March 20, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 20th, 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:
Lazarus Risen #1 by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Lilah Sturges and more, published by Image Comics
I'm thrilled for the return of Lazarus. I've read this issue, and can tell you that it's a terrific return to this kinda-terrible world. This is a story that's full of action, suspense, big drama, some very big ideas, and is an incredible visual experience thanks to the remarkable art of Michael Lark.

Invisible Kingdom #1 by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward, published by Dark Horse Comics/Berger Books
This is an excellent debut issue. I'm always on the lookout for promising new series, and a new sci-fi comic from the co-creator of Cairo and the beloved Ms. Marvel and the incredible, bonkers artist behind Infinite Vacation, Ody-C and Black Bolt.  Well, I'm not going to miss that story. And having already read it, I can tell you it's a very strong debut. This is a story that's bringing a whole new universe to life, and already filling in the details of a complex social structure.

Meet the Skrulls #2 by Robbie Thompson and Nico Henrichon, published by Marvel Comics
The debut issue for this comic was SO GOOD; great story written by Robbie Thompson.  It's like American Beauty meets The Americans meets Mean Girls, but with Skrulls. I'd think that would be enough of a pitch for you, but the art here is from Niko Henrichon (!!), artist on The Pride of Baghdad and Noah, both incredible visual feasts. I already love this book and can't wait for more.  

Black Badge #8 by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins, published by Boom! Studios
Another book I really love. Black Badge is a dramatic, tense story with kids thrust into a world of danger and espionage. It's got the sorts of weird mysteries I love reading from writer Matt Kindt, and the soft painted art from Tyler Jenkins is nice tonal fit for the story. These two have already successfully collaborated on the terrific Grass Kings, and this series is another great read.

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol. 3 by Naoki Urasawa, published by Viz Media
I can't even begin to tell you what an incredible story 20th Century Boys is. Originally collected as 22 volumes, each of these new volumes contains 2 of the prior ones.  Urasawa is an absolute master visual storyteller (but you probably didn't need me to tell you that), and there so much precise feeling and emotion on every page. This is a weird apocalyptic mystery that spans the course of decades, with tons of incredible twists and turns.  I cannot recommend this highly enough; it's a truly spectacular read.

Rob's Picks:

Edgar Allan Poe`s Snifter of Terror #6 by Various Creators, published by Ahoy Comics
For those who aren't aware, Ahoy Comics is perfectly willing to be a bit well, different from other comics publishers. When DC balked at a series with Jesus as a lead character recently, Ahoy jumped in and took the book into their fold. This series, one of their launch titles, is an irreverent anthology series focused around the work of the iconic writer Edgar Allan Poe along with other strange stories. This time around, Poe and the Black Cat go after each other, there's a familiar cereal killer, and more, with Peter Milligan among the creators on board. If you like strange comics and anthologies, this is one to pick up.

Invisible Kingdom #1 by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward, published by Dark Horse Comics/Berger Books
Once upon a time, a great, under-the-radar Vertigo series named Air was written by a person I hadn't ever heard of before, G. Willow Wilson. It was awesome, but as with a lot of Vertigo books, couldn't get traction. Karen Berger was the Vertigo editor at the time. In the meantime, Wilson wrote one of the best superhero comics our there, Ms. Marvel (now in the great hands of Saladin Ahmed). Now she's back on her own series, with Berger back in the editor's chair and the amazing Christian Ward on art. Add in a sci-fi setting, conspiracy theories, and characters on the run, and you've got my attention. This should be yet another amazing book from Dark Horse's Berger Books imprint.

March 13, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 13th, 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...

Kirk's Picks:

Little Bird #1 by Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram and Matt Hollingsworth, publishd by Image Comics
I've been watching these creators talk about this project on twitter for a little bit now and it was never coming from a place of trying to hype the title up leading to it's release, but rather them sharing their personal experiences while they were creating it. I've read it and it's breathtaking. Van Poelgeest fits an entire arc in just the first issue. Bertram's style is uniquely his own since his stint on the unsettling House of Penance forcing Hollingsworth to step out of his comfort zone and color a world that you are genuinely afraid to step in to. The character designs are some of the best I have seen in quite some time, even for a vehicle as high fantasy as this. Landing somewhere in between Princess Mononoke and a Moebius fever dream, Little Bird is beautiful, introspective at it's bloodiest, and seemingly too big for it's proposed 5 issue run. Do not sleep on this title.

Calamity Kate #1 by Magdalene Visaggio, Corin Howell and Valentina Pinto, published by Dark Horse Comics
Sometimes a book pitches itself as straightforward as possible without any smoke and mirrors and it just hits the spot. Kate is going through a divorce, travels to LA to impose on her best friend she hasn't spoken to in 5 years, and sets out to become LA's new premier monster killer with all the fame that it entitles her. Part Buffy the Vampire Slayer in broad daylight and with cameras rolling, part unlikeable Scott Pilgrim written with just enough charm to keep you along for the ride. Kate travels from Los Feliz to Canoga Park (hometown shoutout! Thanks Mags!) ridding monsters throughout LA completely aloof to the impulsive life choices she's making in an attempt at a quick fix for her life. It's just damn fun.

James' Picks:

Assassin Nation #1 by Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson, published by Image Comics
The writer and artist of the insanely great, hilarious and moving Kill Them All and Sexcastle and Rock Candy Mountain teaming up with the spectacular artist from the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl? To tell a story about a crime boss guarded by the world's greatest assassins? Yeah, sign me up. 

