Author Archives: Anthony Spataro

Review: Godshaper #2

Godshaper_002_PRESS_4The last issue of Godshaper ended with Ennay coming to the aid of Clara Smith, after she confronted local sketchy businessman Benny and his supposed involvement with a load of missing military supplies. The action doesn’t last very long, considering the build up, and goes by without much of an impact to it. This issue does pass by with a wandering sort of feel, though the added exposition and character development is a nice change in pace from the chaotic trip of the introductory issue.

Simon Spurrier’s script is a little less concise this time around, with some comedic moments that don’t quite hit the mark and come across as more juvenile in their execution. There are some great moments that would have been nice to see extended out in conversation but perhaps information is being concealed for a later time. After Ennay and his trusty god sidekick Bud quickly leave the scene at Benny’s with Clara, the two make camp with another godshaper and friend named Clench. Clench has with him another young nogody and amateur godshaper, Sal. There is some more information learned regarding the life of a nogody and godshaper while they sit, reminiscing on their past young lives as orphans that were constantly travelling around and being put under the wing of various people. Constantly without a home and a steady sense of personal connection, godshapers like Ennay and Clench embody the life of a drifter, learning to survive through the places and people they encounter and unfixed to any particular purpose.

Godshaper_002_PRESS_6Jonas Goonface’s art continues to be very expressive and injects a boost of energy during the up and down pacing of this second issue. His attention to detail to capturing the array of emotions on the characters faces are fun to see; he has knack for showing the same emotion but with slight changes to someone’s eyes or mouth, attributing to his skills as an artist. Goonface could do wonders with a completely silent issue of the adventures of Bud, before Ennay came along. Background are not really drawn in all that much with more of an emphasis on the characters and their actions and instead chooses to use a consistent rotation of soft coloured backgrounds with warm blues, greens, yellows, etc. These colour choices continue to provide a surreal vibe to Godshaper, especially when contrasted to the bright, vibrant and prominently outlined gods. Goonface also specifically emphasizes anger with red, surrounding the frames of the frazzled individual with a dominant orange-red, similar to his playful use of borders in the first issue.

There are a few moments that stand out, providing some warmth, intimacy and social relevancy to the issue. Colin Bell’s lettering placements are especially important during the sequence in which Ennay and Clench get intimate, allowing for the moonlit pink and purple glow of their bodies to share a moment, entwined as one. Spurrier’s story during this single page is effective at adding a sense of melancholy while the artwork enhances the sense of loneliness expressed. Ennay’s narration suggests it’s better for fellow shapers to keep themselves separated, as having them together would only cause suspicion by others. Traveling, let alone remaining as a pair appears to dangerous for godshapers, and are fated to have just a moment of human to human compassion, only to be thrust forward before they know it on separate, wandering paths.

The sadness displayed here is further brought on by Sal as he describes being a runaway after a group of people, through distrust in him and the women taking care of him, assaulted them. Ennay’s response to the story is this: “Sometimes some folk just…need folk to blame, I guess.” Reminiscent of the classic townsfolk and Frankenstein’s monster dichotomy, the level of difference, of fear in a constructed otherness, is what places the godshapers into this kind of situation. The fact that the godshapers lack a sameness, a ‘normality’ that is represented in the accompanied gods for the majority, causes a platform of mistrust, anger and superiority to be created. There is an opportunity after this moment to dive deeper into this idea but it is quickly swept under the rug. Once again, there may still be room to dive further into these issues, especially if Ennay has faced them in his own past, soon enough. Through the introduction of a gang, the Crumpa Crew, whom Ennay denied a job with, the troubled past appears to be catching up to Ennay’s present.

Though somewhat not as tightly woven and energetic as the first issue, this second issue of Godshaper dives a bit more into world building, with a few humourous moments (though some are a bit awkward) and introduces some characters and elements that look to be early placeholders for being important, especially with their connection to Ennay.

Story: Simon Spurrier Art: Jonas Goonface Lettering: Colin Bell
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Godshaper #1

Godshaper_001_COVER_PRESS_BWhat if all of a sudden, one day, the aspects of daily life that make it easier, such as electricity, were to just suddenly stop working? Now, in the present year of 2017, there are actual gods that have been manifested as personal helpers (how, it has been made unclear, as of yet at least) and, as it says early in the first few pages, “A god for every person. And a person for every god.” Each of them can contribute to a variety of needs to their human counterpart, varying from actual powers to simply printing out smut to sell. Such is the way of world in Godshaper, the new series from the incredibly talented voice of Simon Spurrier and the electric illustrations of Jonas Goonface. As much as the premise and world makes it known that gods fill the present world, the main focus is drawn towards Ennay, a ‘nogody,’ or, someone who doesn’t have a god as a companion.

