June 19, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop June 19th, 2019

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:

Usagi Yojimbo #1 by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth, published by IDW
While taking in a stage play with unnaturally good puppetry, Usagi runs into an old friend, Sasuke, who reportedly hunts demons. It looks like sword-wielder will once again be dragged into a battle outside his comfort level as a brand new era of Stan Sakai's epic series begins. It's really not hard to recommend any Usagi story, but I wanted to highlight the move to IDW, partly because it's a new adventure for the character, but also because it's a new adventure for the series, which has been at Dark Horse for an extremely long time. The IDW move makes me think we'll be seeing more crossovers with his teenage friends, but for now, enjoy Sakai drawing demon fights and puppet shows in his distinctive style and drawing us further into a world I never tire of reading about.

Clue Candlestick #2 by Dash Shaw, published by IDW
There's been a murder in the Boddy Mansion, and it's not who you think! As the remaining guests and their intrepid host try to find the killer, we learn a lot about the mysterious Ms. Scarlet, but is the focus on her merely a red herring by Shaw? This series is really strange in all the best ways--Shaw varies his style, parodies the "they're in heaven now" cartoons we see in newspapers, makes all of the characters feel linked together in a way that doesn't feel forced, and of course, takes every opportunity to visually evoke the board game. He creates fake games "for the kids" and even claims the clues are all there for anyone who cares to find the culprit before the story ends. I love that IDW, in harmony with their licensing team, finds ways to make what could be boring cash-ins some of the best independent comics being written and drawn right now.

Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #3 by Adam Glass, Olivia Cuartero-Briggs, Hayden Sherman, and Sal Cipriano, published by Aftershock
These concepts either work for me or they don't, and after the first issue, I'm all-in for this one, though I admit at least 75% of that is because of Hayden Sherman, who knocked the first issue out of the park, leading with his Karloff likeness and ending with that scene in the lab. Now we're approaching issue three, and Mary's getting herself too deeply involved. We know this can't end well, and watching how Glass, Cuartero-Briggs, Sherman, and Cipriano (who gets props for making the lettering feel like an essay but keeping it legible) drag the historical figures into Shelley's own masterpiece is catnip for an old English Major/horror fan. As long as Sherman remains at the top of his hyper-angular game, keeping the panels jarring, I'll keep reading--and so should you.

Hexed Omnibus by Michael Alan Nelson, Emma Rios, Dan Mora, and others, published by Boom! Studios
A strange art dealer has many mystical dealings, and her top employee could very well be even more dangerous than the artifacts kept hidden away among the ordinary pieces in this (relatively) older series from Boom! that's getting an archive treatment. It's been a few years since I read these as they came out, but it's Emma Rios and Dan Mora on the art duties, and that means it's absolutely gorgeous. They both do an amazing job depicting the shift from the mundane to the magical, which is a really key piece of this series. The story itself has a few hitches here and there--it's not really groundbreaking in terms of magic having costs, losing yourself to power, a figure manipulated on all sides, etc.--but it's fun and the characters have distinctive voices. I'm hoping to re-read this now that it's all in one place, but those who enjoy urban fantasy comics who missed out originally really need to have a look at this one.

Sean's Picks:

Clue: Candlestick #2 by Dash Shaw, published by IDW
If there were a creator able to successfully adapt the board game Clue into comic format it would be Dash Shaw. There’s no question that pairing this title with this creator was anything short of intentional. This is a murder mystery based heavily on the game itself and tells the story in a way only Shaw can. His quirky artistic style and innovative approach to storytelling give readers a level of comic not seen nearly enough. Being that this is a story of mystery that depends on previous chapters to fully grasp the ongoing suspense you would benefit from having already read earlier installments of the title (though needn’t be the case to simply enjoy a bizarre exploration of Clue issue by issue). Read this comic and play along as we try to piece together the clues (pun? last weekend was Father’s Day — I’m allowed one dad joke here). Most likely readers will either love Shaw’s art style or hate it. I, for one, love what he has done in the past and am considering this latest of his near the top of my must-read stack each month. From Professor Plum to Miss Scarlet, we’re setting up the pieces (ok.. two bad dad puns) for a twisted version of the classic story of Clue.

Kirk's Picks:

Jodorowsky & Boucq’s Twisted Tales by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq, pubished by Humanoids
Jodorowsky is a mad man. A genius for sure. But also a mad man with wonderful ideas that can only be captured and done justice in graphic novel form that even his film career couldn’t contain. Here he’s teaming up with frequent collaborator French cartoonist, Francois Boucq. I really enjoyed their previous collaboration Bouncer, that had an original tone thanks to Boucq illustrating a dreary western world with his frenchsthetic comic style. Twisted Tales finds Jodorowsy feeding poetry and short story prose to be interpreted by Francois in what should be another wonderful product of their surreal imaginations.

Mike's Picks:

Usagi Yojimbo 1 by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth, published by IDW Publishing 
I’m a National League guy, so I don’t like the DH. You can probably infer that I’m a little skeptical about the addition of color to the world of Miyomato Usagi, one of my all-time favorite characters. I didn’t get into Usagi until Sakai had already moved the series to Dark Horse, and I only know the Fantagraphics connection from the reprints of the early volumes, but it doesn’t seem like the move will change the tone of the series at all. Sakai ended his Dark Horse run with a re-numbered mini-series entitled The Hidden, which itself was the culminating chapter of a series of great Inspector Ishida team-up stories. Sakai begins his new chapter of IDW tales in a new direction that helps to celebrate Japanese puppet theatre, and Sakai has always excelled at paying homage to the intricacies of Japanese culture.

