Author Archives: Madison Butler

Review: Long Lost #3

long lost 3The stakes are getting higher in Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle’s Long Lost.

As usual, the story opens with flashback and a song. Long Lost #3 is another gorgeous installment in the series, drawing the audience deeper into the horror, mystery, and sadness at the heart of the story.

Part of the horror of Long Lost is that it isn’t immediately horrific. There’s some light home invasion in issue two, sure, but what’s most threatening is the absence of threat. Piper and Frances are relatively protected from the supernatural, so far, even as it makes its presence known in issue two and throughout issue three. This relative lack of danger gives the sense that something worse is looming, a Sword of Damocles that is palpable but not visible.

Much of the story’s success also hinges on familial difference and discord. There, too, absence adds as much to characterization as what is spoken. Piper and Frances’s mother is characterized by her absence, which adds another element of familial tension. The girls are quick to argue and quick to protect each other, but there’s a sense of loss in the quiet moments. Long Lost #2 left Piper and Frances waiting for help in Piper’s broken-down car, and the confined space magnified both spoken and unspoken emotion.

Sterle conveys this with a masterful control of body language and expression. Most readers (especially those with siblings) will recognize the shift from annoyed to protective sibling, which makes the characters feel real and flawed.

The art of the series is consistently gorgeous, transitioning from ominous to horrific to dreamy. The wooded scenes are haunting, framing Piper’s car in such a way that the trees almost swallow it. The woods are undoubtedly dangerous, but the absence of direct threat keeps readers on their toes.

Sterle’s visual cues are vague to readers, which creates two types of horror, one that plays into the reader’s fear of the unknown and another that plays into the trauma of Piper’s unknown-to-us past experiences. The supernatural and horrific elements—the strange pod that showed up in Piper’s apartment, the mysterious being that followed, the disfigured shapes in the woods—are organic and earthy, calling to mind a powerful and primitive force.

The song Long Lost #3 is titled for is “Elephant Woman” by Blonde Redhead. It’s a song that reflects on pain, and with reason; lead singer Kazu Makino was trampled by her horse in 2002. Regardless of Erman’s intent in including the song, there’s a sense of deep betrayal in being so badly injured by something you love deeply.

It seems unlikely that Piper or Frances will be trampled by a horse, but the sentiment of being hurt by someone you trust seems prescient, especially as the story moves toward a resolution with the relationship of Piper and Frances and their mother. Piper’s pain is evident and there’s much that has been left unsaid, even in the issues that have already been released.

Long Lost #1 and #2 took time to establish layers of emotion and plot, giving readers complicated characters to root for and a story that unfurls in unexpected ways each issue. Every issue asks more questions than it answers, but it also creates momentum, but the third advances the plot in a way that adds motion as well as depth. Long Lost #3 is another compelling issue in a series full of emotion and mystery.

Story: Matthew Erman Art: Lisa Sterle
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

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

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Review: Long Lost #2

long lost 2.jpgWhere Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle’s Long Lost #1 slowly builds an unsettling environment, Long Lost #2 ratchets up the supernatural tension and the tension between Piper and Frances.

It took me a long time to gather my thoughts on this issue, partly because I’m deeply invested in Piper, Frances, their fraught relationship, and the fate of Pockets the dog and partly because this issue focuses more on developing the characters emotionally. The plot feels like it’s moving toward something heavy, and the established elements are going to come crashing together.

The first issue hinted at something sinister, in a series of unsettling moments that led to Piper and Frances being confronted by a cloaked and masked…well, nobody knows what it really is, and there aren’t many answers in issue two, either. Erman dangles plot threads, teasing readers with information that’s just out of reach. 

The story takes on an air of mystery (in addition to the established horror of the first issue) thanks to the otherworldly cloaked being. Its sudden appearance in Piper’s house sets the plot in motion and sends the girls to their hometown, ostensibly to find Pockets. Because of this, it feels like the story is moving rather than being frustratingly stagnant.

In the first issue, the story relied on snippets of scenes set in the woods to create the uncomfortable space the comic occupies. In the second issue, the being warns Piper against going in the woods in her hometown. Not only does this establish the being as an ambiguously aligned character, it reminds us that something much larger and scarier is at work.

Sterle’s art is once again a highlight. Piper and Frances are very different characters, conveyed through both their movement and their dialogue. Sterle has mastered facial expression, at times conveying more through body language than the characters do in conversation.

She has also created an intriguing and seriously creepy character in Piper’s home invader. The inky tones and textures used in this character’s design match the inky, murky wood settings. Sterle often uses “tracking” shots, using trees and woods to frame Piper and Frances. It reiterates the idea that the woods are a threat, building on the air of mystery and horror. Despite the monstrous appearance of the cloaked being and the shadowy, sinister woods, the art is just as gorgeous as it was in the first issue.

One notable difference between the first issue and the second is the use of color. Though most of the issue is in black and white, there’s a moment where a subtle pink color is used to emphasize the creepiness of a scene and also works to tie the cover to the interior art. We see something similar with the cover art for Long Lost #2, which uses an intensified version of the color scheme from the first issue.

The second reason it took me so long to gather my thoughts was that I fell into an internet hole in researching “Farewell Transmission,” the Jason Molina song this issue is titled for. It wasn’t until I read about Molina’s life and death and listened to the song a few times over that the feelings I was trying to articulate in this review crystallized.

“Farewell Transmission” is a song about reckoning with mortality and the uncertainty of what comes next, which Erman and Sterle convey in both writing and art. There is horror in the story, yes, but there’s deep sadness, loneliness, and a sense of loss present as well. The lyrics included throughout the issue are a reminder that Piper and Frances are still very much unknown to the reader, and that they don’t have an easy road ahead.

