Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, Moonage Daydreams

Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred’s graphic biography Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams is a love letter to musical legend and bisexual chameleon, David Bowie. The book mainly focuses on his Ziggy Stardust period with the Allreds beautifully illustrating a montage of live shows as Bowie’s creation and the Spiders from Mars come to vivid life in Europe, North America, and Asia. Horton and Allred use the Spiders’ final gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as a framing narrative. Because Bowie had a six-decade recording career, this narrative strategy is effective and also turns the comic into a history of a certain period of pop music when peace beads and flower headdresses were replaced with elaborate makeup, big guitars, and all things glam.

Although the ever-shifting image of David Bowie himself is always at the center of Bowie, Horton and Allred tell their story in what is basically a series of montages. There will be a beautiful dream sequence with a trippy color palette from Laura Allred that visually shows the inspiration of hit songs like “Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars”, or “Rock n Roll Suicide” to name a few, and then we’ll get a list of various celebrities at a Ziggy Stardust show or a check-in on what’s happening with his contemporaries like T. Rex’s Marc Bolan or Lou Reed.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, & Moonage Daydreams

For the most part, Horton uses minimal captions and lets Mike Allred’s art and Laura Allred’s tell the story. But when the comic calls for it, he can inject moments of humor like Bowie’s reaction to his son Zowie (Now director Duncan Jones) destroying his record collection or poignancy when Bowie reflects on his family’s history of mental illness or begins to articulate the idea of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to his band. Horton and Allred draw parallels between both Ziggy and Bowie’s hubris as he turns a blind eye when his corrupt lawyer is paying long term band members three times less than relatively new keyboard player, Mike Garson. Although they’re iconic images, there is an air of ego to Bowie’s famous Aladdin Sane photo shoot with Allred’s use of negative space crowding the Spiders from Mars out of the frame even though guitarist Mick Ronson was a vital part of his music and helped keep him focus when he was too busy flirting with his lover-turned-wife, Angie.

However, what will stay with me most from Bowie are the Allreds’ ability to capture the energy of live music while still doing spot-on likenesses of historical figures performing. When Mick Ronson and Bowie harmonize on “Starman” or (controversially) embrace on a Top of the Pops performance, there is a camaraderie and almost sexual chemistry between the two men that makes the later “breakup” scene emotionally resonant. Although Allred mainly puts Bowie at the center of the frame, he makes sure to cut to the audience and their hands as they are inspired and reaffirmed that it’s okay to be a little strange or non-heterosexual by this benevolent, iconic alien before them. The Allreds add some flourishes like Kirby Krackle every time Bowie does something that is especially extraterrestrial like floating in space in an early film that was a companion to “Space Oddity”.

Underneath the heavily researched and striking fashions and celebrity cameos, Bowie is about creating an identity out of the things one is passionate about. For example, Bowie and his band mates saw A Clockwork Orange when it was first release, and it immediately impacted the costuming, visual design, and even the intro of the Ziggy Stardust live show. Basically, he was a huge nerd for pop and folk music, high fashion, literature, and film, and it shown out in both his art and the way he approached the world. Bowie is filled with moments where Horton and Allred (And by extension, David Bowie) respects their fellow artists like a full page splash homage to Bob Dylan and Elvis, bringing up Lou Reed on stage, running around Detroit with Iggy Pop, and inspiring the young Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen during his concerts. It shows that art can lead to friendship, lifelong influences, and sometimes tragedy like the aforementioned tension between Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams is a highly stylized, yet infinitely human look at an important period in David Bowie’s career from Mike Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred. The graphic biography captures the feeling of the music of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane through dreamlike visuals as well as adding historical context to these songs and albums and personal anecdotes that add both vulnerable and mystique to Bowie’s story. Its epilogue also kind of made me want a sequel featuring the Thin White Duke and some of Bowie’s later personas. This book truly feels like a passion project and transported me to a bittersweet day six years when a closeted, sad teenager listened to the CD of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stars and the Spiders from Mars and felt “not alone”. It’s a must read for any Bowie fan, especially those who love his early-1970s work the best.

Story: Steve Horton and Michael Allred
Art: Michael Allred Colors: Laura Allred
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Insight Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Inhibit Book One

Inhibit is a new webcomic riff on the superhero genre by Scottish cartoonist, Eve Greenwood. It tells the story of Vic, a young man with the superpower, or variant as it’s called in-universe, of controlling electricity. He was meant to train at the prestigious Urquhart institution, but ended up having issues controlling his powers and ended up at Earl Estate, a kind of alternative school for youngsters, who have issues controlling their abilities. Along the way, he struggles with authority, malfunctioning power inhibitors, a mission gone wrong, and a mysterious woman with abilities that are far beyond this universe’s norm.

