Monday, January 26, 2015

Indie Corner - 01/21/2015

Each week I'll spotlight a couple independent books I've read and may have flown under people's radar.

Krang!  Shredder!  The Turtles!  Hob!  Stockman!  Fugitoid!  This issue features nearly every member of the cast, as everyone's plans come into figurative, if not literal, conflict.  Judging by the events of this issue and the cover to the next issue, there should be at least three major slugfests next issue... but there are a few notable absences.  Hun is on the cover but not in the issue.  Casey is similarly absent.  Could Alopex and Nobody be aces up someone's sleeve?  I hope so, because neither is on the scene yet and I'm sure they'll be needed somewhere soon.  Rat King puts in an appearance for one flashback panel, just long enough to remind me we haven't seen Kitsune in a while.  Everything we know is happening or about to happen is explosive enough, but factoring in the remaining characters means the scales could tip in anyone's favor.  There's a reason I can't stop talking about this series, and it's because this title is consistently great.

Zombies vs Robots 01
So here's a surprise: the usual comic backmatter actually shows up on page 13.  Page 12 ends with "to be continued...", Page 13 is the backmatter, and I hadn't even hit the staples at the center of the book yet.  In a move that certainly surprised this reader, this issue is actually three short comics set in the Zombies vs Robots world.  Two writers, three artists.  I dig it.  The "backmatter" I mentioned earlier explains what came before and how this series came about.  It was rather informative since I haven't read any of the previous series.  The actual back of the book lists those previous series, including ISBNs, for easy ordering.  Which I think I'll do.  To sum up: humanity is dead, robots fight zombies for control of the Earth.  This is what happens next.

I read this yesterday and have been struggling to figure out what to say about this issue.  I enjoyed it, so there's that.  It's mostly a picking-up-the-pieces issue for our cast.  A city fell out of the sky in the first issue and everyone's still recovering from that, trying to figure out what to do next.  It feels a tiny bit like Walking Dead since everyone is trying to find shelter, food, supplies, and generally survive to see tomorrow.  The Champion decides he'll play along, even if he does think all these animals are a dream.  It's good, and I think I might be in it for the long haul.

The only Conan I've read is the Brian Wood series, which I generally enjoyed.  The only Red Sonja I've read was the free first issue I got from Comixology last December that I haven't talked about yet.  When this series was first announced, I thought, "Great!  People love Gail Simone writing Red Sonja and I enjoy Brian Wood writing Conan!"  Then Brian wasn't working on it anymore, and I really didn't hear anything else until the book was out.  I use all of that as preface because I don't actually have much to say about the book itself.  It's well written and looks gorgeous.  The title characters meet, team-up, and fight as per the standard rules of engagement of any crossover.  I'll be picking up the rest of the series and would recommend you do the same if you're a fan of either character.

This is a pretty quiet issue, checking in with various characters and the new status quo of Earth given the events of the previous arc.  I found the conversation with The Immortal particularly interesting, and am glad to see Mark knows himself well enough to come to the decision he does at the end of the issue.

I had this whole other paragraph planned and partially written, speculating about upcoming events.  But I decided to scrap it.  When it comes to Kirkman, my speculation is never accurate.  He always manages to surprise me and come up with something even better than I expected.  I await whatever new amazing, and likely horrific, story elements will follow.

P.S. It's a little weird seeing Bulletproof still wearing Invincible's costume.  What's up with that?

I can't tell you what happens in this issue.  A few of my reviews this week include the line "not much happens."  That's not the case here.  The story gets moved forward, but there's so much vagueness and weirdness that I can barely tell you what happened.  Ordinarily, that might be seen as a negative.  In this case, I love it.  The script is full of humor, and the art is amazing.  I could look at this all day.  I'm primarily familiar with Arcudi and Harren from their work on B.P.R.D., a series which is consistently great, and Harren drew two of my favorite stories.  He conveys a sense of movement and speed exceptionally well, but everything looks awesome.  Anyone even remotely interested should pick up the first issue to check it out.

Samurai Jack is definitely written for the trade, with a trade equating to one or two TV episodes.  This is the beginning of a new arc, so the stage is set.. but otherwise, not much happens.  Still, this issue features the return of a favorite character of mine (probably a genuine fan favorite, but I don't have confirmation on that).  It should be a really fun arc, though I think the end is pretty obvious from the outset.  Still enjoying it, still recommending it for anyone that was a fan of the show.

This issue is a turning point in the series, and all the characters know it even while it's happening.  As if things were bad enough before, they'll be worse once this present situation is resolved.  That situation?  The big multi-faction everyone-versus-everyone that started last issue is still going here and will continue into at least into next issue.  It is, in just about every way, worse now than it was at the end of last issue.  Which is to say, this issue was fantastic, and I can't hardly wait until the next one.