Little Bird #1 by Darcy Van Poelgeest, Ian Bertram and Matt Hollingsworth, published by Image Comics
I'm not particularly familiar with the creators involved here except to say that I know that Ian Bertram is a terrifically talented artist, and this one looks like a super-weird and interesting, science fiction story. I'm always looking for something new and different, so the stunning cover has got me very intrigued, and what I've seen of the interiors has got me even more intrigued. 

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1 by Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung, published by Marvel Comics
I loved, and am going to miss, G. Willow Wilson's run on Ms. Marvel but I'm also excited to see a new voice with a new take on the character. Saladin Ahmed is a terrific writer. I LOVED his Black Bolt comic. And I'm excited to see the character grow in a new solo series from someone other than one of her co-creators. This should be really good.

Infinite Dark TP Vol. 1 by Ryan Cady, Andrea Mutti and K. Michael Russell, published by Image Comics
"Scary stuff happening in space" is not particularly something I want in a movie, but it is absolutely something I want in a comic. Not necessarily a gorefest, but the notion of the crushing void and loneliness of space, and some sort of evil or terror? That can make for some remarkable comic storytelling. So, with that in mind, I definitely recommend Infinite Dark. The people living aboard this space station are literally the last living beings in the entire universe. It is the heat death of the universe - but there's something else out there. That's all I'll say.

Batman Who Laughs: The Grim Knight #1 by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV and Eduardo Risso, published by DC Comics
I've really enjoyed the Batman Who Laughs storyline so far, so I'm thrilled to see more of it play out. At first I was skeptical of this character, but a Batman who's become "jokerized" and still retains all of Batman's skill and none of his morals, that's a pretty compelling hook.  And this spinoff issue is brought to life by the spectacular Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets).  So, this is something very much worth checking out.

March 8, 2019

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Getting Through It All in James Sturm’s Off Season

November 2016 was a turning point in more ways than one.  Even now, over two years after the last Presidential election, things just don’t seem the same as they were before then.  Depending on your position along the political spectrum, that’s either a good or a bad thing but you have to admit that election displayed something about the American character.  Cartoonist James Sturm has often used history as the basis of his comics but his latest book Off Season explores how that November altered a family of Bernie Sanders supporters. Trump’s election wasn’t the cause of the changes but a catalyst of it, opening the door to the doubts and insecurities that can pick away at the bonds of marriage.

Maybe it’s not even fair to blame the troubles of Mark and Lisa’s marriage on Trump.  Maybe the problems really began when Bernie Sanders lost the primary election to Hillary.  At least that’s when Mark lost some of the political enthusiams that he had. It’s not that he suddenly became a Trump supporter but that he just didn’t have the energy or drive to really support Clinton. He became apathetic to the whole process even as Lisa dug in more to the process and that’s really when their separation began and they started arguing over who had care of the kids when. The loss in the elections began a general slide into depression and troubles for Mark.  Off Season tracks the time from late summer until just after the holidays of 2016, as Mark tries to figure out how to be a husband again to his wife and whether he should even try to be that.

With the election still a very vivid memory for many of us, Sturm uses our own reactions to it to create tension between Mark and everyone else in his life, whether it’s his wife, his boss, his parents, or even his kids.  While not an outright political story, Off Season allows us to recognize that politics can shape our own emotional wellness more than we may like to admit. Politics can act as an expression of our lives as Mark can’t help but relate the political events happening in the country to the breakdown of family happening around him.  While it would be easy to try to draw a direct connection between them, Sturm carefully constructs his story so that everything is happening concurrently and not in a cause-and-effect manner. Mark’s life is going through these troubles while Trump is becoming the President, not because Trump is becoming the President.

Told using anthropomorphic characters, dogs and puppies, Sturm universalizes his story.  His simple cartooning of Mark, Lisa, and their family makes the book so much more compelling because it doesn’t separate the you who is reading this book from the you who is going through these events with these people. If the characters looked like normal people, it could be easy to throw up guardrails between them and the reader where the reader could write these experiences off one way or another.  Without the identification tools of human faces, Sturm turns this story about a couples struggle into the collective story of all of our struggles. It also gives Sturm the ability to convey a lot of emotion with only a few marks on the page.

This universality of characters creates a universality in the story.  We may not personally be going through these kind of events as Mark and Lisa are but we have to recognize the emotional turmoil of Sturm’s story. The emotional core, the pain and wear that is at its heart, is an expression of a communal lethargy that many people have felt in the air since mid-2016 but as Sturm explores Mark and Lisa’s history together, he shows the challenges of their relationship going all the way back to when they first met.  The wonderful thing is that Sturm doesn’t give up on this family but he also doesn’t make it easy for them, or for us as the readers who are going through this right alongside with them.

But as we struggle through this relationship, from our perspective we’ve got to ask is this the life that Mark and Lisa are supposed to have?  Are they true “soulmates” or is this a relationship more of proximity than love? It’s sad to even have to ask that question when children are part of the family but it’s a valid question as Sturm shows that Mark and Lisa may truly love themselves but there may be parts of them that are just incompatible, such as Mark’s anger or Lisa’s uncertainty.  