This plot description might make Inhibit like a thrilling comic in the vein of X-Men, Umbrella Academy, or My Hero Academia, but British. However, in reality, Inhibit is an inconsistent read. There are definite highlights like Vic going on a ride-along with old mentor Nate to see what life with a “license” to be a hero is like that basically makes them come across as tools of the establishment with the matching uniforms giving off an eerie, militaristic quality compared the varies shapes, sizes, and looks of Vic and his buddies at Earl. But Inhibit has some macro-structure issues that are hopefully improved upon in future books.

For example, Greenwood turns a quirky/slice of life party story in Chapter Four into a harboring a fugitive plot that would have made a great cliffhanger ending to get readers excited for Book Two. However, they undercut that by immediately doing an extended flashback to Vic’s days training at Urquhart with familiar faces like Nate and a supporting character named Masha. This chapter does serve some good world-building purposes by establishing what variants are and what Urquhart is like, but it would have fit better earlier in the book, especially as I was trying to parse out Vic’s motivation as a character other than brooding and killing time. For example, Chapter One ends on a fire/graffiti-filled cliffhanger where another school for superpowered young people is targeted, but I didn’t have the context until later to understand that it’s a big deal. All in all, I might say I like this comic on a scene/panel level, but not in the big picture.

Greenwood’s art style, which is playful and emotive, is much more enjoyable and memorable than their plotting and even the dialogue, which sometimes gets weighed down by “variant” shop talk instead of revealing the character’s personalities. (They are exceptions like Vic’s buddy David hyping himself up to play a song and then ask out his crush from another unit.) The way they use exaggerated facial expressions, vibrant colors, and diverse body shapes reminds me a lot of 2010s animation like Steven Universe or Thundercats Roar. Greenwood also excels at building tension during chase or fight scenes like when Vic has to fend for himself against a (then) unknown superhuman. In this sequence, they cut up the panels, draws facial expressions of discomfort and fear, and then makes Vic’s assailant exhibit abilities that are hard to clock compared to the usual fire, ice, electricity, and invisibility. It adds an air of mystery to the story and a sense of purpose to the overall plot while also showing that the superhumans of Inhibit can’t always be classified into neat little boxes. Greenwood’s colors add a little extra power to these pages with a curtain of flame ripping through between the panel gutters.

When the text drops out, and Eve Greenwood goes all-out in a superpowered sequences and shows the struggle Vic has to control his abilities, Inhibit shows signs of being a compelling take on a well-worn genre. However, it is hamstrung by the overall structure and “editing” of the story with information about characters and the world being parceled out in ways that undercut the flow and dramatic tension of the story. I would hazard a guess, and say that this unevenness comes from the book’s origin as a serialized web comic with Greenwood feeling out their characters, narrative arc, and the elements of this bureaucratic, superpowers with an expiration date world at the beginning and finding momentum as the story progresses. Inhibit has some fun character designs and epic moments, but has yet to reach its potential as a comic.

Story/Art: Eve Greenwood
Story: 6.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Pass

Eve Greenwood provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: That Texas Blood #1

That Texas Blood #1

A retiring sheriff, a small Texas town, one last case. It’s something out of a dime Western, or if you want to get more literary, a Cormac McCarthy novel. However, these are affectionate comparisons as That Texas Blood #1 is an engaging writing and line art debut for Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips, who previously colored Sean Phillips’ recent work on Criminal. The comic provides a window into 70 year old Sheriff Joe Bob’s world of Ambrose County and the relationships that he has cultivated over the decades while raising the stakes and hooking you for the next installment.

Joe Bob is an incredibly likable protagonist. He’s sweet, has a dry sense of humor, and might be a little afraid of retirement. (And by extension, death.) He reminds me a lot of my late grandfather, who was a sheriff in rural Virginia, mischaracterized as being a Texan in a true crime documentary, and even transported dangerous criminals to California. (The evidence was the throwback California Angels hat he gave me.) The unique character traits that Condon and Phillips give him like talking to his wife on the police radio instead of a cellphone, living off service station beef jerky make him three dimensional not a B-movie archetype. And the cherry on top is how open Phillips draws Joe Bob with the exception of the demented dream sequence, which is all reds and blacks. It’s safe to say that That Texas Blood is a well-colored comic.

