Category Archives: Reviews – Image

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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Enter Stellar

Stellar #1
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Bret Blevins
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

It’s been a while since I read a comic written by Joe Keatinge — his Glory revamp with Sophie Campbell was great — but what really drew me to this comic was the artist. Bret Blevins was a mainstay of super-hero comics in the 1980s and 1990s, with work on such books as New Mutants, Strange Tales and Superman Adventures. In recent years, I believe he’s been working in animation, so seeing his name on a creator-owned title grabbed my attention. Blevins has always had a more unusual style, and he uses it to great effect here with this sci-fi epic. Stellar is a genuinely mature and challenging science-fiction story that will appeal to fans of European comics fare.

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Castling

The Last Siege #1
Writer: Landry Q. Walker
Artist: Justin Greenwood
Colors: Eric Jones
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Justin Greenwood (regular)/Nick Dragotta (variant)
Editor: Branwyn Bigglestone
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Medieval stories — either with sword-and-sorcery elements or now — are from a genre in which I generally don’t have a lot of interest. I haven’t watched a moment of Game of Thrones, for example, and similar fare, such as Conan stories, rarely hold my attention. Nevertheless, I decided to give The Last Siege a glance when a digital preview made its way into my little corner of the world. This story features a number of traits that normally turn me off from such material, from stilted dialogue to reflect the time to hardships and violence that make it next to impossible to relate to the characters. But there was something to the plot and script here that clicked for me. The blend of politics and crude opportunism honestly put me in mind of the political climate in western society today, and specifically in the United States.

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Gravity Fails

Skyward #1
“My Low-G Life, Part One”
Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Simon Bowland
Editor: Rick Lopez Jr.
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Normally, it’s characterization that makes or breaks a comic-book title for me. If I can relate to the characters, if they really feel like they live and breathe beyond the two-dimensional confines of the page, that’s often what resonates with me. Skyward offers some strong characterization, but with this first issue, it’s the premise that grabs the reader’s attention. The notion of a world that loses its gravity is presented as both a horrific tragedy and a heaven-sent miracle, and both perspectives are true. What makes this presentation of such an immense idea work, though, is how focused it is. Writer Joe Henderson takes us into just one small corner of a world without gravity, with a small cast of characters — which just happens to include a pivotal player in the story.

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Tech Support as Life Support

Cyber Force #1
Writers: Matt Hawkins & Bryan Hill
Artist/Colors: Atilio Rojo
Letters: Troy Peteri
Cover artists: Marc Silvestri and Atilio Rojo
Editor: Elena Saldeco
Publisher: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
Price: $3.99 US

I wasn’t a fan of the original Cyber Force series back in the early 1990s; like most of the other fare from Image Comics in its infancy, it was all about Kewl super-hero action, with ridiculous large guns and extreme violence. It was supremely popular with many readers (and notably collectors), but creator Marc Silvestri’s style wasn’t for me, and neither were the characters. When I learned Image and Top Cow Productions were relaunching the property and reinventing it in the process, it piqued my curiosity. I was pleased to find writers Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill (who have impressed me as late with their Postal one-shots) offer a much more grounded take on these extreme characters. The plot and character reactions here feel a little familiar, but the execution is solid and much more inviting than the original book.

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Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright…

Isola #1
Writer: Brenden Fletcher & Karl Kerschl
Artist/Cover artist: Kerschl
Colors: Msassyk
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

All I needed to know about Isola to add it to my pull list was that it was being illustrated by Karl Kerschl. I knew it would be a lovely book — and it is — but his and Brenden Fletcher’s story of myth and magic is much more compelling than I expected. The creators only give us the tiniest of tastes of the fantastic world they’ve created here, but it’s rich and full of promise. It feels as though Isola has the potential to be to fantasy and fable what Saga is to science-fiction. I have no doubt this is going to be the comic that next month sends readers scrambling at the last minute to grab a copy of an all-too short supply, as it could easily fly under the reader of my regular mainstream comics readers. Giving your retailer a heads-up about it would be wise — not out of any kind of collectibility, but because you really don’t want to pass up a chance to read this comic.

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Ghost Storey

Infidel #1
Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colors/Editor: José Villarrubia
Letters: Jeff Powell
Cover artists: Campbell (regular)/Jae Lee (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Promotional material from Image Comics about this new release suggests that this comic book marks the first time that Pornsak Pichetshote — a respected editor in the industry, formerly with DC’s Vertigo imprint — has written one. That’s actually a mistake; Pichetshote penned Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries #1, published back in 2011. Given the strength of the characterization and plotting in this new project, I think maybe I might have to go back and look at that one shot from DC Comics. Pichetshote offers a riveting story that blends the ugliness of bigotry with the supernatural scars of murder. He achieves a tremendous balance between grounded elements and surreal ones, but it’s really the former aspects of the book that will ultimately win over readers.

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Bursting into Song

Oblivion Song #1
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Lorenzo De Felici
Colors: Annalisa Leoni
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Oblivion Song reads a bit like what might have unfolded had the entire town of Hawkins been sucked into the Upside Down in Stranger Things instead of just Will and Barb. But whereas Stranger Things was very much about atmosphere and character interaction, Oblivion Song, due to its more ambitious premise, is much more sociopolitical in its approach to storytelling. There are strong characterization elements as well, but the book, while boasting several strengths, is definitely most interesting thanks to its focus on the effect on the world outside the monstrous, surreal realm where the more action-oriented moments take place. This was a strong debut Issue, and writer Robert Kirkman continues to demonstrate that he’s a novel, skilled and intelligent storyteller.

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