What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – December 2020

“I understand it,” the boy said. “It was a game, wasn’t it? Do grown men always have to play games? Does everything have to be an excuse for another kind of game? Do any men grow up or do they only come of age?”

“You don’t know everything,” the gunslinger said, trying to slow his anger.

“No. But I know what I am to you.”

“And what is that?” the gunslinger asked tightly.

“A poker chip.” (Stephen King, from The Gunslinger)

The Treasury of British Comics Presents SMASH! Special 2020 by several British-type comics creators. £4.99, 59 pgs, Rebellion Publishing.

This is a fun primer for 1960s British comics characters, which various creators revive here for some fun new stories. We get the Spider, “the world’s greatest super-villain,” we get Thunderbolt the Avenger, who is now a woman because it’s not the Sixties anymore and women can be superheroes too, damn it!, we get Johnny Future, who evolves so fast he’s a threat to humanity!, we get the Steel Claw, an agent who can turn invisible … except for his steel hand, which appears to float around, we get Mytek the Mighty, a giant robot ape, we get a team-up between Cursitor Doom and Jason Hyde, two paranormal investigators, and we get Dolmann, a ventriloquist who uses mechanical dolls to fight crime, because of course he does. The creators are solid – Rob Williams, John McCrea, Tom Raney, Charlie Adlard, Simon Furman, and Chris Weston among others, and even the ones who aren’t as well known do good work. The “updates” for the 21st century work nicely, from the female Thunderbolt who’s friends with the old one and takes over his legacy to the Afro-centric nature of the Mytek story. There’s adverts for collections of the old stuff and the implication that the new stuff might be coming, too, which is nice, but even if it doesn’t, we get some fun superhero stuff with interesting twists because they’re not viewed through an American lens. That’s neat.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Poor Mick!

Spy Island #1-4 by Chelsea Cain (writer), Elise McCall (artist), Lia Miternique (supplemental art), Stella Greenvoss (supplemental art), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $15.96, 112 pgs, Dark Horse.

Chelsea Cain was the target of idiot trolls a few years ago when her Marvel comic, Mockingbird, was coming out, and it sounds like she didn’t have the best experience working for the company (Mockingbird was a pretty good comic, though, and the fact that Marvel canceled it so quickly and then canceled her never-published Vision series doesn’t sound like misogyny, but good old-fashioned stupidity on Marvel’s part, which isn’t too hard to find from them), but she got back into comics with Man-Eaters, which sounds absolutely awful, and now Spy Island, which is … not as good as it should be, unfortunately. It’s not a bad idea – there’s an island in the Bermuda Triangle where spies hang out, as kind of a “safe zone” – and Cain does some fun things with it, but this isn’t so much a story as a bunch of random thing thrown together, some funny, some weird, and some kind of blah. The villain of the story, such as it is, is kind of weak, and there’s so much going on that it’s tough to care about the characters, and they’re not funny enough to make up for it. Cain can never really decide on a tone – there are mermaids and Kraken and weird stuff like that, which is fine, but there’s also assassinations and family problems, and, of course, a mime. The “spy” part is underplayed because of the supernatural stuff, so it’s kind of unclear what the island is even supposed to be for except that Cain thought the name sounded cool and spies are cool. Cain is a talented writer, and the art (and coloring) are quite nice (the “supplemental art includes stuff like memos and maps and menu items, and it’s pretty keen), so it’s not like it’s a terrible comic, it’s just a bit too scattered to really be great. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Of course it is, Todd

The Butcher of Paris by Stephanie Phillips (writer), Dean Kotz (artist), Jason Wordie (colorist), Troy Peteri (letterer), and Randy Stradley (editor). $19.99, 103 pgs, Dark Horse.

Here’s another book that’s a bit disappointing, and I’m bummed about it. Again, the story is quite interesting – during World War II, a Parisian man killed possibly 200 people, and it seems like many of them were Jews looking to escape the Nazis, a fear he preyed on. The Nazis wanted him, the French resistance wanted him, and eventually they got him, leading to a trial in which the accused, Marcel Petiot, charmed the gallery and the jury even though it was clear he was a monster. It’s a chilling story, mainly because of how Petiot lured his victims with promises of escape from a great evil, and then visited great evil upon them, and Phillips does a decent enough job telling it, but the story still feels disjointed. Georges-Victor Massu, the detective investigating the case, is caught between trying to solve the case and trying to keep out of the way of the SS, who are also investigating, in the clumsiest way possible (as they, obviously, don’t care if they kill a lot of French people in the process). Phillips does a good job getting at the ways the French had to navigate the treacherous waters of Nazi-occupied Paris, as Massu has to be careful not to step on any toes, especially as Petiot is supposedly part of the resistance. That part of the story is fine, but Phillips doesn’t really do much with Petiot himself and what he’s doing – we know he’s killing people, but the way he kills them and even hints at why he does it are largely absent. Phillips writes in the introduction that she wanted to get into the idea of complicity and devaluing life because Petiot’s crimes during the trial seemed to be downplayed due, she says, by the numbing numbers of the dead in the Holocaust, and that’s not a bad theme to examine, but she doesn’t do it enough. There’s a bit about the way things can turn quickly so that those on top are brought down hard and those who did not resist enough are treated as criminals, and at the trial, we do get a bit of the lack of compassion for Petiot’s victims, but it’s not enough and it feels a bit random, making the narrative feel, as I noted, disjointed. It’s still pretty good, but perhaps Dark Horse could have given Phillips 6-8 issues instead of 5.

Kotz and Wordie do a very nice job with the art, though, which is neat. Kotz brings 1940s Paris to life very nicely, and the casualness of the body parts brings home the creepy horror of them even more. The colors are generally earth tones and deep blues, but they’re still bright enough to not obscure the line art, and Wordie judiciously uses reds to hint around at the rage lurking underneath not only Petiot, but all the French. This comes out nicely during the interrogation of an SS officer after the liberation, and of course during the trial. It’s a nice-looking book, and of course we have the cool Dave Johnson covers, so that’s all right. I wish the book had been a bit better, but it’s still a pretty good story about the horrors of war covering up the more specific horrors people occasionally have to deal with.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s certainly not creepy at all

Coffin Bound volume 2: Dear God by Dan Watters (writer), Dani (artist), Brad Simpson (colorist), and Aditya Bidikar (letterer). $16.99, 112 pgs, Image.

I wasn’t sure how Watters could continue this series, but it seems like he’s going to tell stories about characters set in this world, not about one particular character. So we get a tale about a girl who is addicted to heroin, which is linked to churches, it seems, which the government is trying to shut down. She believes that if she can prove the existence of God, the churches will be saved, and the only way to do that is to draw the god of death to her, so she takes out a hit on herself to bring out killers to do the deed. Yes, it’s a bit weird. Watters is a weird writer, but he usually makes it work, and this is a creepy meditation on life, religion, spirituality, suicide, and penance. The killers are very weird and upsetting, and the girl’s best friend – who was in the first volume – tries to turn her from this course, but it’s hard to stop a person who is convinced that God is telling them what to do. Dani’s angular art and Simpson’s ragged coloring makes the art look like Eduardo Risso crossed with Frank Miller, and it’s a good look for the dark and despairing city that Watters puts his characters into. This isn’t a fun comic, but it’s a good one, and it seems like Watters has found a way to continue it, so I’m looking forward to more of it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Sounds yummy!

COVID Chronicles by Ethan Sacks (writer), Dalibor Talijic (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Bosung Kim (letterer). $9.99, 96 pgs, AWA/Upshot.

Our very own Edo Bosnar interviewed Sacks and Talijic about this project, and now it’s out in book form, which is nice. It’s not really a story, of course, as Sacks interviewed various people who had been infected with the coronavirus or are taking care of people who have been infected or are fighting the virus, and so we get an interesting cross-section of people doing what they can in 2020 to make things a little better. It’s a sad comic because of the circumstances, but it’s not utterly hopeless, as people really do pull together in crises … at least the people Sacks interviewed do, even though we know not everyone is like that. It’s interesting reading this now, when cases are still rising but people aren’t really that panicked about this anymore, and seeing what people were doing in the first moments of the crisis. “COVID fatigue” is a real thing, and it’s depressing to see people still not taking it seriously even if we don’t need to go as far as some of the people in this comic go (from what I’ve read, the virus doesn’t last long at all outside the body, so disinfecting surfaces isn’t really that necessary). So a reminder about what happens when we don’t take it seriously isn’t the worst thing in the world. Perhaps the most depressing thing about this comic is that researchers in Seattle knew about this in mid-February, and according to one of them in this comic, they couldn’t test for it because the FDA blocked them, giving permission to do so only to the CDC. Bureaucracy destroys lives once again! Huzzah!