Spurrier’s script is fast paced and dipped in a deep fried batter of an American Southern-type drawl, topped with slang and quick-witted. He gets the exposition out of the way in a mere two frames but is smart at filling in little curiosities here and there. For example, the cute and mysterious presence of Bud, the god without a person, whom is described as being a reclit: a god whose owner has died and should fade away in a few days now that they have nobody to worship them (presumably keeping it alive and well). Bud just so happens to be with Ennay, which makes their relationship all the more interesting since they both are ‘outsiders’ of their respective groups. Ennay is a ‘godshaper,’ someone who is incredibly rare, shunned by society, yet has the ability to physically alter the appearance and reconfigure the powers of the multitude of gods. The duo appear to be drifting around, from city to city, and are about to get themselves involved with the whereabouts of a large amount of missing supplies by the military.

Godshaper_001_PRESS_3Goonface’s art is spectacular. It’s a perfect fit for this high-concept story that is filled with liveliness and an energy that is a great one-two punch with the free-flowing words of Spurrier. Each of the gods is a vibrant, striking colour that is outlined with a thin white stripping and stands out consistently from their imaginative and slightly warped animal bodies. Their presence throughout causes the book to seem like the world is experiencing a rainbow-melted acid trip; and that is a compliment, for sure. Colin Bell’s lettering also does a great job at filtering the amount of word balloons and sound effects with the busy illustrated frames (with some notable, funny and literal sound effects as well). Bell’s placements allow for the script and art to continue to flow at a quick pace.

Goonface also does this very playful thing with colour, outlining some of the frames with the colours within the frames. It’s as if a particular source within is bleeding out on the edges, creating a wide array of enhanced emotion, depending on the scene. A couple sequences capture this dance with colour. One in particular, in which Ennay is hired to transfigure a local salesman’s god (to make it appear more ‘professional’ for an upcoming important sale), the colour green of the god and the maroon of Ennay’s clothes and skin, each respectively take up half of the frame as Ennay struggles to gain control of the god. Once Ennay fuses his hand within the god, the frame turns into a fully surrounded maroon edging, and finally, the page breaks free of its borders, as Ennay, the god handyman, goes to work.

Godshaper_001_PRESS_6Another great sequence is when Ennay is shown in his musical stage persona: Cantik (which is Indonesian for beautiful or lovely after a quick, curious internet search), a glam rock, androgynous presence who revels in his pure talent, without the need for gods to enhance himself. After Cantik’s explosion of noise, alongside a spread of purples, blues, oranges, reds, and yellows, Ennay is frequently placed multiple times amongst a double-page spread of a frozen crowd, being outspoken about bands who use gods to enhance their sound in profanity-laced tirades, making out with a variety of passerby, and reinforcing his own respect for letting the music be as natural as possible. With all this talk and appearance of performance and gender fluidity, whether it is intentional or not, the use of the combination of a soft blue and pink for this sequence is rather perfect.

It’s always a blast to see artists have fun with the medium and be playful with their work. The mere flashing of bright, sometimes pastel-like colours may seem overwhelming to some, and in certain books, but it really works here with the energy that both Spurrier and Goonface have provided on every page. There are other great double-page and single page spreads as well that show how Godshaper is in very trusting, talented hands.

Without giving too much away from the story, most of what appears to be the driving force for the title happens towards the final third of the first issue with the introduction of another character who has got themselves caught up in a conspiracy. The first two-thirds do a great job at setting up the world, without much really known, as well as making Ennay and his mute god Bud already likable as a duo. By the final few pages, it definitely looks like the enigmatic craziness of the first issue of Godshaper is only just the beginning.

Story: Simon Spurrier Art: Jonas Goonface Letters: Colin Bell
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: Violent Love #2

violentlove02_coveraRight from the opening pages of the first issue of Violent Love, it’s made quite apparent that this tale of eventual bank robbers and lovers Daisy Jane and Rock Bradley is greatly influenced by stories and films in the same genre; Dylan Todd’s striking designs connect with the cinematic aesthetic by having the creative team page look like it came right from the bottom of a movie poster. Though the influences aren’t even hidden all that well (Daisy seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos are definitely crafting something different and unique both in its method of storytelling and flow of visuals.

