 

Then we have Sandford Greene’s stunningly rendered artwork. Beautiful expressive characters, and monsters that show a huge affection for Jack Kirby. Greene must have spent hours scouring for historical reference material because each character's attire genuinely creates the impression of 1920s Harlem. Panel work is something totally different than what we saw in Power Man and Iron Fist. Action scenes are broken down into single pages but the different use of panel layout make these scenes accentuate the page. Splash pages are there as well in all their action-filled glory. Add to this the colour work by Rico Renzi and Greene, which is lit perfectly in every panel. From subtle purple evening skies to an eerily set forest lynching that goes hilariously awry for the Klan. Colours are beautiful, I’ll just leave it at that.

Yes, I’m gushing about this comic, but I love it. Fun, intelligent, action-packed and unique. The character Berg is one that I adore, such an eloquent beast of a man. I seriously hope people pick this one up. It’s great to see an entirely African American creative team behind this. One that could inspire and motivate others to start creating. That’s always of great importance.

November 13, 2018

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Catch it at the Comic Shop November 14th, 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...

Neil's Picks:

Friendo #2 by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, and Taylor Esposito, published by Vault Comics
I think it comes as no shock that Vault is a much-loved publisher with everyone at Panel Patter. For me, they are THE publisher to watch, and one that continues to grow with each release. In a world where we obsess over our desire to have the latest in technology, stare into screens and crave a following online. Alex Paknadel’s Friendo takes this idea and pushes it a little further into the future. Taking elements of VR and AI and using that to create your own personal assistant. An assistant that can be a personal shopper, guide, walking search engine, you name it they are there for YOU. But should you be listening and taking advice from a marketing AI that you have created based on a selection of personal questions?

Bitter Root #1 by David F. Walker, Sanford Greene, Chuck Brown, Rico Renzi, and Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics
Ever since their stunning run on Power Man and Iron Fist I’ve eagerly awaited something new from the team of David F. Walker and Sandford Greene. So with Bitter Root appearing this week I cannot wait to see what Walker’s highly entertaining writing and Greene’s beautifully expressive art brings. Add to that Greene’s collaborator on his webcomic “1000” Chuck Hogan and we have one hell of a creative team. Set during Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Bitter Root promises horror, monster hunters, supernatural forces, mystery and action. The previews alone have piqued my interest and that Akira inspired variant cover… OH MY.   

Black Order #1 by Derek Landy and Philip Tan published by Marvel Comics
Ever since their appearance in Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity story line, I became enamoured with the Black Order. But with my love of Marvel Cosmic taking a back seat of late, only dipping back into the phenomenal Annihilation and Annihilation Conquest stories from the mid-2000s, something new is desired. Having missed Infinity Wars and anxiously waiting for Donny Cates Guardians of the Galaxy run in 2019, I hope Derek Landy’s Black Order book is a strong return to my love of Marvel Cosmic. Just that little something that’ll tide me over until the new Guardians book is released. Because who doesn’t love a good story about a band of ruthlessly powerful villains who are set to destabilize a burgeoning empire.

James' Picks:
The Fade Out TP by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser, published by Image Comics
Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips are one of the very best creative teams in comics, and this is probably my favorite work of theirs. They tell a lot of mystery stories, stores relating to crime, tortured souls, and poor doomed saps. Well, it all comes together in The Fade Out, which is a fantastic post-WWII crime noir story set in the seedy underbelly of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. If you liked LA Confidential then you'd like this. If you didn't like LA Confidential, what the hell is wrong with you? This story is a fantastic murder mystery, and you will absolutely fall in love with the moody, atmospheric, stylishly beautiful artwork of Sean Philips, colored by the talented Elizabeth Breitweiser. I absolutely adore this book, and now that it's been collected in a more affordable paper edition, it's the perfect time to pick it up.

Gideon Falls #8 by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, published by Image Comics
Gideon Falls is without question one of my top comics of 2018.  It a super creepy, unsettling, religious horror book. The horror doesn't come from gore - no, the horror is much more insidious and unsettling than that. It's about visions of evil and darkness just out of reach, and about the troubled people that are experiencing this horror.  Jeff Lemire knows how to tell a scary story, and the artwork from Andrea Sorrentino (with colors from the master Dave Stewart) is spectacular and scary and unsettling and really inventive.  
Infinite Dark #2 by Ryan Cady and Andrea Mutti, published by Image Comics
Keeping with the theme of scary comics, this is another successfully creepy book. It is in the excellent "horror in space" genre, which makes for great storytelling. This is a space station containing the very last life in the entire universe. Seriously, everything else in the universe is gone, they're experiencing the heat death of the universe and the people aboard this station are all that's left. Not just of humanity, but of anything. No more planets, no more stars. Just the...Infinite dark! So far the book is appropriately creepy and unnerving. There's murder aboard the station, and things are weird and getting weirder. Andrea Mutti is an excellent artist, and brings this story to unsettling, weird life. This is strong book.