Little Bird 4 by Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram, and Matt Hollingsworth, published by Image Comics
Little Bird is my favorite current series. It is a wonderfully original series, and last issue marked a sharp turn in the direction of the series that has me incredibly intrigued about how the series will wrap up over the next two installments. Bertram has a flowier, Chris Burnham-esque/2000 AD style with a dose of ultraviolence, and Matt Hollingsworth is an exceptional partner who always allows the line art to shine. I enjoy the contrasts Poelgeest has built in the series, namely Canadian sentimentality vs. American Imperialism and First Nation traditions vs. Christianity. There are hundreds of post-apocalyptic and/or theocratic polemics out there, but Little Bird rises above the pack due to its specific combination of concepts and the on-point execution therein.  

Batman by Grant Morrison Omnibus Volume 2 by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, and Frank Quitely, published by DC Comics
Morrison’s Batman run is one of my favorite superhero stories, and this second omnibus volume (I guess there are going to be three?) contains the remarkable Batman and Robin series, showcasing Dick and Damian as the new dynamic due as well as the off-the-wall prime Morrison Return of Bruce Wayne. While the ultimate heartbreaker of Morrison’s Bat-run is the roadblock the New 52 provided for Batman, Inc, you can forget that eventual letdown with this volume. Knowing where Morrison eventually takes the direction of the series, that Batman is indeed a mythos and both inevitable and eternal, makes reading these issues in the middle of the narrative a different experience than during their initial publication. Morrison’s run still continues to drive the direction of Batman, from Tynion’s Gotham Knights, to Snyder’s Metal, to Tomasi’s debut arc on Detective Comics. The stories in this collection are an important part of the Batman narrative, and they hold up out of series context perhaps more so than any other point in Morrison’s run

James' Picks:

Invisible Kingdom #4 by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward, published by Dark Horse Comics/Berger Books
I’m really enjoying this series so far. It’s a smart book set in an alien solar system, but the issues feel very realistic and present. There’s a giant corporation selling everything, and a powerful religious order, and people on the run from both of them are going to be figuring out some really big mystery. Come for the interesting story from Wilson, stay for the wonderful art from Christian Ward, who makes anything and everything more interesting.

Black Badge #1 by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins and Hilary Jenkins, published by Boom! Studios
I’ve enjoyed this weird, dark, engaging story about a secret group of Boy Scouts carrying out some pretty unorthodox missions. Right now Kindt and Jenkins are building out the world, and Kindt is better than just about anyone at building out a weird, secretive and complex world. Jenkins’ slightly dreamlike art is a great fit for this sort of story where reality doesn’t seem quite real. 

Gideon Falls #14 by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, published by Image Comics
I love the fact that Gideon Falls keeps taking twists and turns and getting weirder and weirder. Sorrentino is going places I didn’t know he could go as an artist - some unusual more comic art, and other art that gets completely abstract and psychedelic. This started as what seemed like “just” a really interesting religious horror mystery story, but there’s a lot more weird cosmic stuff going on here as well. Lemire is telling a very cool story, and Sorrentino together with the incredible Dave Stewart on art is an amazing team. 

June 17, 2019

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Discovering the Aquicorn Cove with Katie O'Neill

Aquicorn Cove
by Katie O'Neill
published by Oni Press

Some may say it is a good time to be alive. Others might beg to differ as their indifference to compromise is overshadowed by a perspective all their own. A constant us versus them narrative seems to be heavy handed and steering the boat. As I attempt to mend the social divide, allow me to briefly explore a recently published graphic novel by Katie O’Neill entitled Aquicorn Cove. It was published in late 2018 and served purpose to remind its readers that collection of friendship should always be more important than a consumption of abundance, especially when that abundance hurts who you are with. Also a reminder and frequent theme in the pages of Aquicorn Cove was a mindfulness to how fragile the human existence is when we carelessly take for granted the many treasures in this world that it has so graciously given us.

It is routinely human nature to (though probably in our subconscious) selfishly ignore opportunities for selfless acts of kindness to counteract the negative stream of biblical stone-throwing. Ironically the case, since we are often best suited the target rather than an eager name-caller casting the first stone. Guilty as charged, I will be first to admit that I fall guilty to this way of life. Call it a pessimistic perspective, but I see it as an opportunity to improve self if it is the bad that you focus instead of inherently showcasing the good. This book was given me a reminder that these little acts matter, and the kindness and empathetic gestures we give (even when inconvenient) go much further than what you may otherwise expect.

Rarely does a comic stir such vivid depictions of personal accountability in a way that Aquicorn Cove does. Katie O’Neill challenges the reader to filter their own selfish desire of normalcy as the message of the story puts focus on the greater importance to give rather than to simply take. It provides new reminders to a perspective authored originally by the phrase your grandmother once told you when she said “do unto others”. 

This story takes place in a small coastal town after a heavy storm had passed leaving behind what a storm typically does; broken windows, destroyed crops, compromised homes, and an overall disrupted way of living. At the beginning of the story a young child, named Luna, and her father come to visit her fish farmer Aunt Mae and while there they help rebuild the town and enjoy it while connecting with the friendly natives. Quickly you learn that Luna’s mother was someone she held very near to her heart but who was also no longer part of her life. Her mother had a deep connection to the oceanm one which unearthed a memory in Luna that began a trail of a journey toward discovering a community that had been lost. The community on land had always been singing the same song, but it was the communion it once had with the ocean that was beginning to suffer causing more than the fish to take notice.

At its core, this is a children’s graphic novel but this is so much more than a childish story. Katie O’Neill utilizes the characters in this book to illustrate a vision that we cannot live without nature and nature cannot survive without us. It is a merging of two narratives that define our existence. Aunt Mae struggles to understand repercussions of her evolving fishing techniques as she often over-indulges nature in order to help her community survive. Luna struggles to realize the importance of this necessity as she over-empathizes with the aquicorn and their cove along with all the other creatures of the sea, just as her mother once did. Through time and some chance encounters with some figures of the past, each opposing perspective learn the importance of a shared inhabitance brought together through the co-dependence of a forgotten friendship. 

