Horror in Redlands Florida

Red1

 

How do you write a good comic in the era of drones, hashtags and kale shakes? Well, if you’re Jordie Bellaire, Vanesa Del Ray and Clayton Cowles then you’re probably going to tackle issues like gender roles, race, religion, family and small-town politics the way they do in Redlands.

Red5

Their debut issue is a straight up ride through nostalgia country, tastefully borrowing themes from retro horror novel and films. On its own, some might say, that deserves its merit and your attention, but this isn’t exactly what deserves your admiration. What sets this story apart from other debut issues is the fact that its creators come at you guns blazing, but not at the price of being bombastic, convoluted or rushed. This isn’t a slow burner, but maybe because this story didn’t need to be. We’re given what we need to care about where the story is headed, balanced with a lot of action. At the onset, a group of characters is under siege by supernatural elements and by the end of the book we yearn to know more about the assailants, their ambitions and the fate of other characters in the town. Seems like a winner to me.

Red4

I’ll be frank and admit that a part of me was wary of this turning into another zombie tale and I was close to abandoning the book. There are too many zombie-related stories as is, and, in one way or another, those stories have all been told. It’s almost as if some twisted, reality-warping zombification has taken hold of writers’ minds and it’s all that’s on the shelves at your comic shop or TV show playlist. Or maybe I’m just an aging cynic and am disillusioned about the ironclad principle of economics and demand and supply and all that. Entitled rant over, I’ll continue to sing the praises of Redlands and the work of its creative team. I’ve learned over the years that it’s a safe play to not judge a book by its cover, but I tell you, gentle reader, that you’d be exonerated for doing so here. The lush cover art with its serpentine desperation is swollen with the kind of imagery that is ideal for the story within.

Red3

Redlands is bold and unpretentious, a feather in the cap of its creative team and another great example of the fine work Image Comics is putting out on the regular. Sure, I would’ve maybe reworked some of the dialogue to make it more lifelike, but I’m just a complainer and not a doer. The tortuous part about having read this book is the ache in waiting for the next issue. Shouldn’t they have made this a mini-series? Either way, it’s a great story and you’ll be glad you picked it up.

Advertisements

Sacred Creatures and Why to Find Them

 

When the gods of comic book awards decide who has earned their accolades this year, I really hope Image Comics’ Sacred Creatures makes the cut. But that was bound to happen anyway wouldn’t it? At least that’s what everyone who’s read the debut issue would agree on.

SC1

 

There’s a lot to appreciate here, and Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson have visibly exercised a great deal of care with their creator-owned work. There isn’t a whole lot of world-building going on in the debut issue, and perhaps this is one of the story’s strengths. The writers don’t need to take time to introduce us to new landscapes, but instead choose to set the story in New York. Some might argue that it’s a bit lazy and cliché to do so, but compare this debut issue to any other that’s set in a fictional realm and you’ll see for yourself which of the two stories flow better. The writers have a long list of essential characters in this story of an impending war between good and evil, so there isn’t time to introduce a new world without running the risk of losing their readers’ interest.

 

SC3

As a creative, especially a writer, when you get to a certain point in your journey of life, you might have a moment or two of existential turmoil and realise the sad truth that even if an idea seems original to you, that might not necessarily be the case. But this is nothing to be ashamed or disheartened about, and in a beautifully meta way, the writers have touched upon this theme, right under their readers’ noses. But let me talk about something else for a moment. Sacred Creatures might not boast the best comic book name, or even the most original story, but I can guarantee that it’s still something that would strike a chord with readers. Why so? Maybe you’re thinking (after reading, of course) that it’s because the book has the same kinds of flavours that are present across a spectrum of media including American Gods, the Omen, John Constantine, Se7en and even The Black Monday Murders. Sure, elements of those creative works seem to have influenced Sacred Creatures on some level, but an unnamed college professor reveals the answer fairly early on in the story.

