Panel Patter Science Fiction Quick Hits: Montey's Universe, Cardini's Vortex and Faerber/Godlewski's Copperhead

Garfield may hate Mondays, but anyone who likes short reviews should be excited, as it's time once again for the weekly look at books we've enjoyed, with brief thoughts from the Panel Patter team. We're once again looking at science fiction-related comics, and man, there are just so many good ones out there right now!

We'll lead off this week with James Kaplan looking at the second digital comic from Panel Syndicate, Albert Monteys' Universe:

Universe! #01 - #02
Written and  Illustrated by Albert Monteys
Graphic Design by Dani Barbero
English Corrections by Ryan Williamson
Published by Panel Syndicate

Panel Syndicate offers online-only, DRM-free, pay what you want comics. Most prominent is The Private Eye (a comic I adore), but the first 2 issues of the series Universe! are also available.  If you enjoy science fiction delivered with beautiful, detailed visuals and clever humor, you should absolutely be picking this up.  Both are written and illustrated by Spanish artist Albert Monteys, who brings a great deal of wit and style to the stories.

Each issue is a self-contained, delightfully funny, science fiction story. The first issue concerns the head of a company that gets a little too ambitious for its own good, and the second issue concerns what happens when our robot companions love us a little too much. While the stories are not connected, they both take place in wonderfully, vivid, optimistic-looking (yet simultaneously fundamentally disturbing), fantastical visions of the future.  Each of the stories feels like it has a little bit of a lesson, or at least a solid punchline, a little bit like a fable.

With respect to the art, Monteys has a bright, vivid style, with gorgeous, big colors and intricate details on every page (there's also a tremendous amount of variety in panel design and layout, and Monteys has prepared a story that reads well in the landscape setting of a computer or tablet).  Monteys' style fits in well at Panel Syndicate, as his line and coloring style feels like a slightly more exaggerated, "comic" style similar to that of Marcos Martin in The Private Eye. The story also makes great use of design elements, particularly issue 2 which includes several pages of instruction manual and catalogs for household robots.  If you're looking for funny, heartfelt, thoughtful, gorgeous tales of a future that could be (but with an undercurrent of darkness), you should be exploring the Universe! (Review by James Kaplan)

Written and Illustrated by William Cardini
Published by Sparkplug Books

The Miizzzard battles cosmic forces in the Hyperverse, moving across reality-stretching planes in a comic that's a real visual treat. William Cardini originally self-published these as mini-comics, which Sparkplug collected late last year. They feature the Miizzzard (not a typo), who investigates a strange occurrence of hyper rays, only to discover beings created to be living weapons, the Vortex. They want him to free them from their controller, and soon it's a battle of wits and power that stretches the Miizzzard to his limits.

The story itself takes from various fictional sources, with a touch of Dr. Who, Doctor Strange, and other cosmic-level tales. Cardini's plot works well, drawing the reader in with increasing layers of complexity, as the Miizzzard finds himself in greater and greater danger, fighting forces that may in fact be beyond his ability to combat. What's really cool, however, is the fact that the art, which is just on the border between abstract and structured, reflects this layering. Thanks to an art style that focuses heavily on shapes and patterns, we as the reader are challenged ourselves to try to pick out the distinct images or watch as one pattern dissolves into another, changing the scene. Reoccurring images dominate the landscape of this comic, and it's fascinating to watch how Cardini morphs and changes them over the pages.

Vortex is a fascinating examination of what can be done when blending traditional narrative with art that does not conform to that standard of storytelling. It was a great book to read and re-read, and anyone who loves science fiction and is looking to see how an artist who isn't trying to draw rich, lush pictures (which are also cool don't get me wrong), takes on the genre, this is a great place to start. (Review by Rob McMonigal)

Copperhead Vol. 1
Written by Jay Faerber
Illustrated by Scott Godlewski
Colored by Ron Riley
Lettered by Thomas Mauer
Image Comics

Copperhead is the scifi western crime procedural sociopolitical story that's been missing from your life.  The first volume of the story (collecting issues 1-5) is available now, and I strongly recommend picking it up.  Copperhead is the story of Sheriff Clara Bronson and her son Zeke who come to live in the small mining town of Copperhead. They're looking for a fresh start. Clara is met with a deputy who resents her, corrupt local businessmen, complex political and social dynamics, and a murder mystery.   

This is excellent comic storytelling. The art from Scott Godlewski (with striking, varied colors from Ron Riley) is detailed and highly expressive (Godlewski excels at facial expressions and social interactions between characters, whether they be human, alien or artificial intelligence).  The aliens in this story are excellent and memorable; they're pretty varied in design, but their distinctive personalities come across clearly.  Godlewski also excels at action in this series, as there's fighting and shooting (as you'd expect in a space western), and the action is both dynamic and clear (something not every artist seems to remember these days).

There's a lot of meat to this story.  The setting (small town on a distant moon) is alien, but the issues the story explores are very real and close to home. Clara herself is a terrific character; a  strong single mother and professional, very capable and very human and perfectly willing to admit when she's over her head.  Clara was chosen to be sheriff over her now-deputy, Boo (though he doesn't really like that nickname), who's a member of the losing species against whom humanity fought a war. So there's some fantastic tension there, and Faerber writes Boo as a someone who's highly intelligent, resentful of the societal realities, but very much committed to doing his duty (but who's not above throwing shade on his boss). Faerber also looks at the way society treats veterans, as artificial intelligence (or "arties") play an important role in the story; they were important to humanity in winning the war, but now that the war's over, they've been deemed too dangerous for polite society.

Copperhead is a great genre mash-up that explores socio-political issues in an engaging way. It's definitely worth a look. (Review by James Kaplan)