September 30, 2014

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Annihilator #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Frazer Irving
Lettered by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Legendary Comics

The burden of being a dreamer or artist is a terrible thing. And by that I mean the burden of being Grant Morrison is the burden of being the storytelling prophet for an era that would rather have Geoff Johns or Brian Michael Bendis. Since the 1990s, Morrison has tried to show us the way of his truth and his light in comics, working on such mainstream titles as New X-Men and JLA but also giving us smaller, more intimate works like Seaguy and Kill Your Boyfriend.  In Morrison comics, the world/universe/reality is always on the brink of forced extinction but there are those King Mobs (The Invisibles) out there, striving away for our salvation.  Or, at least, a salvation.  Grant Morrison wants to heal your soul the only way he knows how to-- through comic books.  

In Annihilator #1, Morrison and artist Frazer Irving take us from the farthest fringes of space all the way to sunny Los Angeles.  It’s up to you to decide which setting is more strange and alien.  Irving’s “haunted” house in L.A. is far more twisted and unreal than the prison that sits on the edge of a distant black hole. In L.A., Ray Spass tries to revive a once successful screenwriting career.  For inspiration, he purchases a house that's supposedly haunted and has a sinkhole in the front yard.  Already a has-been, Spass tries to lose himself (or as he view it, he tries to find find inspiration) in drugs and sex.  Meanwhile, on the far side of the universe, Max Nomax finds himself imprisoned on the edge of a black hole.  Max is the true artist of this duo, trying to find a way to overcome death.  

Irving's supernatural reality makes you question what you're seeing in L.A. as much as you question the scenes at the intergalactic prison.  In both locales, his color schemes of blues and oranges emit pulsating waves of heat and cold.  This is a comic that makes you shiver on one page and then sweat on another.  And then there are the pages where Irving mixes both colors, this blending of outer space and California that makes you question the reality of both Spass and Nomax.  Through his use of color, Irving unifies both parts of the story to the point where the colors tells you more about the headspace of the two characters more than his drawings or Morrison's words can.

But even visually, this is not a story about the real or the unreal because Irving makes everything unreal.  Max Nomax's adventures and imprisonment are fantastic simply because of the setting and the characters.  Morrison and Irving are tapping into a very British, 2000 AD vein with this story.  It's very theatrical and over-the-top as Nomax has a role that he needs to live up to.  It's Spass's L.A. existence that is far more twisted and unrecognizable.  Irving makes L.A. more alien than the space prison, making visual choices that quite intentionally disorient his audience.  A walk through a house or an orgy take both become their own psychedelic experiences.  The drugs that Spass is on throughout the book change our perception of the world and the story as much as it alters Spass's perceptions.

That fits perfectly into the story because Nomax's story is Spass's latest screenplay. The outer space, science fiction portions of this, with a hero/madman trying to conquer death, are words in a half-conceived story from a writer trying to reclaim some past glory.  As Spass finds out that he has his own inescapable black hole in his brain in the form of an inoperable tumor, Morrison and Irving subtle blendings of L.A. and space gets hammered home as Nomax ends up on Spass’s couch asking what the writer and the rogue can do for one another.  This is shades of Grant Morrison showing up in the last issue of his Animal Man run to basically apologize to the character for the hell he put him through. Artist and creation existing simultaneously in the same plane is the type of four-color magic that Morrison has been interested in since he first started writing comics.  

Back in The Invisibles' days, Morrison went through a lot of medical problems even as he was torturing one of his own stand-ins in the book, King Mob. That bit of coincidence or magic or whatever you want to call it echoes here in Annihilator #1 almost 20 years later in the story of Ray Spass and Max Nomax. Again in Morrison’s writing, we see the spiritual and healing relationship between reality and fiction as Morrison sets up the creation to save the creator.  Fiction is the grand healer in Morrison’s writing.  We’re saved, healed and redeemed through our stories.  Annihilator #1 sets us up along a familiar and worn path but as with most of Morrison’s comics, there’s enough fascinating meta-narrative trickery and in Frazer Irving, he’s got an artist who can add his own visual mystery to the story.  

