Category Archives: Reviews – Image

Land of the Freaks, Home of the Strange

Undiscovered Country #1
Writers: Scott Snyder & Charles Soule
Pencils/Cover artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli
Inks: Daniele Orlandini
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Crank!
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I picked this new title up for two main reasons: I’ve enjoyed the writing of Scott Snyder in recent years, and the comic seemed to offer the promise of some interesting political discourse in the context of genre fiction. The latter proved to be true, but unfortunately, it was only in small measure. Otherwise, what we get is what reads like a fairly typical post-apocalyptic thriller. If I had to sum the book up for someone who hadn’t read it, I’d say it was like Jurassic Park meets Mad Max — at least, that’s what it seems like so far. Undiscovered Country offers a nice little diversion, but at this early juncture, it feels a little too familiar. I was looking for a stronger commentary on the state of America at the moment, but thus far, all Snyder and Soule deliver is a fleeting one lacking in any depth or nuance.

The Warriors Three

The White Trees: A Blacksand Tale #1
“Part One: This Is Death”
Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist/Cover artist: Kris Anka
Colors: Matt Wilson
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Judging from the chatter on my comics-related social media feeds, everyone’s mind is turned to the supposedly big twist in this week’s Batman #77 (which I suspect is the beginnings of a bait-and-switch, but time will tell). Personally, my mind’s still blown by a comic that was released the week before. The White Trees #1 is the first of just a two-issue limited series, but it’s a stunning piece of fantasy writing. I’m not usually one for the sword-and-sorcery genre, but this is a truly beautiful story, both literally and conceptually. If you’re a fan of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga, which is on hiatus at the moment, then this is the comic that will definitely scratch that particular itch.

Grimes and Punishment

The Walking Dead #193
“The Farm House”
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

That Robert Kirkman opted to end this landmark series now is surprising. It’s such a cash cow, for Kirkman and the other creators on the book personally, and for Image Comics corporately, one would expected things to continue for as long as it was commercially viable. That Kirkman ended it ahead of that point indicates that storytelling is what truly drove that decision. It’s also surprising it’s ended so close to the 200-issue milestone, but undoubtedly, it would have been less of a surprise at #200 than #193. And I think Kirkman really did want to take his audience off guard. After all, that’s been one of the keys to the book’s success over the years.

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The Music Man

Gunning for Hits #1
Writer: Jeff Rougvie
Artist: Moritat
Colors/Letters: Casey Silver
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Several years ago, there was a short-lived primetime show called Love Monkey. Starring Tom (Ed, The Flash) Kavanaugh, it was a romance show set against the backdrop of the music industry. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the humor, relationship dynamics and the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of a music discovery and evolution of an album. Gunning for Hits evoked memories of Love Monkey because both explore the music industry, but Jeff Rougvie, writing from experience, offers a much darker examination of that world. We see it through an ugly, brutal lens, and I couldn’t look away. Gunning for Hits is to Love Monkey what House of Cards is to The West Wing. This harsh reflection is riveting, but at its heart is a genuine love of music and how it can help one transcend the mundane. (I assume the bulk of my readership is now taking a moment to Google Love Monkey; I admit, it’s a fairly obscure piece of pop-culture history).

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Anything You Can’t Do, I Can Do Better

Prodigy #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Letters: Peter Doherty
Cover artists: Albuquerque (regular)/Frank Quitely (variant)
Editor: Rachael Fulton
Publisher: Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve got a standing order at my comic shop for all new Millarworld titles; I don’t always stick with them (I lost interest in Kick-Ass a long time ago, for example), but Millar is an Idea Machine that rarely disappoints. This new project slipped under my radar, though, so I was about a week behind in discovering its release. The concept isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s executed well, and Millar has managed to maintain my interest despite the protagonist’s arrogance. What struck me the most about this new project is how much it seemed like an edgier take on DC’s Mr. Terrific, so much so that I wonder if this wasn’t originally envisioned as a Terrific pitch before being remoulded to exist outside of a shared-continuity universe.

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Romeo Echo Victor India Echo Whiskey

The Warning #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Edward Laroche
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Jaymes Reed
Editor: Donald Hodges
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Writer/artist Edward Laroche offers a lot of elements in this opening issue that appeal to me as a reader. A realistic representation of a military operation, cynicism, flawed characters and artwork that blends an interesting mix of realism and style. That being said, I didn’t enjoy this story because Laroche essentially leaves out the most important element: that being an actual story. Everything about the first chapter of The Warning is designed to be mysterious, secretive, and on that level, it succeeds, but too well. The script is so nebulous, so drenched in vagueness, that by the end of the issue, I’d lost interest in the approaching conflict and the critical actions of the intense characters.