The first two issues are compelling in their establishment of the tense relationship between Piper and Frances, the girls’ mysterious past, and their even more mysterious future. The emotional and atmospheric tone of the comic helps to create a haunting, intriguing story that leave me hungry and excited for the moment when the plot comes crashing together.

Story: Matthew Erman Art: Lisa Sterle
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Long Lost #1

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been excited about Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle’s Long Lost since it was announced by Scout Comics. The first issue is gorgeous and haunting, and very, very promising.

I was immediately drawn to the book’s cover. There’s something incredibly magnetic about it–maybe it’s the contrast between Frances, the character on the cover, and the foliage surrounding her. Maybe it’s the bright tangle of red thread that fades into subtle background color. Maybe it’s the detail that appears upon closer examination.

The first issue of Long Lost has pretty much everything I look for in a comic. Horror? Yes. Mystery? Heck yes. Gorgeous art? Definitely.

The story follows Piper, a young woman who seems content to live alone with her puppy, Pockets. Readers learn early that she is estranged from her mother and is quick to shut down phone calls from family. Erman uses Piper’s self-imposed isolation to shut out readers as well.

Though this doesn’t offer much in terms of Piper’s past, it does establish her personality, despite meaning that she as a character remains something of a mystery. Because of this, I found myself grasping for detail as I read, but the ones readers learn about Piper are more often horrific than ordinary.

The glimpses of Piper’s thoughts and dreams Erman and Sterle offer hint at something monstrous rising to the surface. The whole issue is a long, slow inhale–each little snippet of detail builds the tension between what Piper knows and what she’s experiencing and what the audience knows and is experiencing. It works well as exposition, giving readers just enough detail to fear whatever is hiding around the corner.

This is in large part due to Sterle’s art, which is both haunting and gorgeous. Piper and Pockets’s expressiveness makes them instantly relatable characters, even if the events they’re going through are less relatable.

The simple backgrounds and inky landscapes make each detail stand out, and the creepy scenes even more unsettling. The interior art has the same magnetic quality as the cover, and the nighttime scenes that open the book are particularly beautiful. Most of the comic is drawn in black and white and shaded in gray. There is a little color, but it’s used sparingly to add contrast, making it really effective in anteing up the tension.

With the first issue of Long Lost, Erman and Sterle have introduced us to an intriguing blend of horror and family drama, set in a haunting and atmospheric landscape. Mystery and thriller fans definitely aren’t going to want to miss the latest installment in Scout’s increasingly impressive lineup–this is one case you can absolutely judge the book by its cover and won’t be disappointed.

10 Spooky Comics for this Halloween

If you, like the rest of the internet, have been celebrating Halloween since before Labor Day, or have gotten swept up in the pumpkin spice frenzy, or are riding the high of those spooky seasonal vibes, hey. You’re not alone.

Though this year has been widely deemed a dumpster fire, 2017 has provided some excellent seasonal reads for readers who like their comics with a side of horror and mystery. Here are ten comics perfect for setting the Halloween mood.

babyteeth-01-cvrBabyteeth
Donny Cates, Garry Brown, and Mark Englert (AfterShock Comics)

Being a teenager can feel like hell. For pregnant sixteen year old Sadie, it might literally be hell. The first volume explores the strength of familial relationships, navigating the world as a teen mom, and how to deal when a powerful underground group of assassins tries to kill your baby, who is the antichrist.

Goldie Vance
Hope Larson, Jackie Ball, Brittney Williams, Noah Hayes (BOOM! Studios)

Goldie Vance is a teenage detective story appropriate for all ages. Join Goldie as she takes on the mysteries at the Florida resort where she and her dad work. The series is no longer published as single issues and will instead be published in the future in a series of graphic novels, and each arc is an excellent jumping-on point for the series.

Goosebumps_01_CoverA copyGoosebumps: Monsters at Midnight
Jeremy Lambert and Chris Fenoglio (IDW Publishing)

Goosebumps: Monsters at Midnight was released by IDW earlier this month. While it’s definitely geared toward a younger demographic, the first issue is full of references to the original books and stays true to their voice.

HellraiserOmnibus_v1_SC_PRESS_1Hellraiser Omnibus Volume 1
Clive Barker, Tom Garcia, various (BOOM! Studios)

The Hellraiser Omnibus isn’t for the squeamish. The book collects issues 1-20 of Clive Barker’s 2011-2012 Hellraiser series, as well as Hellraiser Annual #1. As part of Hellraiser canon, the comic explores the fate of Kirsty Cotton and the Cenobite realm–and changes them forever.

Infernoct-1InferNoct
Mina Elwell, Eli Powell, and Tristan Elwell (Scout Comics)

The first issue of this Lovecraft-inspired horror comic from Scout Comics was released earlier this month. The story follows Sam, who is trying to save her town (and the people in it) from vicious monster attacks while keeping her grip on sanity.

insexts-3Insexts
Marguerite Bennett, Ariela Kristantina, and Jessica Kholine (AfterShock Comics)

The second collected volume of Insexts will be released in late November, but this comic is well worth reading. The first volume followed Lady Bertram and her lover Mariah as they come to grips with their insect powers and go up against the monsters terrorizing Victorian England. The second volume deals with the aftermath in the same beautiful, erotic, and horrific style as the first volume.

Nancy-Hardy-001-Cov-A-DaltonNancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie
Anthony Del Col, Werther Dell’Edera (Dynamite Entertainment)

Fans of the original series or previous Drew-Hardy team-ups will likely appreciate this series, which brings the gang back together to figure out who killed Fenton Hardy. This is something of a dark departure from the original series (which never featured murder) but is an interesting update appropriate for teens and adults alike.