September 29, 2014

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You should go to MICE, October 4-5 2014

Poster illustration by Paul Hornschemeier
MICE 2014 Preview

The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) is coming up next weekend (October 4-5) and if you're anywhere near the Boston area, you should make your way there. It'll be held at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Over the past few years, I've tried to broaden my comics reading beyond the "Big 2" and even beyond the bigger independent publishers such as Image and Dark Horse.  You know Panel Patter is a fan of the small press books, and if you enjoy reading about those books, you'll enjoy heading to MICE.

The organizers at MICE do a great job making MICE feel like a "homey" event even as it's grown in size and popularity. There's a great selection of comics creators (folks like Maris Wicks, Joel Christian Gill, Ansis Purins, Jennie Wood, and Panel Patter's own Whit Taylor), that will be in attendance, who work in all genres and styles of comics.

In addition to lesser-known local artists and creators, there will be some pretty great special guests at MICE this year: Raina Telgemeier, James Kochalka, Dave Roman, Emily Carroll, Box Brown and Paul Hornschemeier. There will also be a full slate of panels on both days (with a number of kid-friendly panels each day).

Also, did I mention it's free? Saving money on admission will leave you with more to spend on comics.

Coming up shortly, we'll have an interview with the organizers of MICE to learn more about the event.
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The Rise of Aurora West

Something a little different for Panel Patter today, as we begin the week by participating in an art-driven blog tour for the new Battling Boy spin-off book, The Rise of Aurora West. Instead of a guest post or other things you might find on a blog tour, artist David Rubin is giving each site an exclusive piece of concept art to share with their readers! What a great idea! You'll find ours below within the review. 

After the review itself, you'll find details on how to read other perspectives on the book as well as see more exclusive art from Rubin. But first and most importantly, HOW WAS THE BOOK?

Written by Paul Pope and JT Petty
Illustrated by David Rubin
Published by First Second

In the pages of Battling Boy, we met Haggard West and his daughter Aurora, who were trying their best to fight the overwhelming surge of monsters plaguing their city and preying on the few children who remained. Just in case you haven't read the main book (and you should, my review of Battling Boy is here), I'll only say that things are going poorly, both for the city and for the Wests themselves, and Aurora must grow up far more quickly than her her heroic and protective father would like.

Haggard West and a Sadisto Gang Member
Art by David Rubin and provided exclusively
to Panel Patter!
The Rise of Aurora West takes a step backwards, to a time before Battling Boy himself shows up on the scene. The monster crisis is getting out of control, despite Haggard's best efforts, and now the monsters appear to be getting smarter, working to build a device that can't possibly be good for the people who remain alive. While helping her father to kill the creatures and solve the mystery, Aurora stumbles on a mystery of her own, relating to her mother's death, and nothing will stop her from finding the truth, even if it drives her father further into his obsession. Mixing current events and elements of her distant past, we begin to see just what kind of person Aurora West is--and the answer might just surprise her.

It's never easy to write a prequel, especially to a book as popular as Battling Boy, which was on just about everyone's Best of lists last year. Add into the mix the fact that artist and series creator Paul Pope was only contributing to the story, leaving someone else on art duties, and you have the potential for a disappointing book.

Except that, if anything, Rise of Aurora West is even more interesting than the main book, because the character of Aurora is far more engaged and active in her story, where as the titular boy in Battling Boy wants nothing to do with the life he's been drafted into. 

That's the key to understanding this book, I think--it quite literally shows us in black and white (no color this time) just how different Aurora is from the Battling Boy, and seeing how they inevitably work together in the main series despite this seeming incompatibility is going to make the next book in the main series that much deeper.

It's exactly what a prequel/spin-off book should do--be its own thing while also enhancing readers' enjoyment and understanding of the work being drawn from. That's something that many creators get wrong when they try to do a prequel. They want to "improve," "fix," or "explain" items that often don't need any of that forced triage.

Here, writers Petty and Pope purposefully don't try to explain everything we might have wondered when reading Battling Boy. For example, we now know that the monster issue has been going on for over a decade and part of the issue is that seemingly only Haggard can slow their progress. Anytime he's distracted, the monsters gain advantage. There's a hint that the monsters have been playing a long game, but who pulls their strings is still cloaked in mystery. Perhaps most importantly, we see that there's a definite link between the Wests and the monsters, but just how deep that tie runs (I have my suspicions) and what it means for Aurora when it's finally revealed stays in the background.

