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Review: The Unbelievable Unteens #1

The Unbelievable Unteens #1

Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook successfully bridge the gap between two of my three favorite comics genres, namely, superhero and autobiography in The Unbelievable Unteens #1. (It’s not relevant to this review, but my other favorite is fantasy.) Set in 1997 aka one of the darkest times for direct market comics, it follows Jane Ito, a burnt out cartoonist from Spiral City, who writes and draws a superhero book called The Unbelievable Unteens. However, these characters may have actually existed, and the story takes tonal twists and turns and culminates in one hell of a final page.

The Unbelievable Unteens wouldn’t work as a comic without Crook’s ease at going from the melancholy washes of the autobio comic to the cleaner lines and flat, yet dynamic colors of a superhero comic from that fun time when Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans ruled the Earth. However, the superhero bits aren’t all fun and games as Lemire and Tyler Crook use Jack Sabbath as the bridge between Jane’s lonely, rainy reality and the world of the Unteens hinting at some kind of a “Dark Phoenix Saga”/”Judas Contract” situation that broke these smiling, teen heroes apart. This is in addition to his macabre looks and the dark washes of color that Crook uses in every panel he appears. As Jane and Jack root around the old Unteens’ mansion, the book (Visually) falls into horror territory a la the first arc of Sandman, Swamp Thing, or Hellblazer. It’s almost like the finished product if Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz decided to turn New Mutants into a full-on horror comic after the “Demon Bear Saga”, which is a delicious proposition indeed.

Despite all the references to other superhero or superhero adjacent comic (I haven’t mentioned the obvious: Animal Man #26 where Grant Morrison themself is responsible for all the hardships Buddy Baker has gone through.), The Unbelievable Unteens stands on its own as a story about a 28 year old woman, who is stuck in a monotonous existence, and has a chance to go on a nostalgic adventure that may end up not being so nostalgic or adventures. (Having strobe/light-up powers is quite cool though and very 1980s.) Before going into the finding the lost superhero team bit, Jeff Lemire and Crook bask in the utter shittiness and loneliness of Jane Ito’s life capturing the pain of her at her drawing table in her face as well as through dialogue about her making a small mistake on a commission. Perhaps drawing on from their own experiences, these pages take a snapshot of the physical pain and utter grind of making comics that is contrast with the enthusiastic fans asking for autographs, taking pictures, and trying to squirrel out plot points from her. It’s uncanny how Lemire’s dialogue is the exact boilerplate conversation between pro and fan.

However, once Jack Sabbath enters the picture, The Unbelievable Unteens picks up momentum with more speed lines, expressiveness, and especially the pop of the palette that Tyler Crook uses for flashback sequences. Jack pulls big grins and faces like he’s in a melodramatic superhero comic while Jane is more standoffish in her posture and speech. Lemire’s plotting is quite logical, and Jane doesn’t start to buy into the Unteens being real until she sees a mansion that is basically a 3D model of the drawings she uses. This setting triggers a flashback that gives just enough detail about the Unteens’ powers and origins to make them somewhat memorable and set up the quest to find them with a comic book written by the protagonist.

Yeah, this comic is pretty freaking meta, and that’s okay because it shows that postmodern superhero/horror/autobio comics can fit in the Black Hammer Universe. It’s the perfect canvas for Jeff Lemire and his versatile collaborators like Tyler Crook, who goes from riffing on Adrian Tomine in The Loneliness of a Long Distance Cartoonist to Walt Simonson in The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans in the space of a single comic issue while having his own style and approach to storytelling. For example, I’m a huge fan of how the flashback/comics actually drawn by Jane Ito fit inside the actual pages like a key or guidebook to the larger universe.

The Unbelievable Unteens #1 is the perfect comic for readers who have Chris Claremont, Joe Matt, and definitely Alan Moore on their bookshelves. Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook also put Jane Ito on the first steps of a reality-blurring emotional journey and give us a good gauge on her temperament before throwing her in the deep end of a genre shift that is reflected powerfully by the comic’s art style and color palette.

Story: Jeff Lemire Art/Color/Letters: Tyler Crook
Story: 8.6 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.8 Recommendation: Buy

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


Purchase: comiXologyKindleZeus ComicsTFAW

The World of ‘Black Hammer’ Gets a Little More Unbelievable

The world of the Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer series continues to expand with this meta team superhero saga taking place between two different worlds in The Unbelievable Unteens! Written by critically acclaimed author and Black Hammer co-creator Jeff Lemire and illustrated by returning Black Hammer artist, Tyler CrookThe Unbelievable Unteens spins a genre-bending origin story for a brand-new superhero team!     