More important to the story in Aquicorn Cove is the childlike illustrations that paint every page. Few words tell this story, and with the vividly simple and childishly adorable landscapes and characters it becomes nearly impossible to avoid a simultaneous tear as the book comes to an end when Luna summons the ocean creatures with her own. Pass this book on to those younger than you. Pass this book up to others who may not understand it’s intent. Plant a seed. Read a book. Collect only what you consume. Coexist. 

June 14, 2019

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Comixology and Kodansha Bring Back Mars as a Digital Original

I've been running Panel Patter for almost 11 years now, and honestly, it's hard to get me super-excited for PR these days. But when you announce that one of my all-time favorite Manga series, Mars, is coming back into English, you've got my attention.

Here's the premise of Mars, per Comixology and Kodansha:
MARS by Fuyumi Soryo (15 volumes)
Are you ready for some ... drama? ComiXology Originals and Kodansha Comics revive an all-time, long out-of-print shojo manga classic — the high-school psychodrama MARS by Fuyumi Soryo. With even more twists and turns then you probably remember, Soryo's beautifully illustrated shojo manga turned some young comics readers heads inside-out with hysterical plots revolving around the traumatic secret histories of its seemingly poised protagonists. Art class was never quite like this ... 
Superpopular motorcycle racer Rei and shy, neurotic art student Kira are worlds apart ... until one fateful day brings them together. Rei stumbles upon Kira in the harassing hands of her sleazy art teacher and saves the quiet girl from his clutches. And when the resident school pretty boy plants a kiss on a statue of Mars in the studio, Kira finds herself drawn in and even summons up the nerve to ask him to model for her!
 I think Mars was one of the first shojo series I ever read, and it changed my life. I've kinda burned out on the genre, only really dipping my toe back into it last year when I was prepping for my San Diego Comic Con panel about Best/Worst Manga (Which I will be on again this year! Who's ready to boo me this time?). I immediately fell in love (so to speak) with the themes, characters, and art styles, all of which are at their peak (in my opinion) in Mars. Fuyumi Soryo's linework is incredibly beautiful, as you can see here:

And here:

Look at the hair! So soft and thin and just a tad unrealistic, just like a television soap opera. You can stare it it for hours! Look at how it ends up in their eyes! Look at me use too many exclamation points!

Additionally, there's the wide, expressive eyes, and just enough other details to keep you into the story (a problem other shojo can fall into--characters without enough backgrounds always causes me to get distracted). It's really, really well done from an artistic perspective. CLAMP will likely always be number one in that category, but Soryo is really, really good, and if you haven't seen Mars yet, you're in for a visual treat.

Still, while art drives a comic, you have to care about the characters, too, and my (admittedly, not recent) memory is that Rei and Kira are incredibly compelling to follow, partly because of the complex subplots alluded to in the text above. (I greatly appreciate "even more twists and turns then you probably remember" --though it does remind me I'm well past the target audience age!)

The series (and also You're My Pet, which I don't think ever showed up at my library) are available now as part of the Comixology Originals line, in partnership with long-time Japanese comics publisher Kodansha. They've had great success bringing back Beck this was, and I'm excited to see more manga I either remember fondly (or wanted to read, but never got the chance) showing up.

I can't recommend Mars highly enough. I know some of you are paper-only, but if you read comics digitally, and you enjoy romantic stories of any kind, you're going to dig Mars. I don't know if you can count a re-issue on your 2019 favorites lists, but if you think it's fair game, I better start seeing Mars on those lists come December...

June 12, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop June 12th, 2019

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:

Silver Surfer: Black #1 by Donn Cates and Tradd Moore, published by Marvel Comics
The last Silver Surfer comic I read from Marvel was the conclusion of the Slott/Allred run on the book. And that book was one of my favorite comics of the last 10 or so years. So any new Silver Surfer book has a high bar to clear. Particularly with regard to art. Mike and Laura Allred created some of the craziest, most beautiful art I've seen in a comic. Thankfully, there's a very strong team on the book, that being writer (and rising comics star) Donny Cates and artist Tradd Moore. I mean, I can basically stop right there. That's a heck of a creative team. Cates has shown his chops on recent Marvel books like Thanos and Guardians of the Galaxy, and he very successfully balanced cosmic action and intimate drama in God Country, one of the best miniseries of the last few years (my review here). And Tradd Moore? Well, he draws some of the coolest art you'll ever see in your life. His sense of action and motion is peerless, his imagination is boundless, and I feel like he keeps getting better and better (my review of The New World here). Anyway, suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to this one.

Event Leviathan #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, published by DC Comics
They've been building up to this event for a while now, in the pages of Action Comics.  The secret organization Leviathan has been eliminating all of the other secret organizations in the DC universe (Argus, the DEO, etc.) and Leviathan's usual boss (Talia Al Ghul) has been kicked out of the organization and left for dead, so the question is, who is Leviathan now? What do they want? Who's the secret masked leader? There's a lot to learn, and I'm excited to get going on this series. Bendis and Maleev are a fantastic team and have been for years. Most recently I was a HUGE fan of The Infamous Iron Man where, for a time, Doctor Doom took on the "Iron Man" moniker. Really great story that I highly recommend. Anyway, this series should be fun.

Immortal Hulk #19 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, published by Marvel Comics
If you're still not reading Immortal Hulk, you're really missing out. This is a book that's unlike any other superhero comics that I'm reading. That's because it's not really a superhero comic. It is, at its heart, a horror comic about a monster. Ewing and Bennett have been really building out an amazing, terrifying look at the Hulk and the people and monsters that come in and out of his life. Each issue feels like a very satisfying read, but is also part of a much larger story. There's a lot to get here and a lot that is implicitly or explicitly religious or metaphysical. I think this is a book that will reward multiple re-readings. Bennett's art is incredible and sometimes horrifying. Seriously, there is some legit terrifying body horror in this book. It's not for the squeamish. I think Al Ewing is one of the best writers Marvel has right now (along with Kelly Thompson and Jason Aaron, and Jonathan Hickman when he comes back) and I'm excited to see him flex his muscles in a different direction than he has previously at Marvel.

