Category Archives: Reviews – Image

Let’s Talk About Sax

Variant coverHappy! #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Darick Robertson
Colors: Richard P. Clark
Letters: Simon Bowland
Cover artists: Robertson (regular)/Michael Allred (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I’m always up for a new Grant Morrison project, and it’s nice to see him return to creator-owned projects after such a long stay in the DC Universe. That he opted to offer new, original work through Image Comics goes a long way to solidify the publisher as the home of new, unconventional and strong creator-owned work. The core premise of this new series — the juxtaposition of the hard-boiled crime genre and a cartoony fantasy element — is fairly simple and on the surface, seemingly clever. But the two disparate sides of Happy! just don’t seem to mesh well. Furthermore, the gory, unrelenting scenes of underworld violence — even before the opposite element comes into play — turned me off. Morrison plunges us in the middle of a situation in which a group of awful people do awful things to one another, and what’s left out is a reason for the reader to care about any of them.

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Girl, It-terrupted

It Girl and the Atomics #s 1 & 2
“Dark Streets, Snap City”
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist: Mike Norton
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letters: Crank!
Cover artists: Michael Allred/Darwyn Cooke (variant for #2)
Editors: Jamie S. Rich & Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US each

The first issue of this series was released earlier this month, and writer Jamie S. Rich was kind enough to send along a review copy, along with an advance review file of the second installment. I’ve always enjoyed Rich’s writing, but I approached these comics with some trepidation. While Mike Allred’s Madman comics (from which these characters hail) are understandably held up as examples of strong, unusual and fun comics storytelling, I’ve never really connected with Frank Einstein and his zany world. It’s not that I think they’re not well-crafted comics; it’s just that the surreal and loopy elements just didn’t seem to be my bag. Rich and artist Mike Norton certainly do a solid job of instilling some of those qualities into this spinoff book, but it comes off as a bit more accessible, not only in terms of plotting but in tone as well. This is a fun tribute to Silver Age super-hero comics, with a touch of 21st century culture and technology thrown in for good measure.

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Pedometer of the Damned

The Walking Dead #100
“Something to Fear, Part Four”
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Gray tones: Cliff Rathburn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Cover artists: Charlie Adlard, Marc Silvestri, Frank Quitely, Todd McFarlane, Sean Phillips, Bryan Hitch & Ryan Ottley
Editor: Sina Grace
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US/CAN ($9.99 US/CAN chromium cover)

What may be the best-selling North American comic book of the year is a fairly run-of-the-mill chapter of the long-running, popular zombie-apocalypse series, but it’s nevertheless a satisfying one for fans and followers. Kirkman’s focus here is on shock value. He tries to shock his readers with the casual callousness and corruption of a new villain. He tries to shock us by writing against the expectations he’s built up over the past few months. And he tries to shock the audience with the death of a major character. While the storytelling is visceral and effective, it’s not really shocking — at least not for those who have been paying attention over the course of the series.

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Keep This Secret

Secret #1
“Chapter One: Teeth With Which to Eat”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Ryan Bodenheim
Colors: Michael Garland
Letters: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

When I saw this comic book on the most recent new releases list a few days ago, I had no idea what it was. But as soon as I saw Jonathan Hickman’s name attached to it, I knew I wanted it. Hickman’s creator-owned work is so strong, I told the manager at my local comic shop to add any Hickman-penned Image title to my pull list. I won’t miss any future projects should they fly under my radar again. Secret marks a bit of departure for Hickman, at least in terms of subject matter. I normally associate him with meticulously crafted science-fiction stories (Red Wing) or stories with a strong focus on social commentary (The Nightly News). With Secret, he offers up a story of intrigue. It boasts a convincing and intense tone. It feels a bit like The Firm meets Mission Impossible (and no, I didn’t pick two Tom Cruise flicks for the comparison on purpose). Maybe what’s most interesting about the first issue of this limited series is there are no good guys to be found. All of the characters seem corrupt or dangerous in some way, but their conflicting (and for some, unknown) motives are what create the drama.

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Must Bleed TV

America’s Got Powers #1
Writers: Jonathan Ross & Bryan Hitch
Pencils: Bryan Hitch
Inks: Andrew Currie & Paul Neary
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover artists: Hitch (regular)/Leinil Yu (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

The only competition-based reality show I watch with any regularity these days is The Amazing Race, and I have a serious aversion to those performance shows, such as American Idol, Insert Country Here’s Got Talent and Dancing With the Stars. As such, the title and apparent premise of America’s Got Powers didn’t appeal to me. On the other hand, Bryan Hitch’s artwork does. With that in mind, as well as Image’s track record of inventive new titles, I decided to give the first issue a look. After reading it, I find I’m of two minds. Jonathan Ross’s plot and script feels a little… formulaic. There aren’t any story developments in this debut issue that are particularly surprising (though it wasn’t exactly predictable either), and there are too many one-dimensional, cliched characters we’ve seen too many times before. However, I was also impressed with his commentary on the ugliness of Western culture, about its excesses and the ease with which people adopt prejudices and class distinctions. Hitch’s photorealistic art certainly works well with the subject matter, but it’s occasionally a bit difficult to follow.

