Category Archives: Reviews – Indy/Small Press

They Do Need Those Stinkin’ Badges

Scout’s Honor #1
“The Seven Laws of Doctor Jefferson Hancock”
Writer: David Pepose
Artist: Luca Casalanguida
Colors: Matt Milla
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover artists: Andy Clarke (regular)/Maan ouse (variant)
Editor: Christina Harrington
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Smaller publishers appear to be enjoying some growth in support in the last year or two, which is always encouraging, as this is the territory that fosters more comics outside the dominant super-hero genre. And it serves as the training and proving ground for new talents. Unfortunately, the boom in the marketplace outside of Marvel and DC titles appears driven, at least in part, by value speculation. Mind you, there’s some logic to it, since these comics are ordered in lower numbers than their mainstream counterparts. But what’s really important is whether these books pay off in terms of storytelling, both visually and conceptually. The high concept here – the notion of Scouting as the basis of a paramilitary peacekeeping organization in a post-apocalyptic future – is an interesting one. As I read the issue, though, despite the novel premise, the plot beats felt a bit predictable. It’s a fun, action-packed story that explores a patriarchal, exclusionary organization even in a far-flung future, but the twists the writer tries to weave into the story felt more like straight lines.

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Martin Peters original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Patrick Allaby
Publisher: Conundrum Press
Price: $15 US/CAN

This independent graphic novel from a young cartoonist came to my attention because he grew up in the city in which I now live, and he was doing a signing at a local comic shop. I’m always happy to support locally produced comics and talent, and I’ve had the fortune of discovering some truly great slice-of-life comics from the indie scene over the years. As I delved into this book, it wasn’t quite what I expected, and it definitely could have benefitted from some strong editorial guidance. But I have to admit, despite the flaws I found, I was fascinated by the book — not so much in terms of the story, but in witnessing the stylistic and plotting choices its creator made in its development. Patrick Allaby’s inexperience shows through here, but so does the potential for him to grow as a storyteller in future endeavors.

Flea-Market Finds: Denver

Denver original graphic novel
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Pier Brito
Letters: Bill Tortolini
Cover artists: Pier Brito (regular)/Amanda Conner (variant)
Editor: Joanne Starer
Publisher: Paperfilms
Price: $19.99 US

Jimmy Palmiotti and company’s independent ventures are typically published under the branding of “PaperFilms,” and it’s an apt designation. This graphic novel reads very movie like something designed as a cinematic experience, and it works as a movie pitch, honestly. I know I’d watch this flick, as I enjoyed and appreciated the premise here. There’s just one problem, but it’s a big one: the creators like gratuitous sexuality get in the way of a fire and powerfully relevant plot. I enjoy sex and provocative imagery as much as the next guy, but Denver isn’t a sexy story, and the creators’ effort to inject sex into the book feels forced and distracting. Once you lift those elements out, though, Denver is a novel piece of speculative fiction that nails the sociopolitical, geological and social effects that climate change will undoubtedly have on the world in the coming decades.

If This Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right

The Wrong Earth #1
Writers: Tom Peyer, Paul Constant & Grant Morrison
Artists: Jamal Igle & Juan Castro, Frank Cammuso and Rob Steen
Colors: Andy Troy and Frank Cammuso
Letters: Rob Steen and Frank Cammuso
Cover artist: Jamal Igle
Editor: Tom Peyer
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Price: $3.99 US

When I was a kid first discovering comics through DC titles, I was mesmerized by the parallel earths concept. I couldn’t get enough of it, so much so it should really come as no surprise that Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of my favorite comics stories. With this new title, writer/editor Tom Peyer plays around with the idea of super-heroes and parallel worlds, and he does so to great effect. This isn’t the first time a lighter incarnation of am characters ventures into a darker world and vice versa, but Peyer’s effective collaboration with penciller Jamal Igle packs a particularly strong punch. Their commentary on disparate but iconic visions of the super-hero genre both pays tribute to the source material and takes them to task for their excesses. This is a great debut from a new publisher wise enough to tap experienced talent.

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A Sketchy Character

Frank Quitely: Drawings + Sketches hardcover art book
Writer/Artist: Frank Quitely
Editor: Nicola Love
Publisher: BHP Comics
Price: $26.99 US/£18.99 UK

I’ve been reading comics for almost 40 years now, and it’s without a doubt my favorite entertainment medium. As I’ve matured, I’ve become more and more interested in the creative process, and this art book takes us into the inventive art of highly regarded comic artist Frank Quitely. He’s offered some of the more inventive and challenging comics visuals, especially in the super-hero genre, in recent memory, and this book offers insight, directly from the artist, of how those medium-expanding moments came to be. This book will be a must for any Quitely devotee, but readers should bear in mind it’s far from a comprehensive look at his career.

