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Review: Crowded #12

Crowded #12

Crowded has always been a comic where everything is turned to 11, constantly. That’s thanks to the witty and occasionally sentimental writing of Christopher Sebela, the high energy art of Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, and the varied colors of Triona Farrell. This high tension applies to action sequences, dramatic backstory reveals, and especially the feelings between the two lead characters. Charlie is the so-called normal girl with a price on her head via crowdfunding app Reapr and Vita is the bodyguard hired via Dfender. Crowded #12 is no exception. Charlie and Vita conspire to break out of the survivalist-meets-MLM cult missile silo they’re trapped in and talk about their emotions too.

Weirdly enough, Crowded has turned into a romance comic in its second year. The unlikely lustfest/romance between Charlie and Vita has really taken center stage. It’s fitting that we get a sepia-colored flashback of their first time making out and sleeping together. I love how Stein and Brandt include Dog’s reaction to their activities. He wanders around the frame eventually finding some nice cheese puffs to munch on. The active nature of their artwork with all kinds of gestures, background jokes, or interesting things to look at along with the contrasting color stories that Farrell created keeps the tense, “will they, won’t they” nature of Charlie and Vita’s relationship an ongoing concern as the plot moves along.

Sebela does this too through his writing. He uses a relatively “quiet” scene of Vita and Charlie preparing to leave the missile silo into the closest thing they’ve had to heart to heart for a while. Their conversation while prepping guns and a big-ass parachute is a little one-sided. Vita wants to know the old companies that Charlie sabotage while Charlie wants to get to know Vita personally. It feeds into Crowded #12’s ongoing thread of Charlie wanting Vita to see her as more than a client, but as someone she can build a future with. This emotionally dynamic beat ends up bleeding into the main plot for maximum suffering and feels.

As the issue progresses, Sebela, Stein, and Brandt indulge in even more dysfunctional relationship tropes. A pet turns out to be the emotional glue of the couple. A character storms off for basically this story universe’s equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. In a very contemporary moment, the disconnect from each other on the app where they found each other. Sebela very much plays into the “downer” second part of a trilogy idea. He wisely applies it to the relationship between Charlie and Vita instead of having them surrounded by armies of money-hungry, wannabe mercenaries.

That kind of spectacle showed up in earlier issues of Crowded. More recent installments have focused on the intricacies of love, lust, work, and relationships. However, Sebela, Stein, Brandt, and Farrell have dialed down the quirky, thrilling bits of the book. The escape from the missile silo is a highlight and example of this comic’s humorous approach to capers and setpieces.

There’s an added bonus of the antagonist, Ophelia, being fleshed out in a fantastic double-page spread. Sebela, Stein, and Brandt create a unique connection between her and Vita. Vita sees a little bit of her own hypercompetence and ability to create plans out of thin air and offers to be a kind of remote mentor to her. As a youngster, Vita was shifted from foster home to foster home with no real adult figure to lean on. She wants to pay that forward and be that figure to Ophelia. It’s a really well-developed subplot and good respite from the Vita and Charlie arguing and sometimes smooching and other things parts.

Crowded #12 is the latest, shining example of a comic that has it all. It features compelling chemistry between lead characters, thrilling plot elements with a dash of humor, engaging visuals, and a color palette that adds depth to characters and the events of the story. Crowded #12 ends on a cliffhanger with an air of menace. I can’t wait to see how Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Triona Farrell, and Cardinal Rae wrap their tale of road trips, romance, and creepy technology in volume 3.

Story: Christopher Sebela Art: Ro Stein, Ted Brandt
Colors: Triona Farrell Letters: Cardinal Rae
Story: 8.6 Art: 9.2 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Early Review: Ludocrats #1

Ludocrats #1

Ludocrats #1 is a wild, decadent comic. Many years in the making, it’s from writers Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol, artist Jeff Stokely, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, and letterer Clayton Cowles, who gives the book a definite “Euro” vibe. The story follows the misadventures of Otto and Hades. They’re a part of an aristocratic group dedicated to having a good time. It is an utter paean to the art of hedonism: the comic book equivalent of Dionysus giving Apollo a spanking.

First up, there’s a wedding between Elaina and Lord Pulderwart, a “boring” person. It’s a wondrous occasion for a first issue and turns the classic comedy structure of ending with a wedding on its head reflecting the topsy turvy world order of Ludocrats. Gillen and Rossignol indulge in their most florid and absurd prose. Especially through the character of Otto, who is introduced completely nude, covered in blood, and with his penis out. Otto is pure id and gets the best lines as he is the arbiter of all things “ludicrous”. He is the offspring of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. More so the Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff than the Henry IV duology Falstaff. Otto is the physical representation of this comic’s themes and attitudes.