Sturm breaks down the story into very regulated beats- two panel per page. Using this rigid panel structure, he explores the chaos in Mark and Lisa’s life through an unmoved point of view.  Sturm layers the story with the days, weeks and months of this family. Everything happens at a seemingly constant pace on the page but the cartoonist is replicating the march of the passage of time here.  The next moment or day is always going to happen because the next panel will always be there like clockwork. The panel becomes the ticking of a clock. And with that constant beating of time, Mark and Lisa both hope for something to be better in the next panel.  And so does the reader.

As an exploration of the fragile state of our own emotional well being, Off Season offers a glimpse into how delicate it may actually be, where something like a primary election can send you spinning off into a truly destructive depression.  That delicateness is always there, waiting for an excuse to crack and break. As the large, social movements impact the personal experience, Sturm’s book should be a reminder to all of us about the need to take care of ourselves even as we think our world is falling apart around us.  

Off Season

Written and Drawn by James Sturm

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

March 7, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop March 6th, 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:

Paper Girls #26 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher, published by Image Comics
This is probably my favorite comic being published today. If you're looking for a story with humor, heart, great friendships, weird twists and turns, and a crazy wonderful coming of age story, this is the book for you. Not to mention that the art is always off-the-charts good. Seriously, the team of Cliff Chiang an Matt Wilson are really peerless. 

Black Hammer '45 #1 by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt, published by Dark Horse
I'm loving the way that Jeff Lemire has been expanding the Black Hammer universe. It's a broad superhero universe that feels like it contains many different sub-genres. Ths is a WWII-set story of flying aces, it's drawn by Matt and Sharlene Kindt, which means that it is an absolute draw for me.

Meet the Skrulls #1by Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon, published by Marvel Comics
Robbie Thompson is a strong writer; he wrote the Silk series which I really enjoyed. And Niko Henrichon is an incredible artist. He was the artist on the Noah graphic novel (based on the first draft of the movie script), and his work there is staggeringly beautiful. You also might know his work from Pride of Baghdad, another amazing comic. In a story about Skrulls hiding among us, trying to live as a normal family? Holy cow this is something I want to read.  

Doomsday Clock #9 by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, published by DC Comics
Doomsday Clock is a weird comic that kind of shouldn't exist, but I have to admit I'm really hooked by it. It's weird and ambitious - bringing Watchmen and the main DC universe together seems cynical and ridiculous, but when you've got a team as talented as Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, they might just be able to pull it off.

Kirk's Picks:

Die 4 by Stephanie Hans and Kieran Gillen, published by Image Comics
I know I keep suggesting this title very week when it's new installment is due and as long as the caliber of every issue is as good as the last, that's probably not going to change. Stephanie's art is cover worthy in every panel. And the stakes are raised as we learn more about our gaming party cast of characters and watch them compromise their real-world integrity in order to survive the very real threats that they encounter in-character that is the DN'd inspired fantasy hell world of Die.

Paper Girls 26 by Cliff Chang and Brian K. Vaughan, published by Image Comics
Saga is still on hiatus, but we still have he and Chang's creator owned time jumping epic. Part back to the future, part Goonies. Even though our main characters are from the 80's, the series doesn't make the mistake of leaning in to nostalgia territory. An 26 issues in, I emphatically encourage you to catch up the collected trades if you haven't stayed up on this series to get over your Saga withdrawals.

Black Hammer '45 by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, Matt Kindt, and Sharlene Kindt, published by Dark Horse
In less than 4 years, Jeff Lemire, one of the most prolific writer in comics today, has created a fully realized and emotionally complex golden-age inspired superhero universe where the choices it's consequences loom large. A feat that's hard to pull off in today's current comic climate. Every series that occupies this universe has been a winner. With this superstar creative team behind this, '45 is a no brainer to pick up. Especially as a jumping on point.

Ronin Island by Greg Pak and Gianni Milonongiannis, published by Boom! Studios
I'm going into this blind. Pak's last indie title I fell in love with was Mech Cadet Yu. A title I suggest often to younger readers looking for something more than super heroics in tights. Pam has been haVing g a lot of fun writing all the Hulks and Wolverines over at Marvel recently, but with his indie work, he gets to exercise a different set of writing muscles that tell stories at a more nuanced and patient pace.

March 4, 2019

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The Tiring Race to an Ending— thoughts on The Wicked + The Divine #42

These last few issues of The Wicked + The Divine have just contained one gut punch after another as truths have been revealed and characters are being forced to confront their own actions in light of those truths.  It feels so long ago when Laura killed Ananke and it seemed that the remaining Pantheon was finally free to decide their own destiny but we know by now how much of a lie that was. And there’s still two members of the Pantheon, Baal and Woden, who have to learn the true fate of Ananke in issue #42, the proverbial quiet issue before the storm of the conclusion that this series is racing towards.

If there was a word to describe where this series is right now, it would be “dread.”  Every 90 years, twelve gods return to walk the earth in mortal form for two years. “They are loved.  They are hated. In two years, they are all dead,” the tagline reads. Well, the two years are almost over and now their own mortality and failures are all that they have left.  They came into this with a “live fast, die hard, and leave a beautiful corpse” mentality. For the past two years, they’ve left a trail of corpses behind them, rivals, family, friends, and lovers, and what do they have to show for it?  They’re still a divided tribe of heroes, with the most powerful one of them, Baal, unaware of the truth and broken by his near murder of 20,000 people.