Mister Miracle #12 by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics
The big conclusion. I'm so interested to see how this book gets resolved. It's really been a remarkable story, one that I don't think I'll fully appreciate until it's done.  It's been a very cool, weird story about the New Gods, and about family, but this is really a story about someone dealing with profound depression and also probably some psychoses. It doesn't sound fun, but it actually is. Mitch Gerads has done the best work I've ever seen from him. This book is just stunning and weird and so compelling. 

Rob's Picks:

Friendo #2 by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, and Taylor Esposito, published by Vault Comics
After the shocking events of the first issue, Leo's recovery involves a lot of retail therapy, aided and abetted by his virtual pal Jerry, who lives inside his special glasses. Jerry plays his role of friend and shopping advocate well--but something's not quite right as this second issue takes us deeper into a world where the idea of an Alexa/Siri style assistant becomes more than just a box on your nightstand. Alex creates a world where corporations have entire too much control over our lives, and shows it in subtle ways (like the one-off panel about a man who has to humiliate himself with a horse to get health insurance--for only a year!). It's a logical, terrifying extension of where we're headed--not unlike Chris Sebela and company's Crowded. Meanwhile Simmonds and Cunniffe's art really make this work, giving the world a shiny, slick feel and making some amazing visual choices. I especially enjoy how the color scheme makes it clear which "world" we're in. Disclosure: Alex is a "friendo" of mine, but even if he wasn't, I'd recommend this sci-fi story to everyone.

Brother Nash by Bridgit Connell, published by Titan Comics
Brother Nash is a trucker...who also happens to have the ability to turn into a beast when the conditions are right. He faces all sorts of supernatural enemies both on and off the interstate in this entertaining, colorful, and well-illustrated webcomic, collected here by Titan. The characters are engaging, and Connell uses the tropes of horror and truckers-from-movies extremely well. I love her monster designs and she gives Nash just enough human elements without dragging the story down in unnecessary drama. This one was hand-sold to me by one of my local shop owners, and I'm glad she did. Now I'm passing along the recommendation to you!

The Thirteenth Floor Vol 1 by Alan Grant, John Wagner, Jose Ortiz, and Mike Peters, Published by Rebellion/2000 AD
We all know a lot of buildings are missing an official 13th floor because of superstition, but what if it's because the building itself reserves that floor for sinister purposes? That's the premise here, as the 2000AD writing duo of Grant and Wagner combine with artist Jose Ortiz to write an ongoing feature for Scream, a British horror mag akin to Creepy. A state of the art building run by "Max," an intelligent computer insistent on protecting its residents no matter what it takes, is the focus of this set of stories. When it feels like the residents need protection, Max drops off the threat to the 13th floor, which changes features to fit the criminal's intentions. In other words, "What if the Spectre was a technological haunted house?" --and if that doesn't intrigue you, I'm so sorry for your reading habits. This is another in a series of excellent reprints from 2000AD of other British comics, reproduced in high quality and shining a light on some great comics that might otherwise be forgotten. If you're an EC/Warren fan, make sure you pick this one up. It's great stuff.

Bitter Root #1 by David F. Walker, Sanford Greene, Chuck Brown, Rico Renzi, and Clayton Cowles, published by Image Comics
There are monsters in Harlem, and only a special family can stop them, but as the family seems to grow weaker, the monsters do not. Battling the supernatural and racism, they may be humanity's only hope, but the challenge they face is far greater than ever. David F. Walker and Sanford Greene talked about this book at Rose City in 2017, and I've been waiting for it ever since. Unsurprisingly, it's every bit as good as I hoped. Sanford's linework is loose and gives everyone, both monsters and humans, an exaggerated feel that works well for a horror comic. (What's cool is that unlike some, he can do this without making a mess of the flow of the action.) Meanwhile, David as always has a great way with characters and interaction, and his single-issue story flow is getting better and better. This one has a great cliffhanger, and it also shows that Walker, Greene, and co aren't afraid to get into controversial territory--no surprise, if you know David at all. So many great horror books in 2018--don't leave this one off you list.