Anyway, this isn’t the greatest comic in the world, but it’s pretty good, and it’s even a bit important. It’s neat that Sacks did this, and I’d love to see a follow-up from later during the pandemic, perhaps spotlighting a wider variety of people, some of whom think it’s no big deal and how very wrong they are. But that might just be me being bitter.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yep, that would be freaky

Dash: The Case of the Mysterious Zita Makara by Dave Ebersole (writer), Delia Gable (artist/letterer), Vinnie Rico (artist), Sean von Gorman (artist), and Charles “Zan” Christensen (letterer). $24.99, 190 pgs, Northwest Press.

This is a fun comic, as Ebersole takes the tropes of the noir detective, throws in some Indiana Jones, and makes his lead gay, and voila! you have an interesting comic! In his introduction, Steve Orlando makes it sound like the greatest piece of literature since the Vita Audioni Episcopi Rotomagensis, but it’s not, really, just an entertaining if somewhat derivative yarn. Ebersole doesn’t even delve too far into the most interesting part of the book, which is that Dash Malone, the eponymous private investigator, is actually committing a crime just by existing in 1940 Los Angeles, as the douchebag cop who hassles him reminds him occasionally. I get that he wants this to be a fairly typical noir/adventure mash-up with a clever twist, but the idea of a gay man breaking the law just by existing is fascinating, especially as it’s still true in some countries today and I’m sure there are plenty of people in the States who wouldn’t mind it being true again today in this country. Mainly, Ebersole uses it to upend some stereotypes about tough-guy detectives and the dames what love them, and he does a nice job with that. The mystery Dash is trying to solve involves ancient Egypt and, you guessed it, Nazis (Ebersole is really not even trying to hide the Indiana Jones influence on the book). He does tie Dash’s sexuality into the mystical part of the book a bit, which is nice. It’s a twisty story, not really surprising but at least able to keep us on our toes, and the characters – from Dash’s sassy receptionist to the cop he’s friends with to the mystery woman who hires him – are well done even if they slide into stereotypes a bit. Gable and Rico provide the art (Gable is co-creator, but she couldn’t stay on the book, as she explains in the back), and they both have a similar style, slightly cartoonish but not too much so, and they do a good job with making it look like 1940 Los Angeles even without giving too many background details to the art. Rico hatches a bit more and therefore his work has the tiniest bit more heft to it, but both artists do good work. There are some short stories at the back that flesh out Dash’s world a bit, which is nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ha! Take that, blonde lady who I’m sure will not be revealed as evil later in the book!

Graveyard Wars volume 1 by AJ Lieberman (writer), Andrew Sebastian Kwan (artist/colorist), and Darren Rawlings (letterer/colorist). $19.99, 222 pgs, Ablaze.

This is a solid adventure comic, entertaining and fast-paced but nothing amazing. We have our evil organization that wants to run things, a resistance group that fights against it, and people in the resistance group who aren’t sure they can even trust the resistance group. It’s about a family named Noble, because of course, as Lieberman uses their family problems to drive the plot. It’s a decent enough plot – certain people can use the skills of dead people, whether they’re great fighters or great, I don’t know, chefs, and of course the evil organization wants to use these skills to accrue power for themselves. Sebastian Noble, the patriarch of the family, has never told his kids, Carter and Ethan, about these skills, which has messed them up pretty badly. One can only get the skills after one “dies” – has a near-death experience – and early on in the book, Ethan has one when his mother is driven off the road by the Evil Org. So he’s able to access these skills but he doesn’t know what’s going on, and he spends a good amount of time in mental hospitals. Then his sister almost dies, so she’s able to get the skills, too. Meanwhile, the Evil Org. is trying to snatch the daughter of one of the resistance dudes (who’s dead) because her genetic link to the dude means they can access what he knew and destroy the resistance. So there’s a lot going on, and we get fights and romance and family squabbles and it’s all very entertaining, as I noted. Lieberman doesn’t quite explain how the skills are accessed – the people have dirt from where the person is buried in vials that they keep on their person, so I guess it’s just proximity to the dirt, which gained the ability due to proximity to the corpse? Beats me. Best not to think about it!

The art is nice, too. Kwan has a bit of a manga thing going, most notably with the faces, where we see some big eyes and pointy noses. There are a lot of characters, and Kwan does well with them, and the action scenes are nice and fluid, too. The “skills” the people possess show up as “ghosts” doing the same action as the person who possesses them, kind of super-imposed on the action, and the coloring of the book is monochromatic (not, it seems, based on any particular thing), while the “ghosts” are always in luminous yellow. It’s a nice device. The art, like the story, is solid and entertaining.

Lieberman is one of those writers who never really does anything great, but he’s solid. It’s nice that he’s doing his own thing, and I look forward to the next volume of this.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Uncool way to talk about your mother, sir

Mercy by Mirka Andolfo (writer/artist/colorist), Gianluca Papi (coloring assistant), Francesca Carotenuto (coloring assistant), Chiara Di Francia (coloring assistant), Fabio Amelia (letterer), and Diego Malara (editor). $16.99, 169 pgs, Image.

I’ve always liked Andolfo’s art, but a lot of what she does in comics doesn’t really interest me that much – I don’t need to see pig porn, frankly – so I don’t read her stuff that often. Mercy sounded interesting, as it’s set in the 1890s, which is already neat, and it seemed to be about more than just a monster killing people. So I figured, what the hell?

Mercy isn’t quite as good as I would have wished, mainly because Andolfo isn’t the greatest writer. Her plotting isn’t bad, but she has a bit of a stilted style that makes the words feel too artificial, and for someone who draws as well as writes, occasionally her words don’t match up well with the drawings, leading to some confusion. She’s not a terrible writer, but she’s definitely a better artist, and Mercy is beautiful to look at. She has a lot of fun with the clothing, especially on her protagonist, the mysterious Lady Hellaine, and her majordomo, Mr. Goodwill. They arrive in a small Washington mining town where, not long before, something exploded in the mine, and the townspeople are still dealing with that tragedy when Lady Hellaine shows up. And, of course, there’s a monster killing people in town. All of this is connected, of course, and while it’s not the most original plot in the world, Andolfo does a decent job unspooling it. Like I noted, the problems are with the dialogue and the pacing, not the plot itself. She is excellent at the horror and the atmosphere, as snow blankets the town and makes everything just a bit more eerie. She doesn’t hide anything, so we get a good sense of the ultra-rich and the dirt-poor in this time period, and how in a small town like the one where the action occurs, those two groups live very close together. It’s not quite as incisive a social commentary as Andolfo hints at – with the main characters being women, a prominent minority contingent, and several stuffy white dudes, there’s a hint of the societal issues of the day – but it is a monster story, after all, and we have to deal with the monsters! There just feels like the opportunity for a bit more that would make the monster stuff resonate a little more, but Andolfo doesn’t take it. It doesn’t ruin the book, but it makes it a bit less memorable than it might have been otherwise.

Overall, this is a good showcase for Andolfo’s art, and while the writing isn’t quite as good, it’s fine. At least it’s not pig porn!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I think your judgment might be a bit impaired, though

Teether by David Hutchison (writer/artist). $19.99, 96 pgs, Antarctic Press.

Much like Andolfo, David Hutchison is just off doing his own thing, although he’s been doing it a lot longer than Andolfo. I like some of his stuff, and Teether sounded interesting – a monster is stalking kids at school – so I picked it up. It’s a bit expensive – 20 bucks for 4 issues – but I tend to give indie books the benefit of the doubt a bit more than DC and Marvel books, so I don’t have too much of an issue with the price here. It’s a neat book.

We begin with kids in the woods running from something, and four of them leave the fifth behind to be killed. Then we head to elementary school the next day, and a kid named Dillon meets a kid named Lilly, who, it’s clear, isn’t quite herself. Lilly, it seems, is possessed by a demon, and she starts hunting the kids in the woods, with Dillon kind of ending up trying to defend them. Hutchison does not skimp on the gore, as Lilly – as you can see from the cover – has the means to do some serious damage. The back of the book gives away what’s going on, but I’m not going to be that spoiler-ific. It’s not like it’s too hard to figure out, but still. Hutchison does a pretty decent job turning the meanness of elementary school into an external horror, which is what the best horror always does anyway, and while it’s a bit hard for him to give the characters a lot of depth in a book this short, he does a pretty good job with Lilly, who switches between a young girl and a demon pretty convincingly. Hutchison’s art has evolved over the years, so while we can still see a manga influence, it’s much more “Americanized” these days. He does a wonderful job with the demon part of Lilly, and the book truly is horrific and gory in many places. He doesn’t use a lot of colors, keeping everything muted, so that when he does use red (and a lot of it), it pops really well. Hutchison knows what he’s doing with art and pacing, so the book zips along nicely.