In this issue, Jamie McKelvie draws these tired and desperate people.  Except for one particularly violent scene, this is largely a talking heads issue where McKelvie really sets these characters up to figure out their own truths.  Whether it’s Baal and Woden finding out the truth of who they’ve allied themselves with, Baphomet realizing the part he’s to play in these final days, or just Laura and Cassandra’s tired spirits, McKelvie’s display of the fragile emotional state of these characters reveals the true humanity of them, substituting divinity for a weary reluctance to see this battle through to the end.

Even as writer Kieron Gillen and McKelvie plunge these characters into their darkest hours, colorist Matthew Wilson provides a touch of hope and light in this issue. The Wicked and the Divine started as a pop comic, as much about celebrity and power as it was about choices and decisions. As the weight of the stakes has multiplied over the past 41 issues, there’s almost always a spark of light in this issue, whether it’s the hold flare of a warming fire or even the cold digital screen of a son trying to send his father one last warning.  It’s important to note that warm and cool palettes that Wilson alternates between here, providing some comfort for Laura and her allies, our heroes, and a steely determination for Minerva/Ananke in her final endgame.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this series, it’s that we’re all heroes and cowards.  It’s just what we do in the moment of truth that defines us as one or the other. The personal responsibility of Laura, Baal and even Woden weighs against the decisions that they’ve made since even before their godhead started.  As Gillen reveals in this issue, there is no big bad in this series, no ultimate evil out to destroy all of existence. The real threats are much more petty than that. Accepting that, we see that this issue is about people making their final decisions to be in the side of good or evil with varying degrees of self interest.  That personal responsibility weighs more on some of the characters than on others but Gillen and McKelvie show the consequences of those choices now, before the series conclusion. Even as we race to the climax of the series, this issue may feature the emotional climax that motivates the final actions of these characters.

Coming to terms with the lies they’ve let define their lives for nearly two years, Laura, Baal and the rest of the Pantheon visibly want this to be done with.  Over the nearly two years that this series has covered, Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Clowes have shown the characters getting lost in their godhood, while losing sight of their shared humanity.  It’s celebrity trumping personal responsibility. With only a few issues remaining, these “gods” are realizing what they’ve sacrificed due to the lies that they’ve been told. It’s a cruel trade where only now in the end is the true cost becoming evident.  They’ve each given up or lost people that they can’t imagine life without. Now it’s time to see if they can get even a fraction of those losses back.

The Wicked + The Divine #42
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

February 27, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop February 27th, 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:

Wasted Space #7 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie and Jim Campbell
Wasted Space was one of my favorite books of last year.  It's a fun, raunchy, moving series by Michael Moreci, full of political allegory and thoughtful discussion of religion. And dick jokes. It's a great read, and the story is brought to life by the fantastic art team of Hayden Sherman and Jason Wordie. Sherman has a scratchy, distinctive style that's really nicely complemented by Wordie's colors.  I recommend you go back to the beginning and get yourself caught up.

The Wicked + The Divine #42 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson, published by Image Comics
I recently reread the first 7 arcs of this book, and I'd forgotten how great it is. It's got drama and intrigue and humor and big ideas, and tons and tons of style, beautiful people, and stunning art.  It's about youth and fame and the fact that there's always a price tor read. 

Black Hammer Age of Doom #8 by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart, published by Dark Horse Comics
Jeff Lemire has created his own complex, fascinating superhero universe. The characters are often based on existing characters and stories, but the stories Lemire is telling are wholly original. These books are moving and heartbreaking and funny and incredibly weird, and filled with consistently wonderful art from Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart and others. 

Euthanauts Vol.1 by Tini Howard and Nick Robles, published by IDW/Black Crown
This book dials up the weird to take a trippy, funny and moving trip into the afterlife. There's a lot going on, and I'm not 100% sure I follow, but it's a big, interesting story. Writer Tini Howard clearly has ambition for this series, and I love that. And Nick Robles brings wonderfully bizarre stuff to life on art. It's a terrific read. 

Daredevil #2 by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto, published by Marvel Comics
So...I haven't loved a Daredevil comic since Mark Waid and Chris Samnee were on the book. But I read the first issue by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto and I just loved it. It's dark, but not in a gloomy or boring way. And Zdarsky has turned into one of the very best superhero comic writers out there. His writing style has humor and heart and drama and keeps the reader entertained. Checchetto is also bringing his "A" game on art. It's a seriously gorgeous book.

February 20, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop February 20th, 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:

February 18, 2019

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Mechaboys by James Kochalka is Missing a Gear

Written and Illustrated by James Kochalka
Published by Top Shelf

Zeus and Jamie aren't particularly popular at school, so Zeus has a plan: Make a mechanical suit and wreak havoc on everyone who presumably hates them. They don't count on the suit's unpredictability, kids actually being cool with them, or a pervy teacher getting into the mix in this comic that sees Kochalka return to a more adult-themed book, but with mixed results.

James Kochalka is a big reason I got into indie comics over a decade ago. His autobiographical work, with its unflinching look at a personal life that was far from perfect, and characters in his fiction who were strange and quirky and acted really strangely, really resonated with me. He pivoted to a lot of all-ages work, which was wonderfully strange, but always had a little underlying mean streak. With Mechaboys, Kochalka unleashes a particularly awful character, Zeus, who possesses nothing remotely resembling a redeeming feature. And because he's in the real world this time (and not, say, the Dysfunctional Legion of Superheroes that was Superfuckers), it's really jarring. In a world where school shootings are so often they don't even make the national news anymore, a character who wants to use a robotic suit to main his fellow students is really hard to swallow. Given he's the last character we see in the book (albeit misunderstanding what's going on), it's weird to have the book never explicitly say he's wrong or have him punished properly. He abuses Jamie at every step through the book, too. 