After signing at a comic book convention, Unbelievable Unteens artist Jane Ito finds herself visited by one of the characters from her own creation—but was it her own creation? Were the Unteens an actual school of teenaged misfit superheroes who battled supervillains under the lead of the mysterious Dr. Miles Moniker? And if so, who wiped their memories and why?  As Jane’s world is turned upside down and she learns the true nature of her identity she discovers a sinister plot leading her to assemble a team she had suspected was purely fictional.

The Unbelievable Unteens #1 (of four) will hit comic shops on August 11, 2021. It is available for pre-order at your local comic shop.

Review: Twelve Reasons To Die TP

Twelve Reasons to Die

Twelve Reasons to Die acts as the source material for the 2013 concept album of the same title by Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah, and the record’s producer/composer Adrian Younge and executive producer RZA even get story and writer credits respectively on this comic, which is finally being released as a collected edition.A pre-4 Kids Walk Into A Bank/Marvel Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon handle the brunt of the scripting though. The comic is a multi-generational crime saga in the mold of such classics like The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, and Once Upon A Time in America with a horror spin. With the exception of the final one, each issue tells two parallel stories. The first is about the rise of African-American gangster Tony Starks (One of Ghostface Killah’s aliases.) from muscle for the DeLuca family to a kingpin in his own right, and it is drawn predominantly by artist Breno Tamura. Gus Storms handles the other story which features “crate digger” Michael Migdal looking for 9 rare records for Lucraze, the don of the DeLuca crime family, because he feels like they’re cursed and wants to destroy them.

The parallel structure of Twelve Reasons to Die allows Rosenberg, Kindlon, RZA, Tamura, Storm, colorist Jean-Paul Csuka, and the various guest artists to play with different genres, art styles, and palettes like Younge and Ghostface Killah play with different beats, instrumentation, samples, and deliveries on the album. Starks’ story is a crime saga while Migdal’s story is more horror, and both use elements from the blaxploitation genre. This really shows up in the artwork with Tamura’s work being looser with scratchy inks and Bronze Age era Ben-Day Dots while Storms’ art is softer and more grotesque with the mysterious “Ghostface Killer” lurking around the edges like something out of a bad dream waiting for the needle to drop and to bring vengeance.

The different guest artists, like Nate Powell, Joelle Jones, Edwin Huang, and Riley Rossmo, meld well with Storms and Tamura while bringing extra flair to key scenes like Starks torturing a racist DeLuca made man and framing him for having an affair with the boss’ wife, Logan (Who Starks is actually sleeping with.) or several night club and murder sequences. Csuka’s colors really tie everything together and control the mood of each sequence whether that’s the sleazy red and blue of the strip club where Starks gets his first assignment from the DeLuca (and later runs) to the pop art pink of a “masqua-rave” that Migdal goes to get one of the records from a DJ, who decides to play the record and gets devoured by ravers turned into insects. It’s a Kafka-esque acid trip that shows the decadence of the DeLuca “social club” (They’ve filed off the serial numbers of their criminal enterprises.), and of course, there’s a panel where Migdal vomits.

Twelve Reasons to Die doesn’t shy away from showing the racism that Tony Starks faces from his employers, the Delucas, who bar him from becoming a made man because of the color of his skin and hurl slurs and stereotypes at him throughout the entire comic. Starks gets passed over for the mob equivalent of a promotion even though he has killed, tortured, and general gone above and beyond the call of duty because of the color of his skin. Eventually, this causes him to band together with his colleagues from the Black community to take over the DeLucas’ turf and even have some DeLuca foot soldiers work for him. There’s a dark, cathartic glee to watching him topple an empire in twelve months that had been established 30+ years ago. (See the prologue featuring Mussolini, mainland Italy vs. Sicily, and double page map spreads.) Starks’ ruthlessness is magnetic, yet frightening as he goes from possibly negotiating with one of the DeLuca’s made men to pistol whipping him in an alley and then tying his neck to the back of a car and having him dragged. This comic definitely uses torture creatively a la “Method Man” from Wu-Tang Clan’s classic album, 36 Chambers.

Twelve Reasons to Die

However, Rosenberg, Kindlon, and RZA also take time to develop Tony Starks’ softer and more vulnerable side through his relationship with Logan, who he genuinely cares about and basically uses as a spy for the DeLucas (Although she betrays him because femme fatale trope.) and especially for his love of records. There’s a touching scene where Starks says that his only dream is to get his hands on the most “hype” records, and he uses his organized crime money to build a factory where he can press his own wax. This is why his demise in that same factory is so tragic, and his vengeance via the drop of a needle is so satisfying as the Ghostface Killer slays the men who betrayed him in new and fucked up ways, or just a single page beheading. (I guess that’s pretty messed up though.) The exception is the noble fencer Batiato, who gets an epic sword fight complete with Ghostface in samurai armor and some fun, blocky cartooning from Edwin Huang.