If you’ve never read anything by Hutchison, you could do a lot worse than this. It’s a nifty little horror comic with some nice (if not completely unexpected) twists, and it looks keen. Nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

On the plus side, this clears up your sinuses!

Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey by Gary Paul Nabhan. 305 pgs, University of California Press, 2014.

Nabhan lives in Arizona, but he’s descended from Lebanese spice merchants, so he decided to view world history through a spicy lens, and the result is a fascinating book. He follows Semitic people – Jews and Arabs primarily, but he checks in on others like the Nabataeans in Jordan and the Sogdians in Central Asia to show how closely linked the spice trade is with greater movements of history. Islam, in particular, is an interesting case, as Muhammed was, by all accounts, a fairly successful businessman who married a very successful businesswoman and became involved in the spice trade (frankincense comes from the Arabian peninsula and went through Mecca on its way north). He was persecuted for his religious beliefs, but part of his beliefs were business-related, which the stronger clans didn’t like. Obviously, Islam spread along trade routes, and Nabhan does a good job tracking it throughout the Middle East and into Africa and Asia. Jews and Arabs sailed with Columbus, and many stayed in the New World and established new markets, bridging the Atlantic so successfully that today, the origins of some spices are unknown because they exist separately in so many places. Nabhan spends a good deal of time in China, where the city of Quanzhou, then known as Zayton (which basically means “olive”) was a powerful emporium at the end of many spice routes, both land-based and sea-based. He points out the vast Indian Ocean-centered web of trading connections that Vasco de Gama disrupted in 1498, one that the Portuguese tried to dominate because they wanted the spices. Of course they did!

Nabhan is interested in “food imperialism,” examining how cultures come into contact with each other and how spices, in particular, can “invade” another culture. He doesn’t see this as good or bad, just fascinating, and he does a nice job showing how the merchants selling these spices raised the prices on them (basically, by telling stories about their exoticism, which made them more desirable and which, of course, continues to this very day) and how different cultures used new spices. He travels to various places and goes to markets, bemoaning the loss of some great bazaars or simply their modernization (how dare they sell cheap trinkets when they could have mounds of turmeric!), and so we get a nice deep understanding of the way these cultures operate. He also makes the point that the Jews and Arabs who drove the trade became “homeless,” as their cultures lost the idea of a homeland and could adapt to living pretty much anywhere. It’s not a thesis I’ve seen before, but it makes a good deal of sense.

We also get insets that focus on particular spices, from mastic to anise to sesame and everything in between, and there are also insets with various recipes. These are generally Middle Eastern, but not all of them are, and some are just ones that use interesting spices, while others are ancient dishes that have been reconstructed by food historians. I’m probably going to try some of them, although my favorite is one I won’t be trying. That would be “Dates Kneaded with Locusts and Spices,” which, to be fair, is something the nomads of the Arabian desert made to carry with them as they rode camels through the wasteland. It involves ladling brine onto the locusts, fermenting them for weeks, and kneading them with dates to make a cake. Not terribly tasty, it does not sound like, but it does give us this description about getting the locusts:

Sounds fun! Nabhan does write “If you cannot find a swarm of locusts (or are wary of capturing it if you do), you can substitute salted roasted grasshoppers”. How nice. But hey, if you want to get out of the house, tell your significant other you’re off to capture a swarm of locusts! No follow-up questions needed!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Hey, Amateur! Go From Novice to Nailing It in Nine Panels! by many, many people. $19.99, 139 pgs, IDW.

This is a fun comic, as dozens of comics creators do one page of a nine-panel grid telling you how to do something. It can ridiculously goofy or actually useful, but they’re all very fun. You can learn how to recognize the various types of vampires or you can learn how to be dyslexic. You can learn how to go to the bathroom if an actual bathroom is not handy or you can learn how to be a bad-ass Goth. You can learn how to make a great curry or how to destroy the internet (Greg Hatcher would like that last one, for reasons that would lead him into one of his fun rants). There’s a lot of cool talent in the book – Gilbert Hernandez contributes a page, as does Jill Thompson, as do Glyn Dillon and Mark Buckingham and Erica Henderson. I really can’t get too much into it, because that’s the hook, and it’s a good one, and there’s not a story or anything to laud or criticize. It’s just a bunch of interesting comics creators giving advice on stuff. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to know how to crop art panels or herd cats? It’s a new year – anything is possible!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Should it make you so angry, though?

King of Nowhere by W. Maxwell Prince (writer), Tyler Jenkins (artist), Hilary Jenkins (colorist), and AndWorld Design (letterer). $19.99, 120 pgs, Boom! Studios.

Prince has written better things, unfortunately, although this isn’t a terrible comic, just a conventional one. You might think a dude holding a fish on a leash on the cover promises an unconventional comic, but other than the strange look of the people, this is basically a story we’ve seen a million times. A man named Denis wakes up on the side of the road (he’s a drinker) and wanders into a town where all the people are quite odd. There’s the man with the fish head, or the man with the upside-down head, or the man with five arms … you get the gist. Then a man shows up in town and starts killing people, and it doesn’t seem like the sheriff is taking it all that seriously, and there’s the apparition of a man in a hazmat suit … it feels weird, and it is, to a degree, but the explanation behind it all is very “normal” – in a comic-book sense – and the book turns into a big chase and fight, which is not exactly boring but not exactly thrilling, either. It gets by on the strength of Jenkins’s art, which is quite good. He does a nice job combining the weirdness of the characters with a grounded earthiness, so that they’re just “regular” folk trying to get by, and the incongruity makes for an interesting-looking comic. Unfortunately, while Prince has shown he knows what he’s doing with regard to strange scenarios, this just doesn’t play out as well as it could. Too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, you gotta stop feeding those things

Wellington by Aaron Mahnke (story), Delilah S. Dawson (story/scripter), Piotr Kowalski (artist), Brad Simpson (colorist), Christa Miesner (letterer), Valeria Lopez (letterer), Alonzo Simon (collection editor), and Zac Boone (collection editor). $17.99, 100 pgs, IDW.

I wasn’t sure about this one – it seemed like the latest in the “historical figure – usually Victorian – who fights monsters,” and it is, but Kowalski’s a good artist, so the book looks nice, and it’s a bit more interesting than you might expect, because Arthur Wellesley – the Duke of Wellington – is such a crochety figure, in a different way than, say, Sherlock Holmes (which is the template for this kind of thing). He’s not super-smart, in other words, and he kinds of rattles around Yorkshire in this book, his only real attribute is that he doesn’t disbelieve odd things out of hand. He gets involved in a case of someone trying to cross from another dimension into this one, and he has some odd allies, and there’s stupid white men doing stupid white men things, and it’s a fun comic to read. Wellesley isn’t completely irredeemable – he and his manservant have a close bond, for instance, and he obviously doesn’t want evil to spread across the land – but Mahnke and Dawson hew closely to the historical record by having Wellesley basically despise his wife (it’s unclear why she’s even in the book, as they spent such little time together for much of their marriage). It’s also not necessarily a book where everything gets resolved in a big fight – Wellesley has to deal with some psychological difficulties, and face some unpleasant things about himself. The writers set up a sequel which may or may not happen (there’s always evil abroad, after all, so the things for Wellesley to thwart are legion), but it’s weird that they don’t make a big deal about the demon who’s trying to cross over into our dimension, as a nerd like me recognized it immediately (I assume they’re saving any kind of identification for a later volume, but it’s still weird). So I guess I hope there’s a sequel!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I bet a nice spritz of Febreze would take care of you!

Dr. Strange, Surgeon Supreme volume 1: Under the Knife by Mark Waid (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Java Tartaglia (colorist), Antonio Fabela (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, Marvel.