This second issue throttles forward into 1971 in New Mexico where Daisy has joined forces with a man named Charlie to rob banks. There is a great point of view splash page from the bank teller’s perspective, confronting the reader with Daisy’s green eyes, just slightly peeking out from her sunglasses, and a double-barreled shotgun held next to an open sack in her other hand. The images are paced out fast, flowing the narrative forward and knowing when to slow down and focus on the smaller, quieter moments. Santos does an excellent job at drawing attention to particular aspects within the frames, consistently utilizing the spaces effectively. violentlove2-2He also uses color, or the lack thereof, to emphasize the importance of certain objects or actions. For example, when Daisy sits in the hotel room where she and Charlie just engaged in a hot and heavy game of extracurricular activities, her entire body is black as the eye is drawn to the muddled orange/red hat in her hands. The previous frame reminds the reader of its importance to her, also using the color red to deviate from the use of green to shift in time. This in effect not only deepens the impact of these kinds of moments and objects but also elevates and accentuates Santos’s ability as a visual storyteller.

Daisy has clearly changed from the first issue, becoming more and more reckless as the rage of her father’s death drives her to find the man who committed the murder: Johnny Nails. Barbiere’s script is fast and quick-witted, gets straight to the point and doesn’t make the language too flowery; this is a crime/romance story after all. Rock is also introduced in this issue, doing his best James Dean impression, exuberating calm, cool and collected…at least for now. Daisy and Rock’s first meeting is filled with slight jabs at one another but the primary focus still remains on Daisy’s mission to find Johnny. This mission is leading Daisy into some fairly precarious places and people, setting up the next issue with a very interesting situation for her.

Story: Frank J. Barbiere Art: Victor Santos Designs: Dylan Todd
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Sombra #4

sombra_004_spanish_press_a_mainThe cover for Sombra #4 by artist Jilipollo (Javier Medellin) sets the tone for this final chapter. A group of kids wearing bulletproof vests, each one brandishing a handgun or machine gun, appear in mid stride amidst a field of flowers and flying butterflies. The rectangular rays of a muted white and green alternate above them, as if the distant, non-visible setting sun represents the innocence of these children being lost to time. It’s a great set up for the pages inside.

Writer Justin Jordan finishes Sombra with somber and effective words, interlaced with a slew of brutally violent images that are brought to life by Raul Trevino, making sure to focus on the harsh reality of this world without looking away. Trevino confronts the reader with images that must be seen, to witness the truth. As the reporter Esteban says as he records the battle between Rojas’s cartels and Conrad’s army of child soldiers: “They need to see, everyone must see.” Danielle bears witness to it all as well, unsure of her own actions at first but quickly realizes that she – and her being a representative of America – is in the wrong; this is not her nor her country’s fight.

sombra_004_english_press7Juan Useche focuses on the colours that stand out during this hectic, brutal scene with the squirts of red from connecting bullets and knife attacks and from the faces of the various children whom wear the colour as a painted skull. The children first emerge from the shadows as black shapes, their white skulls the only parts of them visible, heightening their tragic existences and how their own selves have been stripped through a continuing use of lack of colour, especially during a few of their own deaths. Jim Campbell effectively balances his lettering by placing balloons away from certain actions, allowing for the weight to lie heavier on the visuals instead of what is being said. Campbell also spreads out Jordan’s script to slow down at the right moments, intermittent of a flood of fast-paced actions.

Sombra overall does an effective job at showing the reality being faced by those experiencing the cartels first-hand and to show those, like Danielle, certain situations are best left to be figured out, to be solved, repaired, as Esteban says in his recorded video, by the people of Mexico. In turn, the attempted involvements made by outsiders like the U.S. in witnessing this distressing scenario can make for an inwardly attempt at reform. As Rojas enters the town lead by Conrad, before the bullets fly and knives are thrust, he stops in front of a display of pure depravity: skulls, body parts, smiles smeared with blood and candles are spread out, like a reverse shrine meant to divert the visitor instead of inviting for a moment of reflection. All Rojas can say is, “This is theatre.”