Not much happens this issue, but just as it was with Trees, it's the WAY not much happens that counts.  While I love the way Gillen and McKelvie tell this story, the story itself is getting a little tired.  I sincerely hope this whole Luci thing doesn't stretch out for the next two years of comic-time, because it frankly doesn't have the legs to support it.  That said, Laura continues to be amazing and the gods continue to be fairly uninteresting assholes.  Luci was great but she's gone now.  I'm really going to need someone or something else to care about, and quickly.

It all ends here.  Most of the issue is a giant firefight between various types of aircraft and airborne people, with bullets flying and things exploding on just about every page.  There is a brief origin story, or sorts, and a brief epilogue, but again, most of the issue is taken up by the fight that's been brewing since the first issue.  It's intense mayhem, and I loved every second of it.  While the series was slow to come out as single issues, a collection is scheduled to come out real soon.  Anyone wanting to get into the series should try that route since it will likely be easier.  Meanwhile, I'll be looking forward to whatever these creators come up with next.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Indie Corner - 01/14/2015

Each week I'll spotlight a couple independent books I've read and may have flown under people's radar.

There's a new printing of North 40 out this week, a series from 2010 with art by Fiona Staples.  So people might be interested in picking this up.  Also: It's good.

When two two high school students unwittingly read from a spell book, they release something that changes Conover County, NC overnight.  Suddenly there's zombies, a hulking brute, giant robot, tentacle monster, and loads more this small town is trying to contend with.  It's a shame the series didn't run longer, because the end of the book seems to imply the writer had more he wanted to do.  It's a bit like a Hellboy or BPRD trade, with more humor, and art by Staples.  So if that sounds like something you're interested in, I recommend checking it out.

Trees 8
Firstly, that's a powerful cover for anyone that's been reading the issue.  Next, one of the major events of last issue isn't followed up on at all in this one.  We touch base with everything else, however, with some major character deaths and location destruction.  The characters are still fantastic, and I hope this supplies enough "stuff happening" for the people that complained about that earlier on.  I, for one, am very much looking forward to the next arc.

Now this is what I'm talking about.  The drama is back as well as the fantasy - this issue hits the high points of the first issue that the last two issues had been missing.  While not much happens in the other world, in the "real" world, characters are hitting emotional and plot beats on just about every page.  I had been wavering on this series, but I'm glad I stuck around, because this issue paid off that patience in a huge way.  Really looking forward to next issue.

I emailed my comic shop to hold a copy of this for me while I was out of town.  That decisions was based mostly on the strength of the art because I couldn't actually read the preview pages on the slow Internet connection I had.  The beginning of the issue reminds me of a Fable game, with child and vague talk of paths not yet choosen before jumping ahead a decade.  There's a rich city, and a poor city that surrounds it.  A boy, a girl, and a budding friendship.  In all, there's a lot of common pieces here, and they didn't combine into a compelling story for me.

Oh American Vampire, how I've missed you.  Skinner, Pearl, and Calvin are back, now in 1965.  They've been keeping a low profile, more or less, for the last few years, and that's about to end for all of them.  Something is coming.  Something old and powerful, destroying everything in its wake.  Batman and Wytches are both very good books, but I think American Vampire remains my favorite Scott Synder title.  The writing remains excellent, and I absolutely love Albuquerque's art.

This issue is great and I can't stop thinking about the last page.  Of everything I've read this week, that's the standout page among all of it.  Nothing that happens in this issue is what I expected.  It's all brilliant and makes total sense, but absolutely none of it went how I thought they'd go.  There's a quote I can only half remember from an introduction in one of the Scalped trades about how in a noir story the audience expects the characters to redeem themselves, but instead they continue to self-sabotage.  "Self-sabotage" sums up this series pretty well, and I don't expect any of these characters to eventually redeem themselves.  Recommended.

I haven't talked about this series yet, but I have read the first two issues as well.  Quick summary: There's a couple shadowy groups, one of which, the titular Ghost Fleet, drives trucks across America.  A member of the Ghost Fleet gets betrayed and left for dead only to return really pissed off and looking for revenge.  What should be a pretty straight forward revenge tale is somewhat bogged down by keeping details of the parties in play especially vague.  The dialogue is good, and the art is great, but the story is kept a bit close to the chest and I think it's starting to hamper things.  I'll stick around for a little while longer to see where this is going.