Neil's Picks:

Life and Death of Toyo Harada #4 by Joshua Dysart, Cafu, Doug Braithwaite and Adam Pollina published by Valiant Comics 
Another week, another Valiant title, that's me in a nutshell. Voraciously picking up all the new Valiant books and loving every single one of them. As with my pick last week (Fallen World), The Life and Death of Toyo Harada is another great introduction to a character from the Valiant Universe. Within the first three issues, the earlier "life" and origin of Harada is handled exceptionally well. Selectively dropping in flashback panels and pages, whilst never greatly taking away from the main story. Having seen humanity cause nothing but destruction to itself, Harada believes his psionic powers and influence are the only chance it has to survive. Writer Joshua Dysart crafts a story in which you side with the villain Harada, giving him a simple, yet intelligent master plan. Think Thanos in the MCU. Life and Death also does something that never usually appeals to me and that is switching up on artists. Throughout this run we've had Cafu, Adam Pollina, Doug Braithwaite and more. But due to the flashbacks I mentioned earlier, this works incredibly well. Giving each artist a chance to shine with their own personal style. Be it a tragic WW2 experience, a trippy near death experience or the main story, the art flows from page to page.

Sean's Picks:

She Could Fly: The Lost Pilot #3 by Christopher Cantwell, Martin Morazzo, & Miroslav Mrva, published by Dark Horse
I have a new agreement with myself to not oversaturate the good I see simply to overcompensate for all of the bad that I happen to feel. Gone are the weeks where I bury you with a long list of recommendations which may only serve purpose to overwhelm the comic reader of any type. Starting this week I will mention a single comic that I find a must-read: this week it is Cantwell, Morazzo and Mrva's latest issue of the second chapter in their She Could Fly miniseries. This second act has been a dense and troubling read, taking characters like Luna and Bill from the first chapter and bringing them to much darker places than we had previously known existed. This story reads as a nightmare come to life dressed-up and costumed as an afterschool special teen drama. (Remember those?). Luna's mental illness is front-and-center here and Bill is at a major breaking point in his character development. On another note, if Cantwell did NOT have Morazzo on illustrations I'm not entirely convinced that this book would have as much impact. He simply has a style all his own that makes the pages crawl and the characters breath with an agitated anxiety unlike any I've seen in modern comics. Not gonna lie, I'm pretty sure this book won't end uplifting in any sense of the word.. but the subject matter that it tackles rarely would anyway and for that it's worth grounding yourself in a slice of believable fiction. Check it out and enjoy!

Mike's Picks:

Robotech 21 by Simon Furman, Brenden Fletcher, Hendry Prasetya, Sarah Stone, and Jeff Spokes, published by Titan Comics
Titan has handled both its creator-owned and licensed properties very well, but none better than Robotech. Fans of the 80s amalgamation have been treated to a streamlined continuity that merges the three disparate adapted sources into a coherent mythos. Issue 21 features the addition of Brandon Fletcher and Sarah Stone to the creative team as the series enters its first “event” that promises to shake that newly established foundation of continuity. Since Furman jumped on board, Robotech has been a must read for me. The man gets giant robots. He just does. The addition of Brenden Fletcher and Sarah Stone has me intrigued for what kind of dualistic story the team has prepared.

Silver Surfer Black 1 by Donny Cates, Tradd Moore, and Dave Stewart, published by Marvel Comics
I’m the kind of person who would buy any Silver Surfer comic, but I’m especially intrigued by this series because of Tradd Moore. There’s something about his style, some sort of avant-garde approach to a Todd McFarlane or Rob Liefield larger than life style replete with thick, sinewy lines and heavy inks. It looks like this book will feature more of a middle ground between his cartoon style of The New World and all out Venom lunacy. Dave Stewart looks to help tap the requisite Kirby color palate, and his colors will likely provide the contrasting light/dark motif Cates wants to mine for this book.
Bronze Age Boogie 3 by Stuart Moore, Alberto Ponticelli, and Giulia Brusco 
The best parodies work to spoof things their authors hold dear in one way or another, and Bronze Age Boogie is that type of simultaneous blast of satire and celebration. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series even outside of its clever premise. Ponticelli’s art is expansive with a touch of animation style, a good fit for what has turned out to be a rather sprawling comic.

Kirk's Picks:

The Ride: Burning Desire #1 by Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard and Adam Hughes, published by Image Comics
Sexy, provocative, and over the top. I enjoy when my noir gets exploitative under the right circumstances and that concept lets this creative team push the boundaries in this book. A former Atlanta detective finishes her 15 year plea bargain prison sentence for murder, finds herself out on parole working at an exotic dance club as a bouncer and suddenly in possession of her dead partner’s hot rod. Included is a back-up story by Adam Hughes showcasing his trademark cheesecake slamming up against Pulp Fiction levels of mega-violence. The Ride has a long history of showcasing a rotating cast of creators as they try their hand at this book’s concept. As it celebrates it’s 15th anniversary, readers just discovering this for the first time will go searching for the readily available original trades. A mature and warped read done right.