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I Can’t Thrive at 55

The Season of the Snake #1
Writer: Serge Lehman
Artist: Jean-Marie Michaud
Translation: Edward Gauvin
Cover artists: Simon Roy and Jean-Marie Michaud
Editor: Lauren Bowes
Publisher: Titan Comics/Statix Press
Price: $6.99 US

I think North American comics enthusiasts need to be paying closer attention to Titan’s re-releases and translations of Euro-comics under its Statix Press imprint, because the UK-based publisher bringing some real gems to potentially wider audiences. Originally published in French as La Saison de la Couloevre in 2007, Season of the Snake is one such gem. Like many other European science-fiction comics, it’s immense in scope, meticulous in its level of detail and challenging in the breadth of the world-building. But what draws you in here is how grounded it is in the face of that other-worldly imagination.

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Grin and Baron It

Sitcomics Presents The Blue Baron Bing Book #1
Writer: David Baron
Pencils: Ron Frenz & Craig Rousseau
Inks: Sal Buscema & Craig Rousseau
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: Sitcomics
Price: $3.99 US

This comic book and Sitcomics in general is the brainchild of TV writer Darin Henry. It seems as though Henry’s a comic-book fan who’s making his dream of writing in the medium come true. As a writer, he makes some missteps here, but as a publisher, he makes a couple of moves that make his comics worth a look. What he does right is talent and value. He’s tapped industry veterans Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema to bring his bombastic Blue Baron and his super-hero colleagues to life, and it’s hard for a longtime genre fan such as myself to resist artwork crafted by those two talents. Furthermore, Baron offers 72 pages of comics content (including the “Startup” origin backup story) for a mere $3.99 US. There are 63 pages of Blue Baron material in this comic, which means the audience gets three issues’ worth of content for the price of one. Not a bad way to invite oneself into a reader’s home, though I wonder if it’s sustainable, especially since Sitcomics appears to be self-distributed.

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Microsoft Approves of Piracy in This Case

Sea of Thieves #1
Writer: Jeremy Whitley
Artist: Rhoald Marcellius
Colors: Sakti Yuwono
Letters: Jaka Ady
Cover artists: Rhoald Marcellius, Game Art and José Carlos Silva
Editor: Tom Williams
Publisher: Titan Comics
Price: $3.99 US

There were two things that caught my eye when I saw the solicitation information for this comic book. One was the fact that the title suggested nothing else than a pirate comic, and it’s been ages since I had one, and the second was the fact it’s written by Jeremy (The Unstoppable Wasp, Princeless) Whitley, who’s developed a solid reputation for fun storytelling in the medium. That reputation is in no danger, as Sea of Thieves is replete with everything that makes pirates colorful and fun, and an array of larger-than-life characters that really grab the reader’s attention. Whitley is also well known for crafting stories featuring strong female characters, and that holds true here as well. In preparing this review, I discovered this is apparently an adaptation or spinoff of a Microsoft video game. I had no idea such a game existed, but I’m pleased to report knowledge of the game isn’t at all necessary to enjoy this comic book.

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Here We Go Again…

Strangers in Paradise XXV #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studio
Price: $3.99 US

Everything Terry Moore writes and draws is something I want to see, and in recent years, I’ve enjoyed seeing him branch out into other genres. With Echo, it was a novel and grounded take on a super-hero. Rachel Rising saw him delve into horror. And with Motor Girl, he examined… well, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly under what genre that book fell (which is one of the things that was so captivating about it). Strangers in Paradise is the drama that served to bring Moore to the industry’s attention, the foundation on which he built his career in comics and his success in self-publishing. At first glance, the past incarnations of the property were part of a relationship drama, even an unconventional romance. But like Motor Girl, it defied easy definition. It was a slapstick comedy. An international thriller. A coming-of-age story. The depth of his characters — especially when it came to Katchoo and Francine — no doubt made revisiting this familiar corner of the world he’s built after so long a relatively simple task for a storyteller with the vision, nuance and sensitivity of Moore, but I was surprised he chose to return to this corner of the world he’s built over the years. However, yet another strong and riveting script from this masterful writer/artist now has me eager to learn what’s happened with these characters and what’s in store for them.

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Mike Drop

Motor Girl #10
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studios
Price: $3.99 US

Any week that brings a new Terry Moore comic book into my life is a good one. I’d usually say Moore never disappoints with anything he offers up to his readers, but when I scanned of the cover of this issue of Motor Girl, I encountered disappointment. A small blurb, right under the issue number, cast a pall over me: “Final Issue!” Final issue? Final issue?!? Damn. Fortunately, that’s the only let-down about this concluding chapter of a weird but ultimately grounded and even important work. On the surface, Motor Girl seems like one of the goofier titles Moore has crafted, all on his own, but as we’ve seen in previous issues and as is proven with this conclusion, Motor Girl really isn’t about an imaginary ape pal, cute alien invasions or the cartoonish villainy of a megalomaniacal millionaire. Instead, it’s about the scars inflicted all too often on people who serve, and fortunately, also about the resilience of the human mind and spirit.