I haven’t really touched much about Migdal in this review, and initially he seems quite distant from sex, violence, and racism-tinged world of Tony Starks and the DeLucas. He’s just a guy with a sarcastic sense of humor, who you’d see digging through the crates at your local record store, probably every day. However, as he continues to be treated like shit by the aging DeLuca crime bosses and see more horrific things, Migdal seems more attuned to this grindhouse movie of a world even though he doesn’t lose his innocence making the high energy Chris Hunt-drawn finale have a tinge of sadness. He really just wants to get paid so he can buy more records.

Even though it has an entire restaurant of chefs in its proverbial kitchen, Twelve Reasons to Die is a damn good fusion of the crime and horror genre with a charismatic protagonist and a social conscience in the midst of all the schlock. However, it never gets preachy. For three decades, Ghostface Killah has been one of hip hop’s best storytellers, and his vision translates really well to the comic book page thanks to Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, RZA, Breno Tamura, Gus Storms, Chris Hunt, Jean-Paul Csuka, and the guest artists that are the visual equivalent of that perfect drum sound or soul sample that raises a track from skippable to total earworm. Finally, and it goes without saying, but this comic pairs really well with the 12 Reasons to Die album.

Story: Ghostface Killah, Adrian Younge, C.E. Garcia
Story/Script: Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon with RZA

Art: Breno Tamura, Gus Storms, Chris Hunt
Guest Art: Kyle Strahm, Joe Infurnari, Tim Seeley, Nate Powell,
Tyler Crook, Toby Cypress, Joelle Jones, Edwin Huang, Russell Roehling,
Ryan Kelly, Riley Rossmo Colors: Jean-Paul Csuka
Letters: Jim Campbell and Nic J. Shaw
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.7 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: AmazoncomiXology

Preview: 12 Reasons to Die

12 Reasons to Die

Created by: Ghostface Killah / Executive Produced by: RZA
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg & Patrick Kindlon
Illustrated by: Ronald Wimberly, Breno Tamura, Gus Storms, Kyle Strahm, Joe Infurnari, Christopher Mitten, Jim Mahfood, Tim Seeley, Nate Powell, Ben Templesmith, Tyler Crook, Toby Cypress, Juan Doe, Joelle Jones, Edwin Huang, Johnnie Christmas, Russel Roehling, Ryan Kelly, Michael Walsh, Chris Hunt, Riley Rossmo, David Murdoch, Garry Brown, Johnny Ryan, Shaky Kane, Benjamin Marra, and Brian Level
Colored by: Jean-Paul Csuka
Lettered by: Jim Campbell, Nic J. Shaw
Mature / $24.99 / 180 pages

Guns. Sex. Vinyl. Revenge. Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah and RZA teamed with then young-gun writers Matthew Rosenberg (Uncanny X-Men, 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank) & Patrick Kindlon (Survival Fetish, Nobody Is In Control) for this brutal tale of a dangerous crime lord’s rise and fall.

Collects issues 1-6.

12 Reasons to Die

Exclusive Preview: Miskatonic #1

MISKATONIC #1

Writer: Mark Sable 
Artist: Giorgio Pontrelli 
Colorist: Pippa Bowland 
Letterer: Thomas Mauer 
Main Cover: Jeremy Haun w/ Nick Filardi 
Incentive Cover: Tyler Crook
$4.99 / 32 pages / Color / On sale 11.11.2020

Miskatonic Valley holds many mysteries – cultists worshipping old gods, a doctor deadset on resurrecting the recently deceased, a house overrun by rats in the walls – but none more recent than a series of bombings targeting the Valley’s elite.  

These horrors reach a breaking point when the brilliant, hard-nosed investigator Miranda Keller is sent to stop the bombings. To J. Edgar Hoover, there can be no other explanation than those responsible for similar actions during the Red Scare of the 1920s…but when Miranda digs too deep, she uncovers an unimaginable occult conspiracy, one that may cost Miranda her job – and her sanity. 

From writer Mark Sable (GODKILLERS, Graveyard of Empires) and artist Giorgio Pontrelli (Dylan Dog), MISKATONIC is a mix of historical crime fiction and Lovecraftian-horror that dives deep into the American nightmare.

