I am, as long-time readers know, a big fan of anthologies. and getting three of them in one week was pretty awesome. We'll start with IDW's Shadow Show, continuing its adaptations from the short story collection dedicated to Ray Bradbury...
Shadow Show 2
"The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury"
Original Story by Neil Gaiman
Adaptation by Mort Castle
Line Art by Maria Frohlich
Color Art by Gabriel Nilsson
"Backward in Seville"
Original Story and Adaptation by Audrey Niffenegger
Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Published by IDW
Two more stories in the style of Ray Bradbury, one which invokes him literally, split time in the second issue of this story, continuing the long tradition of Bradbury's relationship with comics.
Split in half this time, both of the line artists have to compress the tales they're illustrating this time, and they do it in very different ways. In "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" Frohlich works in a traditional comic book narrative, while "Backward in Seville" features Eddie Campbell using the technique that features in many of his own comics, where illustrations work side-by-side with large swaths of narrative text.
It's a bit odd that Gaiman didn't adapt his own story, but I thought that was strange for Joe Hill's tale as well. I guess they were just busy. At any rate, I loved what Mort Castle did, working with Frohlick to echo well-known Bradbury stories while not doing too much to tip the hand. That's exactly how Gaiman wrote it, and it comes out spectacularly well here, mixing tight panels for some homages, while others get a full splash page. If you're a Bradbury fan, you'll recognize them instantly. Mixed in are faded images of the writer himself, which I thought worked very well. This is a great story--and I'm not a huge Gaiman fan--and the adaptation was picture-perfect. It gave a sense of hope as the images of Bradbury grow ever-stronger until we reach the climax, and through the man's efforts, he is whole again.
Frolich's line work is not complex, but the angles and selection of images do a lot to move a story forward that does not have a narrative arc for the main character. It's not easy to make a series of images still feel alive, but I think she made it work.
Ironically, the man who often does static images, Eddie Campbell, was called upon to do the more narrative of the two stories, and while I generally like his work, I don't think he's at his best here. There's just too many walls of text for his images to really pop, and they're often reduced to tiny snapshots, capturing only a tiny piece of what's going on. He's his usual innovative stuff, with distorted perspective, some photo-realistic sections, and figures that clearly indicate the fragility of the characters, but the towers of text show that adaptation work is more than just "here's an abridged version of my story." Niffenegger don't really change things much from if this was just a book with illustrations, and it really takes away from realizing just what the main character wants for herself.
Shadow Show wears its love for Bradbury on its sleeve, but as with any anthology series, it's not going to be perfect on every page. Despite the weakness of the second story, this one is worth it for the adaptation of Gaiman alone. I'm looking forward to seeing how Harlan Ellison's turns out next issue.
Dark Horse Presents 5
Odin's Mighty Return by Joe Casey (words) and Jim Rugg (art)
Semiautomagic Chapter 2 by Alex de Campi (words), Jerry Ordway (line art),
and Marissa Louise (color art)
Wrestling with Demons Chapter 5 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (words),
Andy Kuhn (line art) and John Rauch (color art)
The Chaining Chapter 3 by Tyler Jenkins (words and line art) and Kelly Fitzpatrick (color art)
The Mighty Chapter 2 by Keith Champagne (words and inks), Leonard Kirk (pencil art),
and John Kalisz (color art)
Murder Book: Double Tap by Ed Brisson (words) and Declan Shalvey (art)
Published by Dark Horse Comics
It's a bit unusual to admit your cover image is a recycled art piece, but that's what Mike Richardson does on the first page. But leave it to the ever-out there Joe Casey and the ever-versatile Jim Rugg to turn it into a short story where Odin has to fix a mess created by the modern heroes inability to stop a menace. Rugg revels in being able to have the character let loose with no moral boundaries, aiming for kill shots in amazing panels that vary between splashes and tight looks. It's a very angular, line-based style, with a bit of Kirby eyes mixed in, a shade of Mignola here and there, and just plain eye-catching. He uses a lot of tilting the view 45 or so degrees, alternating how we see the tilt.
Casey of course is his usual self, also feeling free to engage in as much bombast as he wishes, and it works--this is an Odin at his full-on jerk mode, dismissing all that others do to claim the glory for himself, even at the expense of his heroic son. It all combines for a fun ride that, while probably not a great choice to lead off a comic, still was fun to read.
Alex de Campi and Jerry Ordway move into the second slot this month, as Alice goes against the advice of her sometime partner and leaves to get her friend's son back. de Campi continues the very tongue-in-cheek nature of the narration, quipping about having Alice take a plane instead of using magic to arrive at her destination. It might fall flat, except that Ordway gives Alice this wide-eyed look at the reader, as if she's telling the story just to you, something that really pulls this one in. Once on the amazingly-detailed plane, Alice finds that traveling by air can be hazardous, especially if you fasten your seat belt.