Monstress01_CoverMonstress
Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

Though Monstress is currently on hiatus, this comic remains one of the most visually and narratively interesting comics published this year. The second volume, released in July, develops each character as they process the consequences of the Monstrum living inside main character Maika.

anc_lit-my_favorite_thing_is_monsters-900My Favorite Thing is Monsters
Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a gorgeous book with an incredible amount of narrative depth. Though the fact that the main character, Karen Reyes, believes herself a monster makes this read Halloween-appropriate, readers will likely find plenty to relate to in Karen’s interests and search for identity.

My-Pretty-Vampire-coverMy Pretty Vampire
Katie Skelly (Fantagraphics)

Katie Skelly’s My Pretty Vampire combines comics with vintage horror in a gorgeous and compelling color palette. The book follows vampire Clover, who escapes from an oppressive ruled by her brother. Clover’s newfound freedom leads her on a town-wide murder spree, with a shadowy organization not far behind.

Advance Review: Long Lost #1

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been excited about Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle’s Long Lost since it was announced by Scout Comics. The first issue is gorgeous and haunting, and very, very promising.

I was immediately drawn to the book’s cover. There’s something incredibly magnetic about it–maybe it’s the contrast between Frances, the character on the cover, and the foliage surrounding her. Maybe it’s the bright tangle of red thread that fades into subtle background color. Maybe it’s the detail that appears upon closer examination.

The first issue of Long Lost has pretty much everything I look for in a comic. Horror? Yes. Mystery? Heck yes. Gorgeous art? Definitely.

The story follows Piper, a young woman who seems content to live alone with her puppy, Pockets. Readers learn early that she is estranged from her mother and is quick to shut down phone calls from family. Erman uses Piper’s self-imposed isolation to shut out readers as well.

Though this doesn’t offer much in terms of Piper’s past, it does establish her personality, despite meaning that she as a character remains something of a mystery. Because of this, I found myself grasping for detail as I read, but the ones readers learn about Piper are more often horrific than ordinary.

The glimpses of Piper’s thoughts and dreams Erman and Sterle offer hint at something monstrous rising to the surface. The whole issue is a long, slow inhale–each little snippet of detail builds the tension between what Piper knows and what she’s experiencing and what the audience knows and is experiencing. It works well as exposition, giving readers just enough detail to fear whatever is hiding around the corner.

This is in large part due to Sterle’s art, which is both haunting and gorgeous. Piper and Pockets’s expressiveness makes them instantly relatable characters, even if the events they’re going through are less relatable.

The simple backgrounds and inky landscapes make each detail stand out, and the creepy scenes even more unsettling. The interior art has the same magnetic quality as the cover, and the nighttime scenes that open the book are particularly beautiful. Most of the comic is drawn in black and white and shaded in gray. There is a little color, but it’s used sparingly to add contrast, making it really effective in anteing up the tension.

With the first issue of Long Lost, Erman and Sterle have introduced us to an intriguing blend of horror and family drama, set in a haunting and atmospheric landscape. Mystery and thriller fans definitely aren’t going to want to miss the latest installment in Scout’s increasingly impressive lineup–this is one case you can absolutely judge the book by its cover and won’t be disappointed.

Review: Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie #2

Nancy-Hardy-002-Cov-A-TILT-DaltonAnthony Del Col and Werther Dell’Edera’s Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie is back. The first issue set up the murder of Fenton Hardy, and having become suspects in their father’s murder, Frank and Joe turn to their old friend, Nancy Drew for help with the case.

Readers were briefly introduced to Nancy at the end of the first issue, and #2 further develops her character. Nancy is the coolest cucumber in all of Bayport, and has a plan to draw out Fenton Hardy’s murderer with Frank and Joe’s help.

Originally, I was apprehensive about the series focusing on the murder of a family member, but the team (so far) has stayed away from a tropey Quest For Vengeance. In a world where Quests For Vengeance are a dime a dozen, I can’t describe how glad I am that the Hardy boys aren’t going full John Wick–those stories have their time and place, just not in this comic.

There are a lot of things consistent with the originals, and while Del Col and Dell’Edera’s take on this new story is a little darker than anything published by Stratemeyer Syndicate, it’s enjoyable. Del Col has elaborated a little on bits of information that were included in every book, like Frank and Joe’s family history and Nancy’s relationship with her father after her mother died.

Plot-wise, this series is paced well, with a good balance of background information and an actual plot. There isn’t a lot of filler, which is a bonus. In this issue, Nancy has come up with a plan to infiltrate a mob family in order to mine them for information about the murder. In addition to furthering the murder plot, readers learn more about Nancy and the town of Bayport.

Dell’Edera’s art has the same almost-vintage feel as issue #1. In Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys #2, though, we get to see a bit more range from Dell’Edera and colorist Stefano Simeone. Dell’Edera’s fashion is particularly of note–it’s a rare and pleasant surprise to see an artist pay as much attention to fashion as is done in this comic. Simeone’s color palettes are absolutely beautiful throughout the comic, turning the art into a visual feast.

Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys could have easily been a grim and dark reboot of an older property, but the art and colors keep it from ever approaching the Too Gritty mark. The series is an entertaining read, with plenty of nods to the source material that are fun Easter eggs for familiar readers.

Story: Anthony Del Col Art: Werther Dell’Edera Color: Stefano Simeone
Covers: Faye Dalton (a), Dave Bullock (b)

Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Dynamite provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Tee Franklin Talks Bingo Love

Tee Franklin discusses passion project Bingo Love, a graphic novella she created with artists Jenn St-Onge and Joy San. The project was posted on Kickstarter in mid-March and quickly reached its funding goal. Among other unique aspects, Bingo Love is a type of story that doesn’t exist anywhere else in comics–find out why you should check it out.

Graphic Policy: First, thank you for taking the time to speak to me! Would you mind introducing yourself?