SC2

 

I’m talking, of course, about the reference to Joseph Campbell’s matchless tome The Hero With A Thousand Faces and its revelation that all myths are basically one story, about the call to adventure and all the things it entails. And it’s this simple trick that lies at the heart of the appeal of a story like Sacred Creatures. Sure, there might be other things working in the favour of this debut issue, such as the fact that it’s upwards of 60 pages in length. To be frank, the decision to go that route has been one of the key reasons why this book was such a page-turner, because it’s gripping and you’re given a front row seat to a story that unravels at a steady, engrossing pace. The artwork of Raimondi and Chris Chuckry gels with the story, especially the elevated work that’s been put into the cityscapes and architecture. The artist’s character concepts quite obviously drew from real life screen stars, such as Tilda Swinton and Djimon Hounsou, while the protagonist – this story’s reluctant hero Josh, like his girlfriend Julia, is drawn as a normal human being and not like any of the cadre of deities that will be using humans as pawns on their chessboard. There was a fleeting moment wherein Julia seemed a complete pushover, displaying some truly incredible behaviour, but the moment passed, with the writers’ reputation intact.

SC4

When Sacred Creatures returns again next month, there’ll be loads of questions to answer, while, inevitably, even more will be raised. But if the writing of issue 2 was anything like it was in the debut, that won’t be a bad thing at all.

 

 

Bodycounts and Banter: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Again

There’s a tool that writers often employ to lull readers into a false sense of security before springing a surprise and blowing their load. This is sometimes called the switcheroo, and from the way Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Again reads, it looks like writer Cullen Bunn’s setting us up for some intrigue.

DKA1

Bunn is laughing to himself because of how many steps ahead of us he is. He’s spread out the story of DKTMUA over five issues and seems content with taking his readers for a ride through what seems like familiar territory. Sure, after your first read, it might seem that this would be one of the few times where we can truly judge a book by its cover, because of how wacky the story. You’ve got Wade slaughtering a spectrum of A, B and C-list characters punctuated with his smartass quips about pop culture and the trademark fourth-wall breakage. But then you realise that you’ve read this kind of thing before and there just HAS to be another level to it. Bunn wouldn’t just give away the entire plot in the first issue would he? Let’s just put a pin in that for now.

 

DKA2

This book was a pretty fun read, much like the first Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe series which showcased a wistful depth of character not often seen in the Merc with the Mouth. Based on the writer’s mature approach to that book, we’d be safe to expect something along the same lines in volume 2, and the signs are pretty good. Wade’s wide-ranging personalities and malleable insanity feature heavily, and we see him to a degree as a sleeper agent awaiting their cue a la Captain Hydramerica, or a cylon, or even an android host who hears that “these violent delights have violent ends.”

 

DKA3

There was a point where things didn’t seem like it was a Deadpool-driven story because of all the focus on the long cast of characters, but then again one could argue that having all these personalities is akin to having a multiple personality mental condition, which is pretty much a Deadpool trademark. Bitter overweight and untalented cynics might decry that this is a rehash of a past mini-series, but despite all the keyboard warrior spirit they exude they forget the golden rule of Deadpool comics – lighten up, Francis! This is all about the banter anyway and there’s more smart writing than you could shake a katana at.

 

The keener amongst you will know that the axis of evil that appears towards the final pages of issue 1 will not be as easily decapitated as the paper dolls on the cover. So we’ll have to see how Bunn resolves this fun web he’s begun to weave. Speaking of covers, I think fans of Kaare Andrews like yours truly would’ve been thrilled to see him return to do some more epic work like he did last time around, but there’s no sign of him just yet. That’s not to say that the work of penciller Dalibor Talajic, inker Goran Sudzuka and colourist Miroslav Mrva is meh at all, and the scenes in which Wade is hexed, in particular, are a visual delight.

 

So yeah, handle your business, do what you gotta do to relax, and then give this book a read. Just don’t kid yourself that you really know what Bunn is trying to pull.

 

A Secret Empire of Cogent Comic Storytelling

Whether you loved or loathed the crossover event thus far, there’s no doubt that the fifth issue of Marvel’s Secret Empire is a high watermark for comic book writing.

sempire1

My heart goes out to Nick Spencer for taking such bold and, some might say, necessary steps in his writing. By taking the decisions that he did, Spencer incurred the wrath of millions, quicker than you can say double agent. Much like a petulant child, the masses frothed at the mouth and tore him to shreds for doing what a good writer really ought to do, which is to ask the ‘what if?’ questions that make readers think. In another example of unwarranted criticism, the poor writer wasn’t even really given the chance for exoneration or redemption. They judged him hastily and mercilessly, without being gracious enough to offer a second chance, or, heaven-forbid, the luxury of the opportunity to tell his complete story. But c’est la vie.