When I turned to page 1 of this trade, my heart sank. A patient is sitting in a room, asking a doctor (presumably our titular hero) how bad “it” is, and floating above him, a hideous demon-like thing that’s attached to his head by a long proboscis. “Oh dear,” thought I, “Mark Waid has decided to rip off Witch Doctor, that wonderful Image comic, and Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner, who created that series, probably will have no legal recourse to object for some arcane reason.” Yes, I think in italics when called for, why do you ask? Witch Doctor, which is a very good series, is kind-of sort-of a rip-off of Doctor Strange anyway, but Seifert came up with the idea of demons creating sickness in people, and the hero needed to cut it out. I saw the cover of this trade and then the first page, and I wondered if Waid was as blatant as that, taking a nifty idea and stealing it and it would have a wider audience in the Marvel U. Luckily, Waid isn’t a douchebag, and this is not a rip-off of Witch Doctor. The demon that Strange sees on page 1 is not really a demon at all, just how he actually sees illnesses, and the diseases he deals with in this book aren’t demon-inspired. This is basically a standard Dr. Strange comic, except Strange is now moonlighting as a surgeon. So there are some fun scenes at the hospital, but he still goes around fighting bad guys like the Wrecker and Thunderball, and some interesting new or at least obscure ones before he gets to the big bad of the arc. It’s a pretty interesting take on Strange, and Waid is a smart writer, so he comes up with situations where Strange has to use his brain a bit. Dr. Druid is there, too, because why not, and the two of them have a good dynamic. A great deal of the success of the book comes from Walker’s magnificent art. He’s so good at designing weird shit, and there’s quite a bit of that in this book, so we get dragons and weird two-dimensional creatures and Victorian-style demons, while Walker is still fantastic at the superhero stuff. Walker’s art is still bulky, but his inking has become more detailed and lush, which makes his style a bit less cartoony but still interesting. Walker has gotten better with regular people, so the contrast between Strange’s “normal” world of the hospital and the weird realms he visits is heightened nicely and makes the book better.

This comic was somewhat abruptly canceled over the summer, as issue #7 was solicited, but no longer! It’s too bad, and it seems like Waid and Walker weren’t even sure what was going on. So sad, as this is quite a good book. Marvel continues to amaze and astound with its policies!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Nothing weird going on here, no sir!

Spider-Woman volume 1: Bad Blood by Karla Pacheco (writer), Pere Pérez (artist), Paulo Siqueira (artist), Mattia de Iulis (artist), Frank D’Armata (colorist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 115 pgs, Marvel.

One of the things I love about comics (and I suspect I’m not alone) is the sheer ridiculousness of superhero comics, where writers who can lean into the goofiness without making fun of them can really create some great things. Spider-Woman volume 1 is a good example of this, as Pacheco really goes nuts with the comics! of it all, but we still get a decent story out of it. I mean, in this trade, we get clones, people desperate for blood samples, Wundagore Mountain and the accompanying monsters that come with it, killer spiders, poisonous vomit, and the Night Nurse, just for the heck of it. It’s batshit, but it’s so SUPERHERO that you just have to love it. Pacheco makes it a family drama, as Jessica is, after all, a mother (her baby doesn’t come into the story too, too much, but her motherhood informs the plot quite nicely), and the underlying theme of the book is what we do for family, but there’s so much crazy crap going on that it never gets boring. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I’ll just say it’s a nuts book that really never lets up. Pacheco puts the pedal to the medal in issue #1 and even a side trip to the Night Nurse can’t happen without the Rhino showing up (he just wants some ointment!). As I wrote when I looked at issue #1, Pérez is superb on the book, as he does an amazing job with the action, using lots of panels and interesting page designs to keep things moving swiftly along. There’s a lot of action, so Pérez needs to be up to the task, as he is. He also gets to draw some interesting dinosaur-like monsters, so that’s fun. The only real problem I have with the book is that the girl whom Jessica is hired to bodyguard in issue #1 is an insufferable spoiled brat, but by the next time we see her she’s actually nice, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for the change. Bratty spoiled girls tend to stay that way far longer than you think possible, but this girl undergoes a complete personality shift. Oh well, it’s not that big a deal.

This is a nifty collection, and I’ll have to check out the next one … if Marvel lets it get that far. Who the hell knows what’s going on in the House of Ideas these days!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Good enough for me!

Batman Annual #5 by James Tynion IV (writer), James Stokoe (artist/colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Dave Wielgosz (associate editor), and Ben Abernathy (editor). $5.99, 38 pgs, DC.

I’m sure James Tynion IV is a perfectly fine fellow, and I’ve liked some of the stuff he’s written, although, like a lot of writers, he seems to do better outside the confines of the Big Two (where, unfortunately, a lot of the money is), but man, he really goes all in on dumb stuff sometimes. In this annual, the Joker kills two regular people for no reason whatsoever, orphaning the young man on the cover there (not Batman) and making him, in effect, a vigilante (the “clownhunter,” which, really?) who wants to kill the Joker. It’s kind of dumb story, because it hinges on the fact that the Joker is Frank Miller’s Joker, who’s the worst Joker but also the longest-lasting one, having been the standard for 35 years now. This Joker is dull, and therefore this inciting event is stupid, because Bao isn’t terribly interesting as a character, he just happens to be a vigilante through an act of random violence. At least with Batman, it was a mugging. This is just the Joker being psychopathic, which is dull. Sorry, Bao, but it’s true. So Tynion gives us his origin as he’s being fixed up by Leslie Tompkins, who’s running her clinic in Crime Alley and dispensing wisdom along with medicine, and it’s … fine. It’s a dumb origin, true, but there’s only so many origins you can have. You might as well go with an old classic.

Of course, the reason to buy this is because it’s 38 pages of glorious James Stokoe artwork. I don’t pay attention to single-issue solicitations very much, so I had no idea that Stokoe was drawing this until I saw it in the store, and I almost passed it by because of the kind of lousy cover. Jeebus, DC, get Stokoe to draw the damned cover if you’re getting him to draw the damned issue! Anyway, this is typical glorious Stokoe artwork, from his demented Joker and his astonishingly evil smile to his oddly monstrous Batman, but the secret weapon of Stokoe’s art is the way he gives humanity to his strange characters, so we get scary Big Henry who quickly becomes kind of goofy Big Henry, weirdly-attired Clownhunter who becomes sad boy Bao when he takes off his mask, and Leslie remaining a rock throughout. Sure, Stokoe draws the “Joker War” scenes better than probably anyone did in the real Joker War, because he can do nightmare fuel as well as anyone working right now, but he’s superb at digging into the characters, too, and giving them depth just through small gestures and movements. His greenish and reddish color scheme makes Gotham an eerie and lurid place and implies the Joker’s weirdness infecting the city far better than anything he actually draws or that Tynion writes, and it would be nice if writers understood subtlety and allowed Stokoe’s coloring to do the heavy lifting. The gloriousness of the art, paired with the bland story, makes it even more frustrating that DC or Marvel hasn’t simply given Stokoe carte blanche on, say, four 40-page issues a year on whatever he wants to do. Can you imagine Stokoe doing a Batman story where he was actually writing it? Yes, maybe he’d fall into the same trap that every other writer has with regard to the Joker over the past three decades (I imagine DC Editorial has something to do with that), but I’d still like to see that more than Stokoe drawing a bland Clownhunter tale!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Stokoe can make even Clownhunter look cool!

King-Size Conan by several different creators. $6.99, 50 pgs, Marvel.

These are some nice tales of Conan, celebrating the character’s “50” years at Marvel – boy, Marvel thinks everyone is stupid, don’t they? I guess it’s not an offensive enough claim for anyone to care, but dang, Marvel, throw some shade at Dark Horse, why don’t you? Anyway, like most Conan stories, these are good, bloody stories, but they’re even more inconsequential than the usual Conan stories, although we do get some nice art. Roy Thomas gives us a story that tells us what Conan was doing right before the debut of Conan the Barbarian #1 back in 1970, which is pointless – he was killing people, of course! – but does allow Steve McNiven to channel Barry Windsor-Smith in his art style (I’m a fan of McNiven’s art, so I wouldn’t have minded seeing it in “his” style, but it’s impressive how well he draws like BWS … who is, after all, still alive, so I wonder if Marvel called him about drawing this?). Kurt Busiek and Pete Woods do a nice job with a story about Conan … turning down a job? It’s better than it sounds, I promise! Chris Claremont and Roberto de la Torre have a sad yet sweet tale about Conan … killing a woman? It’s better than it sounds, I promise! Kevin Eastman shows up at Marvel to give us a story about Conan taking bloody revenge against people who wronged him. I know, control your shock and surprise that there’s a story about Conan taking bloody revenge against people who have wronged him, but it’s keen to see Eastman’s art on a Conan story. Finally, Steven DeKnight tells a story of Conan and Bêlit encountering a monster on a treasure ship. It’s a perfectly fine story, but Jesus Saiz seems to have moved to purely digital art, and I’m not in love with it. It’s still nice-looking, but a bit too slick, and it’s too bad because Saiz is a good artist. He can go completely digital all he wants, but does he have to take all the roughness out of his art?

So this is a decent enough compilation. As I’ve said, it seems hard to write a bad Conan story, and this book does nothing to dissuade me. If you want to see some interesting art, it’s good to check out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, when you make Trump your god, that’s what happens!