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Color: Juan Useche Letters: Jim Campbell
Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Boom! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Sombra #3 Reveals Its Heart of Darkness

sombra_003_english_press-3Sombra, from the very beginning, has been a tale of good and evil, light and dark, and those that believe what they are doing has a justifiable purpose in it, even if from the other side, the morals around what is being justified are highly questioned. Justin Jordan’s scripts have been doing a great job at this push and pull between right and wrong.

For instance, Danielle, the determined DEA agent, is sent on a mission she almost knows pits her as the bait. Danielle recognizes what is a justifiable right through her American upbringing and an upholder of the law. She is now face to face with her mission: Conrad Marlowe. Conrad is not only a defected DEA agent whom made it his own modus operandi to take down the cartels through very violent tactics; he is also Danielle’s father. Can Danielle overcome this familial fact in order to right a wrong she believes is ultimately doing more harm than it’s supposedly worth?

Raul Trevino’s illustrations are at their best so far in the series with this issue. The choices in panel movements are smart, placing the eye lines at the right spots to accelerate the tension during the last sequence (there is an especially haunting frame that is like a warped version of a Norman Rockwell painting), put an emphasized focus on the faces of Danielle and Conrad as he shows her around the ‘utopian’ place him and his people call home and draw attention to the innocent faces of the various children. Conrad is drawn very square, imposing and firm; one look at his full profile in a well-placed long frame, with his black shirt, green pants and military style boots acknowledges his importance and status. This very frame is unsettling due to not only Conrad’s presence but also of tiny miniature, perhaps carved, people hanging from a wrapping of green ivy, covered in bright pink flowers and next to his boots, the children that run freely, happily around, appear even smaller. Jim Campbell’s word balloon, with Jordan’s simple but effective line of “You think I’m a monster,” is the cherry on the top of this moment. Juan Useche’s colouring of the bright pink and blue sky in the background additionally act as a great, almost ironic parallel to the reality represented through Conrad’s stance.

sombra_003_english_press-6Speaking of Useche, his colouring is easily the standout attribute to this issue. The bright colours of the children’s clothing, the buildings, the spray-painted happy faces, and the open blue sky all connect with Conrad’s speech to Danielle of the new purpose he is trying to build for the people here. The brightness of the scene and use of a more vibrant colour scheme all act as masks to the supposed purity of a utopian world. Some places are utopian on the surface, only to truly survive through dystopian means (just read 1984 or Brave New World). Danielle just won’t buy any of what Conrad is trying to sell her, even after Conrad shows a warmer side to him as helps up a young girl who trips and falls. The whole sequence plays out like a PSA for some random cult. The back and forth between Conrad and Danielle ends with a great transition, just after Danielle says, “I’ve seen enough.” The brightness of day cuts to the next frame of Danielle sitting alone at night within an enclosed jail cell; the thick, black darkness tells no lies, only truths. In the world of Sombra, lies hide in the wide-open sprawl of the day, while at the night, the harsh but true reality comes to life.

Conrad’s mission, without getting too deep into spoiling the story, is contradictory. But, there is a point being made in what Jordan scripts through him. The speech Conrad makes about identifying as a monster reflects back to all Americans, as he says. The privileged and justifiable means to the laws America imposes on places like Mexico only make things worse and end up rewarding the “evil men.” Conrad believes what he has done and aims to do is justifiable, as a defected American. There is yet another parallel to what can be drawn out here through the character of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Whether this is intentional or not, it is interesting to note of the connections that can be drawn out here. Sombra #3 lashes out its political tongue, focusing on some relevant back and forth topics that should cause a conversation on what exactly does it mean to be in the right, committing to a so-called moral decision that has a justifiable backing to it, especially when an outsider imposes on a world they believe can be solved through questionable means.

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Colours: Juan Useche Letters: Jim Campbell
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Sombra #2 Maintains Its Grim Tone With Some Personal Questions

Sombra_002_English_PRESS-5Sombra’s first issue ended with DEA agent Danielle Marlowe and local Mexico City journalist Esteban Tolva trapped under the floorboards of a church while a group of cartel members entered. Led by a man named Rojas, the cartel group knows that the two are in there and promise to lead Esteban to Danielle’s father, the former DEA agent Conrad Marlowe, whom has declared a violent war against the cartel. Trying to figure out an escape plan, Danielle and Esteban sit amongst an uncomfortable purple, blue haze of Juan Useche’s colours, starkly contrasted to the bright yellow, orange from above. Once the bullets start flying, the yellow, orange glow from above mixes with a slight tinge of pink as light streams downwards; its almost as if no matter where you are, an invading force is trying to find a way to mark its territory. This is a comic, like the colours used in this sequence, about parallels and contrasting beliefs.