November 7, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic Shop November 7th, 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...

Neil's Picks:

Marvel Knights 20th #1 by Donny Cates, Travel Foreman and others published by Marvel Comics.
It’s 20 years this year since the Marvel Knights imprint line first appeared. And with Marvel being Marvel, they’ve decided to revive the “more mature themed” line of comics. With Donny Cates at the helm, why wouldn’t you? This six-issue miniseries sees Cates pen the first issue and then the baton is handed on to Matthew Rosenberg heading up issue two. Nothing much is known about the series, due to it being shrouded in secrecy. But this first issue looks to have Matt Murdock as the lead protagonist. Having just completed the phenomenal season 3 of Daredevil on Netflix I’m hoping to see more of a grounded street-level hero story much like the show itself. Because personally, I believe that was the best material Marvel has EVER put to screen.

James' Picks:

Crowded #4 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt and Triona Farrell, published by Image Comics.
Chris Sebela is on a real win streak this year. Crowded has been a funny, socially astute, action-packed, dramatic mystery of a story. It's a very clever look at the "gig economy" and social media and their absurd natural conclusion.

Fearscape #2 by Ryan O'Sullivan and Andrea Mutti, published by Vault Comics.
I read the first issue of Fearscape and really enjoyed it. This is a fun literary comic in the mold of Sandman or the Unwritten, and a hilarious read with a fantastic fraud of a main character. Excellent, dreamlike art from Andrea Mutti.

Border Town #3 by Eric Esquivel and Ramon Villalobos, published by Vertigo/DC Comics.
This is a really smart, incredibly timely comic that feels important for the current moment. It's also a highly entertaining story with terrific art. One of the strongest debuts of 2018.

Green Lantern #1 by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp, published by DC Comics.
I can't say I've read much Green Lantern in recent years. But, Green Lantern and the different color corps and the Sinestro Corps War was some of the first comics I read when I was first getting back into comics, so I have something of a soft spot for it. But it's really the creative team that's drawing me in here.  Any time Grant Morrison does any new mainstream comics, he has my attention. I'm thrilled to see what he and super-talented artist Liam Sharp have cooked up for Hal Jordan.

Immortal Hulk #8 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, published by Marvel Comics.
This book has been wonderful. It' dark and creepy and Ewing and Bennett have really succeeded in bringing to life a whole new Hulk persona; a dark and cruel bringer of justice. This book feels like an old school horror or Twilight Zone story. I highly recommend it.

November 5, 2018

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As Though Nothing Could Fall— thoughts on My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Brubaker & Phillips

In Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics, crime is the law. In a very Biblical sense, original sin runs wild in their comics as there is no such thing as a truly innocent person. In their Criminal series as well as everything since the victims are usually just people who aren’t nearly as bad or corrupt as the true villains of their comics. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, their latest collaboration, tells the story of Ellie, a girl basically trapped in a rehab facility who doesn’t believe that she actually has any problem worthy of rehab or any problems at all that she wants to be free of. But she isn’t even all that innocent as she plays temptress to one of her fellow rehab patients Skip, who shows a real desire to clean up his act. Skip may be the one good person in this world ruled by guns and desires. There’s no good versus evil in this story, at least not how we want to imagine it is as two opposite and warring sides of morality. Morality exists on a spectrum in Brubaker and Phillips’ comics, that skews heavily towards the darkness that seeps into every nook and cranny of humanity. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies tries to discover if there is any light that can escape that darkness’s gravity well.

As the latest installment in their Criminal series, this comic steps away from the gritty city and exists in a world of resort-like rehab clinics and off-season summer houses. These are places of hope and restoration but as Brubaker and Phillips turn their attention toward them, they become as run down as any seedy bar or two-bit motel room. The corruption of the city infests these places like a virus of evil. When they eventually run away from the clinic, Ellie and Skip play at being a real couple even as they spend most of their time stoned out of their minds on the drugs stolen from a small-town pharmacy. Ellie knows that she’s bad and can’t fight against her urges to bring Skip and everything around her down to her level. “.. I’m a bad influence. With no intention of being anything else,” she reveals to the audience.

The fight against that darkness is really just a fight for survival and, as we put together the puzzle pieces of who Ellie really is (a nice little prize for long-time Criminal readers,) that means fighting against becoming what the darkness desires her to be. Ellie believes that she can use the fear that comes with the evil without it changing her but that’s what everyone likes to believe. That’s the big lie present of most of Brubaker and Phillips’ work together, that the darkness of the human soul can be used against itself, but we’ve seen time and time again that it’s not possible. That evil, the result of some kind of long-borne sin of humanity, always wins. Even in Brubaker and Phillips’ books, when characters seemingly win the day, we have to ask what was the true cost of the victory?