Instead, our focus is squarely on a young woman who's lived through the tragedy of her mother's death and is getting ready to be able to exact the unending revenge her father undertakes every night. This book is all about her, whether it's an accidental graffiti spree that leads to discovering a hidden evil in an analogue to Ancient Egypt or defying her father's wishes to find out the truth or her key role in the climactic battle between the Wests and the monsters, where she finds her resolve.

Watching this unfold (and seeing it flow so naturally) is a tribute to the co-writers as well as artist Rubin, who has to portray things in a style that's similar to (but not exactly like) Paul Pope. He's got a ton of times where his art is almost crowded out by dialogue-heavy sections, where the writing team leans heavily on exposition discussions. It's the only part of the book that's misses the mark. Rubin is so very talented and I would have liked to see the text-slingers give him a chance to show some of what the decided to tell instead.

When not in text-heavy scenes, Rubin shows why he was selected for the art duties. While not quite able to match Pope's layouts, he's still able to capture that wide-open feel in the action scenes. Panels are constructed from odd angles, the city itself feels as though it was patched together rather than organized for people to live, and structure is less important than form. There are times when he plays with perspective, putting the reader off-balance or using the technique to emphasize a key scene.

Rubin's characters actually emote a little better than Pope, with some really great facial features, especially on the part of the monsters who feel a bit more animated here and a little less just monstrous creatures of the night. My favorite of these might be Medula, a tentacled middle-woman monster whose minions are small, frog-like things (which is really sick, when you consider she eats tadpoles). At one point, she's framed in a building hole, machine guns blazing, and it's completely awesome.

While it's impossible to avoid the comparisons, anyone worried that Rubin can't fill Pope's shoes can rest easy. He understands the fluid nature of Pope's style, how to exaggerate form without falling into anatomic trouble, and ensure that there's an underlying sense of "not quite real" permeating every page. Because the world of Battling Boy is a place similar-to-but-not-exactly-Earth, getting that concept right is extremely important, and Rubin nails it.

Rise of Aurora West is a graphic novel that could get overlooked because it's not drawn by Pope and doesn't directly continue the story that was only just begun in the 2013 book. The fact that it, too, is incomplete, with further adventures teased with the title, The Fall of the House of West, may also hurt it just a bit. That'd be a shame, because this is a great story that really drives home what loss can do to a family, taking a Batman-style concept and making it something new, unique, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 30

Wednesday, October 1

Thursday, October 2

Friday, October 3

Saturday, October 4

September 28, 2014


Panel Patter's September Small Press Previews Picks

A little while back, we told you about the new site, Small Press Previews. It's a great resource, but with so many books out there, which ones should you zero in on?

Well, the Panel Patter team has come together to help you out! Here's our picks of the small press work for September. We'll try to make this a monthly feature on the blog, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for October's entry soon!*

These are in alphabetical order, with a note at the end of who suggested the book. Participating this month are Rob McMonigal (RBM), Rob Kirby (RK), Guy Thomas (GT), and James Kaplan (JK).

Copra Round 1 by James Fiffe. Copra is one of those rare things in modern times (where everything is easily available on the internet), which is something that's actually hard to come by. Everyone who's read Copra speaks about it with the most effusive praise. It's an out-there take on a team of anti-heroes and misfits, evocative of classic Suicide Squad but with Michel Fiffe's completely unique visual style. Available from Bergen Street Press. $19.95

Covers by Jason Martin Subtitled Stories about musicians, this zine by the author of last year’s excellent Driftwood City paperback collects comics Martin adapted from his favorite music-related stories. Inside there are true tales ranging from Kurt Cobain’s gastrointestinal issues and his special relationship with Kraft macaroni and cheese, to an interesting behind the scenes look at the session musicians for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, a look at John Lennon’s primal scream therapy that resulted in his classic John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, Kristin Hersh on recording the first Throwing Muses album, and more. Martin has excellent taste, and chooses fascinating vignettes, most of which touch on the often mysterious alchemy of the artistic process. Self-published, available here. $3 (RK)

I Don't Hate Your Guts by Noah Van Sciver finds the one-man anthologist looking inward, showing his life with honestly, even when it's not so glorious. See what comics he's reading and what jobs he's doing, since comics don't pay the bills. From 2D Cloud, and $5. (RBM)