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Detective Comic

Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #1
Writer/Artist/Colors: Cynthia Von Buhler
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: David Mack, Robert McGinnis, Cynthia Von Buhler & photo cover
Editors: Charles Ardai & Tom Williams
Publisher: Titan Comics/Hard Case Crime imprint
Price: $3.99 US

OK, this may be the best title I’ve ever seen — on a comic, a book, a movie. Ever. That alone should be enough to get just about anyone to pick up this comic book and peruse its pages. Mind you, not everyone should, as this one is definitely not for the younger set, even those with a taste for historical fiction. Writer/artist Cynthia Von Buhler has created something rather unique here, and that’s an even better reason for one to check out this work. The fun and even slightly naughty qualities of this plot actually dress up a more pertinent message (especially in today’s socio-political environment): female empowerment. The protagonist is a woman who refuses to “know” her place in the early 20th century, and the other key players in the drama are women as well. What drew me in the most here was the mystery — not just the mystery at the heart of the plot, but the permeating celebration of the appeal of mystery, and the strong, willful personality of the title heroine had me eager to see her succeed.

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Exit, Stage West, Even

Calexit #1
“Chapter 1: If You Wanna Scream, Scream With Me”
Writer: Matteo Pizzolo
Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
Colors: Tyler Boss
Letters: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Price: $3.99 US

This may be the first Black Mask title I’ve sampled, as I haven’t been as engaged with comics-publication news in recent years, but the cover and name for this comic book really grabbed my eye when I glimpsed it on the stands last week. While I’m not as engrossed with the latest developments in the industry, I’ve become far more immersed in American political news, and this thoroughly topical reaction to that real-life news piqued my interest immediately. It’s a capable piece of fiction and commentary on the state of the world today and potentially going forward, but it also wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. And not necessarily in a bad way. Ultimately, this is character-driven story, which means the political and military status of a fractured America isn’t detailed in depth. But it’s intriguing and can spark important discussions about the ever-increasing issues of concern in the not-so-United States.

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Extra! Extra! Read All About It…

The Last Paper Route #1
Writers: Sean Jordan & Alex Kennedy
Artist: Dave Howlett
Letters: Jason Loo
Cover artist: Kody Peters
Publisher: Decent Comics
Price: $3.50 CAN

I happened upon this indie, self-published comic while attending the East Coast Comic Expo recently, and it caught my eye for a few reasons, but chief among them was its connection to the newspaper industry, notably how the industry existed a number of years ago. As a reporter for a daily newspaper (and a former paperboy myself), I decided I ought to check it out. The creators offer up an over-the-top tribute to the lost childhood job of newspaper delivery, as well as to the importance of print journalist, albeit to a lesser extent. There’s nothing remotely realistic about their take on the concept of paper routes, but there’s definitely something nostalgic. The Last Paper Route is difficult to describe. I was put in mind of The Goonies and Back to the Future — not in terms of plot, but when it comes to the exaggerated adventure and weird characters that populate an otherwise mundane, suburban backdrop.

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Fear, Kitty Kitty Kitty…

VariantDie Kitty Die #1
Writers/Pencils: Fernando Ruiz & Dan Parent
Inks: Rich Koslowski & J. Bone
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: Janice Chiang
Cover artists: Parent and Ruiz (regular editions)/Darwyn Cooke, and Ruiz & Parent (variants)
Publisher: Chapter House Comics/Astro Comix
Price: $3.99 US

I’ve been hearing about this project for a year or so, and I’ve been quite curious about it. It was originally released digitally, but I prefer comics on paper. Anticipating a print release, I waited, so I was pleased to find it on my local comic shop’s shelves this week. I hope Die Kitty Die proves to be a small-press success, because its commentary on comics publishing, pop culture as product and the poor treatment of creative forces, though a familiar refrain, merits further exposure and discussion. Archie Comics talents Dan Parent and Fernando Ruiz not only offer a sendup of their usual employers and its characters, but also target the comics industry as a whole, even including pastiches/homages of little-used Harvey properties, such as Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hot Stuff. One thing is abundantly clear from this comic: its creators really had a blast putting it together. There’s an exuberance evident here, one that flows, I assume, from the catharsis of expressing and letting go of their professional frustrations.

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Arts and Lovecrafts

C21st Gods #1
Writer: David Tallerman
Artist/Colors/Letters/Cover artist: Anthony Summey
Editor: Bill Campbell
Publisher: Rosarium Publishing
Price: $1.99 US

I’ve never read any H.P. Lovecraft works, but I feel as though I have, as his work – notably his Cthulhu and ancient gods concepts – is referenced so often in comics and is prominent so often as a key influence on creators. Promotional material for this first issue of a three-part series bills it as a “reimagining” of Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. As I’ve not read the original source material, I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the plot and themes, but I can comment on how it stands up as storytelling in its own right. For a release from a practically unknown small-press publisher, it’s striking in its professionalism. David Tallerman makes some choices with his script that might not be the right ones, but overall, he offers up a compelling mystery, despite some of the cop-drama cliches that are to be found here.

A police detective and his partner respond to an odd scene where they discover a cultist whose committed a grisly ritual murder and sets out to kill again when coming face to face with the cops. The bizarre and gruesome scenario prompts no end of questions in Detective Connor’s mind, and he’s determine to expose a murderous conspiracies, even over the objections of his obstructionist and paranoid commanding officer.

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