I couldn't think of a better way to open the SPX Spotlight this year than with the Magic Bullet anthology. It's hard to imagine an SPX without a relatively new edition of this free tabloid anthology that really sets the bar for how to do a collection of comics designed for a wider audience than just traditional mini-comics fans.
For those unaware, the DC Conspiracy is a loose collective of Washington, DC-area creators of all kinds and sometimes includes friends of theirs from outside the group, depending on the project. They meet periodically and often work together on different projects. Many of them are at the Small Press Expo this year, and you'll see some of these names again in SPX Spotlights of their own.
The DC Conspirators were some of the first creators I read when I got into mini-comics, and many of them are more than just creators to me, they're also my friends. They're extremely talented people and good eggs, at that. When you go to SPX, they're generally together, so make sure you swing by their various tables and see the wide variety of comics available. When a person's name is bold in this review it means they'll be at SPX this year.
Magic Bullet 5 is Matt Dembicki's last as the editor, turning the reigns over to Carolyn Belefski. He goes out with a bang, as this issue is not only oversized (I want to say it's roughly twice as big as the first Magic Bullet) but also deals with the end of the world, which we all know is happening in 2012, right? (So better start reading those comics you've been meaning to get to!) The tabloid is roughly 11x17, mimicking the comics pages of old. Each creator gets a full page to work with, with a few exceptions. What the creator does with that page, whether it's tight paneling or a splash page, is up to them, but for this issue, the comic must be themed around the end. Beyond that, anything goes--and it usually does.
Themed anthologies are my favorite, because you get to see how different folks approach a similar idea. I'm very impressed that the selection here is so varied. There is everything from the Twlight Zone approach (which is used by Dembecki in a clever gotcha! moment) to reminders that we are our worst enemy (either politically, as suggested by John K. Snyder, or in our actions, as Monica Gallagher posits in a witheringly sarcastic look at our blase attitude towards climate change). Michael Brace's take is one of the best I've seen in terms of the Biblical approach to the end times, showing God might not be too pleased with the ones who were supposed to represent him on earth.
Given this is about the end of the world, those who use recurring characters had interesting choices to make. Rafer Roberts takes an extra page this issue to give us an extra-long story of Nightmare the Rat, who is chosen to bring about the apocalypse. Nightmare's reactions are hysterical, and I love that his weakness is the same as the Incredible Hulk. Using the same ultra-retro style with narrative below the panels, Roberts once again is a highlight of the issue. R.M. Rhodes and Evan Keeling cleverly keep their ongoing story moving by using this as a chance to talk about how a person's world can end, even as the rest of the world keeps moving.
Getting the coveted center spread, Carolyn Belefski and Joe Carabeo use each panel as a countdown, building to the ambiguous ending that lets the reader determine the fate of their pair of criminals. I really liked the way this one took a lot of different things that might happen at the end and put their value in perspective. (That's similar to what John Shine portrayed, as he "interviews" different people about their apocalyptic plans.) Meanwhile, Andrew Cohen once again plays with panels, as Dr. W. plays with words and ends up placing himself in a box. Literally.
As with any anthology, it's impossible to talk about every entry, but here are a few others I especially enjoyed:
- William Brown notes that if the world collapses, those who have lied to their rabid followers may be in for a shock. Drawn in woodcut style, I thought this was a great look at political reality.
- Ed Contradictory turns his page into a nursery rhyme, which was very unique and featured several clever couplets, including the idea that losing waffles is as bad as dropping a nuke.
- Who better than Al Roker to meet the Mayan Gods, asks Joe Sutliff.
- I thought Marc Bryant and Mal Jones' playful comparison of the different "end times" myths was clever, particularly using the early as a polo ball. Of course something that bans lefties would be apocalyptic!
- Taking a different tack on that idea, A. David Lewis and Chris Piers point out that we are constantly predicting the end of the world, but we truly die in the smaller disasters. The devil--and death--are in the details, as the earth and humanity die the death of a thousand cuts.
Though a bit short on panel innovation this time, Magic Bullet 5 makes up for it with some very strong comic work and an amazing job of sticking to the theme. Dembicki can take a bow for this one, as can all of the over fifty creators involved. You can pick up Magic Bullet 5 for free, and I guarantee you'll want to explore the work of those you find inside. I can't wait to see what Belefski and Magic Bullet 6 have in store for us.