Little Nemo: Dream another Dream by Various. The Little Nemo movie scared me as a kid. I would watch it and have nightmares of the Nightmare King (how appropriate) all night long. As I grew up and gained an interest in Platinum Age comics, I slowly started to understand how important the strip that inspired the movie was. Little Nemo was one of the first comics to show what comics can do, exploring the potential of the dream world in a way that no other medium can. Dream Another Dream looks to be a loving tribute from dozens of talented artists (including Paul Pope, David Mack, Craig Thompson, Carla Speed McNeil, and more!) to Winsor McCay’s classic strip. I am very excited to see how these creators interpret McCay’s world, and the oversized nature of the book (designed to be the same size as the original Sunday newspaper pages) along with the sheer quality of the previews I’ve seen look to make the rather high price point totally worth it. I cannot wait to read this book. $124.99 (GT)

Mr. Wolf #3 by Aron Nels Steinke This is the third issue of Steinke’s fictionalized autobiographical series about the life of an elementary school teacher. Mr. Wolf and the entire cast are anthropomorphized, which lends an extra sense of whimsy to these delightful, smartly observed vignettes, and Steinke’s art just gets better and better. There are very few comics about teaching out there (Ms. Bean’s Art Class by Cara Bean is the only other title I know of) and there should be more.  Get a copy for the teacher in your life. Available at Birdcage Bottom Books. $5. (RK)

Nix Comics #7 continues Ken Eppstein's music-themed horror anthology, which are two great things that go great together. It looks to be another quality batch of stories, with the lead story being called MP3s of Madness and the return of everyone's favorite unpleasant guy, Bus Stop Ned. You can pick this one up at Nix Comics for five bucks. (RBM)

Weird Me Vol 1 details Dirty Diamonds co-editor Kelly Phillips's time as the person running a Weird Al Yankovic fan site, which included flying to concerts and earning a stalker. A look at the King of Parody from the perspective of a fan and what it means to be a somewhat known fan within a larger community. Available directly from Kelly here. $5 (RBM)

Wendy by Walter Scott. Wendy is a mercilessly satirical look at the Montreal art school scene, as seen through the eyes of its titular heroine. Wendy means well, always trying to succeed as an artist, but she has a fatal weakness for excessive partying and choosing unavailable men, which tends to derail her plans, time and time again. Her circle of hipster friends and frenemies includes estranged pal Tina, no-nonsense Vienna, not-to-be-trusted Paloma, sexy paramour Byron, and her always horny, always-a-bad-influence gay pal, Screamo. Scott is a wonderfully expressive cartoonist, specializing in laugh-out-loud, operatic reaction shots. His characters are deeply flawed, hilariously funny, and always recognizably human. Another triumph from Koyama Press. Available in November, being previewed now. $18. (RK)

*We can't do the column until the Tumblr updates. As of this writing, it's still only showing September books.

September 27, 2014

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Final Derby

Written by Danny Djeljosevic
Illustrated by Diana Naneva
Published by Loser City

Roller Derby has moved to become a sport about men, but that's not stopping a young woman from challenging the status quo. Together with a rag-tag group of blockers, she's out to prove everyone wrong in a short comic that tries hard but ultimately comes up a bit short in the final jam.

Though I haven't been to a game in some time, because they're held in a bus-inaccessible location in Portland, I became a big fan of roller derby while I lived in Baltimore, so the idea of a futuristic derby with some really amazingly-designed characters battling it out in a hyper-violent manner definitely appealed to me.

The big problem this comic has, however, is it's got a mini-series worth of backstory that we don't see, and the context for the comic is actually contained on the publisher's website, not on the pages itself. Djeljosevic has a really cool concept on his hands, but he picks a point toward the middle-end of the drama to begin the comic, and without something to help ground us (the explanatory paragraph on the web would have worked, in a pinch, but maybe 2 pages of visual setup would have been best), we lose a lot of the point of the comic.

You see, I think what Djeljosevic was trying to do was create an analog with gaming or comics or other parts of geek culture, where women and other outsiders are scorned. Picking derby to do it, given its traditional tie with women, could have really given this a lot of depth behind the brawling, but as it stands, when her opponent calls her a fake derby girl, it just grazes the surface, and not seeing how much she sacrificed to get to this point hurts the fact that clearly the charge isn't true. In addition, while we know the derby is violent, the degree of the man's attack is blunted--is the girl's fate unusual? I don't know, and Djeljosevic doesn't really give us a way to be sure.