Tee Franklin: Thanks so much for having me. I’m Tee Franklin, a writer with story in a few books, maybe you’ve heard of Image Comics’ Nailbiter and IDW/DC Comics Love is Love. I’m also the creator of #BlackComicsMonth.

GP: Your new comic, Bingo Love, is debuting on Kickstarter. Can you describe the project?

TF: Bingo Love is Black Mirror’s San Junipero meets Academy Award winning Moonlight. It’s got love, heartbreak, tragedy, and a honeymoon to Iceland.

GP: Based on the previews, the art and writing mesh beautifully. How did this creative team come together?

TF: The art and colors are absolutely a match made in heaven. I actually put out a tweet looking for LGBTQ women artists and colorists and Joy dropped her link in the tweet. Jenn and I have been trying to find the perfect project for us to work together on and Bingo Love worked out perfectly. After seeing the first page by both women, I knew this was going to be huge.

Editor Erica Schultz has been a great friend for years and she knows I have a phobia of the red ink, so she edits with various colors. Erica knew of Cardinal Rae’s lettering work and vouched for them.

We are The A-Team!

GP: You also have some great stretch rewards. Could you tell us about them?

TF: Oh goodness, we have skype sessions with Kelly Sue, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone and Steve Orlando. Script and portfolio reviews from Al Ewing, Kieron Gillen, Patrick Thorpe, Shawn Pryor, Bryan Edward Hill and Erica Schultz, Of course variants from Nilah Magruder, Genevieve Eft, and Carla McNeil.

I’m truly blessed that there are so many creators who were willing to donate their time to help Bingo Love come to fruition.

GP: You’re also curating the Mental Health Anthology, which is set for crowdfunding later this year. I’ve noticed you’re using two different crowdfunding platforms. Is there a difference in how each platform allows you to fund and market these projects?

TF: The Mental Health Anthology will be happening later this year or possibly next year, depending on how things go. I will say that I was not mentally prepared to read a lot of these stories that many have shared and I have to practice self-care. This anthology is still happening as it means a lot to me.

The reason for Indiegogo is because Kickstarter doesn’t allow funds to go to charity and this project’s funds are going straight to charity after printing and shipping expenses.

GP: Your works have also covered a number of different genres. How do these allow you to explore different types of storytelling? Is there a genre you haven’t gotten to write or draw yet that you’d like to?

TF: I’ve built several worlds in my head. I had a very rough childhood, young adulthood and adulthood, so for me, my escape was the worlds that I created. I’m blessed that I can write different genres and not just known as the “horror” writer or the “all-ages” fantasy writer.

As far as what I’d like to write, it would just be DC Comics Vixen. I’m not a huge cape fan, but boy oh boy would I love to get a chance to write Vixen. I even have the pitch ready to go upstairs in my head.

GP: What drew you to comics as opposed to other forms of storytelling?

TF: Comics are just so damn cool. I got into comics as a child and even though it was all superheroes, there was something that grabbed my interest. As an adult, I’m over the capes. I want murder, mayhem, horror, dragons, romance, mystery, robbery, etc.

Just give me anything besides capes and make sure that there’s representation in the book!

GP: What freedoms does crowdfunding allow you as opposed to traditional publishing?

TF: I wouldn’t consider it freedom, it’s just me writing from my soul. These stories aren’t stories that traditional publishers wants, because they believe it won’t sell. The problem is they don’t know how to market these books and truly believe that POC won’t buy any books that tell vital stories. Judging by the Kickstarter being funded in 5 days, I beg to differ.

Do better publishers, the people want these stories by creators of color. Representation Matters.

GP: I remember reading you saying during Oscar season that there were no comics out that reflected the themes or experiences of the characters in Hidden Figures, Fences, or Moonlight. What were some of the thematic influences for Bingo Love?

TF: Yep. I definitely did say that. There are books out there, but they’re written by white creators and it doesn’t have the same narrative as these Oscar-nominated books. A few days before the Oscars, I watched Moonlight, (I heard about it, but never got a chance to catch it until it came out OnDemand.) and realized that the movie reminded me of Bingo Love.

These stories are needed, not just for film and tv, but also in books.

GP: What are you most excited for readers to see with this comic?

TF: Everything! This love story is one for the ages, it spans across a lifetime so there’s a wedding, a honeymoon, and DRAMA! We want to tell this vital story and hope that it resonates with everyone. I’d be over the moon if a senior citizen reached out to tell me that they lived this story.

GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you about?

TF: Thanks so much for interviewing us for Graphic Policy. I know this is a different type of comic, but sometimes you need to embrace something that’s not the norm. Love is Love is Love is Love and this comic has so much love in it. We want everyone to be open and respectful to those who love differently than they do. We need more love and kindness in the world.

GP: Thank you again!

Ryan K. Lindsay Talks the All-Ages Comic Ink Island

Ryan K. Lindsay is an Australian writer who has written the EIR all ages one-shot he Kickstarted with Alfie Gallagher, the critically acclaimed Negative Space miniseries at Dark Horse with Owen Gieni on art, the upcoming Beautiful Canvas from Black Mask with Sami Kivelä, the CHUM mini with Sami Kiveä, and he also made Headspace at Monkeybrain Comics/IDW with Eric Zawadzki + Sebastian Piriz/Marissa Louise/Dee Cunniffe on art. He wrote a short story for the Vertigo CMYK anthology and was blessed to see Tommy Lee Edwards illustrate it, his Fatherhood one-shot was once one of the top selling ComiXology Submit titles, and he once sold out to write a My Little Pony Rainbow Dash one-shot.

He has a brand new project, Ink Island, currently running on Kickstarter. I got a chance to talk to him about the all-ages comic.