When I was reading this one, I kept thinking about how Daniel Clowes is able (most of the time) to write about horrible characters but keep them interesting in some way. I feel like Kochalka is trying the same thing (right down to having caption pages that change the focal characters), but the trouble is that the kids are either one note figures we've seen way too often (Jamie is a patsy who finally wises up by the end, Zeus is an abusive bully, Babs is the kick-ass teen girl who doesn't need protecting, etc.) or are so underdeveloped (like Truck) that what they say or do is just background matter. Kochalka is at his best when the plot and characters don't really matter--you just enjoy the fun ride. Here, he's trying to settle down and tell a story--but he can't get out of his own way or find new takes on these tropes.

The lack of new takes expands to the artwork as well. As far as I know, Kochalka prides himself on not evolving his style, unlike, say, Jeffrey Brown, who is so good now it's hard to believe something like "I am Going To Be Small" is done by the same man who can do detailed Star Wars art. I don't have a problem with Kochalka's decision to remain consistent, but I do quibble with the fact that the attempt to try something new in terms of his story didn't extend to doing something other than another small, square-style book. That means the pacing here is exactly like all his older work--and feels like more of the same.

The limitations of the medium here hurt badly--because of the small size of the book, Kochalka has to rely on one panel, two panel, or three panel pages over and over again. When he moves to a 4-panel grid, the pages are claustrophobic, with word balloons basically dominating everything. Even switching to the size of the Johnny Boo books would have helped this art breathe.

In the end, whether or not you'll enjoy Mechaboys relies heavily on how much you wish for the mini comics of the early 2000s, where dialogue dominated a lot of small panels and details were minimal. I was heavily into that once upon a time, but with the rise of gorgeous indie webcomics, an increase in direct market publishers using high-quality artists for indie-style stories, protagonists you actually like, and anthologies all over the place that have raised the bar, what worked great in 2006 -- or even 2009 -- isn't going to garner the same attention as it did in 2019, at least not for me. My taste has evolved and changed. For better or worse, James Kochalka hasn't. I like to read his current all-ages work, but between the questionable subject material and the frozen-in-time art, Mechaboys was a big miss for me. I'll always have Monkey vs Robot, but it may be time to pass on newer material. 

February 13, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop February 13th, 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:

Devil Within #3 by Stephanie Phillips, Maan House, Dee Cuniffe, and Troy Peteri, published by Black Mask
The story begins to reveal itself as we learn that there's a connection to the house and the mysterious occurrences there. Despite the lies, true love remains...but it could prove deadly. This horror mystery has been awesome so far, balancing the slow build against wondering who is going to die. House's linework is spectacular at balancing the horror with normality, too. A hidden gem, in my opinion.

By Night #8 by John Allison, Christine Larsen, Sarah Stern, and Jim Campbell, published by Boom! Studios
This was on my shortlist last year and continues to be a ton of fun. Allison wraps up some of the current threads here, such as the stolen information and repairing the transporter. But really, the main reason to read this is the hysterical dialogue among the characters, which males me laugh out loud, while Larsen keeps the visuals matching the humor. Oh yeah, and the troll is back, too. Yay!

Dick Tracy, Dead or Alive #4 by Lee Allred, Mike Allred, Laura Allred, and Rich Tommaso, published by IDW
I don't usually put a final issue on the list here, but this series was so much fun and needs to be read far and wide. Of course Tracy saves the day, but the real story here is Tommaso's ability to make Gould's world his own, and yet at the same time familiar to anyone who has been reading the strip for decades. He draws the characters timelessly, opting to blend modern and classic elements, and his villains are pitch perfect for this world. A great love letter to Dick Tracy. I hope this team gets another arc soon.

Wizard Beach #3 by Shaun Simon, Conor Nolan, George Schall, Chad Lewis, Meg Casey, and Mike Fiorentino, published by Boom! Studios
A beach where wizards chill out in outlandish art? Yes, please! I came late to this one, but it's a silly story primarily about teaching a young, uptight wizard that there is far more to life than grand, epic battles on Dungeons and Dragons planes. This is just silly from start to finish, with complex panel work that contains details worthy of Sergio Aragones. It's a lesson about how we approach life, too, but it's mostly about seeing wizards surf, party, and enjoy their powers for once.

James' Picks:

Mister Miracle TP by Tom King and Mitch Gerads, published by DC Comics
One of the best comics of the past few years, this is a comic that really id live up to the hype. King and Gerads (the team from the spectacular Sheriff of Babylon) are in top form, bringing a story that's alternately moving, frightening, and hilarious. It's a story about superheroes (kind of) but it's also a story about parenthood, living with depression, and the tenuous nature of reality.  Gerards is always great but goes to a whole other level here, as he does some incredible, unsettling work.

Captain Marvel #2 by Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero, published by Marvel Comics
I really enjoyed the first issue of this comic. Thompson is a fantastic writer, who does spectacular dialogue and great storytelling. And I didn't know Carnero's work at all but after only one issue I'm highly impressed. They have (along with the very strong Life of Captain Marvel miniseries) succeeded in resetting Carol/Captain Marvel and righting the ship on what is a terrific character gone wrong.