With the exception of an extended and slightly fucked up anecdote that adds a darker shade to Joe Bob’s character, Chris Condon doesn’t make the “first published comic book script” mistake and finds a balance with Jacob Phillips’ visuals. His dialogue is natural and captures the mood of each scene from the easy banter of Joe Bob and the gas station clerk to the off-panel domestic conflict between Ruth and Ray with the walls of their house hiding Ray’s abuse, but the beer cans outside revealing his alcoholism. Even though That Texas Blood gets exciting and lives up to its title towards the end, Condon and Phillips are more concerned with creating an atmosphere. This is a slow-paced world where a sheriff can clog up the police walkie talkie with birthday party planning and seamlessly incorporate. However, like that Yankee singer Springsteen one said, “There’s a darkness on the edge of town”, and Phillips handles it masterfully with slightly out of frame shots of newspapers in the opening sequence of the comic before exploding in the flashback and at the end of the comic.

Speaking of the opening scene of That Texas Blood #1, Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips are remarkably economic and using seven panels to set up both their protagonist, Joe Bob, and the setting of Ambrose County. It’s a quiet place with muted colors although the orange sky is a few shades away from blood and could be connected to the “nightmare” that Condon mentions in the narration. The book walks a tight rope between domestic tranquility and unrestrained violence with the plot edging a little bit more towards the tranquility in the early going. They create an emotional connection between the reader and Joe Bob, his town, and good sense of morals. (So far.) However, that could all be coming down.

That Texas Blood #1 is a fantastic debut crime comic from Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips. Phillips’ art and colors are stylish and add extra feeling and tension to Condon’s script. Together, they craft a world and protagonist that I want to know more about, and that’s what you want out of a first issue. And as a cherry on top, they turn the casserole dish, which is ubiquitous in Southern culture, into an amazing MacGuffin.

Story: Chris Condon Art: Jacob Phillips
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club is an inspiring and educational piece of graphic non-fiction from writers Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada with manhwa-influenced visuals from artists Ko Hyung-Ju. It tells the story of the 1983 student protests about South Korea’s authoritarian Fifth Republic from the perspective of Hyun Sook herself, who begins as a young, timid girl that just wants to study English literature, and ends up joining the revolution via extracurricular activities. (I will be using Kim Hyun Sook for the character and Hyun Sook for the creator.)

However, between dodging cops, dealing with her friends being arrested, and sexual harassment from her once respected literature professor, Kim Hyun Sook finds self-actualization and also learns a little bit how the world works. I mean why would a regime ban books with fascist enemies if deep down, they didn’t see a little of themselves in these books. Banned Book Club is also a strong narrative argument for the power of literature, including fiction and nonfiction, to effect change and use things like imagery and metaphor to expose the truth about the world. In that case, maybe this comic is just a tiny bit metafictional.

Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Ko Hyung-Ju do an excellent job harmonizing the words and visuals in Banned Book Club to create a certain feel on different pages or get a point across. For example, there’s a flurry of word balloons when the members of the book club get in an argument when one of their members are jailed. On the other hand, they drop out the dialogue for more tense, action-driven scenes like when Hyun Sook takes multiple buses to deliver a package from the club to one at another university as part of her “public relations” duties.

Panel Mania: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and ...

This variety in storytelling keeps Banned Book Club interesting, and I love how Hyung-Ju’s characters wear their emotions on their sleeves. He also uses shadow and differences in line thickness to show when they’re afraid, embarrassed, or more relaxed. The relaxed emotion doesn’t pop up that much in the story, but it’s on full display during the club’s 2016 class reunion when they band together to protest another authoritarian South Korean president. This epilogue adds perspective to the events of the previous chapter and also is just a damn good testimonial to the power of protest. I mean, imagine if Americans went out and protested Trump every weekend of his impeachment hearings…

Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Hyung-Ju aren’t afraid to whip up a little controversy in Banned Book Club with the club member Jihoo reading the writings of North Korea’s authoritarian dictator Kim Il-Sung under the guise of a book of love poems. (Of course, he’s the one club member who actually gets arrested.) Jihoo gets some gentle ribbing from his friends for reading “government propaganda”, but it’s a testimonial to their dedication to freedom of speech and the press that he doesn’t get censured.

The pages where he reads Kim Il-Sung’s overwrought, loaded writing shows that the freedom to read extends to books that one doesn’t agree with. But it’s also connected to the freedom to critique books. I have to give kudos to Hyun Sook, Estrada, and Hyung-Ju for using this consequence-infused scene to add ambiguity to the club’s activities. They weren’t just reading Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Noam Chomsky and trying to save South Korea; they were also reading North Korean propaganda to compare it to the techniques their government were using. It’s an example of the book club just wanting to have freedom of inquiry at university instead of being stuck reading, thinking, and publishing (In the case of the school newspaper.) what the government approves.

Banned Book Club has its fair share of dark and tragic material like any time a member of the club is hauled in for questioning by the government. Hyung-Ju use thick cross hatching to show the pain and stress the club members are under, which is contrasted with Hyun Sook and Estrada’s dialogue for the guard, who talks about catching “bad guys” to his son on the phone. It’s the banality of evil in action showing that authoritarianism is propagated by its yes people.

Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, and Ko Hyung-Ju turn in the next great historical non-fiction comic in Banned Book Club as they portray a pivotal time in South Korean history from a ground-level point of view. They also explore the relationship between politics and art through three-dimensional characters with even Hyun Sook’s father getting a spotlight when he tells the backstory of why he decided to start a steak restaurant and letting his daughter know that it’s okay to have dreams that aren’t in line with societal norms. Finally, Banned Book Club is a wonderful showcase for the connection between the visual and verbal, which is what the comics medium does best.

Story: Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada Art: Ko Hyung-Ju
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.2 Overall: 9.1 Recommendation: Buy

Iron Circus Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Black Mage is a Manga and Video Game-Infused Kick in Racism’s Face

The Black Mage

With J.K. Rowling TERFing all over the place this week, I bet the last thing you want to spend your hard earned money on is a comic about a school for young witches and wizards. However, writer Daniel Barnes and artist DJ Kirkland put a socially aware twist on this old (-er than the Boy who Lived) trope in their 2019 graphic novel The Black Mage. Their story follows the trials and triumphs of Tom Token, the first Black student at St. Ivory Academy of Spellcraft and Sorcery thanks to a Magical Minority Initiative to make sure the school meets accreditation goals. Throughout his time at the school, Tom and his familiar (A crow named Jim.) deal with microaggressions (A classmate assumes that he recovers his mana with grape soda.) and out and out aggression, bullying, and discrimination. In a parallel story, Lindsay, who comes straight out of a shojo manga, learns to be a good white ally, but her story never overpowers Tom’s heroic journey.

A cold open wherein Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass (By way of Marvel’s Jericho Drumm), and John Henry fight spell-casting KKK members sets the tone for Black Mage and also introduces key plot elements of the book. Kirkland designs the costumes of the professors at St. Ivory to look like Klan robes, names the school headmaster “Lynch”, and colors the students’ uniforms the starchiest of whites. Even in the early going, the school oozes oppression with the school bully/headmaster’s son/a little racist POS, Bryce asking him to watch his “tone” in the lunch room, which leads to a magic battle that is only stopped by the aforementioned Lynch using a spell that mimics slave’s chains. The art style might make it seem that way, but, for the most part, Black Mage isn’t a cuddly school story. It is about confronting racism that is at the foundation of American society as Barnes and Kirkland use magical energy, items, passageways etc as metaphors for the cold, hard facts that much of the United States was built by Black slaves, and that society hasn’t really changed that much. This is self-evident in many Americans’ apathy towards the racial aspects of police brutality and both defensive and aggressive responses to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Black Mage

The plot of Black Mage isn’t about educating white people about racism and having a feel good, link arms moment. It’s about the struggle against racism using magical powers. DJ Kirkland’s high powered art and profuse usage of double page spreads during the magic fight scenes match that energy. Emotions become lightning or fire spells with names straight out of the Final Fantasy games, and Kirkland stages the fights like fighting video games while adding the intense facial expressions and cartoon shorthand of shonen manga. Then, Barnes sprinkles some badass one-liners on top while mostly staying out of Kirkland’s way and letting the fighters’ stances and chosen spells choose the story. Finally, Kirkland’s choice of layouts and depiction of Tom and his abilities mirrors his progression throughout Black Mage as he goes from trying to keep his head down and make it through the school day to being a downright heroic figure. Think final boss battle for the last one-third or so of this book is structured.

Black Mage has an unflinching message of anti-racism and forces non-Black readers to confront their own prejudices through interactions between Tom and Lindsay and other less sympathetic figures. But it also has engaging fight scenes and wonderfully transposes the aesthetics of Magical girls, fight manga, and JRPGs to the fight against systemic racism in the United States. DJ Kirkland trots out some unique fight choreography and page compositions that enhance the arc that Daniel Barnes lays out for Tom Token with a touch of a mystery plot. Black Mage has cool art, a good message, compelling characters, and is a bit cathartic too. It’s worth checking out for fans of video games and manga as well as Western comics or by anyone who wants to see racists get their asses kicked in a fantasy fiction style.