Graphic Policy: Ink Island just went live on Kickstarter. Could you describe the project a bit?

Ryan K Lindsay: INK ISLAND is an all ages one shot comic that’s about two children – my own two children – who are the caretakers of a lighthouse whose function is to keep the monsters in the dark away. So when the globe breaks, they have to scramble to fix it, and in that moment, my daughter is kidnapped.

From there we have a story that’s about conquering fear, and gender roles, and sibling relationships. The book has some beautifully funny moments, mostly because my co-creator/artist Craig Bruyn brings an extremely expressive and cheeky art style to this book, but we also want to drop some real emotion in when we can.

Our campaign is allowing us to fund a print run of the book, and get Craig paid, and get a set of teaching resources into the hands of people who want to read and then analyse this comic.

GP: Craig Bruyn’s art is great! I know you’ve referenced Skottie Young when talking about the art, but it also reminds me of Justin Bleep, who has this really dynamic style. Besides gorgeous art, what does Craig bring to the story?

RKL: Craig brought a lot of heart to the story. The way he brings out the character moments, whether they be human or Inky, was such a delight to unfold. And then there’s his story capabilities, his knack for being able to take a page of story/information and tell it in a coherent and dynamic way. Craig knows from page layouts, and you can see he’s always working to get the right angle or showcase the best panel.

He’s also just the biggest gentleman to work with. He’s stupidly humble, he’s insanely reliable, and I love that the final beat of the issue was actually all his idea.

GP: In addition to the plot, what sets this story apart from other books aimed at a similar audience? In other words, are there things missing from the genre that you wanted to include?

RKL: I’d feel arrogant to say I’m crushing the all ages funk in a totally new way and better than others, but the things I wanted to focus on in this book were the ideas of overcoming fears, and what gender roles look like as presented to small children.

The main act change of the book revolves around Parker realising his sister, Elliot, has been kidnapped and then having to step up to mount a rescue mission. But we never see what Elliot is doing so we can’t confirm whether she really needs rescuing at all. It’s a big aspect of the comic I wanted to unpack in general, but also very specifically between my two children. My son is very thoughtful and empathetic whereas my daughter is a UFC-level weapon. But they both crossover in that they’d each help the other whenever they thought it was needed.

But I think, for me, it wasn’t about bringing something incredibly new to the genre because it was more about proving I can also play in this genre. Most of my other work is so dark and brutal, I wanted something my kids could read. Something my class could read.

GP: You’re also no stranger to Kickstarter–this is your fifth! For you, what is the draw of a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter?

RKL: I love Kickstarter. That ability to connect with your readership directly is amazing. I specifically love it because for one month you can offer a slew of special items that will only ever be available for that month. I’m doing an Audio Commentary for this comic, and have done so on previous comics, and those have never been available again.

You could sell the comic on your site forever and a day, but there’s no excitement, there’s no necessity. With Kickstarter, you create the excitement and immediacy through a well-run campaign, and readers respond fantastically well.

GP: How does your experience as someone who teaches comics influence how you create them?

RKL: It influenced me many years ago because I didn’t just try to write comics, I studied them first. I studied, I learned by doing through dozens of unpublished [and unpublishable] scripts, and then I started branching out from there.

Now that I’ve written a few things, I do try to write with an eye for the things I like to analyse in the works of others, but I try not to be too obvious about what I’m aiming for. You want it to feel natural, not forced. And I don’t want to be didactic in my narrative approach or explanations. My stories better not read as lessons, they should grab an emotion before they then slip up into your brain.

GP: That’s really fascinating–the balance between writing comics that can be used as a teaching tool and comics that are interesting and gripping, plot-wise. On the flip-side of this, why do you think comics make such a great teaching tool?

RKL: Comics are exceptionally great tools for teaching reading because there’s so much reader engagement required. It’s a great medium to have story/information presented – through text and images, and how they interact – but then there’s the subtle stuff that’s there, so it’s not blindly inferred, but it’s still up to the reader to analyse, such as colours or how much is skipped over in the gutters. There are so many elements to a comic that you can spend a long long time pulling the threads apart.

I also think there’s the aspect that comics don’t feel confrontational. They are inviting, they’re pretty, and people mistake that for meaning they are for struggling readers, and while you can see why they’d appeal to someone who doesn’t want to stare down a wall of text in a novel, that does not necessarily equate to comics having easy or simple stories.

GP: Do you have favorite comics to teach?

RKL: I teach young kids, so I love using books like HILDA, because man-oh-man do I love Hilda. That book is phenomenal, and so easy, and yet so textured and layered. I also dig BONE, and THE SMURFS and certain superhero books if they aren’t too violent.

If I’m teaching adults, you can’t go past BATMAN: YEAR ONE. I’d love to teach THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST, or PAPER GIRLS.

GP: I took a class in college where BATMAN: YEAR ONE was on the book list, but not required, and I always find it interesting to see which books people choose to teach because it varies so much. Are there certain things you think we can learn from superhero books versus creator-owned books?

RKL: I believe the only thing you learn from comics is how to makenglod comics, so cape or by shouldn’t matter – however, having just completed the DC Writers’ Workshop with Scott Snyder, there is one big difference.

Superhero books can play more operatic, the stakes can be elevated. There’s nothing like the literal fate of the world to make a comic sing, whereas sometimes you don’t need that and you just need a personal take.

Consider THE VISION against DAYTRIPPER. Themes crossover but one book gets to play against the might of every Marvel hero, whereas the other is real that it can better grind your heart up.

GP: What’s the biggest challenge of creating an all-ages comic?

RKL: Not killing a bunch of characters off at the end. I love noir, and my mind skews to warped endings, so that’s a big one. Then there’s the matter of making it engaging, having some big “Oh, cool!” moments, because I never feel like I do that part all that well.