Most of the issue is Alice fighting against a deception, with quick thinking and innovative spell work that shows the vivid imagination of these two great creators. Everything designed to keep you save on a plane is turned into a hideous, writhing creature here, and because it's Ordway, not a single opportunity for indicating every menacing tooth is missed. You'll never look at those air bags the same way again after reading this one, let me tell you.
The thing that makes this story so much fun is the fact that de Campi and Ordway are taking a pretty typical plot and finding ways, in action and dialogue, to really make it stand out against the pack. They're succeeding, and I can't wait to see what fresh-eyed horror we'll get next here.
Wrestling with Demons is going on a bit too long. We knew going in that Matt was going to have to fight the demon boss, and not enough was done to make us care about Ted, so waiting around cooling our heels this issue while Ted's sordid (and frankly, cliche), history is illustrated by Andy Kuhn was not a good idea. Kuhn does his usual solid work creating new demons and creatures and his final look for the boss is stellar, giving a great sense of danger and menace, but this part was clearly filler. It wraps up next month, as does the Mighty arc. If you're a fan of that series, it's probably nice to see more in that world, but yet another "evil Superman" story felt very much "okay" to me, as we learn he's really even more horrible than the first part indicated. There's nothing wrong with that, I've just had my fill.
Closing out this issue is a new series, Murder Book. It's a crime story about two guys hauled in about missing drugs, at which point things turn ugly as double-crosses pile up on one another. As a fan of crime fiction and media, I enjoyed this one a lot, even if it didn't do anything fancy. Ed Brisson gives one of his protagonists a choice, and seeing what he does with it drives the narrative. Declan Shavley works well in this black-and-white world, zigging where others might zag by not oppressing the reader with solid black ink. In fact, this might be the most white space I've seen in a noir since Frank Miller was doing quality work on Sin City. Shavley's use of point of view for the images helps make this work, too, and he's also aware of how to keep the tension up by what we're shown. This should be a good series, especially if it's a rotating artistic cast--an anthology within an anthology!
The Ash Tree by M.R. James (story) and Kelley Jones (art and adaptation)
Run, Run As Fast As You Can by Landry Q. Walker (words) and Dev Madan (art)
The Night the Snow Spilled Blood by Don McGregor (words) and Tom Sutton (art)
Published by Dark Horse Comics
It's an Eerie Chistmas, as your cousin keeps you awake as you wait for Santa with three Christmas-themed stories, highlighted by a Kelley Jones creation. Though I'm sad they didn't do anything involving the entire family (seems like Uncle Creepy should have been in here somewhere), it's always fun when people take the peace and harmony of Christmas and turn it on its ear.
And what better way to honor this long-standing tradition than adapting an M.R. James story, given he's a master of the ghost story? With Kelley Jones giving it creepy--but restrained--visuals, we're able to watch as a woman is condemned to death for witchcraft and gets a gruesome revenge that leaves the victims in a horrible state. It's one of those sins-of-the-father stories that makes up a lot of Gothic horror, and plays out with the big reveal that gives us the true story. Being extremely faithful to the source material, Jones doesn't try to spike the narrative at all--which is a bit of a surprise. There's not a lot to mark this as a Christmas story, either, but that's okay, because seeing up-close boils all across a dead, bug-eyed face or looming, condemning faces of power more than make up for any shortfalls in the story itself. Though it's lacking in outrageous scenes, seeing what happens when Jones doesn't go for exaggeration was fascinating. There's powerful in looming realism, too, and I'll be curious to see if his next contribution continues in this vein or returns to a looser style.
The middle story from Walker and Madan hews more closely to the holiday theme, with a tale of a woman who is very unstable and claims to have baked the horror of her father into a minature gingerbread army, which attacks her husband in hysterically horrible ways. This is one of those horror stories that's going for camp rather than creepy, and I think it does it pretty well. I wasn't as thrilled with Walker's narration, but Madan's visuals really pop, especially in one panel, where the woman is throwing her creations at the hapless victim. Eye-poking, ceiling fan-dropping, rope-working cookies are the bane of every party, am I right? A fun tale from this pair.
As per usual, there's a reprint, and this one is a story that requires it to be black and white for the punchline to work, which I'm not fond of. As Christmas approaches, a man decides to kill his wife's lover, as a storm rages that's panicking the populace and drives the man to make a desperate move that turns out to be his undoing. When he runs into his wife and the police, a chase ensues, and only a Christmas miracle saves the day. The big reveal is that the man's madness was driven by a freak problem with a maguffin.
The reprint is, of course, over-narrated and over-captioned, and Sutton isn't able to really overcome this. His faces, when terror-stricken, flatten out too much, and throwing in the rain/snow effect just blurs everything, instead of building tension. It's all very cramped and claustrophobic. I know Dark Horse likes to use their reprints in this horror anthologies, but I don't think they're of the same quality, and hurt the overall work, though Eerie remains a regular part of my reading rotation.