Ellie’s story, a good girl in a bad situation and bringing Skip down with her, gets lost in a haze of drugs and the fantasy of some kind of perpetually stoned, domestic life. Looking at her mother, who she saw as angelic when she was doped out of her mind, and musicians like Graham Parsons and Billie Holiday who lost years and lives to drugs, Ellie sees something that a lot of people see in drugs. She sees an escape from this world. She sees an escape from her life, one that robbed a young girl of both a father and a mother, and put her in a position where she has no choice but to ruin Skip, someone who could take her out of her life and possibly into a better one. Drugs are an escape and while Ellie doesn’t seem to be one of the junkies that she idolizes according to the title of the book, you can see how in a world that promises only guns and death how drugs could appear to be a legitimate option out of that world.

"But the best crime stories never let us off that easy; they know we’re all guilty of something (even if it’s as innocuous as jaywalking) and judge us even as we’re feeling good that we’re not criminals like Ellie is."

So why do we keep reading these stories? Do we really think Ellie is better than she actually is even if everything tells us to not get involved with this woman? Part of it is that we probably do want to believe in “heroes” and “good guys” even if Brubaker and Phillips constantly remind us just how fallen people are. Maybe it’s that we see something of ourselves in their protagonists and that Brubaker and Phillips hold up a mirror that’s distorted just enough to make us think that we’re seeing ourselves in Ellie and Skip even if it’s not a clear or complete reflection. Ellie is a good girl in a bad situation, or that’s at least what we tell ourselves and it’s easy to relate that to our stories and some less than ideal situation in our lives. She’s just like us, just without the rehab, the drugs or the guns. Or maybe it’s that she’s exactly like us and if she can be saved, we can be saved. But the best crime stories never let us off that easy; they know we’re all guilty of something (even if it’s as innocuous as jaywalking) and judge us even as we’re feeling good that we’re not criminals like Ellie is.

Even the art, with its wide open lines, seems to be warning us about the face value of this story. Phillips moves away from the recent realism of their recent Kill Or Be Killed toward a more suggestive and expressionistic image. Combined with Jacob Phillips’ tonal coloring, there’s an innocence to this artwork that separates this from most of Brubaker and Phillips’ stories. The coloring, full of pastels and light hues in the day, takes on a more sinister emotion at night. Jacob’s color palette doesn’t change but he leans into more darker and ominous tones that help hide Ellie’s ulterior motives when Ellie coaxes Skip out of his room to sneak a smoke and a kiss. In these night scenes, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies starts to look more like a classic Criminal story in both images and words.

This isn’t a story of life and death, except that it is. It’s about two kids rebelling against the authority that is trying to shape them and their futures. They’re two kids who don’t want to be told what to do by their parents or guardians, even if their reflections of those parents. Both Skip and Ellie are living with the sins of their parents, stuck in a rehab center because of parents that they’re trying not to be even as they’re turning into them. In the darkness of their escape from the rehab center, they’re seeking a release from this world. Characters in the Criminal stories have always sought an understanding of their lives but Ellie seems to know all too well what her life is and how her actions reinforce her own concept of herself.

Some of the best crime stories explore the search for redemption in worlds without forgiveness or grace. Brubaker and Phillips’s stories are full of people who, to one degree or another, are guilty of something. So even our “heroes,” like Ellie, in any other kind of story would be the villain. Instead in My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, Ellie is our deeply flawed and damaged protagonist, someone who looks at junkies and sees a beautiful disconnection from the ugliness of the real world. Her heroes have always been junkies and Brubaker and Phillips turn that on us, making our hero in this book a junkie as well. Maybe she’s right and Ellie doesn’t need to be in rehab but she’s such a damaged character that maybe she does need some other type of rehabilitation that this world just cannot provide.

My Heroes have Always Been Junkies
Written by Ed Brubaker
Drawn by Sean Phillips
Colored by Jacob Phillips
Published by Image Comics

November 1, 2018

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Getting Lost in the Mind of Moon Knight by Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood and Jordie Bellaire

Art by Greg Smallwood

Moon Knight opens with what looks to be a standard superhero device- a villain using the heroes’ dissociation from reality as a weapon against him— the writer and artist sneakily move the story out of New York City, Gotham, or Metropolis, and into the realm of the character’s own mind, where his greatest enemy turns out to be himself. Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s Moon Knight trips through the mind of a person with a mental disorder, in this case, multiple personalities. Letting go of the usual good guys versus bad guys dichotomy of superhero comics, Lemire and Smallwood explore what it means for someone who puts on a costume and takes on a different name to be considered healthy.