Silver Surfer: Black #1 by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore, published by Marvel Comics
I’m already a massive fan of Cates and thoroughly enjoying how he’s writing the Cosmic side of Marvel. He’s keeping it fresh but honoring what made some of those stories feel so classic to long time readers. It’s probably why he’s being branded with the “superstar writer” status at the moment. Letting him take up Silver Surfer seems like an interesting move to me after Slott and Allred’s iconic run on the character. So I’m not sure what kind of Surfer to expect from this series. But all of that takes a back seat to Tradd Moore as the artist on this title. Tradd is arguably the best artist working in comics today with an ability to explore new territories and get experimental with his style with every new project. With lines like Moebius and an imagination like Kirby, there is an opportunity here to elevate the Cosmic side of Marvel to a place no one could have predicted.

June 11, 2019

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Roll the Bones with Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans and Clayton Cowles’ Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker

Maybe life is just a roll of the dice.  One minute, you’re riding high on a Friday night, hanging around a friend’s room, slaying some orcs and the next you and your friends go missing for two years.  No one hears anything from you until you show up on a dark road, missing one of your friends and unable to tell anyone where you were. And all because your friend rolled the wrong 20-sided die.  Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans, and Clayton Cowles open their Dungeon & Dragon-inspired fantasy Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker with those events as a group of high school kids get together on one of their 16th birthdays and find themselves trapped in a world that’s part Tolkien and part Edgar Rice Burroughs, fighting for their lives.  Missing for two years, they spend the next 25 years trying to rebuild their lives, unable to deal with the fact that they left one of their friends behind.
We’ve seen versions of this story that are just second-rate Tolkien tales, wearing the surface guise of his style of fantasy.  These novels filled countless bookstore shelves back in the 1980s. Those books had the magic, the characters, the tchotkes of the genre but mostly failed to do anything meaningful with them as they tried to imitate high and grand storytelling.  Generations removed from Tolkien’s epics, Gillen and Hans dabble in self-conscious reinvention of fantasy, taking the game of Dungeons and Dragons and making the act of playing it into reality. This is nothing new as back in the mid 1980s, there were three seasons of a cartoon about a group of friends who were transported to a fantastic world, where the game play became their adventures.
A thoroughly modern fantasy, Gillen and Hans use the instruments of fantasy to explore the traumas and emotional states of the characters.  In the quote unquote real world, the narrator Dominic is a despondent middle-aged man whose wife needs to defend him against the mother of his missing best friend.  But in the fantasy setting, Dominicbecomes Ash, “a diplomat with teeth. She’s like a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli.” This is his 16 year old fantasy and in the world of magic, she’s the team leader.  The others follow her as she displays a confidence and a cunning that doesn’t translate into a non-game world. But even then, nothing is as simple as “reality” and “fantasy” in this book.
Hans could paint a fantasy story with orcs, warriors, dwarves and mages and produce one of the best looking fantasy comics on the stands.  If this was truly just that, a straight-forward fantasy comic, she would be the perfect artist for it but she brings so much more to this than just being a paperback novel cover artist.  Her thick, moody colors set a tragic tone over the store that gives her character a great setting for their own tragedies. There’s a sadness, a survivor’s guilt, that weighs heavily on these characters that’s reflected in Hans’ paintings. Gillen’s writing expresses this turmoil but Hans’ art makes it gut wrenching.
The book is in a perpetual state of mourning the past; of mourning the children they were and the adults they’ve grown up to be.  It mourns the loss of magic, or at least the loss of the excitement of it, for an understanding of power and responsibility. Stepping into this role-playing world, Gillen and Hans make that loss more real as the characters have to face this division of who they are and who they wanted to be.  Their game-playing avatars are the people they imagine themselves to be, full of potential and greatness. At the age of 16, Ash and the others got to live that life for two years before being thrust back into their regular lives.
In Dominic/Ash, we see this trickiness of identity, the conflict between identity and identification, that’s brought up but deflected by the character in the story.  They’re not ready to talk about it yet. But none of the other players have quite as complex of a personal conflict as their role-playing avatars are clearer reflection of who they are.  The other game-play avatars are more obvious extensions and wish-fulfillment of the players, where not much separates who they are from who they want to be. Ash is more of a departure but the story leaves it open whether Ash is that same kind of reflection of the player or more of a true image of who Domnic is.  The conflict between perception and reality, of which is more true than the other, ultimately defines the conflicts of this book. The fantasy elements give the story a wrapper that slowly unveils the true drama in Gillen and Hans’ work.
Good games are stories and reflect some aspect of reality, for both good and bad.,  Ideally, games allow us to be the best versions of ourselves. So in a bit of high-school wish fulfillment, this group gets to define themselves, a diplomat, a warrior, a cyberpunk, a god-trapping atheist and a good ole boy.  This is who they want to be but maybe the game master knows them better and recast them as a dictator, a knight, a newbie, a rebel and a fool. With these roles cast, Gillen and Hans explore whose views of their identities are more accurate, the game players or the game master?
Die Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker
Written by Kieron Gillen
Painted by Stephanie Hans
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

Note:  A previous version of this review accidentally mis-identified the character Dominic as "Soloman,"   Soloman is the friend that they originally left behind in the world of the Die while Dominic is Ash in the game playing world.

June 10, 2019

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Black is the Color by Julia Gfrorer

Written and Illustrated by Julie Gfrorer
Published by Fantagraphics

When a ship's captain decides that they need to shed a few crew members to survive, two men are set adrift. One of them dies slowly, tempted and tortured by a mermaid in lovely tale of gothic horror for which Gfrorer's style is perfect.

From the opening pages, we see Gforer's dark sense of humor. When one of the sailors asks why they aren't just killed instead of being set adrift, the captain replies that "Now none of us wants to do murder here" --fully aware that his actions are effectively the same, and worse--far more cruel than a bullet to the head. Later on, when the mermaids show up in full force, they ares shown to be cruel and ravenous, with no thoughts for the human they're about to watch die:

They can't even wait for free food!