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Claw the Unconquered

Queen Crab original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Artiz Eiguren
Cover artist: Sas Christian
Editor: Amanda Conner
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

I’m a lucky guy because the manager of my local comic shop is forever directing my attention to unusual and lesser-known comics and graphic novels he think I might find interesting, and this Kickstarter project of Jimmy Palmiotti’s definitely flew under my radar. I like it when Palmiotti takes on these personal, unconventional projects, so I was quick to grab a copy. It turns out the small chain of comic shops where I get my books was also a strong supporter and sponsor of Queen Crab, so my book was signed and included a couple of prints (one by Palmiotti and another by Amanda Conner). It was a nice bonus, but I was far more interested in this book with the unusual cover. Despite the premise of a woman who wakes up one day to find she has crustacean claws instead of hands, it’s really more of a slice-of-life book that examines the life of a woman who’s settled for a lesser life. Most of the book is a bit of a bummer, but in a resonant way. It’s an interesting character study that’s marred somewhat but some awkward pacing, but it merits a look just because it’s such a change of pace.

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Book This Steal

Thief of Thieves #1
“Chapter One, The Thief and His Apprentice”
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Nick Spencer
Artist/Cover artist: Shawn Martinbrough
Colors: Felix Serrano
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sina Grace
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

People who enjoy Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ various Criminal comics will enjoy Thief of Thieves. People who enjoy such titles as Who Is Jake Ellis? and The Rinse will enjoy Thief of Thieves. Here’s the thing, though: Thief of Thieves isn’t quite as good as those other book. Thief has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Shawn Martinbrough’s crisp, dark artwork and Nick Spencer’s sharp, pitter-patter scripting in the second act. Unfortunately, the big build-up to the cliffhanger moment is for naught, because it’s obvious where things are headed. Thief of Thieves is clearly taking some inspiration from some great crime and intrigue comics (and likely stories from other media), but the first issue can only purport to be good, not great.

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Turning a Prophet

Prophet #21
Writer: Brandon Graham
Artist: Simon Roy
Colors: Richard Ballermann
Letters: Ed Brisson
Cover artists: Marian Churchland (regular)/Rob Liefeld & Andy Troy (variant)
Editor: Eric Stephenson
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

I never even thumbed through a single issue of the previous volumes of this Rob Liefeld-created comic title in the 1990s. His work and that of other artists who worked on the book, including Stephen Platt, just didn’t boast styles that appealed to me at the time. Furthermore, nothing about the concept made me want to take note of it either. When it was announced Liefeld was resurrecting the property more than a decade into the 21st century, one wouldn’t have thought I’d have any interest either, but it’s clear this isn’t the same comic it was 15-20 years ago. Tapping King City writer/artist Brandon Graham to helm this new take on the title character got me excited. I’ll read anything Graham touches, it’s a policy that’s never steered me wrong. I’m also thrilled to see Simon Roy illustrating Graham’s story. Roy made a real impression on me with his graphic novella Jan’s Atomic Heart, and it was fun to see him back in action. His and Graham’s styles definitely complement each other, and the two Canadian creators have brought a distinctly European sensibility to this once bombastic and wholly American property.

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A Grizzly Discovery

Reed Gunther #5
“Reed Gunther and the Freakshow Showdown!”

Reed Gunther #6
“From Cowboy to Cowman!”

Writer/Letters: Shane Houghton
Artist/Cover artist: Chris Houghton
Colors: Ciaran Lucas & Jose Flores (#5)/Josh Ulrich & Jose Flores (#6)

Not long ago, I was thumbing through comics recent comics and files I’d received, looking for something a bit off-beat to read, specifically for review purposes. I was putting together one of my Quick Critiques posts, and I wanted to bring some variety to it with a non-super-hero property published by an outfit other than DC and Marvel. I never have a shortage of possibilities, and these two issues of Reed Gunther were near the top of a reading list I had on my desk. So I decided to check them out, not knowing what to expect. Man, have I been missing out on an irreverent, all-ages comic that serves as another example of the strength and diversity Image Comics has to offer those with a love of comics. The Houghton brothers clearly have a passion for comics and for light, goofy adventure. Each issue — hell, each panel — exudes so much personality and whimsy, one can’t help but smile at the title character’s triumphs and gaffes. I was so pleased with what I found in this title, I felt the need to write a full review rather than just a capsule.

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Second Chance at Afterlife

Haunt #19
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist/Cover artist: Nathan Fox
Colors: FCO Plascencia
Letters: Comicraft
Editor: Jen Cassidy
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

When Todd McFarlane and Image Comics released their original teaser/promotional image for this property, I was unimpressed with how uninspired the character design was, with how it basically combined the looks of the two characters with which McFarlane is most closely associated: Spider-Man and Spawn. When the first issue was released a little more than two years, I remained unimpressed, even though Robert (The Walking Dead) Kirkman was the writer and co-creator of the series. That was the last I looked at Haunt, and I never expected I’d give it a second look or thought. And then, with Kirkman and artist Greg Capullo’s withdrawal from the book, the new creative team was announced, and I was immediately intrigued. Artist Nathan (DMZ) Fox boasts an unconventional, indie-flavored style that couldn’t be more of a departure from what we’ve seen from other McFarlane creations, and Joe Casey, while no stranger to mainstream super-hero comics, also has a reputation for offbeat, even challenging fare. I couldn’t resist checking out such a dramatic shift in creative direction.