I'd read a comic about each of those
characters in panel 1!
It's a real missed opportunity, which is a shame, because overall, the battle scenes on the track, drawn with strong manga influences by Diana Naneva, are a lot of fun. Alternating between tight close-ups and larger action scenes, she draws the panels in a style that's familiar for anyone who reads their fair share of shonen manga. Naneva does a really good job with reaction shots, though for a comic about derby, one of the fastest moving sports I've ever seen, there's not quite as much of a sense of motion as I'd prefer.

Despite the shortcomings, I really did have fun reading this one. The character concepts are extremely strong and make me wish we'd seen more of them. A science luchador? A gorilla in a suit who plays roller derby? An opponent who tries to use his good looks against her? Each attack sequence is different, and the only complaint, again, is the constrained space in which this one works.

Final Derby shows a ton of potential on the part of both the writer and artist. I know it's really hard to put a single comic into production, let alone a series, but when you have an idea this good, it's a shame to spoil it by cramming it into twenty pages. This one is still worth reading, just to see the creativity bursting at the seams, and the ending line that is just killer.

Here's hoping next time out, this pair will get more room to breathe. I'd love to read more of their work, either together or separately. Sometimes, there's more value in a flawed gem than a polished one. Both of these creators have a lot of potential, as I'm sure you'll agree if you get a chance to read Final Derby.

September 26, 2014

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Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil

Written and Illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil
Published by Dark Horse Comics

World building is a very particular skill. It requires such a large amount of mind-space and intricate attention to detail that not every creator can do it. A creator must know everything about the world they’re building, from the weirdest of counter-cultures to the biggest of economic problems - and the invented cultures of that world have to pervade every minuscule part of it, just like at home. Few works have really accomplished this – Lord of the Rings, Asterix, Dune, and to some extent, Finder. The world that Carla Speed McNeil has built is massive, with dozens of conflicting locations and cultures and peoples. There is so much room to explore, so many questions to ask and little things to notice and discover.

Third World turns away from the characters of the previous installment, Voice, to follow the goings-on of Jaeger at roughly the same time. He has gotten a straight job as a mail courier, which leads him all over the city and ends up dropping him in a completely different place. Soon, questions start coming up about him and he finds himself uncomfortably close to discovering who and what he really is.

One of the things I really enjoy about Finder in general is the way information is presented. Often with stories that have such intricate worlds a lot of information is given in the form of exposition and seemingly pointless excursions that do lots to provide background information and little to progress the story. In Finder though, McNeil presents the world as if it were the most normal thing - making it feel almost plausible and minimizing the need for suspension of disbelief. It can be confusing sometimes, almost like culture shock, but it feels more natural, more fluid than if the action was stopped to explain every tiny detail. Third World maintains this tradition, and, as always, includes notes in the back for those interested in McNeil’s thought processes and some of the things that are left unexplained.

McNeil's art in Finder is a big part of why I like the series so much. (I have heard it said that she is somewhat derivative of Terry Moore - which I can see the resemblance but I wouldn’t go so far as to say derivative.). I feel like her mastery of expression and body language makes it easy to tell what the creatures of a wide variety of real and imaginary species are feeling and thinking. This continues in Third World, but with one major addition: color.

There are certain things that the color adds to immensely, such as Jaeger’s very particular eye color, and a few that they detract from, like the beauty of certain species. In the beginning, it is fairly easy to see that McNeil was getting just used to color - its quality and the way it works with her line art improves throughout the book. I think that I still prefer the black and white of the previous stories, but I am willing to keep an open mind with upcoming installments.

If you have not read Finder previously, then Third World is not a good place to start. It requires a working knowledge about some of Jaeger’s previous adventures and person, as well as the city he’s occupying and some relationships between characters and tribes within the world. Although I do thoroughly recommend that you find the time to sit down and read Finder, perhaps a better starting point would be Sin-Eater, collected in the first Finder Library omnibus, or even Voice. If you have been reading Finder, and are more or less caught up with Jaeger, then Third World is most likely everything you want it to be and more.

September 25, 2014

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Help Georgia Webber Finish Her Autobiographical Series "DUMB"

A few months a got, I finally got to meet Georgia Webber, the creator of the autobiographical comic series DUMB, which uses one of the terms for people who cannot speak as its title. Right now, Georgia is in the final days of an IndieGoGo campaign to fund as many copies of the final issue as she can.