Ms. Marvel #38 by G. Willow Wilson, Nico Leon and more, published by Marvel Comics
This may be the last issue of Ms. Marvel from G. Willow Wilson (I'm not sure) but if not, I know that her time writing the character she co-created is nearing an end, and I'm sad. Wilson has (with the collaboration of many talented artists) really set the bar incredibly high for creating a new character that's funny, engaging, has a ton of personality, and has really grown and evolved over the past 5 years. It sounds weird to say about a fictional character, but I'm proud of Kamala Khan and all the ways in which she's grown over the last 5 years. That's a tribute to Wilson, bringing so much life and heart and verisimilitude to the character. It cannot be overstated how important it is that this character is a Pakistani-American that lives in a real place (Jersey City), practices a real religion (Islam) and has a family and friends that are as fully realized as human beings as I've seen in a superhero book in a long time. That Kamala's religious faith has been a source of strength for her, and that the adults in her life are not just portrayed as idiots but with something useful to offer.  It's all been a wonderful ride. I know that Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung (whose work I am only just now getting familiar with but who seems super-talented) will do a very good job, but I'll miss Wilson's voice on Kamala Khan and all the other fun people that populate her world.

February 11, 2019

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The Fearsome Doctor Fang

The Fearsome Doctor Fang
Written by Tze Chun and Mike Weiss
Art by Dan McDaid
Color art by Daniela Miwa
Letters by Steve Wands
Edited by Sebastian Girner
Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by TKO Studios

TKO Studios is a new publisher using an innovative model, whereby they publish miniseries that aren’t offered for sale until they’re completed. And when they’re up for sale, they’re available in 3 different formats - digitally, oversized trade paperback, and as individual floppy issues in a nice display box. But all of the interesting formatting and sales choices don’t mean anything if the comics aren’t good and interesting. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that thus far, from what I’ve read, TKO studios seems to be succeeding on the most important front, which is creating quality comics. My colleague Scott recently looked at Sara, and I'm looking at the terrific The Fearsome Doctor Fang (Doctor Fang for short).

February 6, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop February 6th, 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:

Vampirella vs Re-Animator #2 by Cullen Bunn, Blacky Shepherd, and Taylor Esposito, published by Dynamite Entertainment
Herbert West: Undead Marriage Wrecker? Everyone's favorite mad scientist has gotten way over his head, bringing back a Goddess of Death who wants to use him to create an army. Vampirella's on the case, but West's formula has changed her old foe in ways that might make for strange bed fellows. I knew Cullen would have fun with these characters, mixing horror with humor, and it hasn't disappointed me one bit. Blacky Shepherd's choice to use mostly black and white art with color splashes really makes this one sing, too. A great, fun romp.

Marvel Action Avengers #2 by Matthew K. Manning, Jon Sommariva, Protobunker, and Christa Miesner, published by IDW
Tony Stark: Agent of Aim continues with a Fin Fang Foom chaser. If you loved Marvel Adventures, you'll love this. Take great characters, give them a fun story, and don't worry about continuity, making things "realistic" or shaking things up. That's what all-ages comics should do, and this delivers on all counts. One of my favorite parts is that Manning is really doing a great job of giving each character a personality that's distinctive. The art isn't quite what I'm used to--the characters seem just a bit off--but it's not like it's distracting. If you like the Avengers but don't want the baggage, this book is for you.

James' Picks:

 Wasted Space #6 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman and Jason Wordie, published by Vault Comics
This was one of my favorite series of 2018. It's a smart sci-fi series from writer Moreci which explores ideas of religion, personhood, politics, and has a ton of humor and heart to go with the smart ideas. Sherman and Wordie provide fantastic, scratchy art that gives this futuristic universe a lived-in feel.

Ether vol. 2: The Copper Golems by Matt Kindt and David Rubin, published by Dark Horse
This is a fun, weird series that explores both science and magic, and the tremendous cost that one man undertakes to seek his dreams. Cool, creative story from Kindt, and Rubin provides some stunning art.

Daredevil #1 by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto, published by Marvel Comics
I don't know much about the current status quo of Daredevil. I really loved the extended Mark Waid run (with many artists, but significantly Chris Samnee) but fell off after that. Zdarsky has proven to be an extremely talented and versatile writer, so I'm curious to see what he brings to the character. And Checchetto is an extremely talented artist.

The Immortal Hulk #13 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, published by Marvel Comics
At first I just thought this book was going to be the Hulk as a dark vigilante of the night dishing out brutal justice. But it has turned out to be so much bigger and so much weirder than that. I don't exactly know what's going on, but I really enjoy this book.

February 4, 2019

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“Don’t Dream So Much”— a review of Grafity’s Wall by Ram V, Anand Radhakrishan and Aditya Bidikar

There are all kinds of youthful rebellion.  There’s rebellion against your parents, against the state, against the law and against expectations.  This is 

something that’s universal among boys and girls on the edge of being men and women. All of these types of rebellion aren’t necessarily violent or political, although they can be brutal and ideological.  The conflict in these youthful rebellions is often a personal and international kind, between the children we are and the people we are going to grow into. In Ram V, Anand Radhakrishnan, and Aditya Bidikar’s Grafity’s Wall, three friends in Mumbai experience very different lives but are still brought together by the restlessness of youth.  Mumbai is one of the biggest cities in the world and yet these kids feel that there’s something more out there, out of the city and in the greater world that exists beyond the walls that they have spent their lives living in.