This duality continues to muddle amongst the conversations Justin Jordan scripts. Assumptions can never be made in a place in which one can never really know what is exactly going on and who has control over the situation. Danielle questions the motives of a group of farmers that help her and Esteban escape, her doubt and untrustworthiness spill out, as her words don’t hold back her assumptive feelings. These farmers once had a stable farm, from the sounds of it, until the cartel, through false promises, took their claim of the land, as they have done with countless villages, and ended with their livelihood in ashes, thanks to the involvement of the DEA. Trust appears very hard to find when the supposed help being offered turns to potential turmoil, no matter who takes control of the land.

Sombra_002_English_PRESS-7Raul Trevino really shows the cartel as the all-encompassing evil, barely being able to see any texture to their faces with how much shadows are drawn overtop. It is as if he doesn’t want you to see any humanity behind their eyes. Before the grotesque moments at the village they are travelling to, a quieter moment captures one of the strongest moments of this series so far. During this travelling sequence, Trevino’s visuals speak further volumes on the words being spoken. Danielle questions the motives of Eduardo, one of the farmers, and why he is helping to protect someone whom works for an organization he doesn’t necessarily trust. But, Eduardo says he has responsibilities. It then cuts to close up frames of the three individual farmers in the truck, as Esteban tells of a story he did on their village. The frame underneath the smaller panels is a wider perspective of the road ahead of them, the trees and sky sharing the space. The land belongs to people like Eduardo and the other villagers Carlos and Arturo. They are constantly used and abused by the passing powers of the cartel. Jim Campbell places the word balloons slightly in front of their vehicle, guiding them and the story towards an unknown fate.

The creative team of Sombra has crafted an issue that improves on the introductory issue. The stakes still feel high and tense, especially with yet another cliffhanger ending, as Jordan likes to do (while he sits and laughs maniacally until the next issue drops, one would imagine). It’s great to see a title that uses the medium to ask relevant questions while maintaining its visual storytelling ability. There is one other scene worth mentioning further that contains some rather poignant words for the violent, irrational happenings around the world. As the group makes their way to a local village, a bloody display of mutilated corpses greets them. Esteban says to Danielle that this can be difficult to see for the first time. Danielle responds by saying, “This should be difficult to see every time.” Esteban says, “I wish that were so. But you can grow accustomed to anything, given time.” One can’t help but wonder whether these words are unfortunately true.

Story: Justin Jordan Art: Raul Trevino Colour: by Juan Useche
Lettering: Jim Campbell Cover: Jilipollo
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

‘Black Hammer’ #1 is a strong, smart, intriguing beginning

black_hammer1Black Hammer #1 already establishes the potential for a very special story. Jeff Lemire has steadily been writing a wide range of fantastic titles over the last couple of years and it looks like Black Hammer will be yet another one to add to the pile of hits. He firmly plants throughout the issue a confident understanding of each of the unique characters, as much as they are a mish mash of The Avengers and Justice League respectively; originality is something that perhaps Lemire is jabbing at with the superhero genre.

A team of superheroes find themselves living together on a large piece of farmland, stranded there for ten years. The Golden Age of their time as superheroes, saving the lives of Spiral City, is a thing of the past. Abraham Slam revels in the repetitions of the everyday farm chores, Barbalien, a shapeshifting alien from Mars, regrets his past self, Col. Weird drifts between reality and the Para-Zone as if affected by some sort of superhero PTSD, Talky-Walky, a robot, constructs a probe in search of rescue from their current lives, Golden Gail, now stuck and angrily so, in the body of a nine year old reminisces about the glory days, and Madame Dragonfly idly bides her time by conversing with crows. There is little information learned about each of the characters but there is a real, heavy sense of the past weighing heavily on each and every one.

There is a great conversation between Gail and Barbalien that encapsulates how the former heroes either miss their golden glory days or are glad to talk of those times in the past tense. As they sit on the top of their house on the farm, Gail asks Barbalien (or, Barbie, as she calls him) if he misses the golden days. Barbalien responds by saying: “Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes. But the way you miss old friends you haven’t seen in years. You know that if you went back, it wouldn’t be the same as it was.” This moment really captures the transition that took place in the Modern Age of comics as a whole, especially affecting the way super hero comics were approached. Perhaps the changes that took place were and are a good thing. Often it can become toxic to hold too tightly to a past that has its nostalgic value but remains in the past for a reason. Black Hammer also does an excellent job through its art style at showing the differences.

