April 25, 2017

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In Space, It's Not the Screams that You Have to Worry About-- a review of James Stokoe's Aliens: Dead Orbit

James Stokoe Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 isn’t about the horrors of space. It isn’t about scientists or soldiers tasked to determine origins or threats. And it isn’t about people who know what they’re about to encounter and still agree to face up to danger. Stokoe’s story and art harken back to 1979 and the movie about space truckers who stumble upon a threat they can’t even begin to imagine. After showing us the chaos of Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo, Stokoe turns his gaze toward the stars, following in the footsteps of Ridley Scott, Dan O’Bannon, Moebius and H.R. Giger to remind us that in space no one can hear you scream.

Like that best original story from 1979, Stokoe creates a haunted-house-in-space tale as the crew of an unsuspecting Weyland-Yutani station finds a ship floating in space, its crew in cryogenic sleep. Not straying too far from that template, Stokoe spends this opening chapter of the book focusing on his cast and crew. This ragtag bunch of space jockeys is really just a group of co-workers, with all of the frictions that come from people who don’t necessarily like one another being forced to work together in tight quarters. Unlike them, we know the dangers that await them and that’s part of the fun of this issue.

Playing with that lovely sense of dread that exists in these haunted house stories, Stokoe knows that we know that there’s a big, bad xenomorph behind one of the corners of that mysterious ship even if this crew doesn’t. They go in expecting to find just another space derelict to rescue or salvage, not having a clue about the H.R. Giger nightmare that’s just waiting for them. So when things do start to go wrong aboard that ship, Stokoe gets to play with the same sense of anticipation and horror that Scott did in that first movie where you just know something awful is going to happen even if you don’t know what.

Stokoe’s art, like Giger and Moebius’ original designs, is so much about shape and form. Borrowing from that 1979 aesthetic (which then was ahead of its time so maybe we’re just catching up with it,) Stokoe technology is thrown together, piecemealed bit by bit. There are no slick, smooth surfaces, just endless arrays of panels, cables, consoles and portals that help establish just what kind of future this is. It’s clearly functional and practical, not ideal or utopian. And while that’s the baseline established long ago in the movies, Stokoe recreates that practicality and establishes the workman-like attitude of this crew. That level of detail adds a different type of “color” to the story, creating a rugged atmospheric space that’s almost totally reliant on this thrown-together technology.

When it comes to actual color, Stokoe uses oranges and purples like no one else. Nearly every panel has an orange or purple hue to it, or even a blending of both, creating this wonderful blending of the absolute cold or blazing heat that depicts the emotions or reactions of these characters more than any actual air temperature. This use of the atmosphere as a reflection of the characters is another aspect of that impending dread of the issue. Since Stokoe plays with cold and heat in almost every panel, there’s this constant fight-or-flight struggle that pervades nearly every page of this comic.

For the first issue, Stokoe stays within the established boundaries of what an Alien story should be. But within those boundaries, he finds space (no pun intended) to tell a James Stokoe story, with Stokoe monsters, colors and characters. There are echoes of his Godzilla, his Wonton Soup, and his Orc Stain in this comic book. Through his own style, Stokoe writes and draws a comic that recalls the original 1979 movie without ever feeling like it’s simply mimicking or just homaging that first movie. Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 is the comic that has finally caught up with the the ahead-of-its-time visions of Ridley Scott and his creative partners.

April 19, 2017

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Spending Time Down on the Farm with Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston's Black Hammer: Secret Origins

Black Hammer: Secret Origins is a superhero team book about a group of characters that are neither a team or really superheroes. Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s cast of characters, seemingly exiled from their own universe ten years ago and trapped since then in a small, rural American town, struggle with what their lives have become. They were superheroes, adventurers, mystics but, most importantly, they were outcasts in their own world. One was a woman who only has super powers when she transforms into a young girl. Another was an alien from a warlike planet, sent to Earth to display to him his own weakness. A weakling turned hero, a space explorer finding the truth about the universe, and a woman cursed to experience and cause horrors; they were heroes and adventurers who were from the world of our comics. And to save their world, they sacrificed their lives for it and became trapped in a world where there are no heroes; there are only the small town and their farm. These beings who saw wonders and miracles have spent the last 10 years housekeeping, farming and trying to act normal.

April 17, 2017

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25 MORE great Image Comics books on their 25th anniversary

I recently took a look at my 25 favorite Image Comics books, on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. But I love so many Image Comics books, I decided to make a second list. So, here are brief thoughts on 25 MORE great Image Comics books. I hope you see something that interests you.
Written and Lettered by Ed Brisson
Illustrated by Michael Walsh
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Comeback is twisty time travel noir. What else do you need to know? If you liked Looper (which, you really should, it's a great movie even though I don't for a second buy Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis) you'll totally enjoy Comeback. There's murder and mystery and intrigue in the story of a sketchy business involved in time travel. Comeback has great, moody art courtesy of Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire. It's not your typical time travel story, which is what I like about it so much.

April 7, 2017

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Trade Talk: The Flintstones Vol. 1

The Flintstones (2016-) Vol. 1

The Flintstones Vol. 1
Written by Mark Russell
Illustrated by Steve Pugh
Colored by Chris Chuckry
Lettered by Dave Sharpe
Published by DC Comics

"Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones.
They're the modern stone age family.
From the town of Bedrock,
They're a page right out of history."

April 5, 2017

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REVIEW: X-O Manowar #1

X-O Manowar #1
Written by Matt Kindt
Illustrated by Tomas Giorello
Colors by Diego Rodriguez
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Comics

I enjoy the Valiant superhero universe (and some of my prior reviews of Valiant books are here) but I think because I read a lot of superhero comics (and spend plenty of time in various superhero universes) I find that the Valiant books that I gravitate to most are the ones that are a little outside their “regular” universe (like Divinity and Brittania). The new X-O Manowar squarely fits that bill. This is a fantastical, classic science fiction story that is big and rousing and compelling. It also requires zero knowledge regarding the Valiant universe. It's also one of the best-looking comics I’ve seen in a while, thanks to the art from Tomas Giorello and colors from Diego Rodriguez.