This patchwork nature of this book, told in four parts with each one focusing on one of this group of friends, gives us a much bigger picture of the youthful restlessness than it would have if it had focused on just one of the characters. An artist, a drug dealer, a writer and an actress share the spotlight as Ram V’s writing shows how these four very different people cling to each other in a city that’s doing everything that it can to rip them apart.  Grafity, the graffiti artist whose real name is Suresh (but only his parents call him that,) finds the blank walls of Mumbai to be the perfect canvases to share his visions on. Other than the cops who see him as just another criminal, almost everyone recognizes the talents that this boy has. Flipping through Grafity’s sketchbook, his father tells him, “These are pretty good. You’re getting better, eh?” A compliment from the old man? But his father has a cruel lesson for this son.  “Don’t dream so much. It’s painful to watch,” he tells Grafity before throwing his sketchbook out the window of their apartment.

“Don’t dream so much.”

But ultimately, dreams are all these four kids have in their lives besides each other.  Jay, the delivery boy from some drug dealers, dreams of being a rapper. Chasma dreams of being a writer, leaving letters to people all over the city. Saira, the girlfriend of a mobster, wants to be an actress.  All of them have dreams that their world is telling them are worthless. “Why dream because all you’ll be are criminals and losers?” is the message that’s driven into these four kids’ minds over and over again. Ram V’s story builds up these four characters as the rebels in the city as they fight against the oppression of their lives.  They’re constantly told not to dream, not to strive to be something that they’re not as if their lives and paths are already defined for them by their past and their parent’s past. They’re told to be what everything thinks they are and not to chafe against the expectations of the world. And when those expectations are cruel, base, and violent, they’re told to submit unquestioningly to them.  It’s an awful way to grow up, to be told that you’re never going to be more than what people think you are now.

Establishing a personal connection for the reader to the city, Radhakrishnan's art, Bidikar’s letters and Jason Wordie’s colors evocatively recreates the sights, smells and sounds of a hot, summer Mumbai.  The art is messy and dirty, where details weirdly drop out of some panels, leaving lumps and odd shapes for the reader to complete as people and places. There’s a sense of memory cast in this artwork, as if some unseen and unidentified narrator is recalling these events of their past through an incomplete memory.  The large movements of the story are recalled but Radhakrishnan’s art shows that some of the lesser details are fuzzy and only half-remembered. An unseen storyteller is remembering the main moments of these Mumbai days, certain of the happenings but a bit unclear on the specific details.

Creating a lived-in city, Radhakrishnan conveys the spirit of Mumbai on every page.  It’s a cliche to say that the city becomes a character in a story but Radhakrishnan’s Mumbai is a lot like Grafity and his friends in this story.  There’s a sense from the story that everyone knows this city and that what it is now is all it’s ever going to be. Even Grafity is guilty of thinking what the city is now is all it is ever destined to be.  After his father tosses his sketchbook out the window, Grafity meets Jayesh, the drug delivery boy, at a still-standing chunk of wall at a demolished building site. Still dealing with a run in with the cops and his own father’s negligence and having learned their lessons, Grafity begins his latest work by spraying “No One Gives a Fuck” on the wall.  That’s the Mumbai that Ram V. and Radhakrishnan are showing Grafity, Jay and the other live in or at least how they experience it. It’s a city that doesn’t care for its children and its dreamers. But there’s also the possibility that Grafity and his friends are failing to see the potential that the city has to offer just as everyone else fails to see the potential in them.

So as Mumbai becomes the fifth member of this rebellion, the creators of Grafity’s Wall challenge us to look beyond the surface and to dig into the spirits of the people and places around us.  They don’t promise us that everything will be wine and roses but they do encourage us in the audience to allow ourselves to be surprised at what is around us. Sometimes these surprises will be delightful but we also have to allow that sometimes these surprises will cut and hurt us.  In Grafity’s Wall, Ram V. Anand Radhakrishnan, Aditya Bidikar and Jason Wordie tell an unpredictable story of life in a bit city that can be as kind as it is cruel.

Grafity’s Wall

Written by Ram V

Drawn by Anand Radhakrishnan

Lettered by Aditya Bidikar

Colored by Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila & Anand Radhakrishan

Art Assistance by Girish Malap

Published by Unbound

January 30, 2019

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Catch It at the Comic Shop January 30th, 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...

Scott’s Picks:

Terrifics #12 by Jeff Lemire &Viktor Bogdanovic, published by DC Comics
Meet the Beatles was one of the first albums I remember listening to and staring at the cover of.  It was probably at least 12-13 years after it came out but it was one of the things in my parents’ record collection that I really stuck out to me whenever I would flip through their record collection.  So I love any variation of that cover, such as Doc Shaner’s homage to it in the new issue of The Terrifics.  I’ll admit that I really haven’t kept up on this series but I want to catch up with it just to get this cover.

Off Season by James Sturm, published by Drawn & Quarterly
Since James Sturm spends most of his time nowadays teaching the next great generations of cartoonists at the Center for Cartoon Studies, we don’t get to see as much of his work as we may want.  And Sturm has never been the most prolific cartoonist so it’s always great to be able to anticipate a new book by him.  I’m always interested to see the latest work by teachers as it’s fascinating to see them practice the art that they’re teaching. 