Moon Knight has never been the sanest character in comics, to begin with. He takes the whole concept of secret identities to some twisted and dark corners as his alter egos are the different personalities that exist within Marc Spector’s head. Spector, Moon Knight, Jake Lockley, and Steven Grant. Soldier of fortune, superhero, taxi driver, rich playboy. The thin line that that separated Moon Knight and Batman since Moon Knight first appeared in the 1970s is that Batman is supposedly sane, minus the occasional tale like Grant Morrison’s take on the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh that could easily be a Moon Knight story. Moon Knight stories that have tried to tackle his mental health have more often than not still focused on the superhero aspect of the character, treating his disorder as something that he needs to overcome to save the day. Moon Knight stories are nearly always framed as superhero stories where his illness is portrayed more as his kryptonite than a matter of health and wellness. Lemire and Smallwood, along with a host of other cartoonists, take that battle for dominance that’s always happening in Moon Knight’s mind and put it front and center in this story as Moon Knight really is trapped in his own mind in this book.

The experience of reading Moon Knight is most likely a poor analog for anyone suffering this mental disorder but it’s also may be one of the closest experiences to the feeling of not being in control of your own being that you can get in comics. Opening in a mental institution, Moon Knight has to question what’s real and what isn’t as he questions his own sanity as it appears that one of his archenemies has him trapped. It feels like any standard story that tries to define mental health as a struggle between reality and illusion but at some point, the question of “reality” gets tossed by the wayside as the book shifts its focus toward the struggle of sickness and health. You probably don’t even know where it happens— maybe at about the part where 3 different artists start drawing the different aspects of Moon Knight’s personalities— but when you do realize it, the point of this story shifts from being another Moon Knight story into being a story about completeness and health that uses superhero metaphors to illustrate the all-to-real battles that many people fight on a daily basis.

Art by Francesco Francavilla

It’s weird to think that there are no other characters in this book but Moon Knight and his multiple personalities. As drawn by Wilfredo Torres, Francesco Francavilla, and James Stokoe, the story aspects of Steven Grant, Jake Lockley, and Marc Spector provide action and excitement to the story even as those aspects struggle to define who the real person is. Their story portions are part of the symptoms of Moon Knight’s illness while Smallwood and Bellaire draw and color the difficult road to wellness that the character is trying to navigate. While Moon Knight’s supporting characters appear in the book, there’s no real Bushmaster, no real Frenchie, no real Gena, and more importantly no real Marlene in this story even if they are featured in Moon Knight’s experiences throughout the book. If you’re a longtime Moon Knight fan, those names may mean something to you from his third-tier Marvel mythology. But for Moon Knight, each of those people represents an aspect of his multiple personalities, memory fragments of the many people that he is. Projections of them appear throughout the book, guiding Moon Knight’s journey through a mish-mashed symbolical landscape but that’s all they are- projections of memories that have contributed to the life and adventures of Moon Knight.

Even with the other artists contributing art, Smallwood and colorist Jordie Bellaire chronicle this journey from sickness to health with a naturalism that makes Moon Knight’s struggles all the more relatable. Torres, Francavilla, and Stokoe are there to illustrate the fracturing of a mind and perception but Smallwood and Bellaire's art unifies these many personalities, bringing them together in the guise of Mr. Knight, the white-suited and simple masked version of Moon Knight. Even when Mr. Knight seemingly steps into the cosmos to interact with the Egyptian gods, Smallwood and Bellaire create a visual identity to the story that unifies the healing.
Art by Greg Smallwood

As the story itself has a number of personalities, they all come back to the vision of Smallwood and Bellaire who really define the conflicts in Moon Knight’s head. As Lemire is not writing a standard superhero story of good versus evil, Smallwood and Bellaire’s artwork is not limited by the standard props of superhero comics. And while parts of this book use the basic language of mainstream comics, most of the art tries to use that language to show the inner battle that Moon Knight is fighting. Sometimes it looks familiar and benign but at other times, the art becomes disorienting and difficult to contextualize within the boundaries of what we think clarity and health should be.