After being a person who loudly and aggressively used her voice for years, Webber suddenly found herself with a very painful vocal chord injury that left her all but unable to speak. Only by resting her voice completely was she able to save it, and even now, anytime she opens her mouth it's a potential risk.

I had the opportunity to participate in a performance art/lecture from Webber and two other creators (Virginia Paine and Lucy Bellwood) where we were unable to speak until told to do so again, communicating in non-verbal ways and writing notes to each other on paper. It's a very different feeling, and will challenge how you get your feelings across.

For example, when I did it, I found myself unable to interrupt people to talk to them, even if they were alone. One person wrote my wife's name down wrong, then immediately felt mortified. Trying to show someone a new comic was next to impossible--how to hold the art and write about it at the same time?

For us, it was an experiment. For Georgia, it's was her very life.

DUMB is the chronicle of her experiences, which continue to this day. Starting with the moment of her injury and continuing through time, as Georgia learned just how severe the damage was, and how long lasting its effects are. (In fact, she's been frank about the fact that there is likely no permanent recovering forthcoming and that she will have to change her life entirely. After trying to go back to normal, she's now going to have to come to grips with the fact that there is no more normal or rather, that "normal" means something very different now.)

Though I've not completed the series myself, the stories I've read myself are very good. They are unvarnished, showing the bad in stark terms and admitting the very real fears, concerns, and struggles of someone in Georgia's position. They're an excellent chronicle that autobiographical comic fans will definitely enjoy.

Georgia's art style uses stark lines to portray scenes, punctuated by red ink that conveys contrast, either visually or in printed words. It's a great way to mix color into a primarily black and white comic. The layouts can often become experimental, too, such as obscuring word balloons or just blending things across the page.

As of this writing, Georgia is far short of her goal of $5,000 Canadian. Fortunately, it's flexible funding, so she can use whatever she gets to put out a far more limited print run than she did for the opening issues. It'd be great to giver her a boost. You can get digital copies of the first five issues for $10 Canadian, or $20 for the entire set. (That's $2 per issue, so it's less than what you pay for a new comic at Comixology, BTW.) Larger contributions involve physical rewards, including either the first five issues, the next five issues, or all of them together.

Georgia's a great person and a really powerful creator. If you like autobiographical comics, especially ones that deal with circumstances that make them stand out from others in the field, please consider giving to her campaign today. It ends in just five more days, so act fast!

You can fund Georgia's "DUMB" project here.
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Copra: Round One by Michael Fiffe

Copra: Round One
Written and illustrated by Michel Fiffe
Bergen Street Press

If cynicism about superhero comics is the disease, Copra is the (or at least one) cure*. Written, illustrated and self-published by Michel Fiffe (with the help of Bergen Street Press), Copra is an homage to 80's Suicide Squad (and other) comics, but with a style and design that feels completely unique. Come for the hard-hitting action and knowing tough-guy dialogue, stay for the visually arresting art. Copra: Round One collects the first 6 issues of the series.

Copra is a badass team of misfits. There's combat experts, along with a teenager in robotic armor and a new guy in a power suit with light-based powers. If some of these sorts of characters sound familiar, they're meant to, and that's part of the fun of the story. The team is led by Sonia, a tough-talking but contemplative woman (and a clear analogue for pre-DC New 52 Amanda Waller). 

As the story begins, the Copra team is extracting a potentially dangerous alien object from a Central American town (the hometown of Benicio, of one of their members) when they're ambushed by Vitas, a former Copra member, along with his new group. The town is completely destroyed, they lose a number of teammates, and those who survive are lucky to escape with their lives. However, things go from bad to worse when they realize they've been framed for the destruction. Someone is setting them up.  

Sonia first turns to to Vin, a master of the dark arts (strong echoes of Doctor Strange) and his apprentice, Xenia. He opens up a portal to the object's origin and out pops a hostile creature (where Copra goes, trouble follows). Wir (teenager with combat armor) has his hands full battling the creature, as Xenia appears to be possessed and is choking Sonia. Thankfully for Sonia, agent Castillo (who - not surprisingly, given the name - happens to look a lot like the Punisher) shoots Xenia, but not lethally. Vin gets Wir to redirect the creature into a portal leading to the dimension where it came from (the Anti-zone). 