I haven't been sure about this series for a few issues, but I decided to pick up issue five to see if/how the arc ends.  It does end, and it ends well.  The investigation gets wrapped up, resolution is attained for a couple plot threads, all characters get a nice spotlight, and at least one story seed gets planted.  I'll stick around for a few more issues to see where it goes.  If it's anything like this issue, it'll be somewhere good.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Indie Corner - 01/07/2015

Each week I'll spotlight a couple independent books I've read and may have flown under people's radar.

I picked up the first issue when it first came out.  Then, just as I do with webcomics, immediately forgot about it.  Some months later, the first collection came out.  I was excited, purchased it, and immediately forgot about it once again.  In preparing for a recent trip, I loaded up my tablet with some comics, happy for the chance (read: excuse) to read them.  This was among them.

I could explain what's happening, but would rather new readers discover them as the story unfolds. It's written by Brian K Vaughan, and I shouldn't have to tell you what else he's done.  I'm not going to say, "It's like Saga!" because it's not.  But if you like his work, I recommend checking this out.  The series can be purchased "for any price you think is fair" from  Issue 9 came out in early December and the upcoming issue 10 will be the series finale.  I imagine there will then be a second collection, which I will purchase, and read in a more timely fashion.

Afterlife with Archie
Warning: this collects only the first five issues of the series. There are more, and you will want to read them.

I'd never read an issue of Archie before. Growing up, if it didn't have Spider-Man, I wasn't interested.  By the time I grew out of that phase, I was much to cool for Archie, or anything that didn't have a bunch of pouches and big shoulder pads.  By the time my tastes had matured further, Archie has among the farthest from my mind.  Then the last couple of years happened.  Suddenly, I'm reading about Archie on a regular basis, both the comic company and the various series themselves.  Seemingly everyone says they're good.  I'm surprised and generally confused, but still don't bite.  Then Comixology's 12 Days of Free Comics happens in December, and I get the first issue of the series for free.  I think, "Cool.  I'll check this out someday to see what all the hype is about."  Fast forward to last week when I'm on vacation and load up the first issue during a moment of downtime.  I bought the collection before I'd finished reading that first issue.  The series is good.  Really good.  Trust me.

I genuinely meant to talk about the writing and art, but I'd honestly rather you just experience it yourself while reading.  And I hope you do.

My origin story for Lumberjanes is much the same as Afterlife With Archie: kept hearing good things, picked up the first issue free, and was instantly impressed.  The story centers on five members of the Lumberjanes, a rough Girl Scouts equivalent.  They quickly get into some shenanigans and spend the rest of the issue dealing with the fallout from that.  There's very little I can say here to convey the fun and highly enjoyable nature of the first issue.  I recommend anyone remotely interested pick up the first issue or even just glance at some preview pages.  

The first trade is out in April, which I eagerly await.  You can expect to hear from me again about this series at that time.

I can't recall which I read first, 30 Days of Night or the Savage Membrane, the first Cal MacDonald novel.  Either way, I was an instant fan of Steve Niles' work.  I really enjoyed the Cal MacDonald novels but was slow to follow Cal when he transitioned comics.  By the time I had, there was a confusing number of collection and no clear reading order (for some reason, I didn't bother consulting Wikipedia for the answer).

A short while back I picked up a code from Steve Niles on Facebook for a Criminal Macabre digital bundle.  In the lead-up to this trip, I downloaded a bunch of issues (checking Wikipedia this time!) and was happy to find Cal still the drug-addled monster hunter he always has been.

The book doe an excellent job of introducing Cal, his supporting cast, and the greater world, so this is a great jumping on point.  Recommended for anyone missing the old-school Constantine from Hellblazer.

The collection that came out in December is the earlier series - with the horse and the baby - and not the more recent series with zombies.  Those descriptions should be vague enough to avoid spoilers but enough information for anyone that's read one or both series to know which I'm talking about.  I didn't pre-order because I couldn't tell from the solicitation which story was in this book.  It's my understanding, I was not alone in my confusion.  I hope this clears things up.

It's weird that I could write a paragraph to describe which series this collects, yet struggle to describe the book itself.  Those familiar with the work might sympathize.  Darrow's work really needs to be seen - it's incredible and incredibly detailed.  Working as his own writer as well, he's unleashed to draw anything he wants.  What he manages to produce is simply one of the craziest comics I've ever seen or read.  While I can't recommend it for everyone, I will recommend it for anyone looking to trying something new.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Indie Corner - 12/31/2014

Each week I'll spotlight a couple independent books I've read and may have flown under people's radar.