Reading Moon Knight is like being in a constantly shifting dream. Everything looks and feels like it could be real even as a small voice in the back of our minds screams that nothing is real. Everything becomes the machinations of a mind that is forming its own reality. Only for most of us, we wake up and reality does take over as the dream fades into memory. Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire show us that for some people, it’s not as easy as waking up to find some semblance of normal again.

Moon Knight
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Greg Smallwood
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Additional art by Wilfredo Torres & Michael Garland, 
Francesco Francavilla and James Stokoe
Lettered by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

October 31, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic GHOST Shop October 31st, 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:

Man-Eaters #2 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk, published by Image Comics
Man-Eaters is funny, emotional, highly political, as subtle as a sledgehammer, and incredibly relevant in 2018.  This story takes place in a near future where a condition known as Toxoplasmosis X causes women to turn into savage large cats that kill a number of people. So, menstruation is banned, and all women are given hormones to prevent it.  The first issue was excellent, and I'm looking forward to more. 

Shanghai Red #5 by Christopher Sebela, Joshua Hixson and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, published by Image Comics
This is the final issue of an absolutely terrific miniseries. If you're looking for a historical revenge epic that's dramatic, intense and thoughtful, look no further than Shanghai Red.  Chris Sebela writes the hell out of this book, and Josh Hixson is a serious talent on art. One of my favorite books of 2018.

X-Men Grand Design Second Genesis TP by Ed Piskor, published by Marvel Comics
X-Men Grand Design is an ambitious concept. Creator Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree) has attempted to take years of X-Men chronology and make sense of it and present it in a unified history. And I think he's quite successful, with his gorgeous unique art style and great attention to detail. I loved the first oversized collection, and so I am looking forward to picking this up as well.

Neil's Picks:

Bone Parish #4 by Cullen Bunn, Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimaraes published by Boom! Studios

See I told you I had a thing for Bunn’s work (see last week's picks). That much so Bone Parish is slowly becoming one of my tops picks of 2018. I never expected it to be as good as it actually is but Bunn once again expertly handles a horror tale like no one else. Is there anyone else out there that can write so many different styles of horror? If so, then please let me know. The intensity of the series has grown with each issue, and with things becoming increasingly dangerous for the Winter family, I don’t see this one ending well. But for the time being am intrigued to see how Bunn handles the intricacies of said family. And let’s not forget Scharf’s art and Guimaraes' colours which adds to the sinister dark tone of this series.

Wytches Bad Egg Halloween Special #1 (One Shot) by Scott Snyder, Jock and Matt Hollingsworth published by Image Comics

Having not heard any news for when the next arc in the Wytches series will appear. I am incredibly excited to see that this one-shot serves as a standalone story and a prequel to the next arc in series. One that came as a complete surprise when I saw it on this weeks release list. Snyder has certainly been busy over at DC, and that’s good for fans of Batman and the Justice League. For me though it’s always been his work on The Wake and Wytches that have stood out. Bringing the original creative team back, with Jock on pencils and Hollingsworth on colours is also something to shout about. Wytches was one of the best horror comics of its day, and hopefully once again this creative have something planned for us.

October 24, 2018

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Halloween Horror: Saladin Ahmed's Abbott from Boom! Studios

Written by Saladin Ahmed
Line Art by Sami Kivela
Color Art by Jason Wordie
Letters by Jim Campbell
Published by Boom! Studios

Detroit in the early 70s isn't an easy place to be if you're a black woman. It's even worse if you're a black woman reporter who isn't afraid to run stories about police brutality. But vague racism and sexism is nothing compared to the demonic forces looking to destroy her in this amazing mini-series that's out now in collected form from Boom! Studios.

October 23, 2018

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Catch It at the Comic Shop October 24th, 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:

Isola vol. 1 by Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher, MSassyk and Aditya Bidikar, published by Image Comics
Isola is a series that I think will appeal to fans of manga (the creators note that this will appeal to fans of Miyazaki movies - I haven't seen any so I can't speak to that), stories with not a lot of words, and stories with ridiculously beautiful art. It's a story of myth and magic and adventure through the forest. There is some seriously jaw-droppingly beautiful art in this book.  Karl Kerschl is that good of an artist, and Msassyk provides incredible colors. I think this is a story that will read very well collected.

Bloodstrike Brutalists by Michel Fiffe, published by Image Comics
This will appeal to fans of the 90's Image Bloodstrike comic, and will also appeal to fans of Michel Fiffe's art generally. He's got a remarkable style that feels like nothing else to me. I wasn't a reader of the old Bloodstrike comics but I still enjoyed this book. It's a gritty black-ops team, they have weird and violent missions. There, that's all you need to know. Anyway, it's a fun read and Fiffe does incredible work. 