At the same time, a crime empress named Dy Dy (basically a walking brain) tries to coerce one of her scientist prisoners (named Rax) into providing the whereabouts of a weapon she commissioned. Rax almost escapes from Dy Dy's henchman Gary, but not before Gary sends him hurtling through a dimensional portal at the same time Vin and Wir are sending the creature into the Anti-Zone. So, out pops Rax. 

All the while, various Copra members have been out bringing other former operatives back in the fold. They need all the help they can get. The whole group gathers at Castillo's place, and Sonia lays out the situation. This is an unruly bunch and there's high tension among them (they're pretty skeptical of Rax, who doesn't endear himself with his attitude) when Castillo's extremely unfriendly, cyborg assassin roommates show up. The roommates determine that there's a bounty on the heads of their uninvited guests, and attempt (unsuccessfully) to take Copra out (like I said, unfriendly roommates). Copra prevails, and then Xenia teleports them to Tokyo where they have a lead on Vitas. After some scuffling, they find Vitas, and issue 6 ends with an extended, brutal showdown between Copra and Vitas and his group.

This is a great, highly entertaining comic. It works on the level of homage and nostalgia; if you're a longtime comics reader, you'll recognize and appreciate the characters that are Marvel and DC analogues. However (and more significantly), even if you're not familiar with the characters, this is still a terrific, engaging book.  Fiffe does everything on this comic (script, pencils/inks, colors, letters) and the amount of detail on each page is remarkable (and appears to be hand-dawn and lettered). That he is able to keep to a monthly schedule is an impressive undertaking. 

This may be an homage to 1980's action comics such as Suicide Squad, and the character design has significant nods to existing Marvel and DC characters, but the artistic design of this book feels like a unique, singular vision. To start, the sequential storytelling in the book is exemplary, as each panels flows one to another. Given than many of the pages have no dialogue, this is a necessity (and that level of visual storytelling is not a skill all artists have). 

There are a number of multi-page fight sequences that effectively convey the power, speed and motion of the fights between the characters. Fiffe also effectively conveys the brutality in these settings; when Wir the armored teen smashes the creature in the chest, you can really feel it. Fiffe accomplishes this both with dynamic lines but also with creative lettering, which has variety and depth and adds to the effect of the scene (as the sound effects become part of the art). He also takes the additional step for certain characters (such as Dy Dy) to use unusual word balloon borders, to convey the alien, odd nature of the character. 

For character design, while many of the characters will feel familiar (Deadshot, Doctor Strange, Doctor Light, Punisher, Nova), each of the designs has been prepared with a great deal of detail and care. Unlike many typical superhero comics, each of the characters has a completely different, easily distinguishable look, feel, physique and set of facial expressions to them. While the art in the book is highly stylized and the facial details somewhat minimalist at times [Editor's note: There looks to be a definite manga influence, based on the sample pages James has selected.-RobM], the facial acting and body language are very effective at conveying everything a reader needs as to the emotions of the characters. Backgrounds are generally rendered in a minimal style, but Fiffe puts the detail and energy where it needs to be in the story. If there's particular detail in a background, you get the sense that it's there because it needs to be there. 

The story is straightforward and the main elements will feel reasonably familiar to comics readers and fans of the action movie genre. There's combat, betrayal and revenge. What brings it all together and elevates the book (in addition to the art) is that while Fiffe hits many of the typical genre tropes of this kind of (action, superhero revenge) story, he does so in a way that feels knowing and entirely serious, with humor and without irony. The emotions of the characters feel real, rather than simply feeling like some sort of self-refrential homage. Benicio's pain and his heartbreak at his hometown being destroyed at the beginning of the story, and his desire for revenge (though he recognizes the futility of it) are viscerally made real in the story. 

The tensions between the characters are effectively portrayed. The good guys are some pretty bad folks here; they're tough customers, they don't like the boss (but they respect her) and they don't like each other. The dialogue, the hostility, all feels authentic and it really helps sell the story. 

Copra feels like a labor of love - a labor of love that will punch you in the face and shoot you in the kneecaps. I highly recommend it. 

* Astute readers will know this is a paraphrase of a line from the similarly-titled Cobra, another example of 1980's badassery.