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Problem, Child

Elisabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits original graphic novella
Writer/Artist: Arabson
Adaptation: James Robinson
Colors: Anderson Cabral
Editor: Klebs Junior
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US

This U.S., translated edition of a Brazilian work immediately grabbed my eye when I saw it on the new-releases shelf at my local comic shop recently. The slightly larger format stands out, but not nearly as much as the striking, simple and effective cover. The title was enticing as well, and when I got the book home, it didn’t disappoint. In many ways, Arabson’s story of familial betrayal and a battle with pure evil is rather conventional, hitting on a number tropes we’ve seen before. But the exaggerated, bombastic quality of the art and the palpable personality emanating from the titular character makes for a thoroughly entertaining read. Writer James Robinson has also done a solid job of making this story accessible to a North American audience without losing the flavor of the South American culture.

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Reign the Swamp

Jook Joint #1
Writer: Tee Franklin
Artist: Alitha Martinez
Colors: Shari Chankhamma
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Cover artists: Martinez (regular)/Mike Hawthorne (variant)
Editor: Brendan Wright
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Tee Franklin is the real deal, folks. She has quickly emerged as a powerful and resonant voice in comics, and you’d do well to sit up and take notice of her. Her first big splash was this year’s Bingo Love, one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in 2018. And with Jook Joint, she demonstrates that fantastic debut was no fluke. Furthermore, she proves she’s a versatile writer as well, as the tone of this book is much harsher, much more intense and significantly angrier. And for good cause. The timing of Jook Joint couldn’t be better, given last week’s controversial events in American politics and justice (though some would understandably argue what occurred was far from justice). Jook Joint would have been written at least several months, well ahead of the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation vote, but the anger in America and abroad seems perfectly reflected in this story of a horrific #MeToo movement before its time.

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A Coming of Mage Story

Blackbird #1
Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Jen Bartel
Layouts: Paul Reinwand
Colors: Nayoung Wilson & Jen Bartel
Letters: Jodi Wynne
Cover artists: Bartel (regular)/Fiona Staples (variant)
Editor: Jim Gibbons
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Adolescence and early adulthood are trying experiences in the best of circumstances. Sure, a lot of us have debaucherous fun as we test our personal limits and society’s during that time, but it’s also a time of perpetual identity crisis. Now imagine going through that in the face of personal tragedy and family dysfunction; it would test even the most hardy of souls. Now imagine you’re attuned to something mysterious and magical, an unseen world of which you’ve caught only a glimpse, and rather than believe you, everyone around you thinks you’re crazy. Writer Sam Humphries explores the challenge of maturity and identity in the context of an urban fantasy world, and it’s brought to life beautifully by artist Jen Bartel. I didn’t know what to expect from this comic at all, and I was not only taken by surprise, but was completely captivated by the balance between grounded characterization and the wonder of the impossible.

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Monster-al Cycle

Man-Eaters #1
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Cover artist: Lia Miternique
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Before you venture further into this review, I have to note that my lack of familiarity with the subject matter of this comic book before I read it added immensely to my enjoyment of it. While I endeavor here to steer clear of spoilers whenever possible, my comments will no doubt detract from the writer’s efforts to keep the reader in the dark for the first half of the issue, and they’ll likely offer some hints at the twist later in the story. If you wish to avoid such information, just know that this comic is recommended, and come back and read what I have to say after you’ve had a chance to enjoy the issue for yourself.

Novelist and columnist Chelsea Cain’s brief foray into comics was noteworthy for how strongly her feminist themes resonated, both with a receptive audience and with a small but vocal opposition determined to ostracize women and minorities as lead characters and creators in genre fiction. Cain’s return to comics should generate a fair bit of attention, and for good reason. She delivers a playful bit of social satire here, building on feminist themes and exposing how a male-oriented society has transformed a completely natural and necessary bit of biology into a taboo subject. Women’s periods have long been off limits in many respects, to the point that many men have been completely in the dark about menstruation (including me, truth be told, for far too long). Here, Cain treats the notion of demonizing girls’ first periods quite literally, and the concept offers great potential for social commentary and a much-needed lampooning of outdated thinking.