Dead Kings #1 by Steve Orlando and Matthew Dow smith, published by Aftershock Comics
This sounds like a futuristic dystopian story, which I'm not normally drawn to, but it sounds weird enough to be really interesting. Smith is an excellent artist, and Orlando is a very talented storyteller, whether with his own individual projects like Undertow or his terrific DC work in books like Midnighter or Justice League of America. He tells edgy, interesting stories, and that makes this a book worth checking out.

The Amazing Spider-Man #8 by Nick Spencer and Humberto Ramos, published by Marvel Comics
I really can't say enough good things about this book since Nick Spencer has taken over as writer. Forget Hydra-Cap or anything else like that, and remember that Spencer is the writer of one of the funniest comics in years, Superior Foes of Spider-Man (drawn by the incomparable Steve Lieber). Amazing Spider-Man has been a fun, entertaining, back-to-basics Spidey story, with excellent art and fun characters. Spencer's voice for Peter is excellent, this is worth a look.

Neil's Picks:

Cold Spots #3 by Cullen Bunn and Mark Torres, published by Image Comics
No one writes horror comics quite like Bunn, the guy certainly has the gift of “creeping you the hell out”. Cold Spots is no different. If you love anything that has a supernatural mystery vibe then this is for you. Bunn once again creates a gripping plot with fleshed out characters that suck you in from the off. Add to that Mark Torres’s haunting artwork and you have a creepy modern-day ghost story of the highest order. With elements of The Wicker Man and Poltergeist, Bunn is once again out to make your skin crawl. You may think twice when the air around you suddenly goes cold in the future. You will see something quite regular when it comes to my weekly picks, Cullen Bunn features heavily. This series is a perfect example of why.

Aliens Essential Comics Vol 1 TPB by Mark Verheiden, Mark A. Nelson, Sam Kieth and more, published by Dark Horse Comics
After the likes of Amazing Spider-man and X-men, Aliens comics were the top of my list in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Being in my mid to late teens and experiencing Aliens for the first time on VHS, my appetite for more content of the lovable Xenomorph grew. When seeing Mark Verheiden’s Aliens: Outbreak on the shelves, my eyes almost exploded.
Set 10 years after Aliens, Outbreak follows Newt and Hicks (sorry no Ripley) as they struggle to come to terms with their experiences on LV-426. Everything is here, scientists wanting to use Xenomorphs as bio-weapons, facehuggers, Colonial Marines, Alien Queen you name it Verheiden covered it. Add to that love, loss, despair and you have a very human story. Nelson’s artwork on Outbreak in stunning. His Xenomorphs, human characters and ships are incredibly detailed. Adding to the fact that in my opinion, this book is the best Aliens story ever put into comic form (sorry Dead Orbit, but it is).
I won’t go into details on the other stories covered in this release. But if you have a huge love for the Aliens franchise and have never picked up these early stories, get this from your comic shop tomorrow!
(Sidenote: Due to these stories being canon for the franchise, Alien 3 sort of changed the way these books were republished. In later editions, Newt and Hicks names were changed to Billie and Wilks. Ridiculous I know but thought I best give you a heads up.)

Sean's Picks:

Isola vol. 1 by Karl Kerschl, Brenden Fletcher, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Image Comics
A mythic place of the dead referred to as Isola is the impending destination for our cast of characters here as they lead us on a journey of fantasy told with visually stunning and decompressed art throughout. This is a story of courage. This is a story of fear. This is a story none such like so many others trying to over explain itself into existence. This first volume of Isola brings a visually stunning
masterpiece alongside a simple narrative that drives home a most compelling story of fantasy and the like. I binge read this on a sunny afternoon one day last week, and it was an exquisitely fun ride. I
enjoyed this one and I am excited to see where this creative team takes us with it.

Abbott Vol 1 by Saladin Ahmed, Sami Kivelä, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell, published by Boom! Studios
This is a gem of a book. It's solid and it's drama. It's spellbinding and it's gripping. It's timely and it's transparent. It's classic so much that it's relevant. It is everything you could ask for in a story told in nearly any format. For this story in particular, it's the 1970's in Detroit and we follow the life of a badass black woman as she battles the occult and solves the unsolvable as a journalist for one of the top newspapers of its time. The beginning hits way harder than the middle and ending, but don't let that dissuade you from this book come Wednesday because the first several pages of this 5 issue
mini series is some of the best I've seen all year for a debut. With Halloween just nearing one week away I suggest everyone who reads this to then immediately head out and pick up this book.. but don't just take my word for it.. Rob's got a lengthy dive into the book upcoming. [This is why it's not on my list today!-Rob] So if it's not my heads-up that tips you off, be sure to stick around for Big Rob's exploration of it coming soon. [I...don't think anyone has ever called me that before, Sean. -Big R?]