Dean Ormston’s artwork is fairly heavy on its line work, drawing attention to the lines on peoples’ faces and clothing to provide a real sense of texture. It’s almost like a combination between Steve Dillon and Frank Quitely, though Ormston’s faces feel more worn and weathered through his distinct style. Ormston also does a consistent job at drawing water spots on tables, cracks on wood within the barn, dirt and rust on Abraham’s truck and a general sense of worn environments to really get the sense of a lived-in world in which time has affected not just the people living within it.

Dave Stewart’s colouring, as it usually is, is the real standout to this comic thus far. Stewart’s paralleling of colour palettes perfectly connects with this deconstruction of the superhero genre and how time has affected it aesthetically. The present time is coloured with more colder, muted browns and greys, giving off a real serious, melancholic and almost sentimental tone to the heroes who have found contempt and acceptance. The past, Golden Age of the super hero battles, shown in brief flashback panels, appear with very bright, punchy yellows, blues and reds. These prominent colours do appear in the present through the spacesuit of Col. Weird, the skin of Barbalien, the door of the farm house and even as a blue flame under a pan of eggs and bacon that Talky-Walky is frying up, yet, are more diluted. Whether this is an intentional commentary on the tired super hero genre within comics (perhaps even their Hollywood adaptations) or not, it is an aesthetically pleasing choice that fits the tone of this title.

Todd Klein, lettering legend, is one of the best in business at using his fonts and word balloon choice to add a further layer to specific characters. Talky-Walky’s green balloons (matching with his lime green helmet) and font are rigid, suitable for a robot that weighs heavily on cold, hard facts. Col. Weird’s balloons and text are shaky and rough, making it seem like if his voice could be heard it would crack and mumble. Its additionally suitable that these two characters just so happen to have once been bonded as a duo.

Black Hammer begins with a very somber tone that strikes directly at the ticking heart of super hero comics and looks to break down a few tropes along the way. The creative team has crafted a very strong beginning with some well put together characters and an array of questions that builds towards a curious final few pages.

Black Hammer #1

Illustrated by Dean Ormston

Colours by Dave Stewart

Written by Jeff Lemire

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Story: 9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

‘Sombra’ #1 sets the plot and tone early on

Sombra_001_English_PRESS-4Justin Jordan is no stranger to stories of violence (see every Luther Strode iteration). Sombra sees Jordan crafting a tale in which the violent aspects of the Mexican cartel are not necessarily a focus of this first issue but come in small, disturbing doses. The story is of Danielle Marlowe, a DEA agent who ventures to Mexico City in search of her father, Conrad Marlowe, whom is known around by the local police and journalists as a monster from the brutal violent tactics he is using to fight with the cartel (whom also leaves a message for the DEA in a recorded video of the murdering of a fellow DEA agent). A lot is set up in this issue, with a heavy focus on plot and less on characters like the main one in Danielle, drawing from personal experiences by Mexican resident and series artist Raul Trevino.

Trevino’s art style is very photo realistic at times, drawing attention towards the fact that these places being shown actually exist. His detailed takes on the surroundings, even when it is in the background, creates a focus on the city as being not only an important aspect to the story but as a character in itself. The only slight annoyance to his pencils is the way in which he draws eyes. There are a few moments in which the awkwardly doe-eyed look of Danielle takes away the emotion of a particular panel. Beside this minor bump, Trevino additionally illustrates some well-lit scenes, playing with the shadows as light enters through the openings of blinds; the darkness represented through the cartels appears to loom throughout, even in broad daylight.

Sombra_001_English_PRESS-6Colourist Juan Useche dramatically adds a lot of character to this title. The muted browns, yellows and soft pinks, oranges contrasts well when the bright red blood of a gruesome image appears, making the violence all the more jarring. Letterer Jim Campbell does a great job at handling the heavy amount of dialogue and word balloons with the open spaces within the panels, never distracting the eye too much from the visuals.

Sombra starts off fairly well and establishes the forward momentum very early on. Instead of playing with the reader, it is nice to get the exposition and purpose stamped down nice and early. Knowing the dark, mysterious existence of the cartels looming over Danielle and the contacts she has made in Mexico City, there are sure to be a few unexpected surprises along the way to tracking down her father.