I want to use rich language, and I’m happy if kids have to pause to ask a parent what a word means, but I don’t want the verbosity to drive anyone away. There’ a balance, and I’m sure I’ll find it one day.

GP: Ink Island is also a huge departure from many of your other comics. Do you have a preferred genre? Do these different genres allow you to experiment with different types of storytelling?

RKL: My preferred genre is a sci fi/crime blend. It allows me to play with broken noir characters, but in a world that incorporates the fantastic. I love shattered endings and I love creating my own tech that I can explain however I want without being tethered to actual real world limitations or research.

I try to experiment with my storytelling all the time. I’ve used first person narration captions, omniscient third person, and no captions. All are different muscles for me. I like fracturing timelines, or using unreliable narrators. It often truly depends on the lead character and the tone I want to set. Those are the two keystones to lock in that inform all choices beyond that.

I’m Watching Iron Fist So You Don’t Have To: Episode 2 Shadow Hawk Takes Flight Recap

If you missed my recap of Iron Fist E1: “Snow Gives Way,” you can read it here. If you want a five-second recap, know that Danny Rand’s parents died in a plane crash. Danny didn’t. He spent 15 years training as a warrior, and has now come back to New York. The Meachum family, the other shareholders in the Rand company, are not happy about this.

Okay. Let’s do this.

Danny wakes up strapped to a bed in a psychiatric hospital, where he definitely doesn’t want to be. A man named Simon poses as a doctor and attempts to convince Danny to kill himself. I’m glad my alarm clock doesn’t have a “stab” feature.

Over at the Meachum office, Ward asks Joy to help him buy some warehouses and she agrees. They debate the morality of throwing Danny into a psychiatric hospital; Joy feels a nagging sense of guilt that he might actually be Danny Rand, but Ward convinces her that they’re not the bad guys because Danny was dirty and shoeless and couldn’t possibly be Danny. Or something. The dialogue in this show leaves much to be desired.

In the hospital, Danny has been cleaned up and force-fed drugs, though his beard remains woefully untrimmed. He tries to meditate in order to focus his chi, but is having trouble with his inner self because of the drugs. He speaks to a doctor, who encourages him to make the best of his time in the hospital. Danny recounts the plane crash in greater detail, saying that after he discovered the wreckage he was rescued by monks. The doctor asks him who John Anderson is, and shows him a passport bearing that name that was turned in with Danny at the hospital.

Back in the real world, Colleen is being followed. She beats up four attackers and berates them for performing poorly–it’s a training exercise. There’s not much of a point to this scene other than demonstrating Colleen’s martial arts skills and teaching style, but it’s a nice character showcase.

In the hospital, an aide pairs Danny off with Simon, who shows him around the hospital and introduces the other patients. Danny optimistically points out that he’s going to be released in 72 hours, and Simon says that’s what everyone else was told, but they were drugged repeatedly and most have been there for years. When a patient attacks Danny, he is blamed, strapped to a bed, and drugged again.

Simon frees him and Danny sneaks off to use the phone, where he calls Colleen. Colleen, understandably, has qualms about finding a way to free him, having only met him twice. Even though she saw him get attacked, she doesn’t quite believe that the entire city of New York is out to get Danny.

Ward Meachum visits his father. Ward’s dad’s name is Harold, but he’s played by Faramir with short hair. Faramir has placed cameras in Danny’s hospital room, so they know everything he has said. They discuss the validity of Danny’s story, and know that Danny was rescued by monks of the Order of the Crane Mother. They know about Colleen. Ward suggests a lobotomy. For a self-proclaimed “not a bad guy,” Ward is a pretty bad guy.

Danny, no longer strapped to the bed, meditates. Viewers keep getting flashes of a robed Danny, sitting on the mountain. The doctor comes back and Danny tells him that the passport was stolen, bought in Morocco so that he could return to the states. It’s looking like the next part of Danny’s Convince ‘Em Plan is to fly under the radar and escape.

Ward pays a visit to Colleen’s dojo. He tells her that Danny is threatening his sister and him, and asks if she has had contact with him and if he has threatened her. Colleen says that threatening her is a mistake, which, based on the practice scene, is true. Ward asks her to sign papers saying she felt threatened by Danny so he can stay in the hospital and offers to give her a grant–a grant that she desperately needs to keep her business open.

Okay. I was wrong about Danny’s plan. In his next session, the doctor shows him a commercial with the Rands. Danny recalls what they did after the commercial was filmed, declares himself to be Danny Rand and not John Anderson (again) and dramatically sweeps everything off of the doctor’s desk. He is very much on the radar.

At Meachum HQ, Harold Meachum is beginning to think Danny might be the real deal. Danny’s doctor calls Joy to verify a memory that confirms Danny’s identity. Harold visits Danny, who is still drugged to the gills and strapped to the bed, and sings him a mildly threatening song about death. Danny describes his training at K’un-Lun. He trained as a warrior there and became the Iron Fist, the sworn enemy of The Hand.

All of this information seems extremely interesting to Harold, who continues to act like a modern/corporate alternate universe Denethor.

Harold returns to his penthouse to find “Where did you go?” written on the outside of his window, the outside of the window being at the top of a skyscraper. This moment is either meant to introduce another antagonist–one with a powerful hold over Harold, who maybe doesn’t leave the building for a reason–or it’s a bizarre lead-up to the Spider-Man reboot. One for the mystery board.

Joy is starting to think that Danny might also be the real Danny, and plans to verify this with a bag of M&Ms. She has a case of those big bags of M&Ms stashed in her office cabinet, which is admirable and also not what I assumed office cabinets are used for.