Jeff Stokely’s artwork in Ludocrats is Asterix and Obelix by way of Brandon Graham. It features all kinds of fun and hilarious background details that are expanded upon in the issue’s back-matter. Stokely and Tamra Bonvillain’s double-page spread of a wedding set the tone and almost singlehandedly build the world of Ludocrats. It’s like the Mos Eisley cantina on acid. You’re introduced to a world where knights read the newspaper, some folks have goldfish bowls for heads, and a bag of wheat gets a seat all to themselves for some reason or another.

Everything in Stokely’s artwork is exaggerated. It fits the tone of Ludocrats #1 from the aforementioned nude and bloody Otto taking up an entire full-page spread. There’s no room for deadpan (Except for the cool Dr. Hades.), everything is ham in this comic. Even though Ludocrats has the clear structure of a wedding, Kieron Gillen and Jim Rossignol are liberated to write some of the strangest dialogue I’ve seen, especially when Otto tries to flirt with one of the party guests. Who knows that a satire of heteronormativity could be so damn funny, especially when Stokely adds cartoon physics to the mix?

Although its characters behave in unrestrained manners and constantly try to outdo each other in the matters of eccentricity, Ludocrats #1 is a comic that’s fairly easy to follow. Its focus is two main characters and a variety of visual and verbal jokes. Instead of relying on boring exposition (This is actually a plot point), Gillen, Rossignol, Stokely, and Bonvillain throw you straight in the middle of the world without a life vest. This is an admirable storytelling point, and Ludocrats #1 is a true party of a comic that you should safely try to acquire when it’s released.

Story: Kieron Gillen, Jim Rossignol Art: Jeff Stokely 
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.7 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

X-O Manowar #1

Wednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

Each week our contributors choose what they can’t wait to read this week or just sounds interesting. In other words, this is what we’re looking forward to and think you should be taking a look at!

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.

A for Anonymous (Bold Type Books) – A graphic novel that focuses on the hacktivists that took on some powerful targets.

Far Sector #5 (DC Comics/DC’s Young Animal) – This series is the best thing DC is releasing with fantastic artwork and entertaining story. It’s not too late to get started reading this one.

Ghostbusters: Year One #3 (IDW Publishing) – The series has been a lot of fun as it spotlights each member of the team giving us a little more insight into the beloved characters.

Heavy Vinyl: Y2K-O (BOOM! Studios) – The comic series goes graphic novel and in this chapter, the girls enter a Battle of the Bands to stop a shadowy corporation from destroying the world of digital music and blame it on Y2K.

Hellions #1 (Marvel) – The latest addition to Marvel’s X-Men relaunch that brings together some of the villains on Krakoa.

On the Stump #2 (Image Comics) – In this world, politicians pass legislation by battling it out in the ring. Seeing politicians getting punch is somewhat cathartic right now. Plus, it’s just a really good comic.

Transformers vs. Terminator #1 (IDW Publishing) – It’s Transformers and the Terminator mashed-up. How are we not excited for this one!?

Wolverine #2 (Marvel) – The first issue was amazing and we’re hoping the second is just as good. This is the highlight of Marvel’s X-relaunch so far.

X-O Manowar #1 (Valiant) – The debut issue is fantastic for long time fans and new readers. An amazing first issue that’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

Alienated #2

Wednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

Each week our contributors choose what they can’t wait to read this week or just sounds interesting. In other words, this is what we’re looking forward to and think you should be taking a look at!

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.

Alienated #2 (BOOM! Studios) – Three kids discover an alien and there’s no way this goes well. An amazing first issue and we’re expecting the same from the second.

Archangel 8 #1/Hotell #1/Red Border #1/Resistance #1 (AWA Studios) – AWA Studios launches with four series all being released this week. We’ve read the teaser magazine and these all look great. A new publisher? We’re in!

Artemis & the Assassin #1 (AfterShock) – A time traveling assassin and a spy from 1944 try to kill each other. Yeah, this sounds awesome.

Bad Reception #4 (AfterShock) – Each issue is like an Agatha Christie novel and it’s been so good.

Bang! #2 (Dark Horse) – The debut was a crazy riff on the James Bond genre. There were enough twists to make it stand out and we want to see where it goes.

Canopus #2 (Scout Comics) – Fantastic sci-fi and a must get. The debut issue was one of the best of the year so far. Helen’s stuck on a mysterious planet and doesn’t know why.