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Trump Cards

Lil’ Donnie Vol. 1 hardcover comic-strip collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mike Norton
Copy editor: Sean McKeever
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

Man, Image Comics and cartoonist Mike Norton couldn’t have had better timing. While satire and political commentary by way of cartooning is always topical these days, never was such a biting send-up of the 45th President of the United States more relevant than it is the day after two criminals from his inner circle have been deemed guilty by the criminal justice system.

I’ve been following Lil’ Donnie online since Norton launched the strip a year and a half ago, so there wasn’t any material included in this print collection of the strip that I hadn’t seen before. But man, there were a lot of them about which I’d forgotten. Remember Sean Spicer? The glowing Saudi Arabian orb? These oddities don’t face because Norton’s humor and sharp criticisms aren’t memorable, but due to the sheer volume of political and cultural insanity that’s unfolded in the United States since the cartoonist undertook this labor of loathe.

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Boy, They Really Do Like German Definite Articles

Die!Die!Die! #1
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Scott M. Gimple
Artist/Cover artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Die!Die!Die! is one of the most interesting comic books in the traditional mainstream marketplace, not just this week, but this year and perhaps beyond that, but it has nothing to do with the content. It’s for the notion of a surprise comic, a token of appreciation for direct-market retailers and as an experiment in subversion of pop-culture expectations. For those reasons alone, it merits plenty of discussion, but this is a comic review, not an exploration of the culture of marketing and economics in the comic-book business. I didn’t pick up this book for its inherent collectibility or its novel release plan, but rather because I’m interested in the storytelling of Robert Kirkman, who’s achieved actual fame for The Walking Dead. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a number of his other projects, and while Die!Die!Die! doesn’t boast the engaging characterization of TWD or Outcast, it is entertaining. What’s surprising about Die!Die!Die! is that it reads very much like a Garth Ennis book, not a Kirkman comic, so it will appeal to fans of that other writer’s work.

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An Ear of Corn — Literally

Farmhand #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Rob Guillory
Colors: Taylor Wells
Letters: Kody Chamberlain
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Given the strength of his weird work on the much lauded and successful Chew (with writer John Layman), I knew I had to check out Rob Guillory’s latest project, which he’s written and illustrated. He didn’t disappoint. Chew will relish what they find here, as it boasts the same kind of over-the-top humor and oddball, edgy atmosphere. What’s truly interesting about this story, though, is its relevance, as Guillory manipulates the notion of genetic modification of plants and the notion of more extreme visions of health care to arrive at a thoroughly entertaining and unique comic.

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Better Red Than Dead

Shanghai Red #1
“Chapter One: Life Among the Rats”
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist/Colors: Joshua Hixson
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Cover artists: Hixson (regular)/Tyle Boss (variant)
Editor: Andrea Shockling
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to look at a preview copy of this comic book for review purposes. Here’s how good it is: upon its release, I bought the first issue at my local comic shop and added it immediately to my pull list. Shanghai Red (a reference to the main protagonist) is a dark and grisly piece of historical fiction, but it’s absolutely riveting. It reads a little like what might arise if director Quentin Tarantino were asked to deliver a spin on Pirates of the Caribbean. Mind you, there are no pirates here, only sailors and slave labour, and the inherent conflict that would arise from such circumstances. This may very well be the best comic book I’ve read in weeks, and what’s truly surprising is that it flows from the talent of creators who are completely unknown to be.

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Witch Hunt

Witchblade #6
Writer: Caitlin Kittredge
Artist/Cover artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colors: Bryan Valenza
Letters: Troy Peteri
Editor: Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US

While not the first comic to come from Image founder Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, Witchblade was its most successful property. It spawned its own little corner of the Image universe and even had its own short-lived, live-action television series. I was never a fan, though, as Witchblade seemed emblematic of the “Kewl” 1990s super-hero comic: superficially edgy fare the real purpose of which always seemed to be the prominent presentation of tits and asses. Objectification was job No. 1 with Witchblade comics in the past, so when a relaunch debuted this year, I was curious to see if Top Cow would stick with that sexist cachet or try to evolve. The good news is that the latter proved to be the case, but unfortunately, the plotting is rather clichéd, offering some loose-cannon-cop tropes dressed up with super-hero and supernatural elements.

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