Story: Daniel Barnes Art: DJ Kirkland
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.2 Recommendation: Buy

Oni Press provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3

THE QUESTION: THE DEATHS OF VIC SAGE #3

After a five-month hiatus, The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3 returns the series with an issue that would make the late Denny O’Neil proud. Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor expertly combine a 1940s film noir story with the not-so-zen cycle of death and regeneration that Charles Szasz/Vic Sage/The Question has been on over the previous three issues. The genre story with an O’Neil-esque social conscience plus growing conspiracy and mysterious ending is a winning formula to go with Cowan, Sienkiewicz, and Sotomayor’s scratchy, impressionistic visuals. Even though these scripts and maybe even pages were banked long before the current conflict between activists and the police over their murder of Black people and general abuse of power, The Question #3 fits into the zeitgeist with a sequence of corrupt Hub City cops beating striking factory workers and protecting the easy, exploitative lives of Hub’s one percenters. In the past, I may have said that Hub City symbolizes the American id, but it’s a mirror to American reality with period piece trappings like Dashiell Hammett narration, panels of old newspapers whispering about another world war and featuring Golden Age crime fighters, and lots of close-ups of alcoholic beverages. The sleazy Howard Chaykin-esque (He draws this issue’s variant cover) supporting figures add to this feeling of dirtiness and depravity.

Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor have done the 1980s urban vigilante (Watchmen, Dark Knight, the O’Neil/Cowan Question run) and Western genres in the previous two issues of The Question and dig into the noir detective story in The Question #3. It’s evident that all three artists are having fun with lots of spot blacks, eye-catching visual flourishes like the red hair of Sage’s client, Maggie Fuller, and the all-important chiarascuro lighting from desk lamps and cigarettes. The Question is stylish and filled with verbal/visual irony like when Sage monologues about getting close to solving the case while some union-busting toughs are sneaking up on him to beat him up. And though the story is set decades before The Question’s creation, the page is crammed full with signatures of the character, like smoke rings and investigation boards with string between them even if Sage is mostly unmasked for the comic’s duration.

The cherry on top is Jeff Lemire’s approach to dialogue and captions. One of things that I like about Lemire (And why Marvel, DC, Valiant etc. keep bringing him in to refresh their various intellectual properties.) is that he never gets in his own way and adapts his style to the genre or type or story that he’s writing in. This is why Black Hammer is so clever and superhero genre tour de force/world tour, and he transfers this over to The Question #3 bringing the 1940s to 2020 with the help of Willie Schubert’s typewriter lettering. His dialogue is tommy gun fast with Sage cutting to the quick of the situation until he gets knocked upside the head. But then Cowan and Sienkiewicz are there with the reminder that Sage’s mentor-in-the-shadows Richard Dragon is a martial arts master, and the tone shifts from Maltese Falcon to Enter the Dragon. They use the whole page to show Sage’s fluid fighting moves, which aren’t like your average “put up your dukes” private eye and are a good transition to get a glimpse at one of Vic Sage’s other lives/deaths.

THE QUESTION: THE DEATHS OF VIC SAGE #3

But The Question #3 isn’t merely an interesting genre exercise or visual masterclass. (The Denys Cowan/Bill Sienkiewicz pencil/ink process pages at the end make the extra money spent on this issue worth it and will look glorious in the magazine-size Black Label format.) It’s an ode to the violently socially conscious and anti-establishment of the late 1930s and early 1940s without the racial stereotypes of those Golden Age books. The plot of The Question #3 is Sage taking on basically a pro-bono missing person case, and that missing person just happens to be both a union organizer and the brother of another union organizer. Like he usually does, Sage thinks he connect everything to one big conspiracy, but with the shifting timelines and eternal corruption of the police force of Hub City, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Lemire and Cowan’s use of flashbacks isn’t confusing, but shows that there’s no simple answer to the problems that Vic Sage is facing. Because we’re still getting fucked over by corporations in 2020 like we are in the early 1940s. (If not more so thanks to a steady string of Republican and “centrist” Democrat heads of state.)

Like that infinitely memeable Alan Moore quote about conspiracies, Vic Sage’s faith that “everything is connected” as Jeff Lemire so aptly puts is a child’s blanket (Or prayer) in the face of a hurricane because, as Moore states, “the world is rudderless”. Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Chris Sotomayor show the loose and futile nature of Sage’s faith in underlying order through non-linear storytelling and a series of catastrophes to match the impressionist, scratchy art and muted palette. The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage #3 is the best issue of the series yet, and I’m excited to see how they put all the threads, timelines, Vic Sages, Questions, and questions in The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage‘s finale

Story: Jeff Lemire Pencils: Denys Cowan  Inks: Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors: Chris Sotomayor Letters: Willie Schubert
Story: 8.5 Art: 9.3 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Adventureman #1

Adventureman #1

I definitely understand where the all-star creative team Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson are coming from in their new series Adventureman #1. The series chronicles the exploits of Claire Connell. She’s a single mom/used bookstore owner, who is tasked to complete the cliffhanger of an old pulp novel called Adventureman. It’s an homage to old World War II pulp-era stories as evidenced by the art from the Dodsons. That swings from old school pinups to two-fisted action with a very 21st century metafictional twist.