As the other Meachums separately verify Danny’s identity, Ward visits Colleen’s dojo again. Poor Colleen. She didn’t ask for men to harass her at her place of work on the daily, and yet, here we are. Once again, Ward offers her $50,000 if she signs papers saying that Danny harassed her, and Colleen says she’ll think about it.

Danny receives Joy’s bag of M&Ms and works on sorting out the brown ones, which I guess works as a plot device but like, they all taste like chocolate, man. Danny is then interrupted by a visit from Colleen. He tells her about the drugs and his connection to the Rand company, and she tells him how Ward is trying to bribe her. They form a fragile alliance and Danny sends Colleen to Joy’s office with the bag of M&Ms, sans brown ones.

Seeing the lack of brown M&Ms, Joy bursts into tears and realizes that the dirty, shoeless stranger is Danny. Ward walks in on Joy crying over a pile of candy and finds his papers from Colleen sitting on the desk, unsigned, which makes him very angry. He and Joy have a tense conversation about Danny’s future. Ward is insistent that Danny stay in the hospital, and Joy isn’t thrilled about that.

In the hospital, Danny makes a plea for his release. It doesn’t go well.

The Meachums, independently convinced of Danny’s identity, make a plan to move him–Harold wants him alive, to be used for gain. It’s like they say: You either die a Faramir, or live long enough to see yourself become a Denethor.

The plan involves putting a straightjacket on Danny and beating him to a pulp first. The repeated hitting apparently clears his head enough that he’s able to access his glowy fist powers. Danny punches his way out of the hospital, and the episode ends.

As with the pilot, this episode had some highlights, but they’re buried in awkward dialogue and drawn-out scenes. Danny is occasionally likeable, but I find it difficult to take him seriously when he goes from kind and goofy to talking very seriously about being a warrior. Danny defies traditional soldier stereotypes, which in a stronger story would be a neat trope subversion, but in this story is confusing. Most of the details we know about K’un-Lun are that it exists in another dimension and corporal punishment is regularly employed.

Despite 15 years (15! More than half his life!) of training, Danny’s fighting scenes give me pause about the teaching skills of those in K’un-Lun. Sebastian Stan transitioned from saddest boy in a drama to fighty action man quite well; Finn Jones, not so much. Something really clicked for me when I read that Jones was reportedly learning his fight sequences and filming them immediately. They’re clunky and edited weirdly, even in the 30 seconds of fighting I’ve seen so far. You can’t tell, but I’m thinking longingly of Lewis Tan. We could’ve had it all and all of that.

Even though the cast was announced more than a year ago, everything about the show feels rushed, from the cheesy dialogue to the Meachums’ villainy to the fight scenes. My hope for the next episode is that we see a clearer plot direction and that someone finally trims Danny’s beard, please. The plot thing is secondary to my desire for tidy facial hair if you were wondering.

Until next time.

I’m Watching Iron Fist So You Don’t Have To: Episode 1 Snow Gives Way Recap

With Doctor Strange behind us, it was looking like 2017 was going to be a year blissfully free of rich white guys falling on hard times and turning to superheroism. I had forgotten, of course, about Iron Fist. But hey, at least I don’t have to relive Thomas and Martha Wayne being murdered in Crime Alley for like, the fifth year in a row.

My hopes aren’t high for this show, between multiple critics citing it as Marvel’s worst yet and Finn Jones’ poor handling of aforementioned criticism. Then the show’s writers and producers shutting down critics who suggested an Asian American Iron Fist would add nuance to the character, even though they almost cast Lewis Tan.

There’s also the fact that Iron Fist is the second Marvel property in two years that relies on cultural appropriation to develop its lead. At this point I suspect Jones must be inhumanly flexible after the reaching and bending he’s done to defend the show.

As far as I’m aware, the main reasons anyone has for watching Iron Fist are as follows:

  1. Claire Temple
  2. To get to The Defenders
  3. Zhou Cheng
  4. The Defenders though!!
  5. Colleen Wing
  6. Just have to make it to The Defenders guys, come on

In the interest of journalistic fairness, I have not read any reviews. Unless titles count, which they shouldn’t, because Twitter is inescapable. Despite this, I am prepared for the worst. I have taped photos of Rosario Dawson, Lewis Tan, and Jessica Henwick to a Homer Simpson-style inspiration board and am ready to begin viewing, and I’m trying really hard not to think about that interview where Finn Jones said he’s different from Danny Rand because he has definitely had sex before.

I feel that I am now fully prepared to begin watching a show that has been hailed as “a big superhero flop,” “can this possibly get any worse,” and “bad.” Inspiring!

Spoilers ahoy.

I’d like to say that, right off the bat, I’m not getting great vibes from the intro. I gladly sat through a season’s worth of Daredevil intros because the opening was visually interesting and the music was excellent–three episodes in I was watching the intro and living the “mind=blown” GIF when I realized Daredevil is the physical embodiment of blind justice. Jessica Jones’s intro echoed the watercolory covers from Alias and the instrumentals in it and Luke Cage tie together well.

Iron Fist’s intro isn’t nearly as interesting to watch as Daredevil and sounds like they recycled the building instrumentation of Jessica Jones. Somewhere in there, I’m guessing someone was like, “But make it sound Asian,” so they threw in a wind instrument instead of a piano.

Anyway. Danny Rand looks like that guy who shows up at a 100-level psychology class with two cans of Monster, and you can tell he’s never read the book but will participate in the discussion just to hear himself speak. At the very least, he’s wearing the same outfit. Barefoot and bearded, Danny spends the first twenty minutes of the show trying to convince people he hasn’t seen in 15 years that he is, in fact, Danny Rand, son and heir to businessman Wendell Rand.