Le Colonial by Kien Nguyen. 319 pgs, Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

This is an odd novel, based on the career of Bishop Pierre Pigneau de Béhaine, who was a French missionary in Vietnam in the 1770s and ’80s. Nguyen tells a story in which de Béhaine and two other men – François Gervaise, a painter running from a dark past, and Henri Monange, a boy who flees Paris ahead of the law – head to Cochin China to spread the word of the Lord … and if they set up the natives to be colonized by the French, well, that’s okay, too. Nguyen gives us some interesting background on both Gervaise and Henri, both of whom join the church at the behest of de Béhaine, and when they get to Qui Nho’n, they immediately get caught up in the roiling political intrigue that tore Vietnam apart in the 1770s and led to a short-lived dynasty of rebels before Prince Ánh, who is still a young man in this book, united the entire country in 1802 and began the Nguyen Dynasty. In the book, de Béhaine, François, and Henri split up and are reunited constantly as they meet the rulers of Cochin China and the rebels and find themselves torn between loyalties. It’s a fascinating book in that regard, as we get a good portrait of a country that remains mysterious in the West during a time that is even more mysterious. There was a lot going on in Vietnam during these years, and Nguyen does a nice job both in giving us the larger scope and keeping it focused on a small group of people so it’s never overwhelming.

However, the problems with the book are a bit more than its good parts. None of the three main characters get enough time to become fully formed human beings. The book is fairly short and easy to read, which is fine but also means that Nguyen never really gets into the characters as much as he could. Only when we meet Henri and see how he ended up in Paris and then how he fled the city to the Mediterranean area do we really get into the characters’ heads as well as we should. Gervaise, for one, is introduced as a painter, which seems important but is rarely brought up after the initial bit about it. De Béhaine is an older man when the book begins, and had already been expelled from Vietnam once, but we never really find out too much about him or why he’s such an asshole. Nguyen is Vietnamese, obviously (he was 18 when he left Vietnam, so it’s not like it’s just part of his heritage), so we might expect him to favor the native characters, but even they don’t get too much development beyond some interesting quirks. I don’t often think things should be longer, but it feels like this could be 100 pages longer and it would still work. De Béhaine, as someone who eventually helped his protégé ascend to the throne, seems like the most important character and therefore worthy of more time, but even the other two, fictional characters have arcs that feel undercooked. Gervaise, for instance, goes through the shortest crisis of faith in history, while Henri falls in love yet we never find out what happens with him and the woman he falls in love with. It’s strange. Nguyen has a pretty good writing style, so I certainly wouldn’t have minded spending more time with these characters, but it’s like he just wanted to zip through the book and get it over with. Odd.

Anyway, I don’t love the book, but it’s easy to read and it has some interesting stuff in it about a time and place most Americans know little about. That ain’t too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Man Who Fucked Up Time by John Layman (writer/letterer), Karl Mostert (artist), Dee Cunniffe (colorist), and Mike Marts (editor). $16.99, 102 pgs, AfterShock.

It’s a time travel story, so of course it makes my head hurt, but what’s funny about it is that in his introduction, Layman writes that time travel stories also make his head hurt, but he has so much fun with this silly story that it doesn’t matter too much. While I was reading this, I thought I had found a pretty big plot hole, but now I can’t remember what it was. I’ll have to read it again, I guess. Anyway, Layman gives us Sean Bennett, who’s a lab assistant for a group of scientists who have invented a time machine. The night after they learn it works, Sean is visited by his future self, who tells him to go back in time and fix his life, as he’s just as smart as the scientists but things in his life just haven’t worked out perfectly for him. He does so, and of course he fucks up time. Then the “Future Police” show up and tell him he has to un-fuck time, or they’ll kill him as a baby and wipe him from existence. So he’s off!

This is a wacky ride, as Sean has to figure out what’s going on and why the descendant of Abraham Lincoln rules the U.S. as a tyrannical despot and what really happened with the fucking up of time. He keeps fucking it up, too, because of course he does, and Layman actually manages to throw an interesting twist at us toward the end, when the threads of the story are coming together. Mostert has a vague Frank Quitely vibe to his work, and he does a nice job with everything Layman throws at him, from the armor-clad Neanderthals to the human-sized bees. It’s inconsequential, of course, but it’s so COMICS! and it’s just wildly fun to read. Hey, we’re in the middle of a pandemic – everyone needs some goofy humor in their lives!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Poor Fred Flintstone!

Ravencroft by Frank Tieri (writer), Angel Unzueta (artist), José Luis (artist), Scott Hanna (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Dono Sánchez-Almara (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

Marvel vexes me, because they could easily do weird mini-series like this without tying them into their über alles superhero culture, but it’s like they can’t help themselves. I know this series came out of “Absolute Carnage,” but that doesn’t mean it has to be about superheroes, especially because it’s set at Marvel’s answer to Arkham Asylum and there are a lot of weirdos there. But Marvel and Frank Tieri can’t help themselves, and as oddball as this series is around the edges, it settles into a pretty straight superhero story by the end. Yes, some of the “superheroes” are actually villains, but it’s still a superhero story, with a bad guy with a strange plan and people with powers trying to stop said bad guy. There’s a good deal to like about the book – Misty Knight is always fun, John Jameson can be interesting, and the bad guy is even not bad – but it’s frustrating because it feels like it could be so much weirder, and either Tieri balked at that or Marvel balked for him. It’s fine – as “superhero” stories go, you could do a lot worse than Misty and Man-Wolf and [Secret Sales-Fluffing Character] fighting against a deformed reptilian bad guy who, I hope, is not made up for this story and who actually has a real beef against the people he says he has a beef against, and I suppose I should be thankful that Marvel let it get as weird as it does, but it’s still kind of annoying. The idea of Marvel’s Arkham Asylum being run by actual Marvel Universe lunatics is pretty fun in and of itself. For a good amount of the book, Tieri does interesting stuff with that. I guess we can’t blame him if we end with a ticking clock counting down to an explosion, like so many things end. Tieri’s a decent writer, but he’s not the kind to upset the paradigm.

The art is fine – it has that slick, computer-assisted look that a lot of superhero art has these days. It’s certainly not great, but it’s fine. The bad guy is sufficiently grotesque, which is all that really matters. Kyle Hotz draws the covers, and it probably would have been a much cooler-looking book had he drawn interiors, but such is life. The art won’t change your life, but it’s adequate.

Marvel has such a stable of weird characters that they could use to do their own “Vertigo” corner of the Marvel U., and it’s really bizarre how they fail every time they try it. This didn’t need to be an entire imprint, but it would have been neat if they tried a small odd mini-series. I guess the lure of being associated with Spider-Bucks was too great!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

New Jersey – the armpit of America!

Shadow Roads volume 2 by Cullen Bunn (story), Brian Hurtt (story/writer/artist), A.C Zamudio (artist), Carlos N. Zamudio (colorist), Crank! (letterer), Charlie Chu (editor), and Sarah Gaydos (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, Oni Press.

You don’t have to have read The Sixth Gun to read Shadow Roads, one of its spin-off series; in fact, you might not even have to read volume 1 to read volume 2. There are some characters from The Sixth Gun here, but Bunn and Hurtt do a good job getting us up to speed, and volume 1 of this series told a fairly complete story that is referenced in this but isn’t really relevant. In fact, for a series that isn’t going to continue (or at least doesn’t seem like it’s going to), Bunn and Hurtt set up another story quite well in this volume, as well as giving us more background on Henry, the nominal protagonist of the first volume (it’s a big cast, and Henry is just one focal point). We get more supernatural stuff, we head off to Bombay instead of staying in the American West, there’s lots of violence and intrigue, and it’s all very interesting and exciting. Hurtt, who writes this (and draws two issues), turns out to be pretty good at writing a story, as Bunn is only credited with the story, but Hurtt keeps things moving nicely and making sure all the characters remain interesting. He has a decent sense of humor, too, as the book isn’t completely gloomy even though we’re dealing with monsters and other nasty things. The Zamudios form a very strong line/color team, and I would love for them to get more high-profile work. Zamudio’s wonderfully detailed art reminds me a bit of Gabriel Rodriguez, and her husband does a marvelous job giving each location a distinctive color scheme, highlighting the differences between the American Southwest, India, and some of the more supernatural places the story goes. It’s gorgeous artwork, and both Zamudios deserve to show off on a book that reaches a bigger audience. Although, you know, if they kept working on smaller press books that I want to read, I wouldn’t mind that at all.

This is a fun little series. I wish it would go on, but I guess we’ll have to see about that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

This is what happens when you poke the bear!