Army of Darkness Halloween Special by Chad Bowers & Chris Sims, Edin Marron, Chris O’Halloran, Benito Cereno, Sam Lotfi, Dee Cunniffe, and Taylor Esposito, published by Dynamite Entertainment
Holy shit, Bruce Campbell. Ash Williams is back, folks, with a vengeance and a chainsaw. With this
dearly beloved one-shot we've got two shots of Ash in two raucously haunting stories that will disappoint no one with any amount of expectations for the premise. And for all you kiddos out there who only know Bruce Campbell as the snooty usher in Sam Raimi's adaptation of Spider-Man 2... well then..find out how to watch one of the two Evil Dead films (sorry parents!) and then come back and get this comic to extend the fun! I cannot stress this enough: if you are remotely familiar with The Evil Dead or Army of Darkness films then I swear to god you will not be disappointed and thank me immediately thereafter once you finish reading this one-shot Halloween special so graciously put together and distributed by Dynamite Entertainment.

Burnouts #2 by Dennis Culver, Geoffo, Lauren Perry, and Dave Dwonch, published by Image
The first issue of Burnouts created so much buzz (see what I did there?) about itself that it became one of my weekly recommends one week last month. This week the follow up to the debut comes out and advances the premise around a pasture of teenagers defying their parents and defeating alien invasions.. but the devil's in the details when they realize getting blasted is the only way to fight the
impending doom that is the alien invasion. Silly. Stupid. Fun. Awesome! This comic gets a high five from me (and another pun) and this one comes with a strong recommend to anyone looking to soften
there palate with so many hard-hitting heavy comics out there these days.

Shadowman #8 by Andy Diggle, Renato Guedes, and others, published by Valiant
Andy Diggle just ended the first story arc and is now beginning a new one with the eighth issue of Shadowman. With so many played out origin stories and overtold premises it's refreshing to see someone's bold take on a new supernatural someone with the abilities to tackle the unknown. I'll be following this story to it's end.. and finger's crossed that end doesn't come anytime soon. I've grown tired of caped and cowled comics lately. They all feel corporately contrived. I'm glad we have books like Black Hammer and Shadowman to show us how to look at these characters differently.

Rob's Picks:

Fante Bukowski 3 by Noah Van Sciver, published by Fantagraphics
One of the things Noah is best at is creating characters who don't understand how awful they are. Fante Bukowski is his crowning achievement in this regard--he's a "struggling, misunderstood genius" who is actually a hack trying to emulate his literary heroes--who probably aren't anyone you want to model yourself after in the first place. In the first two volumes, Noah's ability to skewer everyone you wish you didn't know in creative circles was flawless. I've no doubt he's got big plans for this final installment, drawn in his distinctive, tight paneling style. Get the other two if you can, and make sure you read this one, too. You'll laugh at Fante--and cringe because you know him at every single damned con.

FTL Y'all: Tales from the Age of the $200 Warp Drive, by Various Creators, published by Iron Circus
The premise is that space travel is really cheap.
The publisher is Spike.
The creators include Evan Dahm, Blue Delliquanti, Rachel Ordway (Jerry's daughter), and Panel Patter alumni Maia Kobabe.
How can you not be excited about that? Everyone who knows anything about anthology comics knows that Spike is one of the best in the business at making anthologies, and a sci-fi theme in her hands is not to be missed. The idea of space being available to all is such an uplifting one, and Spike's ability to bring together creators of all walks of life into the mix ensure the variety of stories will keep readers turning the page for how Evan, Blue, Rachel, Maia, and a ton of others approach the idea of anyone's jump into the space race.

Banana Sunday Full-Color Reprint by Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin, published by Oni Press
Banana Sunday was my first introduction to the amazing, Eisner-winning Bandette team of Coover and Tobin. Together and separately, they're two of the best in the business. And this was their start. It's the story of Kirby Steinberg, a young woman who's responsible for three talking primates. Didn't we all go through that phase? While Kirby dodges integrating her school life with keeping folks away from her simian friends, we watch Coover's art develop on the page and Paul's signature scripting wit shine through. These two have always been amazing creators. Now's your chance to see that first-hand--and in color, too. Don't miss it!