Danny’s “Convince ‘Em” technique largely involves beating up security people at the company building, saying “I’m Danny Rand” over and over again, breaking into his childhood home, mild stalking of his former friend, Joy Meachum, and not offering to take a DNA test. This does not seem like the way a trustworthy person would go about doing things, but what do I know. Maybe DNA tests didn’t exist until Law & Order: SVU came on TV.

Rejected and still barefoot, Danny hangs out in a public park, where a nice homeless man lets him use his iPhone to confirm that the public believes Danny Rand to have died with his parents. So far, the most interesting mystery in the show is, who taught Danny to use an iPhone? If he could use an iPhone, how did he not already know this information?

Cut to the next morning, when Danny practices Tai chi unbothered on a public sidewalk. Where he found a quiet sidewalk in Manhattan, I am not sure. Let’s throw this on the mystery board with the iPhone thing.

Iron Fist starts to look up 21 minutes and 50 seconds in, which is when I recognize Jessica Henwick from the photograph taped to my wall. This introduction is immediately ruined when Danny begins to speak to her in Mandarin, which is ludicrously assumptive of him.

I can tell a man wrote this episode, because Colleen’s response is to engage with the random dirty man rather than the typical street harassment response of walking away immediately. She’s putting up signs for self-defense lessons, so she could probably handle herself if things went awry, but most women wouldn’t stick around long enough in an uncrowded area for that threat to come to fruition.

Whew. Back to the Meachums, who are discussing the dangerous threat posed by the dirty stranger invading their properties. I must say, Danny hasn’t particularly proven himself dangerous yet. I can understand why he would appear deluded to the Meachums, but the Meachums are treating this issue like Danny is waging psychological warfare on the company. Psychological warfare techniques being… clumsy assault and asking someone to tea?

We’re not even halfway through this episode yet, folks.

The next step in Danny’s Convince ‘Em Plan is to kidnap Ward Meachum by forcing Meachum into the passenger seat of his own Lexus. I’m now a little more convinced that Danny is dangerous, but still uncertain about the psychological warfare thing. As Ward threatens him with a gun that was hidden in the glovebox, Danny laments that he’s been met with nothing but hostility since his return.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that Danny has offered no concrete proof that he is who he says he is, and barged into a building only to immediately begin assaulting people.

Another thing to toss on the mystery board: Why does Danny know how to drive? At one point he mentions that his dad used to let him drive around their property but I will also take this opportunity to remind you that Danny was ten when his parents’ plane crashed. Is letting ten-year-olds drive a rich people thing?

Ward tells Danny what Wikipedia has already told him. Frustrated and without answers, Danny speeds out of the parking garage, crashes into a concrete barrier, and runs away.

Back in the park, the nice man from last night gives Danny chicken parm. They have a discussion about purpose and Danny says his is to protect K’un-Lun from oppression, which means absolutely nothing to his new friend and reminds me of the uncomfortable current of white savior-ness running through the show.

With part one of the Convince ‘Em Plan failed, Danny shows up at Colleen’s dojo, where she has just finished teaching a class. Once again, he asks her to teach a class and, once again, she refuses, telling him that her studio is closing. He asks her if she’s thought about teaching Kung fu, since that makes money. If Colleen doesn’t achieve sainthood for putting up with Danny’s constant mansplaining by the end of this season, why are we even watching.

Outside of the studio, two of the Meachums’ security guards come after Danny and he fights them before escaping. You’ll never believe this, but Colleen saw all of that. The feeling I’m experiencing is foreshadowing punching me in the face.

Seemingly recovered from his Lexus death ride but having failed at happy murder time, Ward pays a visit to–gasp–his father, who definitely hasn’t died from cancer like the Meachum children told Danny he did. The Elder Meachum knows about Danny, and he isn’t happy about it. They discuss Danny’s return, wondering, “Does that mean his parents are still alive?,” “Who has he talked to?,” “How the hell did he learn martial arts?,” and “Why has he waited so long to show up?.” These are all valid questions that I would also like to know the answer to. More for the mystery board.

Back in the park, Danny discovers that his only friend has died of an apparent overdose. He sneaks back into Joy’s office where they have a frank discussion about Ward’s happy murder time and the plane crash before he realizes he’s been drugged. Danny wakes up strapped to a bed, remembering the moments of his parents’ deaths, and the episode ends.

Look. This show was neither the best thing I’ve ever seen nor the worst, because I watch bad horror movies in my spare time and Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark? It was bad. (I would like to point out that it did pass the Bechdel Test, though.) On the other hand, Iron Fist also did not give me the emotional fulfillment of watching a giant mechanical shark destroy a megalodon.

Ignoring the fact that Danny Rand should have been Asian American, the first episode suffers because it just doesn’t feel as fresh or original as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Going up against a corporation is pretty much the theme of the Batman, Arrow, Iron Man, Daredevil, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man movies that preceded Iron Fist, and so far it’s not doing much to reinvent tropes. I couldn’t help but think about the opportunities Iron Fist could have offered for varied storytelling and bringing a well-rounded Asian American character into the MCU as I watched. I mean. Just look at the possibilities.

Instead, the story was bland, bogged down by weirdly written dialogue and the introduction of too many storylines. Danny was overly optimistic and trusting for someone who spent 15 years getting smacked in the face with practice swords while learning Kung fu in a secret city. The Meachums were at times villainous to the point of cheesiness.

An optimistic superhero is a pleasant change of pace from Bruce-Darkness-No-Parents-Wayne, but it doesn’t make up for the slow pacing, lack of character development, and writing. The white savior-ness of Danny’s character hangs over the show like a “well, actually” cloud, as does the PR disaster of Jones and the show’s producers denying that they heard or thought about Any Of That while the show was in development.

If you can ignore all of that or live in a bubble where Batman Begins doesn’t exist, this might be your show, though.

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