It's a great bit of characterization, because at first, we aren't sure if the primary mermaid we meet is going to help or harm the sailor. By the time the rest show up, it's clear that she's merely playing with her food. And when we get to the closing moments of the story, where we flash back to land and the sailor's love, the whole thing is absolutely heartbreaking. It's just about perfect in its execution, especially since Gfrorer doesn't over-explain the mystical happenings.

I mentioned above that the style of this comic works very well for its subject matter. As you can see in the image above, there's a very heavy set of lines (I can't imagine how long this took to draw) that evokes the nature of the old etchings found in dime novels, but it's different from, say the way that Rick Geary does a similar effect. I also appreciate how well the mood of the story is expressed in the art. There's a real sense of oppression in the theme and having the extensive lines adds to that. Yet at the same time, Gfrorer doesn't try to overdo the details. Here's another example:

On this page, Gfrorer uses repeated panels with slight changes to set the pace, and while we clearly see we're in the ocean, adrift, on a small boat, and in period-style clothing, there's no need to show every detail on the shirt, or a specific constellation, or lines on the boat or hands. We get enough to show the despair of the sailor, and the arrival of the sign he's prayed for.

Of course, not all signs are positive ones...

I'm not sure if Black is the Color is in print any longer, but it's a great story by a person who gets how to create (and edit--see Mirror Mirror II, for example) horror in a way that really plays with a reader's emotions. If you can find a copy, pick it up. I think you'll get the same shivers I did while reading it.

June 5, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop June 5th, 2019

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:

Stronghold #4 by Phil Hester, Ryan Kelly, Dee Cunniffee, and Simon Bowland, published by Aftershock
Despite the best efforts of the Stronghold, Michael Grey, an infinitely powerful man, is fully aware of his powers. Now the fight begins in earnest, as the war he ignited on other worlds moves full force to Earth. Now under radical management with radical techniques, can the newest version of the Stronghold keep the fragile peace? It's no surprise that this series, with Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly at the helm, has excellent plotting and amazing visuals. (Ryan's work looks as good as ever, with his extremely detailed and varied character design, amazing work with panel placement, and ability to show gore in a way that's unflinching without being lurid.) It's a tad wordy at times, using the style of an old EC horror comic, with a lot of "you" dialogue boxes, but each issue so far has ended on a a great climax, daring the reader to guess what's next. Don't sleep on this one, folks. Aftershock has a lot of great books going for it right now, and this is one of the best I've read.

Section Zero #3 by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, Ben Dimagmaliw, Grace Allison, and Richard Starkings, published by Image
If the Section Zero team isn't careful, they'll end up being a part of it--New York's garbage, that is--forever, as the search for Tina takes Sam into a dark corner of the Big Apple, featuring a real life rat king and extraordinarily unpleasant choices. This series is unapologetically 90s retro in style and feel, but the good, Dan Jurgens/Mark Bagley 90s, not the EXTREME stuff. Karl's characters talk a lot, but it's good banter, and Tom makes so many small urban legends look really menacing here, and the scenes with the witch(?) have a strong George Perez vibe to them. One of the cool parts of this series is that we aren't shown everything that ever happened, leaving those stories for another day and keeping the reader guessing. The official tag line is "there is no Section Zero" but I am glad it actually exists.

Marvel Action Avengers #5 by Matthew K. Manning, Jon Sommariva, Sean Parsons, Jimmy Reyes, Protobunker, and Christa Miesner, published by IDW
Been awhile since I've tossed an unpopular opinion on the site, so here we go: Marvel and DC comics are better when they're all-ages geared. Characters who can't age or die can't do serious stories very well, and the constant attempts to one-up the few who stick the landing leads to things like the Joker's bodycount looking like a pinball table score every time he shows up. Which is a long way of saying that, in my opinion, Marvel's best Avengers book continues to be published by another company. A few flashbacks fill in details of Count Nefaria's plan, and hoo boy, does it look back for the heroes. The stakes are extremely high, and with three of the heavy hitters in the clutches of the villain, we aren't dealing with small-time crime. The only difference is that people aren't dying left and right, cursing, or hating each other. In other words, there's an actual story going on! This may be aimed at kids, but I think there's a lot here for the adults, too, though Sommariva's style might not be quite to everyone's taste.

James' Picks:

Cemetery Beach TP by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, published by Image Comics
Cemetery Beach is kind of a weird book and not necessarily an unambiguous recommendation.  This is the story of a person from Earth who makes his way to a colony founded by humans 100 years ago whose technology is a weird mix of antiquated and advanced, and there have been a number of weird changes to the nature of their humanity as well.  He needs to escape and get to his ship, and is being chaed by people who don't want him reporting about them back to "Oldhome" (i.e., Earth).  I enjoyed this book while I was coming because it's got breakneck action, but I felt that it was a little thin on plot. I suspect that it will read better as they collected edition.  Ellis is a strong storyteller, and the comic essentially reads like an extended cheese sequence, so it is fortunate that a talented artist like Jason Howard is providing the art here. Howard provides effectively genetic art that can be is the high anxiety, high stress nature of the chase here. This is definitely a high energy book that doesn’t really stop to take too much stock of what is going on, you’ll probably want to read it a few times just to figure out exactly what’s going on. I think it’s a fun read, and would recommend it for fans of Warren Ellis’ work.
Thumbs #1 by Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman, published by Image Comics 
This is a comic that comes to us from the creators of the few, which was one of my favorite miniseries from a few years ago. Written by Sean Lewis and with art from Hayden Sherman, thumbs is a story that takes place in a relatively near future where a charismatic technology innovator uses his influence in the power of his products to sway young people to revolt against the United States government.  I have read this first issue and I definitely enjoyed it. There’s a lot going on in this issue, and it’s an oversized first issue so you get plenty of bang for your buck. The story concerns to kids that have become part of a revolution against the United States government, and the story chronicles their lives at several different ages. The story is somewhat bleak, but then it seems appropriate for the times that we live in. Sherman is an extremely talented artist and I have to say I don’t know that I’ve seen better work from him. This is a cleaner, more detailed style than he used in the few and the style that he uses in wasted space. I love both of those comics a ton, but I’m very interested to see how his style evolves here to a more detailed, slightly less stylized look, that still the feels very much like his unique style. This is a strong debut, and I definitely suggest you check it out.