I Want To Eat Your Pancreas, The Complete Manga Collection by Yoru Sumino & Idumi Kirihara, published by Seven Seas Entertainment
Just the title of this alone is great but it may make you think that you’re getting ready to read the next Hannibal Lecter book and not a sweet romance comic about a girl dying from a pancreatic disease and the boy who finds out her secret.  This looks like a nice, sweet slice-of-life comic and was based on Sumino’s novel and has also been adapted into a live-action film and an anime movie as well.  This story has some serious legs to it so I’m looking forward to diving into Seven Seas printing of the manga.  It looks like it may be the perfect thing to read this week when the temperatures are going to be plunging well below 0 degrees in the Midwest.  

James' Picks:

Shanghai Red TP by Christopher Sebela, Joshua Hixson and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, published by Image Comics
I highly recommend this series. It's a terrific, dramatic series set in late 19th century Portland, involving piracy, issues of gender identity, violence, families, and a whole lot of other ideas. Really great, strong writing (as always) from Chris Sebela, with terrifically expressive art from Joshua Hixson.

Ms. Marvel #37 by G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon, published by Marvel Comics
I feel like this book is now underappreciated. G. Willow Wilson (and a series of talented artists) have been telling stories about this wonderful character that Wilson co-created (with Marvel editor Sana Amanat) for more than 5 years now, and as Wilson is going to be leaving the book soon, it's worth acknowledging the terrific work she's done.  Kamala Khan is a character of depth and a very specific voice, with a rich family, social setting, with stories told in a very real-seeming (yet fantastical) world.  I'm not suggesting you start with this issue - I'm suggesting you go back to the very beginning and read all you can about this terrific teen hero.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 by Kieron Gillen and Caspar Winjgaard, published by Dynamite Entertainment 
So, I knew virtually nothing about this character other than the fact that he was the basis for Ozymandias in Watchmen.  However, whren you've got a writer as good as Kieron Gillen, and an artist as talented as Caspar Winjgaard, you've got my attention. I've read the first issue and I can say it's a terrific read, and clearly setting up to be a fun meta-superhero deconstruction story, along with being a fun adventure.

Mike's Picks:

Animosity: Evolution # 10 by Marguerite Bennett, Eric Gapstur, Rob Schwagger, and Marshall Dillon, published by Aftershock Comics
I've officially reached the point where I'm unable to determine which is the better of the two Animosity books. Evolution is certainly the darker of the two series, but from that darkness springs a degree of satire that doesn't come from the main series. It's less long form survival-adventure epic like its sister series, and more of meditation on irony. This issue promises a major turning point in the War of the Species as the animal utopia continues to show signs of its inevitable descent into the same perils that plague human society.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 by Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard, published by Dynamite Entertainment
Look, you'll probably read about 372 pieces surrounding the launch of this comic that references the fact that Peter Cannon was the inspiration for Ozymandias (373, check). It's not the backstory that should draw you to the book, though. Dynamite last rebooted Peter Cannon over five years ago in the wake of the successful relaunches of bygone properties in Project Superpowers, Kirby: Genesis, and Green Hornet. Whereas that previous volume, spearheaded by Alex Ross, played up the character's traditional Silver Age stories, Gillen makes no bones about reappropriating Cannon as an Ozymandias pastiche, thereby completing some nutso postmodern cycle of simulacra.

Herakles Book 2 by Edouard Cour, published by Lion Forge
Lion Forge has a multi-pronged approach to comics that includes the Catalyst Prime shared universe, original graphic novels including the critically acclaimed Upgrade Soul, and translations of European work of various genres. Cour's Herakles is the right kind of reimagined mythology - it pays enough attention to the source material while modernizing it enough to make a point. Cour's art alternates from clean to wavy, and he explores washed out colors to make the book feel both old and surreal.

Deep Roots Vol. 1 by Dan Watters, Val Rodrigues, Triona Farrell, and Aditya Bidikar, published by Vault Comics
Deep Roots deservingly found itself on a number of critics "Best of 2018" lists. Like all Vault books, this series combines and novel concept with impeccable design. Watters and Rodrigues craft one an eco-horror story worthy of Swamp Thing by creating a tale that is part mystery and part X-Files episode. Deep Roots is gnarly and wild, and it is all tied together by the deft pallete of one of the best colorists working today, Triona Farrell.

Rob's Picks:

WWE Forever #1, by Various Creators including Lan Pitts, Brent Schoonover, and others, published by Boom! Studios
One of the biggest draws that WWE uses is their long history in the industry, highlighting at the start of all their shows and using the tag line "Then, Now, Forever" these days. While the main comic series focuses on their current starts like AJ Styles, this issue takes a look at classic wrestlers, ranging from Bret Hart to Razor Ramon. I'm not steeped in the history of wrestling the way that others are, with only a casual knowledge of the old greats. A series like this, however, is a no-brainer for wrestling fans everywhere, regardless of your feelings on the current product WWE has. With people like my former 'Rama colleague Lan, a huge fan of the sport, at the creative helm, these should be great stories.

The Shape of Elvira #1, by David Avallone, Fran Strukan, and others, published by Dynamite Entertainment
Elvira is the perfect character to take pot shots at an award-winning film about amphibious amour, given her sexy, comedic horror concept and the movie's clear relation to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In this one, Elvira agrees to be in what's supposed to be an art film but has a very different angle that could land her in more than hot water. The first Elvira mini was a great romp that made my short list, and I look forward to this one being more of the same zaniness that manages to capture the camp and put it on the comic page