Fearless Dawn: The Return of Old Number Seven! by Steve Mannion (writer/artist) and Tracy Marsh (editor). $3.99, 22 pgs, Albatross Funnybooks.

Any Steve Mannion book is cause for celebration, so even though he’s never been the best writer, I will keep buying his Fearless Dawn comics and anything else he does simply because they’re just such goofy fun. I mean, in this one, the story doesn’t even matter – Dawn is investigating the Jersey Devil, for what it’s worth, which is just an excuse for Mannion to draw a weird monster – because it’s all about the wacky violence, like Old Number Seven (basically Frankenstein’s monster with a bit more charisma) pushing a guy through a grid of steel bars, which Mannion, of course, draws in all its glory. There’s also the Jersey Devil itself, plus a dinosaur, plus Dawn wandering around with her skin-tight pants and tiny shirt. There’s absolutely nothing socially redeeming about this comic (or any Fearless Dawn comic, really), but hey, we could all use some goofiness right about now. So go find this book, sit down, admire the gorgeous art, laugh at the ridiculous violence, and forget your cares for a few minutes!

Rating: What we need right now!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Just a regular Tuesday for Dawn!

Bad Reception by Juan Doe (writer/artist/colorist/letterer/grocer/senator/role-player/stylist/pilot) and Mike Marts (editor). $16.99, 121 pgs, AfterShock.

I figured Bad Reception would be a nice-looking book – Doe is a fine artist, and while I wish his coloring wouldn’t be quite so soft and computer-generated, as some of the black-and-white pencil work he shows in the back is even more stunning without the coloring, he’s still not a terrible colorist – but I wasn’t sure if I’d like the writing. Doe is a classic example of an artist who decides he can write his stuff, too, even though he might not be the best writer, and while I haven’t actively disliked his writing in the past, it hasn’t been the greatest stuff, either. So I approached this book with some trepidation – it’s about a celebrity wedding held without social media (the man in the wedding is a hot-shot writer who wants to study what happens when you go off social media, especially for a big media event like his marriage to a top-selling pop star) and a killer taking the guests out in order, from least to most, of followers they have on said social media. It’s a clever enough conceit, and Doe points out that over a decade ago, when he first had the idea, it was simply people out in the wild with bad cell reception so they couldn’t contact any help as they got killed, but adding the social media aspect makes it much more interesting. Doe manages to make most of the characters interesting, which is always a problem in stories like this – you want to get to the exciting killing part, but because you skip over the characterization, it’s hard to care when bodies start dropping. Doe manages to give most of the characters some very interesting personalities, so when they do start dying, we’re a bit more invested. The social media aspect of it is very well done – of course someone sneaks a phone into the wedding, and of course someone else is conniving about selling photos of it to tabloids, and that adds some interesting aspects to the proceedings, as Doe can get a bit more about our addiction to social media and what it does to our souls into the comic. It’s not facile, either – while this isn’t the deepest comic in the world, Doe does bring up some ugly and uncomfortable ideas about what we’re doing to ourselves and how it can twist us, and within the context of a murder spree, it’s easy to lose sight of those things even as they play into the dramatic climax of the story. Like all good horror, this is a bit of a scathing satire, as well, so it’s darkly funny even as it brings up things we’d rather not think about. I don’t know if Doe has simply gotten better as a writer or if this just resonates with him, but it’s the best writing I’ve ever seen from him.

Obviously, his art is still very good – his cartoonish style gives him space to exaggerate some things to make a point, and he’s adept at squeezing a lot onto the page, which works here because it does get talky at times (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as he doesn’t overdo it, but he manages to design pages so the words don’t clutter things). His people look like real people – some of them are in great shape, some aren’t, some are attractive, some aren’t – despite his style, and this allows him to use visual cues a bit to help us relate to their predicament. As I noted, I don’t love his coloring because it softens the lines a bit too much, but it’s not terrible, and he keeps it luminous enough so that even the dark scenes are well lit. I wouldn’t mind if he colored it less digitally, but it doesn’t bother me.

This is a strong comic that, I hope, shows that Doe is reaching a new level of writing that will make him more reliable. His art is always fun to check out, but if his writing is going to be as good, his comics will be even more appointment-reading!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I’m not sure this is possible, but it’s dramatic!

Heist: Or How to Steal a Planet by Paul Tobin (writer), Arjuna Susini (artist), Vittorio Astone (colorist), and Saida Temofonte (letterer). $19.99, 181 pgs, Vault Comics.

Tobin is a good writer, so it shouldn’t be surprising that this is a fun comic, but it’s actually very good, as Tobin doesn’t dig too deeply into the body of this book, just giving us a wonderfully twisty heist comic that keeps us on our toes but is never confusing. It’s a fine line with regard to these kinds of comics, because you want to have surprises but you don’t want to have them come completely out of left field and lose the audience. Tobin doesn’t string us along too long – he explains as he goes, so the small surprises are spread out through the meaty book – 8 issues, most of them longer than your usual DC or Marvel comic – and while he does save a few final surprises for us, we’re conditioned by heist stories to expect a few final ones, so they’re also not too weird. (I will admit that he kind of drops the ball on the final stinger, but it’s not really that big a deal. He just doesn’t really explain what the person wants to do, but it also doesn’t really matter.) Tobin gives us Glane Breld, our hero, who lives on a planet actually called “Heist,” which was settled, like Australia, by criminals who eventually set up a working civilization without, you know, ever not being criminals. The planet was taken over by the Dignity Corporation some fifteen years earlier, aided by Glane, who sold it out and got the planet’s de facto leader killed. Then he was thrown in prison by the head of the corporation, and when he gets out, most people want him dead but he has a scheme to steal, well, the entire planet back from Dignity. He recruit the dead woman’s son (who’s an amazing sniper and dissolute drunk), the best weapons maker on the planet, and a master of disguise who flirts with him a lot, and they’re off. Glane also has a sidekick, a kid who doesn’t know who Glane is initially and tells him all about the traitorous scumbag who sold out the planet. We never get anything about why he sold out the planet, which is a small weakness in the book, but Tobin otherwise does a nice job giving all the characters interesting personalities, keeping us on our toes with a densely plotted but ultimately not too complicated heist, and a lot of ancillary characters who range from truly menacing to comic relief. Tobin does a lot of cool stuff with these characters, and that makes the plot work better, because we want to see what happens with the characters and how they work through all the obstacles in their way and whether they’ll get away with it. We suspect they will, but there’s no guarantee about it.

Susini’s art is quite good, too, which is nice. He has a lot to do, and he does it well, as he creates an entire city from the ground up and populating it with all kinds of weird creatures. Most are humanoid, sure, but there’s still a lot of room for weirdness, and Susimi has fun with it. There are a lot of panels per page (not a lot of DC-esque double-page spreads here!) and usually a lot of characters per panel, so he has to really think about blocking and depth so that we can follow along, and there’s never a problem. His designs and clothing are fun, giving us a good sense of who the characters are and what they’re about, and he’s good at both the action scenes and the heist scenes, which is a pretty good thing in, you know, a heist comic. He has a scratchy style and his figures are a bit stiff, but not to the art’s detriment or anything. It’s a nice-looking comic.

Heist is a nifty comic that’s fun to read. What more do you want, people?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I wish I had a good murder dog

Spider-Man Noir: Twilight in Babylon by Margaret Stohl (writer), Juan Ferreyra (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

I like the idea of Marvel heroes in a pulp fiction setting, and I enjoyed the earlier adventures of Noir Peter Parker, private eye and man with spidery abilities, but as you might notice, the real reason I bought this trade is because Juan Ferreyra draws it, and Ferreyra is, as you know, the best artist working in comics today. Margaret Stohl isn’t a bad writer, but she’s not the draw here, at least not for me. She spins a nifty tale of, basically, Peter Parker-as-Indiana Jones, with a bit too much of the supporting characters stepping in, from Tony Stark to Natasha Romanov to a member of the Dora Milaje, but it’s a pretty fun story. Peter gets out of his element and heads off to Europe and the Middle East, ending up in the Iraqi desert fighting fun supernatural stuff and, you know, Nazis (the book is set in 1939, and everyone knows that you couldn’t swing a dead cat anywhere in the world in 1939 – whether you’re in Berlin or, I don’t know, Altoona – without hitting at least one Nazi). Electro makes an appearance, which is nice, and there are betrayals, twists, goddesses, giant horrific creatures, and the M’Kraan Crystal because why the hell not? It’s kind of goofy, but it’s exciting and entertaining, and that’s what we’re here for!