Sombra #1 (of 4)

Illustrated by Raul Trevino

Written by Justin Jordan

Coloured by Juan Useche

Lettered by Jim Campbell

Published by Boom! Studios

Story: 8 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

‘I.D.’ is a wonderfully composed tale regarding identity

ID2Emma Rios is one of the most talented creators out there that has proven her worth at both the writing (Mirror) and illustrating (Pretty Deadly) side of the comic book world. In I.D., Rios handles both the words and art, confidently presenting a story that is thought provoking and emotional with a respectable amount of research put into it; due in additional thanks to Medical Doctor Miguel Alberte Woodward whom writes a back essay to add more into the reality of the topic at hand. I.D. is about three individuals, Noa, Charlotte and Mike, whom apply for an experimental procedure in which your brain, mental capacity and self are maintained as you are placed within a different body. Through the five chapters, originally printed in Island Magazine, the three characters discuss and question their own motives towards making this process a reality.

What immediately jumps out in terms of the visual style of the comic is Rios’s use of a contrasting palette of warm, glowing, hues of red. As much as the story digs a little bit into questions regarding the binaries of gender, whether it is intentional or not, using red instead of playing with black and white, creates a sort of neutral space for the words and images to breath out from. Rios consistently does a great job at creating a tone and atmosphere that is melancholic but also slightly unnerving and tense at the same time. Whether it’s the rain dropping outside the coffee shop where Noa, Charlotte and Mike discuss their reasons into wanting a new body or inside the apartment of Charlotte, Rios puts purpose behind the easy flow of pages. She sketches out wider, detailed frames to settle in on the three characters, utilizing the space to capture their unified journey, and closer, sometimes round panels to focus in on particular sections of dialogue or pointing at the various body parts (eyes, mouths, ears, noses, etc.) as if these are partly what makes each of them insecure.

“Well, it’s obvious none of us feel very proud of who we are.”

“I disagree. Hating your body, or your life, doesn’t mean you hate yourself.”

ID3These quotes are taken from a statement made by Mike, commented back by Charlotte. Questions of having pride in yourself can change on a day to day basis. When the pride of realizing that your true self is inside you but not reflective of your physical self cannot possibly be put into the proper amount of words unless someone identifies directly with wanting to or having gone through a physical transition or an acceptance of ones true self. And, what Charlotte responds with is something that she appears to take on as an attribute to her reasoning into wanting to make this body transplant. She is a writer and is the most cryptic into her reasoning. She continues to make remarks that appear to reveal her own insecurities regarding the nature of the transformation: “Being unhappy with what we are, or have, may sound frivolous but is inherently human. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s our restlessness.” Restlessness may be the wrong way (or perhaps right way) to describe feeling trapped in a false vessel but what these statements made by Charlotte reinforce is the strength in which Rios writes these characters as three-dimensional human beings who are far from perfect, and that is totally okay.

The fact that all three are, for the most part, sure that their true selves are not reflected on the outside is perhaps the most truly felt from Noa. She plain and simply admits that she is a man. She is upset at being weak and how her metabolism won’t allow her to be the man she really wants to be. After storming off from a heated discussion within the coffee shop, she barges into the women’s bathroom; Rios leaves a single panel to focus on the symbol on the bathroom door. These signs and symbols for gender pervade society and tend to ignore other identities that aren’t considered ‘traditional’ or a ‘patriarchal norm’. Rios doesn’t dig too deep into this conversation but her imagery and dialogue does point towards this consistently relevant topic of how and where identity can be influenced.

Another moment that shares Noa’s confidence in making the transition is when her and Mike begin questioning Charlotte’s motives towards the body transplant. The conversation goes like this:

ID4Mike: “I wonder if just being bored, or lonely, is enough to do this…”

Noa: “It’s better than suicide.”

Mike: “Perhaps…didn’t think of it that way.”

Noa: “I did.”

This establishes not only the unfortunate conclusion that many come to when it comes to people questioning their identities (as a mental illness) and Noa having gone through a potential slew of mental battles, but most importantly that Mike didn’t think of the alternative as being suicide. It is a sad realization that this thought carries over to our own reality. It’s this thought, or lack of, that doesn’t get through to people. Sometimes the mental battles become too much; whether it is the shame imposed by others, the mere costs to transition, or the hypnotizing by various institutions, these are but a few of a fair list that many individuals can come up against. What Rios really captures here is the sense of unity and togetherness from three albeit different personalities with three different reasons that confide in each other to solidify what matters most: the confidence in accepting who they really are.