But it’s not all retro with a lot of the story having a domestic, realist feel in Claire’s interactions with her Adventureman-obsessed son, Tommy, to her boisterous family at Shabbat dinner. The collision of these worlds is the true hook for Adventureman. The first issue has a few stumbles to go with Fraction’s clever writing and the Dodsons’ beautiful visuals.

I like Claire Connell as a character. However, Adventureman #1 is overstuffed and overwhelming as a narrative. It’s packed with constant character introductions, extraneous caption boxes, all to tell an origin story beat. Fraction and the Dodsons introduce dozens of characters even though two, maybe three matter at this point in the story. Luckily, the characters (Especially the baddies) in the “Adventureman” portion of the story have fun, atompunk character designs from the Dodsons whereas Claire’s family get melodramatic captions and a unifying trait of loudness. This tone is matched by Fraction’s writing, which is pure bombast in both parts of Adventureman #1 and also by a flurry of double page spreads and moving parts from Terry Dodson and an explosive color palette from Rachel Dodson.

But what Adventureman #1 really has going for it, and why I will continue to follow this comic is the development of its protagonist, Claire. First off, it’s super cool to have a single mom take the lead in a heroic adventure that is rooted in both the real world as well as pulp fiction. The page turn reveal from a hero falling to a mom reading is pure joy, and Claire’s love of books and stories are evident in her interactions with Tommy and approach to the work day at her used bookstore that specializes in stories like Adventureman.

However, she is content to interact with these stories from an arm’s length as a reader and as she shares them with her son and the occasional customer. Instead of leaping into action, Claire removes her hearing aids to escape New York (or her family’s noise) and relax for a bit. Fraction and the Dodsons connect this very specific behavior, which demonstrates her introversion and love for escapism, to the comic’s big turning point.

As I have hinted at earlier, Adventureman #1’s other big selling point other than its relatable, likable main character is the Dodsons’ art and colors. Their visuals are much more refined and fluid than their recent work on the X-Men/Fantastic Four miniseries showcasing an advantage of creator-owned comics over corporate, monthly deadline ones. Fraction’s script creates wonderful spaces for storytelling like expressionist cityscapes where Adventureman and his friends battle Baroness Bizarre and her goons or the sanctuary of fandom, story, and later adventure that is Claire and Tommy’s loft apartment. A sense of drama drives everything whether it is over-the-top conversations at the dinner table or punching, kicking, and airships, and the Dodsons do a good job of illustrating both types.

Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson definitely take an everything but the kitchen sink approach to the form and content of Adventureman #1. It’s a fully realized pulp story and family comic held together by metafictional strings. Yes, Grant Morrison fans, there’s a sigil. Plus, there’s a never-ending flurry of widescreen pages with detailed art. A fan of a type of story finding herself in the middle of one is just good old fashioned comfort food for dark times.

Story: Matt Fraction Pencils: Terry Dodson
Inks/Colors: Rachel Dodson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 6.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.6 Recommendation: Read

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Review: The Boys: Dear Becky #1

The Boys: Dear Becky #1

Eight years after their final issue and in the context of their successful Amazon TV adaptation, which sanitized this superhero satire for a broad audience, The Boys is back from writer/co-creator Garth Ennis, artist Russ Braun (Who drew 24 issues of the original series, and colorist Tony Aviña. The Boys: Dear Becky #1 is concerned with the future of the relationship between Wee Hughie and Annie January, but also the past relationship between Billy Butcher and his wife Becky, who was one of the few people that saw beneath his violent, hateful, asshole self. And it’s sad to say that the scenes set in the present come across as a tone-deaf Scottish boomer ranting on Facebook while the past scenes actually do hold up with poignant narration from Ennis paired with his usual dark humor and gruesome visuals from Braun and Aviña, who unleashes an abattoir of a color palette.

The Boys: Dear Becky #1 is truly a half good, half bad comic. The first half is Wee Hughie moaning at a pub about the state of the world to his friend Bobbi, who is trans and misgendered immediately. Paired with Russ Braun’s stereotypical art that is reminiscent of Howard Chaykin’s recent, hateful work on Divided States of Hysteria, it’s not a great way to start the story. But it is par for the course for the “Everyone’s bastards, especially superheroes.” sensibility of Ennis’ writing on The Boys. It seems like the goal of the pub scene is to reintroduce readers to Wee Hughie and his post-Boys life, but it’s all overwhelmed by tone deaf takes on everything from white male privilege to affirmative action. However, it’s not all punching down with (In true Scottish manner.) Wee Hughie and Bobbi taking the piss out of Brexit with the loss of the E.U. safety net negatively impacting rural Scotland and also wondering why so many of their fellow citizens are afraid of immigrants in such a racially homogenous area.