MISKATONIC #1

Explore the Mystery of Miskatonic Valley in Miskatonic #1 this November

MISKATONIC #1

Writer: Mark Sable
Artist: Giorgio Pontrelli
Colorist: Pippa Bowland
Letterer: Thomas Maue
Main Cover: Jeremy Haun w/ Nick Filardi
Incentive Cover: Tyler Crook
$4.99 / 32 pages / Color / On sale NOVEMBER 11th

Miskatonic Valley holds many mysteries – cultists worshipping old gods, a doctor deadset on resurrecting the recently deceased, a house overrun by rats in the walls – but none more recent than a series of bombings targeting the Valley’s elite. 

These horrors reach a breaking point when the brilliant, hard-nosed investigator Miranda Keller is sent to stop the bombings. To J. Edgar Hoover, there can be no other explanation than those responsible for similar actions during the Red Scare of the 1920s…but when Miranda digs too deep, she uncovers an unimaginable occult conspiracy, one that may cost Miranda her job – and her sanity.

From writer Mark Sable (GODKILLERS, Graveyard of Empires) and artist Giorgio Pontrelli (Dylan Dog), MISKATONIC is a mix of historical crime fiction and Lovecraftian-horror that dives deep into the American nightmare.

Things Get Weird as Colonel Weird: Cosmagog Spins Out of Black Hammer

From the world of the Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer series comes a bizarre, sci-fi adventure origin story! Black Hammer writer and co-creator Jeff Lemire and acclaimed artist Tyler Crook bring the next story from the world of Black HammerColonel Weird: Cosmagog.

Wacky space adventurer Colonel Randall Weird leaves the Black Hammer farm and embarks on a strange journey through space and time for something that he’s long forgotten with his sanity and life at stake!

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1 (of four) goes on sale on April 22, 2020.

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1

Harrow County Returns in Tales From Harrow County: Death’s Choir

The Eisner Nominated series is back in Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir. Return to the acclaimed horror series with this new story written by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook, and illustrated by series newcomer Naomi Franquiz!

Ten years have passed since Emmy exited Harrow County, leaving her close friend Bernice as steward of the supernatural home.

But World War II is in full swing, taking Harrow’s young men and leaving the community more vulnerable than ever—and when a ghostly choir heralds the resurrection of the dead, Bernice must find a solution before the town is overrun in Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir.

Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir #1 (of four) goes on sale December 18, 2019.

Tales from Harrow County: Death’s Choir

Review: Manor Black #1

Manor Black #1

Manor Black #1 is a fascinating comic. The debut has you fully engaged and expecting one genre then eventually pulls the rug out from under you.

Written by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, Manor Black #1 feels like a traditional slasher film. A group of teens(ish) are on the run away from someone. Then that someone appears like so many classic horror films. But from there, expectations are shattered as the debut issue morphs.

Within is a comic that has elements of horror, fantasy, crime, and even superhero to some extent. Bunn and Hurtt have created a comic that defies expectations and transcends genres.

To say more would give away the twists and turns. The perfect pacing to it will suck you in as the issue morphs from expectations.

The art by Tyler Crook, who co-created the series with Bunn and Hurtt, is solid. The style fits the morphing genres quite well making it all flow nicely. Crook’s style has a dramatic feel to it. It plays off the beats we’ve seen before in particular scenes but doing so with a flair and style that makes it all stand out. Character designs and details get more and more interesting as the issue progresses building on the mystery within.

I have no idea where Manor Black is going after this first issue. I expected a horror series but this is so much more delivering a unique comic that stands out from the pack. The trio of creators have another solid release here showing off the talent we’ve come to expect from all of them. Even with high expectations that not met them but blew past them in every way.

Story: Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt Art: Tyler Crook
Story: 8.45 Art: 8.45 Overall: 8.45 Recommendation: Buy

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

The World of Black Hammer Gets a Definitive Guide

If you’re a fan of the Eisner Award-winning series but have questions about the weird and wonderful world filled with Golden Age pulp heroes and alien warlords then you won’t want to miss this! Critically acclaimed writer and Black Hammer co-creator Jeff Lemire is teaming up with writer Tate Brombal to explore the colorful characters that populate the Black Hammer universe in a brand new one-shot, The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia! 

This special one-shot offers a guide to the world of Black Hammer, presenting detailed biographies of Black Hammer’s heroes, villains, and supporting characters, illustrated by a wide assortment of superstar artists, including David Rubín (Ether), Wilfredo Torres (The Quantum Age), Tyler Crook (Harrow County), Christian Ward (Invisible Kingdom), and more! The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia features colors by Dave Stewart (Hellboy, Black Hammer) and a cover by Andrea Sorrentino!

The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia goes on sale July 3, 2019.

The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia
Almost American
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