Now if I could just figure out what the hell’s going on…

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Mudslinging (and I Mean That in a Good Way)

Mudman #1
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Paul Grist
Colors: Bill Crabtree
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

When I saw a promotional image for this comic book (which I think was the cover image), I was drawn to it immediately. Obviously, I had an interest in any new project from Paul (Jack Staff, Kane) Grist, but there was something more to it. The title and concept comes off as fairly simple, but there’s also something… innocent about it. I think, like me, many young readers of super-hero comics have created their own characters, drawn them on lined looseleaf and brightened those crude sketches with colored pencils. A friend and I built a whole universe — Energy Man, Tornado Man, the Cougar and more — in homemade comics drawn on newsprint that just happened to be the right size for a standard comic book. Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything childish about Grist’s craft here. He offers a charming tribute to the Silver Age while concurrently turning some of those decades-old super-hero conventions on their head. Grist has instilled a sense of mystery and history into this origin story. It’s clear Mudman (at least the costume and the power) has been around for some time, and I look forward to Grist’s construction of a myth for the title character as well as fun adventures.

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Eve of Destruction

Pherone softcover graphic novel
Writers: Patrick Baggatta, Jim Sink & Viktor Kalvachev
Artist: Viktor Kalvachev
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $14.99 US

In some respects, Pherone demonstrates the versatility and strong artistic possibilities that lie in computer-enhanced comic art. In some respects, Pherone reads like an adolescent boy’s idea of the perfect action story — one with a lot of sex. In some respects, Pherone is a worthy sibling to such crime/espionage books as Sin City, 100 Bullets and Criminal. In some respects, it’s really about atmosphere above story, about the surface rather than substance. There’s a lot to like about Pherone, but there are also a lot of elements in the book that made me roll my eyes. Pherone is nevertheless a lot of fun in its own gratuitous way, but maybe what’s most interesting about it is its history. The story was originally published in serialized form in Kevin Eastman’s revived Heavy Metal magazine, and I can see this material fitting in perfectly with that publication. After all, if Heavy Metal was about anything, it was about sex and violence. And that’s what Pherone offers in spades.

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Hahn’s Maid’s Tale

All Nighter #3
“Stealing Boyfriends”
Writers/Artist/Cover artist: David Hahn
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US

The first issue of this five-part series was good but really didn’t stand out all that much, maybe because I thought it was going to be about a couple of punks who got kicks from stealing from others and breaking into other people’s homes, but the issues that followed have really grabbed my attention. This series just keeps getting better and better, because those subsequent episodes of All Nighter have focused on the relationships in the main character’s life. David Hahn has crafted a tremendously compelling collection of characters and interpersonal dynamics, and his simple cartooning style has made for some attractive but believable figures. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series, in part from an unusual mystery but mostly because I’m interest in seeing Kit learning from the mistakes she’s making. Ultimately, this series seems to be about a girl maturing into a woman, not from a physiological or sexual perspective, but from an emotional one.

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Booty Call

The Vault #1
Writer: Sam Sarkar
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
Colors: Sakti Yuwono
Cover artist: Bagus Hutomo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50

The creators of The Vault aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here with their story about treasure hunters who happen upon something paranormal and, I’m assuming, deadly. But as I made my way through the opening pages, I was thrilled to find some real-world history and culture from my corner of the world — Atlantic Canada — playing a significant role in the plot. The Oak Island treasure and Sable Island references really pleased me and drew me further into the story. Of course, writer Sam Sarkar and artist Garrie Gastonny can’t count on Oak Island buffs (or, you know, people like me who’ve just heard of it) to make up their entire audience. The real-world history that serves as the foundation of the story is a strong one, strong enough to keep a relatively formulaic plot interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention through some generic plot developments and the customary cast introductions. This is essentially a cheesy popcorn movie put to paper, and if you enjoy flicks from The Mummy to Virus, you’ll probably enjoy The Vault.

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Time Flies

The Red Wing #1
“Learning to Fly”
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Cover artists: Pitarra (regular)/Dustin Weaver (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Oh, how I’ve longed to see that stark, white background/cover design, with the words “” printed on the back cover under a small crest. Writer Jonathan Hickman has made a strong impression in the past couple of years with his work at Marvel, but even his best work with the super-hero publisher pales in comparison with the creator-owned work published by Image that first solidified his reputation in the industry. I’m thrilled that he’s returned to it with this new project. Marvel clearly values Hickman and has its own imprint for creator-owned comics (Icon), but it’s encouraging to see the writer stick with the one who brung ‘im, so to speak. There’s a fairly straightforward idea at the heart of this science-fiction story — time travel as a means to wage war — but Hickman dresses it up nicely with some smart dialogue. But what makes the story worth reading isn’t the convincing, cool science speak or jaunts into the past, but rather a simple story about one person’s struggle with the conflicting emotions of grief and hope.

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