All in all, this scene that definitely needed a spot of editing (Although Ennis’ dialogue is still entertaining and colorful, if a bit cringeworthy.) shows that The Boys along with South Park and most of Mark Millar and Sean Gordon Murphy’s oeuvre have outstayed their welcome in 2020. At its finest, The Boys was a darkly hilarious satire of fanboy culture and American foreign policy with a dash of coming to terms with the effects of violence. Now, it’s just cynical for the sake of being cynical. Bright eyed, optimistic Wee Hughie is now just another middle aged libertarian moaning about keyboard warriors and safe spaces. And to add insult upon injury, Russ Braun uses his skill to makes jokes at the expense of aka pot shots at one of the most marginalized groups in 21st century society.

However, to look at the issue and Hughie from another perspective, not giving a shit could definitely be an after effect of the trauma he went through in The Boys. When Ennis and Braun aren’t trying to be edgy, middle-aged white male commentators on society, they do a good job of showing of how Hughie is unable to move on with his life, including several panels of him lying in the bathroom looking at a letter from Butcher that brings his past all the way back. The letters adds depth to the now-dead Butcher, who could take a step back and see that maybe pulling the tongue out of a ten year old copyright-friendly version of Shazam is not a good idea. Braun and Aviña’s art is definitely representative of The Boys’ cartoonish ultraviolence towards superheroes, but Garth Ennis adds an air of conscience in both Butcher’s dialogue and narrative captions that are Hughie reading his letter. He thinks about how the effects of his actions will have both on himself and on Becky and comes across like Wee Hughie when he first joined the team.

If The Boys: Dear Becky #1 was just the Butcher flashback with a bit of a Wee Hughie framing device to see what he’s been up to 12 years after the original series, then it would definitely be worth picking up. However, the new effort from Garth Ennis, Russ Braun, and Tony Aviña gets a pass thanks to half the comic being a privileged white man punching down and a woeful mishandling of a trans character, especially on the art side. It speaks to the conflict in The Boys comic, which could be both a funny, if over the top satire of the comics industry and power structures with surprisingly deep character studies, and a tasteless, stereotyped-filled book that didn’t meet a female character that ended up raped or murdered in a macabre manner. This comic reminded me of my days as a closeted, libertarian teenage edgelord reading The Boys, and why I shudder at them.

Story: Garth Ennis Art: Russ Braun
Colors: Tony Aviña Letters: Simon Bowland
Story: 6.0 Art: 4.0 Overall: 5.0 Recommendation: Pass

Dynamite Entertainment provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Star Wars Doctor Aphra #1

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #1

The new volume of Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (Which received a surprise digital release on Star Wars Day) combines the worlds of space adventure and academia into one entertaining package. The elevator pitch for Doctor Aphra is that she is Indiana Jones in space, but a queer woman of color. She also has a more dubious moral compass than Dr. Jones and is one of the best additions to the Star Wars canon since Marvel took over their comics license.

Alyssa Wong, Marika Cresta, and Rachelle Rosenberg do right by Aphra and focus on the archaeological side of her character as she teams up with a pair of female archaeologists to find the Rings of Vaale, which have great power, are cursed, and may not even exist. There’s an also an undercurrent of the conflict between intellectual curiosity and unbridled wealth in the comic’s antagonist, Tagge, a spoiled rich kid that thinks he can buy anything or anyone even an ex-tenured archaeology professor. But Doctor Aphra #1 isn’t all serious stuff. There’s also a healthy dose of gun play and intrigue to make the comic an even more enjoyable experience.

I haven’t read a Doctor Aphra comic since Kieron Gillen, her co-creator, left her solo title, but an action-packed cold open drew me into the story before the title page. Seeing Aphra in a snowtrooper disguise pulling double-crosses at Echo Base during the conclusion of the Battle of Hoth is pure fun and grounds the narrative in a time where the Empire thinks it has the Rebel Alliance on the ropes. Visually, Cresta and Rosenberg contribute smooth artwork to go with Wong’s quips, and it’s easy to follow every blaster bolt or sniper shot as well as surprise AT-AT’s. (It’s Hoth, what do you expect.)

In a bigger storytelling picture, Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta resist the temptation to decompress and pad out scenes in Doctor Aphra #1. They provide the “great hits” of an action sequence, focusing on the coolest or most impactful moment like spending a single panel on Aphra and her crew’s flight from Hoth (Complete with speed lines.) after they spot the aforementioned AT-AT’s.

This economy of narrative extends to the quieter scenes too with Aphra, her former colleague Eustacia Okka, and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed grad student/fangirl Detta Yao laying out their character motivations and agreeing to team up to go after the Rings of Vaale in a single page. Aphra wants money, Eustacia wants her faculty position back, and Detta wants to write her dissertation and also has a kind of true believer connection to the Rings. Marika Cresta’s art is really what sells this pivotal page as she portrays Aphra as a pragmatist and poker player maneuvering to the side while she draws Detta with more open body language.