This wonderfully well-crafted story by Emma Rios is also notable for its taking place during a demonstration that takes place outside one of the comic’s settings. Its presence is felt through a select few frames showing outside the coffee shop but at one moment (minor spoilers) the physical fight that takes place between a few of the demonstrators and police gets brought inside. The police threaten Noa, Mike and Charlotte, physically assaulting the three. However, instead of cowering away or witnessing one of the characters run away, the three, together, fight back and manage to escape to live another day. This moment really encapsulates a strong theme in I.D. in that what may appear as a mental, individual battle on the inside, is something that can be shared and understood to strengthen ones identity. Many battles are lost but the war is won as a collective. Just look at the support that went on behind the LGBTQ community recently through the hashtag #QueerSelfLove that trended on Twitter. As much as I.D. provides more of a futuristic setting to body transitions, there is also a comfort being addressed in finding a way to love yourself just the way you are. Judging by the phenomenal response to #QueerSelfLove, love will reign over hate.

Written and Illustrated: Emma Rios
Technical Assistance and Back Essay: Alberte Woodward MD
Flat Assists: Roque Romero
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

The Spire #8 is a Poignant, Emotional Conclusion

Spire_008_PRESS-6There are a number of reasons why The Spire is nominated for an Eisner for Best Limited Series. It features some confident, natural character writing from Simon Spurrier, crafting a world that feels bigger beyond its featured characters and features a relevant take on the effects of the past with how certain groups of people (the Zoarim) are thought of. Jeff Stokley’s illustrations feature an impressive amount of line work that really gives a load of energy and a lived-in appearance to the Spire and its surroundings. His ability to capture bigger moments through unexpected splash pages and more nuanced, quieter moments show his flexibility as an artist. André May on colours adds so much to the world of The Spire with a blending of warm and cooler colours depending on the moods of the various scenes. May really knows how to amplify the tension of a chase sequence or revelation (there are some really great ones in this issue for example) with blasts of purple, greens, and yellows on top of subtler greys and browns for the calmer moments. Steve Wands’s lettering completes the creative team with a variety of effectively used sound effects, a utilization of various fonts, sizes and colours to insinuate tones of voices, and a firm grasp on guiding the reader through the hectic action. This is a true collaborative effort that features each member orchestrating at a high level of quality.

Without really getting into spoiling this eighth and unfortunately final issue, there are a ton of revelations and twists to digest…my goodness. Somehow, there is still room to explore further the characters of Sha, Juletta the Baroness, Tavi and Meera. All the cards are put on the table face up and there are definitely some shocking and unexpected turns of events. Sha is determined to hunt down and discover the true identity of the murderer that leads to quite the back and forth squabbling that should appeal to the heated discussions and debates in a Jane Austen or Dostoyevsky novel. There is a little less pomp and circumstance and more blood and betrayal. Additionally, a little humour is part of the final journey as well provided by Pug with a manga-like shouting of his attack “hero fartslam”; easily one of the best lines in comics this year.

Spire_008_PRESS-4-5

What the creative team of The Spire has crafted is a tale ultimately about identity. And not only how one feels and understands on their own identity, but a grander respective (sometimes disrespected) grasping of those that may not be on the surface part of the same culture and background. The Spire also tackles how history effects us, repeating itself more often than is thought and its relevancy to also how consistently change is ignored or swept under the rug. The emotional conclusion to this final issue begs to ask how comfortable we are in our own bodies, both physically and mentally, and how the dilemmas these thoughts have effect beyond merely our own selves.

Often the fears faced by Sha causes her to withhold her own true emotions, such as her hidden relationship with Meera, the Baroness Juletta’s daughter. On the other side is Tavi and her fear of change and wishing to maintain the traditions that have been long standing for generations. These dualities exist alongside the similar nature in which the Zoarim are kept at a distance. Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s cowardly. The Spire poignantly dabbles in these ideas in a fantastical way but is brilliantly grounded. More limited series should take a look at what The Spire has done in its eight-issue run and take notes with its effective combination of plot, characters, setting, emotion, etc., feeding off each other into a fantastic, special read.

Story: Simon Spurrier Art: Jeff Stokely
Colours: André May (Tamra Bonvillain on cover) Lettering: Steve Wands
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Boom! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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