Sean's Picks:

Thumbs #1 by Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman, published by Image Comics
So there’s a lot riding on this one. I’ve been waiting for this re-team up since the last issue of The Few awhile back. This time it’s a story of gamers hired to rebel against the government by means of tech in style of virtual reality. It’s a future where parenting is mostly replaced by nanny “mom-bots”, not by choice but by financial necessity as well as daily sustenance. Sean & Hayden know how to piece together a gripping dystopian tale that grabs your attention at the first page and cements your attention by that last page of the first chapter. This is a story told by way of mostly blacks and whites and grays with the only color being displaced as images of pink representing the technology in spaces around. This will be a fun ride. I suggest, and strongly recommend you read along and see what this creative duo are capable of putting together as we see their sophomore effort in storytelling unfold in real time. I’m already on board.

Neil's Picks:

Fallen World #2 by Dan Abnett, Adam Pollina, Ulises Arreola and Jeff Powell published by Valiant Comics 
You ever wanted to start reading the Valiant Universe but had no clue where to start? Then welcome to my world. Thankfully Fallen World is a great launching point for anyone wishing to take the plunge. Issue 1 gave new readers (like myself) enough world-building to grasp the narrative, as well as some strong character introductions. Visceral action sequences, a future Earth, a society struggling to come to terms with their new home, AI possession and DINOSAURS. I think that ticks all the relevant boxes. With Dan Abnett, the legend behind the best runs of Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy on writing duties, we have one incredibly intelligent dystopian-future comic.

Mike's Picks:

Giant Days 51, by John Allison and Max Sarin, published by BOOM! Studios
As Giant Days is running down to its finale, I find each issue to be a must read. I’ve said before than it’s a remarkable feat for a slice of life comic about British university students to achieve over fifty issues, but it’s no surprise given the quality of the series. Last month’s cricket romp ended on a down note as McGraw needs to confront the loss of his father, signaling that the insulation our crew has received from the real world pressures is set to thin out very soon.

 Section Zero 3, by Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett, published by Image Comics/Shadowline
The neutral to negative critiques I read about Section Zero are that the book feels outdated, tied inexorably to its 90s routes in storytelling and art techniques. I either don’t seem to mind or relish the bit of nostalgia the series provides. Section Zero is in many ways an X-Files meets Johnny Quest pastiche, and issue two ramped up the action as Kesel and Grummet continue to drop little hints to the bigger mystery behind Section Zero.

Maxwell’s Demons TPB, by Deniz Camp, Vittorio Astone, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault Comics
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Maxwell’s Demons series, and after re-reading the entire series after combined two issue finale that recently hit stands, I think it’s a great idea to read the series in collected format. Camp and Astone both channel their love for Jack Kirby in this sprawling, big science epic. Astone’s colors are perhaps the biggest selling point of the series – bright and cosmic to compliment Camp’s grand narrative.

Kirk's Pick: 

Thumbs #1 by Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman, published by Image Comics
A little bit Ready Player One and a whole lot of The Last Starfighter in concept. A tech giant has been secretly training a generation of latchkey kids as a private army through the guise of video games donated to low income families. I've read Sean's previous work in Saint. A book that was captivating in concept and just absurdist enough for my tastes. The biggest draw with Thumbs for me is the excellent use of a 3 color scheme throughout the comic that gives it just enough cyber-punk flavor as well as creating tension in an a story that teeters between nostalgic and cautionary.

May 29, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop May 29th, 2019

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:

Saga Deluxe HC vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, published by Image Comics
I haven't thought much about Saga recently as it's been on hiatus for a while, but it's coming back, and these oversized hardcovers are a great way to get caught up.  It's a ovely space-fantasy story about forbidden love, family, responsibility and consequences. Saga may not have quite the buzz around it that it did 5-6 years ago, but it remains a pretty special book. I've come to really love the characters and the weird universe they live in. BKV knows how to write great, compelling dialogue. And the ideas, the book is just bursting with bonkers ideas. But it's the incomparable Fiona Staples that brings it all to life. Staples has drawn some of the most memorable, weird, lovely, and disgusting things Ive ever seen in a comic, all in the pages of the same book. This is a special book, and one that's worth continuing to read.

Batman: Last Knight on Earth #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, published by DC Comics
It's Snyder and Capullo on Batman, there's not really much else that I think I need to say. These two have made some pretty memorable Batman comics, and they're getting together to tell another story, of a world where Bruce Wayne was never Batman? He imagined the whole thing?  The premise sounds incredibly intriguing, and the art that I've seen so far looks terrific. So, this is a must-buy for me.

Black Panther #12 by Tai-Nehisi Coates and Jen Bartel, published by Marvel Comics
I've really enjoyed this run of Black Panther. I think TNC is a brilliant guy and he has gotten better (and less wordy) as a comics writer, and this has been a fun, science-fiction space mystery. Apparently this net issue is going to explain a lot of what's going on. Which is good, I really want to understand. Jen Bartel is doing this issue, as she did the last issue of the first arc. She's a terrific artist who does gorgeous work, so I'm looking forward to this one.

X-Men Grand Design: X-Tinction #1 by Ed Piskor, published by Marvel Comics
Ed Piskor does some of the coolest work.  Hip-Hop Family Tree is just fantastic, and Piskor has brought that same sensibility to the X-Men in his "Grand Design" series of oversized comics. He's really got incredible attention to detail, and he's making sense of hundreds of issues of X-Men continuity. I've enjoyed these books more than I enjoy most "regular" X-Men stories. These are detailed, and funny, and entertaining retellings of the X-history. Absolutely worth a look.