Alyssa Wong has done an excellent job crafting a core for these characters to build on throughout the series. This goes along with their distinct quirks like Aphra’s flexible approach to morality, Detta’s idealistic approach to the field of archaeology and academia in general, and Eustacia having a “TA” droid, which is this comic’s best joke. They are characters that I can really root for to accomplish their career goals and find the Rings, which will make their inevitable betrayal or moral compromise that much more painful. (This is usually the end result of running with Aphra; that or bumping into a certain Sith apprentice.)

Doctor Aphra #1 has all the hallmarks of a good Star Wars Expanded Universe story as it uses this rich world to tell an adventure story bursting with fun art from Marika Cresta and Rachelle Rosenberg and characters that are easy to connect to. Alyssa Wong also touches on deeper themes like faith and doubt and the connection between money and the academy. Fingers crossed that we see what an Outer Rim university tenure board review is like.

Story: Alyssa Wong Art: Marika Cresta
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg Letters: Joe Caramagna
Story: 8.2 Art: 7.8 Overall: 8.0  Recommendation: Buy


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Early Review: Adventureman #1

Adventureman #1

I definitely understand where the all-star creative team Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson are coming from in their new series Adventureman #1. The series chronicles the exploits of Claire Connell. She’s a single mom/used bookstore owner, who is tasked to complete the cliffhanger of an old pulp novel called Adventureman. It’s an homage to old World War II pulp-era stories as evidenced by the art from the Dodsons. That swings from old school pinups to two-fisted action with a very 21st century metafictional twist.

But it’s not all retro with a lot of the story having a domestic, realist feel in Claire’s interactions with her Adventureman-obsessed son, Tommy, to her boisterous family at Shabbat dinner. The collision of these worlds is the true hook for Adventureman. The first issue has a few stumbles to go with Fraction’s clever writing and the Dodsons’ beautiful visuals.

I like Claire Connell as a character. However, Adventureman #1 is overstuffed and overwhelming as a narrative. It’s packed with constant character introductions, extraneous caption boxes, all to tell an origin story beat. Fraction and the Dodsons introduce dozens of characters even though two, maybe three matter at this point in the story. Luckily, the characters (Especially the baddies) in the “Adventureman” portion of the story have fun, atompunk character designs from the Dodsons whereas Claire’s family get melodramatic captions and a unifying trait of loudness. This tone is matched by Fraction’s writing, which is pure bombast in both parts of Adventureman #1 and also by a flurry of double page spreads and moving parts from Terry Dodson and an explosive color palette from Rachel Dodson.

But what Adventureman #1 really has going for it, and why I will continue to follow this comic is the development of its protagonist, Claire. First off, it’s super cool to have a single mom take the lead in a heroic adventure that is rooted in both the real world as well as pulp fiction. The page turn reveal from a hero falling to a mom reading is pure joy, and Claire’s love of books and stories are evident in her interactions with Tommy and approach to the work day at her used bookstore that specializes in stories like Adventureman.

However, she is content to interact with these stories from an arm’s length as a reader and as she shares them with her son and the occasional customer. Instead of leaping into action, Claire removes her hearing aids to escape New York (or her family’s noise) and relax for a bit. Fraction and the Dodsons connect this very specific behavior, which demonstrates her introversion and love for escapism, to the comic’s big turning point.

As I have hinted at earlier, Adventureman #1’s other big selling point other than its relatable, likable main character is the Dodsons’ art and colors. Their visuals are much more refined and fluid than their recent work on the X-Men/Fantastic Four miniseries showcasing an advantage of creator-owned comics over corporate, monthly deadline ones. Fraction’s script creates wonderful spaces for storytelling like expressionist cityscapes where Adventureman and his friends battle Baroness Bizarre and her goons or the sanctuary of fandom, story, and later adventure that is Claire and Tommy’s loft apartment. A sense of drama drives everything whether it is over-the-top conversations at the dinner table or punching, kicking, and airships, and the Dodsons do a good job of illustrating both types.

Matt Fraction, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson definitely take an everything but the kitchen sink approach to the form and content of Adventureman #1. It’s a fully realized pulp story and family comic held together by metafictional strings. Yes, Grant Morrison fans, there’s a sigil. Plus, there’s a never-ending flurry of widescreen pages with detailed art. A fan of a type of story finding herself in the middle of one is just good old fashioned comfort food for dark times.

Story: Matt Fraction Pencils: Terry Dodson
Inks/Colors: Rachel Dodson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 6.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.6 Recommendation: Read

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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