Ferreyra draws all of this with his usual amazing aplomb, and it’s just so much fun to look at. He uses a muted color palette, mostly shades of gray with muted greens, but the occasional pop of red, and the book looks like an old noir movie, which is neat. Ferreyra’s action scenes are always great, and he gets to draw a massive and menacing Electro, plus some cool supernatural stuff. He’s always looking for ways to make the reading experience more interesting, so he gives us a tour through Tony Stark’s club, for instance, that takes us down three levels and back and forth across two pages, giving us a good look at Stark’s operation while keeping the exposition flowing nicely. He’s equally at home with Depression-Era New York, Nazi Berlin, and the Mesopotamian desert, and he uses both pages so well, lengthening panels to stretch over the center divide so that we get a nice tableau instead of simply reading vertically so much. Ferreyra is brilliant at telling a story, as he’s in complete command of the page. He takes a decent pulp fiction story and makes it shine. This is just another example why I’ll buy pretty much anything he draws and why I hope he’ll draw X-Men for me when Joey Q calls me to take over the franchise. It’ll be great, Joe!

This is a fun comic. It certainly helps that it looks as good as it does!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Not enough usage of ‘mook’ these days, sez !

War on Terror: Godkillers by Mark Sable (writer), Maan House (artist), Hernan Cabrera (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer), and Mike Marts (editor). $16.99, 100 pgs, AfterShock.

This is a slightly disjointed comic that works a bit better in theory than execution, even though it’s fairly entertaining. Sable posits a world in which various groups actually can have supernatural allies, and he creates an American Special Forces team to deal with them. We get a POV character, an atheist Arab-American who committed some kind of act of cowardice in the line of duty (it’s explained, but not fully, so it’s kind of unclear exactly what he should have done) and ends up in Leavenworth, making this team his “last chance.” Philip Alhazred is a folklorist (his last name is deliberately taken from Lovecraft), so he’s able to explain all the weird shit the team runs into. But of course, the tough guys (some of whom are girls) on his team keep bringing up his disgraceful behavior, which is a bit annoying. Anyway, there’s a djinn, there’s Baba Yaga, there’s Koschei the Deathless, there’s a vampire of the South Asian style, and Alhazred’s team has to figure out what’s up before the world gets ripped apart. You know, like you do. It’s kind of fun, but Sable throws a lot in here, and it occasionally feels just like a bunch of unconnected things that he thought would be neat. Alhazred is the focal point, and it feels like his “cowardice” should be more in the forefront, so as he wrestles with his conscience it might have more of an impact, but it’s not. Similarly, the rest of his team doesn’t get too much development, so the theological debates Sable seems to want to get into don’t have much weight because the other characters arguing with Alhazred feel like talking points rather than people. It feels like, as with so many comics, the writer wants to dig deeper but knows that he (or she) needs to blow shit up every so often, and they can’t thread the needle. As I noted, this is entertaining, but it feels like it could have been a better examination of faith and what that does to people, both positively and negatively. Sable hints around at that but never really dives in.

This is the second horror comic by House that I’ve read this year, and he’s pretty good at it. His figure work on humans is a bit stiff, but he uses a lot of blacks to help cover that up, and while it does make the book a bit dark, Cabrera manages to use enough bright colors to contrast well with the blacks. House is very good at creating monsters, so it’s good he’s working on horror stories! His monsters are good and terrifying, as he uses nice rough pencils to smudge them so that they seem out of step with the real world, and he uses blacks well to obscure them so that it’s as if we’re only catching fleeting glimpses of them even in a static medium. It’s a crowded book, and occasionally House doesn’t lay out the panels so that we can follow along, but generally it’s fine. House has to cram a lot of characters into the book, and perspective gets wonky every once in a while. House is a pretty good artist who, presumably, will get better, and what he does well is pretty keen, so it will be nice to see him improve.

This is an interesting book with some potential (I don’t know if Sable has any plans for more), but it could be better. But hey, it’s entertaining, and that’s pretty keen, right?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Such a friendly monster!

Let’s check out the money I spent in December and … in the entire year!!!!!

2 December: $128.36
9 December: $210.82
16 December: $114.49
23 December: $230.75
30 December: $137.94

Monthly total: $822.36

2020 total: $7535.93

Well, that’s a lot. That’s an average of $628 a month, which is kind of crazy. At the end of November last year (I skipped December, so I’m not sure what the final total was), I was at $7484.87, so I probably spent more in 2019 than I did in 2020, which tracks, as I’m slowly trying to stop buying so very many comics, plus the pandemic wiped some of them out. The last time I actually managed to do one of these for December was 2016 (Decembers are hard, man!), and I was at $7287.04. I’m remarkably consistent! So this was a fun year. I’m off to a good start in January, too, as I dropped over $200 the first week!

**********

Obviously, the big news around town these days is the attempted coup by supporters of the ex-president on 6 January. I’ve mentioned my right-wing friend here a few times, and I was waiting for his response, because I knew what it would be. True to form, he spit out a short statement on Facebook about the BLM people being worse because they destroyed businesses and the rioters on Wednesday were responding to a corrupt Congress and weren’t targeting good, honest ‘Muricans. I immediately wrote a comment about how I knew he was going to have a stupid opinion, and he didn’t disappoint, and he promptly deleted my comment (he didn’t unfriend me, though, so I guess that’s good). I would have been happy to argue with him, because I like arguing with people as long as it stays civil – I haven’t had much chance here, because we all get along, but I was perfectly happy to throw down at the old blog if people had a problem with me. Arguing is fine, and the art of a good argument has been somewhat lost in these ragey times. However, he refuses to engage with anyone who disagrees with him. He claims that he doesn’t really like Trump and says his comment about the rioting has nothing to do with our Cheeto-stained leader but is more about the fact that people who didn’t condemn the rioting last summer are condemning this, but he refuses to discuss it with anyone because, like so many other right-wingers, he’s a coward at heart who can’t defend his position and won’t move from it, so he shuts down. I know plenty of people who voted for Trump, and most of them these days simply don’t want to discuss it. It’s not that I’m going around yelling at them, but if it comes up, they refuse to talk about it. It gets to the heart of what far too many humans have a problem with: the inability to admit they’re wrong.

Look, I’m not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes. I’m able to admit that maybe, just maybe, Manimal isn’t the greatest television show in the history of the medium (if it’s not, it’s certainly Riptide, right?). People usually don’t like to admit they’re wrong, though, especially about important things. But voting for Trump, even if you like what he did in office, seems to be a big mistake, especially for people who claim to love the country, because Trump has shown he doesn’t care about the country. If you didn’t know that already, you have to know it now. The people I know are generally reasonable people who vote for the guy with the (R) next to his name because they’re terrified of (gasp!) socialism, but they’re not the kind of people who care that deeply that he lost, and they’re still not willing to admit they might have made a mistake. Can you imagine if you’re really invested in this dude and think, deep down, that you might be wrong? You go nuts. That feeds into what we saw this week, along with a lot of other things.

Back to my friend, he thinks this insurrection was about the corrupt rich people in Congress (some of whom he admires, because they’re Republicans). If these people were protesting some bill Congress was considering, something that would make them richer at the expense of the regular folk, he might have a leg to stand on. But they were coming after people engaged in a formality, and it had nothing to do with anything corrupt. This was the most closely watched election in history, both due to the pandemic and due to the president whining about the unfairness of it all. The legislature of Pennsylvania, which leans Republican, had no problem with the results. The secretary of state of Georgia, who has tried repeatedly in the past to suppress the votes of Georgians who lean Democrat, had no problem with the results, after three different counts of the votes. The governor of Arizona, who’s a huge Trump toady, had no problem with the results. There was no reason for anyone in the idiot crowd on Wednesday to disbelieve the results of the election except that their God-Monkey told them there was. So my friend, who claims to hate corruption in the government but was strangely silent over the past four years while his stocks were doing well, doesn’t really have a good argument. Yet he doesn’t want to talk about it. Because he’s a coward.

Sigh. I tend to be fairly moderate, hoping that the causes of social justice move forward but in a way so as not to freak anyone out in case there’s a huge backlash (like we saw in 2010, for instance, when the Republicans took control of Congress), but I’m sick of this shit. I doubt if Biden is the guy to do it (he was calling for unity on Wednesday, addressing a crowd and a president who not only don’t want to work with him, but barely see him as worthy of living), but maybe Harris and the Congress can push him to the left. Ram through everything they can – expanded Supreme Court, statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, redistricting in a fairer way (I don’t like gerrymandering no matter who does it), and I would seriously start talking about a universal basic income. Fuck the Republicans. They’ve had their fucking chance, and it ended with assholes shitting on the floor of the Capitol and threatening to hang MIKE FUCKING PENCE, who wants women to live in basements and only come out to serve him a sammich. Jeebus, Republicans. You fuckers blew it. Shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down.