Outlawed #1 (Marvel) – There are absolutely echoes of Civil War but the first issue is a solid start to what’s coming.

Plunge #2 (DC Comics/DC Black Label/Hill House Comics) – The first issue was fantastic horror and we’ve been awaiting the second.

Starship Down #1 (Dark Horse) – An extraterrestrial ship is discovered buried under the ice for thousands of years.

Undiscovered Country #5 (Image Comics) – This comic has been crazy with everything it’s throwing out there and mixing together. Mad Max and apocalypse story with possible time travel-ish elements. It’s all over and just crazy fun.

Wicked Things #1 (BOOM! Studios) – A spin-off from Giant Days about everyone’s favorite child detective: Charlotte Grote!

X-Ray Robot #1 (Dark Horse) – Mike Allred’s latest and Allred’s name alone has us excited for the first issue.

Ram V and Anand RK Enter the Mind of a Tortured Musician in Blue in Green

Bestselling creators Ram V and Anand RK team up for an exploration of ambitions, expectations, and the horrific depths of their spiraling pursuit in Blue in Green. This original graphic novel will hit stores in October from Image Comics.

The dark and haunting portrayal of a young musician’s pursuit of creative genius— the monstrous nature of which threatens to consume him as it did his predecessor half a century ago.  

Blue in Green (ISBN: 978-1-5343-1713-0) will be available on Wednesday, October 28 and in bookstores on Tuesday, November 3.

Blue in Green

Review: Stealth #1

Stealth #1

Stealth is a hard read, as is the case with most stories dealing with mental illness. It holds nothing back as it takes a measured look at the dynamics between a father and son struggling to make sense of a particularly rough psychiatric condition. Of course, everything’s made harder when it’s revealed the father’s a superhero that can confuse innocents with criminals due to his mental state. Needless to say, this comic lands as hard as a punch to the gut—and then some—and it has every intention of saying something important about the subject matter.

Written by Mike Costa and illustrated by Nate Bellegarde Stealth centers on a Detroit-based black superhero—the titular Stealth— as he faces a crisis-like challenge: Alzheimer’s. His son, reporter Tony Barber, is already aware of the situation, just not of the fact his dad is a superhero. That is until he walks in on his dad in full hero getup, looking as if lost in his own home. From there we get to the central question of the story: should Stealth be taken out of the superhero game, even if it means leaving a crime-riddled Detroit without its protector?

Costa and Bellegarde do a great job of balancing classic superhero tropes with the metaphors and messages surrounding the overarching narrative, which is driven by Stealth’s condition. They seem to be aware of the importance of not letting the mental illness factor drown out the superhero element, and vice versa. One of the ways they do this is by mixing tried and true superhero traditions in order to shape them into something easily recognizable.

Stealth is basically a combination of Sam Wilson’s Falcon, Batman, and a hero’s burning need to save a city. Daniel (Stealth’s real name) wears each influence on his sleeves. Some of Sam Wilson’s influence can be found in Stealth’s suit, a high-tech winged suit that looks like it was taken from one of the most recent iterations of the character in the current Marvel universe.

That he is a black superhero, though, opens up a whole slew of racial politics that can make their way into the treatment the character’s alter ego, especially when considering Detroit’s actual track-record with the black population. It feels as if the city will stand for something more than just another innocent worth saving.

Image Comics

In fact, echoes of Batman come through with the comic’s surprising focus on the city of Detroit itself. Costa and Bellegarde take every chance they get to show just how important Stealth is to the city and its continued safety. You get the sense that benching Stealth in this story would be as catastrophic as taking Batman out of Gotham. This is magnified by Bellegarde’s designs for Stealth. He’s always presented as a towering figure, a superior agent of justice.

And yet, that same degree of care that’s afforded to the hero’s presence is then flipped to ramp up the tension surrounding the situation. Once we’re made aware of Stealth’s diagnosis, the story’s emotional spectrum opens up and we’re left with a heartbreaking portrayal of a man that can end up doing a lot of damage in his attempts to do good. Costa’s script does wonders in putting the reader through a revolving door of emotions that makes one scared for the hero but also for those that can get badly swept up in his path. Again, what would happen if Batman could no longer distinguish friend from foe?

Tamra Bonvillain’s colors add to this play of superheroes tropes and mental health representations by going for the spectacular during action scenes, on one hand, to then going for a more restrained touch for the more intimate sequences. It makes everything blend in organically as it essentially guides readers through the multiple metaphorical worlds contained in the comic with smooth transitions. The colors here set the tone and then account for each change in it.

Both versions of Stealth, new version on the left, original version on the right.