Mike's Picks:

All Time Comics Season One TPB by Josh Bayer, Al Milgrom, Benjamin Marra, published by Floating World
The captivating marriage of 70s exploitation genre films, post-modern pulp, underground comix, and Marvel street level heroes of the 70s and 80s has migrated from Fantagraphics to Floating World for its long overdue collection. Since Alan Moore first penned Marvelman, the prevailing trend in “thinking persons” superhero comics was that of deconstruction. In the past few years, however, projects like All Time Comics have signaled the growing trend in what I can best describe as a reconstruction or perhaps reclamation. Indie auteurs – i.e., the sole or overwhelmingly primary creator behind a work – more associated with publishers like Drawn and Quarterly and not DC, have reclaimed superheroes both as a genre as individual characters, and presented them through a lens far less commercialized and certainly less polished than the Big 2. All Time Comics is a great examination of the implicit assumptions and biases in the world of superhero comics – violence, bigotry, sexism – exploded onto a post-ironic landscape. It’s a shared superhero universe held together by its own excess and lack of self-awareness. It’s a rewiring of superheroes to channel actual grit – not the hyperbolic, detached doom machines of the 90s, but of a street hero in early 1980s New York. If you missed this on the first go, here's a perfect chance to jump in before the new series set in this world gets to its second issue.

X-Men Grand Design: X-tinction 1 by Ed Piskor, published by Marvel Comics
Cross apply much of what you just read, because Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design series has been an exemplar of superhero reconstruction. Piskor is a cartooning genius, and his knack for distilling large, sometimes grandiose narratives into single-issue size offerings is indicative of his skill as a visual storyteller. In his other acclaimed work, Hip Hop Family Tree, Piskor detailed how he could weave years of music history into a few panels without leaving much out. In Grand Design, he’s able to retell classic stories with a deftly succinct style. This issue kicks off the last portion of Piskor’s X-Men opus, featuring the X-Men of the 80s and 90s, the X-Men of my youth. We know these stories; we know how they’ll end, yet Piskor’s approach is still that intriguing that his history lessons are still compelling page turners.

Queen of Bad Dreams 2 by Danny Lore, Jordi Perez, Dearblha Kelly, and Kim McClean, published by Vault Comics
Sure, there is going to be a bunch of hype around another Vault book this week, but I’m throwing my chips in on Queen of Bad Dreams because of the strength of the concept and the execution of the first issue that managed to jump directly into the action while managing requisite world building and exposition without letting the narrative feel disjointed at all. QOBD recalls Philip K. Dick’s philosophical inquiries into being and existence, especially as extended and adapted into both Blade Runner films and Minority Report, with shades of Christopher Nolan’s Inception trickling in as well. The central conceit of this story is that the main character, Daher, is a psychic detective tasked with tracking down figments who have escaped from people’s dreams to live in the real world. While the premise alone would make this neo-noir interesting enough, the idea that Daher is also responsible for determining whether said figments are real enough to be permitted permanent existence is all that much more intriguing. That the story features prominent queer women of color proves yet again that Vault understands diversity is important both on and off the page because that diversity of voice is providing some of the best science fiction content in recent memory.

Wasted Space 10 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell, published by Vault Comics
Wasted Space is my current favorite ongoing comic series, and I have come to hold it the same regard as other recent classics such as East of West, Revival, and Saga. If you haven’t jumped into this comic yet, the chances that you’ll be able to hop on at issue 10 aren’t great, but that shouldn’t preclude you from picking up the collected editions and getting caught up quickly. Issue 10 will conclude the second major arc, and it’s hard to believe this series was once set to wrap at this point. When I met Michael Moreci at Baltimore Comic-Con this year, shortly after Vault announced Wasted Space would shift from a mini to an ongoing, I congratulated him and make a reference to “30 or 40 issues.” Michael turned ghost-white and replied, “no, no, maybe 20.” And last week, it was just announced that the series would extend to 25. So, there. And it’s not hard to realize why, because Wasted Space is humming along at a clip that I’m not even sure Sherman or Moreci would have expected even a few issues into the series. What began as a romp, a simultaneous spoof and celebration of the space opera, has turned into its own thing entirely. His characters have evolved from types and have become deeper and more complete, and the narrative is expanding to encompass Moreci’s vision.

Kirk's Picks:

Killer Groove #1 by Oliie Masters and Eoin Marron, published by Aftershock Comics
A story that feels like Burbaker’s Criminal kicking down the door to Inside Llewyn Davis halfway through the film, Killer Groove does the job of transporting it’s reader to LA at the tail end of the 60’s rock revolution where hard drugs and Manson-esque cults have permeated the music scene and sucked it all dry for it’s own selfish purposes. Johnny is one of those musicians who got close to breaking out of the scene but may have accidentally discovered his real talent for being a hitman. Plenty of interesting characters and moving pieces set up dangerous dynamics for future issues in this first outing to make a compelling period crime drama and missing person’s mystery.

Wild Storm #23 by Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt, published by DC Comics
I’m breaking my rule of usually only recommending titles not from the Big 2 publishers here, but there is no denying that Ellis & Davis-Hunt have crafted a masterpiece superhero story of espionage, black-ops murder squads, and alien technology lost in the wild that governments will wage secret wars over to obtain. DC promises you a lot of leviathans rising, doomsday clocks ticking, and heroes in crisis this month. But Ellis is offering a complete revisioning of the  00’s WildStorm universe that has been meticulously crafted over two years that invoked a trust in it’s readership rarely seen. And it's all leading to the promise made for a big payoff.
All life on Earth is threatened with extinction and The Authority are the only ones that can stop it.

Damn, that felt good to type.