Anyway, two of my daughter’s therapists are in the process of getting the COVID vaccine, so that’s good. Arizona has decided to ignore science even more than it did last summer, as cases have gone through the roof here, even though I still don’t know how. I see most people out and about wearing masks, but I have a feeling a lot of people wanted to see families over Christmas and Thanksgiving, and fuck the protocols, they went right ahead and did it! We’re still doing well because we’re not fools, and my wife – who has immune system problems – hasn’t gotten sick this winter, which would suck because who knows if she’d be able to fit at a hospital, so we’re happy about that. My daughter is still going squirrely because of the school problems, but I’m teaching her to drive, so that shouldn’t add to anyone’s anxiety in any way, right?

So it’s 2021. Let’s be careful out there. If you feel like using the link below, we get a tiny bit of whatever you purchase, even if it’s not a comic. So that would be nice. If you don’t feel like it, no worries. Have a great day, everyone, and I hope things don’t suck for you!

14 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    Believe it or not, Mr. B., the only thing that I’ve read on this list is the COVID-19 CHRONICLES, which was depressingly bleak and hopeful at the same time.

    Some interesting gifs there (if not sexy):

    Would that be a full moon or a quarter moon?

    The blonde in all-black leather. Pretty good way to protect yourself from COVID-19, and any other STD as well.

    The cat has some anger issues to work out.

    The sexy bat-girl in black, with a baby bump? I know Bruce Wayne was a playboy, but what would Selina say?

    That cranky panda bear needs more bamboo in its diet.

    The gothic witch-y woman is expressing her inner Nosferatu in a creepy way!

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: I don’t think that’s a baby bump. I think it’s just curves.

      The gothic witch-y woman is Carroll (Carol) Borland. She was in Mark of the Vampire in 1935, which is probably where that photo was taken from.

  2. Bright-Raven

    I spent $6,845.23 in 2020. But if I had just relied on my retailer / Diamond, it would have only been $3,170.90. The other $3,674.33 was online purchases direct from publishers (some via crowdfunding, others from the publisher online store) that was either legitimately not available to Diamond, or were books that Diamond claimed they were out of stock of and couldn’t ship to my retailer.

    Also, a query: How much of your $7,535.93 was Marvel and DC, Greg?

    My Marvel in 2020: $8.00 – All $1 True Believer reprint one shots

    My DC total in 2020: $302.80 – Amethyst, Strange Adventures, Far Sector, the Plunge, Batman the Adventures Continue, Question Deaths of Vic Sage in singles; Primer, Swamp Thing Twin Branches, You Brought Me The Ocean, Zatanna & The House of Secrets, AntiHero, Wonder Woman Warbringer, Man & Superman, House of Whispers Vol. 3 (because they canceled the series and never shipped the last two issues in singles due to Covid), and Batman Adventures: Nightwing Rising in TPB / HC editions.

    So if I had only just bought DC /Marvel (which is all I could have done at my comics shop if I didn’t order a PREVIEWS catalog and pre-order my comics), I would have spent $310.80 for the year, or $25.90 a month. So Marvel and DC combined equated to 4.5% of my overall comics purchases in 2020.

    I’m not sure what that says about their products, or about my tastes as a reader, anymore.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Louis: Dang, I don’t know how much was DC and Marvel. I would say not more than 50%, but probably not lower than 35-40%. I still get a bunch of trades from them, because I still like a lot of what they do, even if I tend not to follow what’s going on in the big picture.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, I have the Covid Chronicles book – got mine from Talajic himself (he got a bunch of author copies from the publisher, and wouldn’t let me pay for it). Since I read the individual installments as they were coming out online, I haven’t gone through and re-read them, but the book is a nice package.
    And yeah, it’s weird that even with the vaccine roll-out, the day-to-day severity of the Covid pandemic has not changed much since the beginning of the pandemic, but now it seems to have become background noise – with a heavy death toll. In some instances, it’s understandable: in the US, you’re dealing with the (now violent) death throes of the shit-gibbon’s presidency; over here we’ve had another round of devastating earthquakes just after Christmas.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Obviously, because of stuff that’s going on here, your earthquakes haven’t been in the news much, but I hope you’re doing okay. I didn’t realize you got earthquakes in the Balkans, although I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.

  4. Der

    I also got some books this december! But I think that I can also brag about what I got during 2020(don’t worry it won’t be that long, promise)

    -I got the complete Batman knightfall, you know the one in 3 volumes. What can I say? those are some of my first batman comics so the nostalgia was strong in this case.
    -The Puma Blues: it’s a pretty heavy and pretty hardcover, I don’t even remember who recomended this to me, but it looks good.

    -Batman lil’ Gotham: Two volumes of this that also looks like my kind of Batman(also, they were really cheap, like 5 usd each)

    -Boxers & Saints: I wanted this one since it came out, i finally had the money to get it and it was good.

    -Marvel UK Nightraven: I think that it was some of your posts that sent me to get this cómic, it was really, really good

    -I got 4 hardcovers(in spanish, published by Panini) that contain the first Conan comics from Marvel. It contain Conan the Barbarian #1 to #33 and some others. The translation looks aceptable, and the price again was great, like 900 pesos(around $45 usd at the time)

    -I got everything that Marvel, DC and Dark Horse gave away at the beggining of the pandemic, it was frankly a lot but hey, the correct price for a Marvel event is free if you ask me

    (Also I ordered one Hellboy library edition but it arrives in a week, so it doesn’t count as 2020 to me)

    My total cost was around, let’s say, $4,000 pesos(including that Hellboy book), or using non-monopoly money, $200 usd or so. Not bad if I say so myself

    We had a decent year, wich feels really weird when the world around you is imploding: No one got COVID(not even any close relatives or close friends) on my family, most of my family(and friends again) kept their jobs and our income levels, in our cause we reduced a lot of our debt(that’s why I’m buying comics again yay!) and work looks very stable(well, my wife job that is, I’m a stay at home dad, four years and counting) wich again feels odd when the hospitals are maxed out and people are losing jobs left and right.

    I feel sad for your friend, that is the kind of people that might be really good people but they can never accept that they are wrong and decide to ignore any sign of being wrong in their beliefs, ever. I ve known some people like that and I’m good friends with people like that too. Let’s hope the crappy dude leaves the White House without any more drama and then let’s really hope that Biden just says fuck it all and then does all the radical(well, “radical”) things that we all want the dems to do

    1. Greg Burgas

      Puma Blues is beautiful; the story is fine, but nothing great, but it kind of doesn’t matter because the art is so good.

      Nightraven is quite good. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      I’m glad you didn’t have the worst year. I’m a stay-at-home dad, too (well, I work very part-time now, but I didn’t have a job for 15 years), and I’ve always loved it!

      I’d feel sadder for my friend (well, acquaintance – we knew each other in high school but haven’t seen each other since) if he weren’t so aggressive about his ignorance. He’s a smart dude, but he’s really trying to ignore his poor choice! I will feel sad for him if Biden turns us into a Marxist utopia and he can’t find anything to complain about. “How dare you try to force free health care on me!!!!!”

      1. Der

        But what if I want to get sick and then burden myself and my family with crushing medical debt for years to come, Mr. Burgas? huh? Have you thought about it? Huh? Huh?

        Kidding aside, never understood why someone would object free health care. We want it here(we have something like that, but is not free-free and it’s quality is not that great) and if you say “but my taxes!” well, you pay for roads but don’t use them all, or if you say “but the quality will be shit” Maybe at first, but then you invest in that and get good at it. Sheesh, I’m going to stop here because some talking points of Republicans are just stupid.

      1. Der

        Sometimes Delano got so purple that I couldn’t even read the stories, but other times, he knocked it out of the park for me. The last story got me hard, probably in part because duh, I’m a mexican living in Mexico City, but the part that says:

        “…that Night Raven realised that he now knew what 10,000 would buy. A child’s life and a strawberry ice-cream.”

        I mean, maybe Delano lived in Mexico for a time? that one caught me by surprise and hit me hard

  5. Eric van Schaik

    Conan the Musical is a classic 🙂

    I ordered arond € 360 in 2020 (and some of that stuff still hasn’t arrived, Nexus:Gourmando, Ragnarok HC 3, Parker Last Call Martini Edition).

    It’s sad that a lot of people can’t accept other opinions/views anymore, and go to the offense straightaway. Is it so hard to admit that your wrong. Sigh…
    Monkeybrain is banned from twitter.

    Next tuesday we’ll hear that the lockdown will be extended. Let’s see with how many weeks. Luckely friends and collegues are still healthy.

    I’ll have to get the man who fucked up time. Looks like fun.

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