It's been a while since I read the previous volumes, but I don't recall those having this many bodies in them.  Volume 3 ended with Conrad in a tight spot, but he quickly gets out of that and almost as quickly, gets into a new one.  And like I said, this book litters the landscape with bodies.  I thought I'd read Diggle was leaving the book, but he's still listed for upcoming issues, and this pleases me greatly.  He's at the top of his game here, with Martinbrough and Lucas his perfect accomplices.  Recommended for anyone that enjoyed Diggle's The Losers.

Lobster Johnson: Get the Lobster
Sometimes I write these things and I don't say anything about what actually happened in the book itself.  This isn't one of those.  In this book, The Lobster fights a cyborg gorilla with a knife.  He has the knife, not the gorilla.  I mean, come on.  This has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but IS incredibly awesome.

Lacking the supernatural elements from previous volumes but ramping up the pulp, The Lobster battles for his very existence against criminals, the police, and one determined reporter.  Continuing story elements from previous volumes, Mignola and Arcudi are building a series that rivals Hellboy or B.P.R.D. for depth and breadth.  Tonci Zonjic draws this world so perfectly, I hope they're able to keep him drawing future volumes for years to come.

It's been a while since I read the previous volumes, but this may have been my favorite.  There are many reasons for this, but I'll single out the the reporter investigating The Lobster.  Her research leads to two possible ancestors, both of which are amusing while offering insight into what may have forged the mysterious title character.  All the while, Wald and Silog are waiting in the wings.  Barely in this book, but their presence and machinations hint toward they're return.  The clock is marching inexorably toward one fateful date in 1939, and I don't want to miss a second of it.

In my continuing efforts to make it through my to-read pile, we arrive at Rex Mundi.  Purchased years ago, when everyone was talking about it, I've finally read the first volume.  The back of the book is filled with quotes from people you're familiar with, all raving about it.  At this point, four sentences in, I feel like I'm stalling and should just come out and say: I didn't like it.  Set in an alternate 1930s France, Rex Mundi revolves around the investigation of a theft, which quickly adds two murders, and at least one shadowy organization.  None of which is resolved, or even shows the hope of resolution, by the end of the first volume.  The only way I can describe the art is with the word "inconsistent."  While architecture looks great, the main character is six-heads tall in one panel eight in another, and 10-heads tall in yet another.  The back of the book features a separate 38-page complete story with a murder that gets solved.  If only the main story could have moved that quickly.

Another year, another trade.  Good news: Powers is still awesome.  Saying much of anything that happens would be a spoiler, and there are some huge reveals and consequences in this collection.  The news that Powers is getting relaunched (again) has already been revealed, and if you recall the reason for the last renumbering, you might be able to guess what happens here (though probably not).

Since I can't talk about the story at all, there are a few things I feel like need mentioning.  1) One of the last reveals is so huge, it makes me wonder if we're nearing the end of Powers.  Not that I'm saying Bendis can't, but it would be difficult to make a bigger story than what's coming.  2) I don't know if I'm slipping or Oeming, but he regularly switches from using a one-page layout to two-page layout.  It wasn't until now that I've had a problem following the panel progression.  Thankfully, it wasn't often, but it was enough that I thought it worth mentioning.

I bought Zaya (from based on the art in the preview pages and interesting-sounding premise.  The art is rather good, and the story is pretty interesting, but the two never quite work to create a great comic.  Things happen in the story that are easy enough to understand, but I didn't get the overall story until the very end.  Similarly, the art in individual panels is a visual feast, but doesn't always help tell the story.  Part of problem, I think, is the inconsistent use of sound effects.  Gunfire and explosions don't get sound effects, until late in the book when suddenly they do, but stairs retracting into a ship does.  I'm very curious to see what these creators - a writer from France and artist from China - come up with in the future, but can't recommend this book.

I don't read webcomics.  Not even ones I like.  However, I will sometimes binge on a webcomic I enjoy if I happen to be bored.  Immediately after that binge, I forget to read the next installment.  It happens every time.  I just finished a binge of The Quick and Dirty Life of Fritz Fargo, written and drawn by Sarah Fowlie.  It's a bit like Scott Pilgrim in that the title character is kind of a jerk, there's a band that doesn't really play much, and the story is really about the interactions between all the characters.  Oh, and it's good.  Fowlie captured my interest early on with the antics of John and Eddie, slowly expanding the cast to include many other interesting and unique characters.  The art and writing have remained consistently good for the 4+ years she's been crafting this tale, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention her lettering.  There's an expressiveness to the lettering, a daring, that's absent from mainstream comics.  It injects life into 2D, black-and-white characters in a way I haven't seen in a long time.  If you're into webcomics, I recommend checking it out.