It should be noted that Stealth is based on a Robert Kirkman and Marc Silvestri comic that sticks to many of the same storytelling beats of the original story but with some key changes. Kirkman and Silvestri’s Stealth is a white man and his son is navigating what appears to be a recent divorce. This changes the dynamic quite a bit. Skin color can ultimately dictate the feel of the story, whether it wants to or not, and the expectations that come with black characters in terms of representation are already felt throughout Costa and Bellegarde’s Stealth.

Additionally, I consider Costa and Bellegarde’s Stealth to have a much better hold on pacing. Costa’s script pulls off a brilliant gamble with misdirection early on that focuses on the son and the real identity of Stealth, leading to a reveal that was very well orchestrated. Kirkman’s script lets you in on most of the story’s secrets early on and, as a result, doesn’t feel as profound as it does in the new version. It’s still an interesting read, but I prefer Costa’s and Bellegarde’s take.

Stealth #1 presents a world of conversation starters regarding mental illness, hero worship, and straight up comic book storytelling. It’s a story about checking in with our heroes to know when they’ve reached their limit and when to flip the roles to take care of them. It’s about a kind of responsibility we need to own up to more than we actually do.

Script: Mike Costa Art: Nate Bellegarde Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Story: 10
Art: 10
Recommendation: Buy, and get ready to shed a tear or two

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

Alex De Campi and Erica Henderson are Out for Blood with the Pulp Horror Graphic Novel Dracula, Motherf**ker

Bestselling writer Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson team up for a pulpy, pulse-pounding, original graphic novel titled Dracula, Motherf**ker. This California-set, psychological horror story will hit stores from Image Comics in October.

Straddling two different timelines, Dracula, Motherf**ker travels between Vienna, 1889 where Dracula’s brides nail him to the bottom of his coffin and Los Angeles, 1974: wherein an ageing starlet decides to raise the stakes. Crime scene photographer Quincy Harker is the only man who knows it happened, but will anyone believe him… before he gets outlined in chalk himself? 

Dracula, Motherf**ker (ISBN: 978-1-5343-1700-0) will be available on Wednesday, October 7 and in bookstores on Tuesday, October 13.

Dracula, Motherf**ker

Review: Decorum #1

Decorum #1

It’s difficult to describe Decorum #1. It’s a world-building debut that shows the evolution of writer Jonathan Hickman. Hickman is known for his deeply thought-out worlds. But, over recent years he’s shifted to something so much more.

Hickman’s shift was most recently present in his relaunch of Marvel’s X-Men line of comics. There we got an entire new language and pages devoted to additional material to explain things. This wasn’t filler material where the reader is expected to look for hints and clues or throwaway material. Instead, readers have been treated to in-depth articles describing socio-political situations or deep dives into a particular aspect. Hickman continues that in Decorum #1.

The comic has an almost roleplaying game sourcebook quality about it. It definitely pays homage to the old-school comic sourcebooks which are rarer to come by nowadays. In between chapters the creative team dives into specific aspects of the world Hickman is building. Planets are discussed or some of the history presented. It creates a richer experience that takes this debut beyond the typical comic experience.

Decorum #1

That’s helped by Mike Huddleston‘s art. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen with a style that’s so fresh and engaging it’s almost distracting. It helps build upon the alien nature of it all while at the same time delivering familiarity. Beautiful is an understatement from the work which is enhanced by Rus Wooton‘s lettering. The art alone is a reason to purchase this comic. It’s difficult to describe but will keep you lingering on every page.

Decorum #1 is a jaw-dropping debut. It’s a must get for all comic fans as it challenges everything about comics from the narrative to the art, and Sasha E. Head‘s fantastic design work. Part story, part worldbuilding, Decorum #1 is a unique experience. It’s also a near-perfect debut.

Story: Jonathan Hickman Art: Mike Huddleston
Letterer: Rus Wooton Design: Sasha E. Head
Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.75 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Decorum #1 Sells Out and Goes Back to Print

The highly anticipated Decorum #1 by bestselling, comics titan Jonathan Hickman and artist Mike Huddleston has sold out at the distributor level, same day as release. It is being rushed back to print in order to keep up with overwhelming demand.

Decorum blends the high impact, event level storytelling of Hickman’s recent re-envisioning of X-Men with the sprawling, addictive worldbuilding of the recently concluded East of West. In the world of Decorum, there are many assassins in the known universe. Decorum is the story of the most well-mannered one.

Decorum #1, second printing (Diamond Code JAN209139) will be available at comic book shops on Wednesday, April 8.

Decorum #1
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