sempire2

A Newtonian law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but in this case, the reaction from readers was a tsunami of criticism. Sure, I don’t hold any university degrees in comic book writing to reinforce my statement, but as a fan of interesting and engrossing storytelling maybe you can see my point. Were Spencer’s choices that bad? Were they worse than introducing character traits that seem contrived just for the sake of relevance and to bolster company image? It doesn’t appear so to my eyes. Particularly in issue 5, in what seems to be a case of art imitating life, Tony Stark finds himself bereft of support from those around him who are meant to have his back. Spencer gives the impression that he drew from his personal experiences of trial and tribulation, writing about what he knows to convey the isolation he might’ve felt as he was criticised for his treatment of Captain America. I’m all for calling a spade a spade and giving the devil his due, but looking at issue 5 in this crossover series, the anti-Spencer rhetoric seems unwarranted and severe.

sempire3

Spencer’s masterful use of various literary techniques underline his calibre as a writer, and argue the case as to why he was chosen to write this summer’s big crossover event. Take for instance the way he elevates a simple email from a concerned father (and author of a treasure trove of cringe-worthy dad jokes) to his daughter into a compelling narrative technique. As readers, we are given insight into the team’s plans peppered with the thoughts and feelings of one of its teammates. The message feels real and not contrived in the least, unlike a killer revealing his motives and methods in a blatant soliloquy a la the one-armed man in the earlier episodes of Twin Peaks. Spencer uses Ant-Man to great effect, declaring quite casually that the heroes are on a hunt for a Macguffin, without it really breaking the fourth wall. But looking at reaction on the all-seeing internet, Spencer remains an unsung hero.

sempire4

Fans of this series, including yours truly, meanwhile, will undoubtedly await the next issue with bated breath, after the ominous reveal in the pages of issue 5. Overlord/ Supreme Leader Steve Rogers has clearly been reading the 48 Laws of Power and perhaps even Machiavelli’s The Prince, and exudes the air of a field marshal with a secret ace in his deck but still feels like Steve Rogers, if not the Captain America of Mark Millar’s seminal Civil War of 2006. As such, there are a few possibilities for how this story will conclude, with all the nascent treachery and character motives and various battlefields and settings. Maybe there’s more wisdom in being a wet blanket, but for now I live with audacious hope.

Why Guardians of the Galaxy Deserves its Bandwagon

gotg1

Here’s something I don’t find myself saying too much these days: “Marvel got it right.” And while I will not go into why I’m such a Negative Nancy about the big M these days, I will say that with the All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has struck gold.

gotg3

So, we should roll credits already shouldn’t we? Well, lets just give the guilty parties their due first. Besides, the key to unlocking why this is such a stellar comic book lies in the heads that produced these pages. Seeing Gerry Duggan’s name on the cover reassured the fuck out of me that I wasn’t wasting time in giving this book a read. Suffice to say he knows how to write a good comic book script. But then again, what is a good comic book script? It ought to be an engaging, well-paced story that presents unreal characters with realistic characteristics, personalities that are seeking a resolution to a conflict that they find themselves facing. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? This is precisely what sets Duggan apart from several of his peers at the Marvel stable, and this is exactly what Marvel needs to keep doing. That’s not to say that the rest of their books are garbage, but when credit is due, it really ought to be shelled out. Okay, step two, rope in a gifted art team – an individual or team who has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes them the right fit for the book that they’re illustrating – and Aaron Kuder and Ive Svorcina have served this book amazingly. A great comic team is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle in that the pieces need to fit together. Who doesn’t love a beer? Probably teetotallers, but even they would agree that a beer shouldn’t be drunk from a baby’s feeding bottle. With All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has served up a frosty brew in solid glass tankard.

 

gotg2

So, what else was so great about this book? Was it the fact that it felt like it was reading a mashup between a comic book script and a comic book movie? Who knows, that might be the next step in comic book technology – the augmented reality comic book…imagine the possibilities! Or have they come up with those already? “Whatevz yo!” My humble and underrated predictions aside, there is a lot to be said about the comic book’s other unsung hero, designer Manny Mederos. When you look at what he’s actually contributed to the book, you might argue that he warrants a credit on the cover page. But Marvel has been making comics for more than 100 years, and their own business practices often manifest themselves in their output, so it would seem that poor Mr Mederos is only trumpeted by niggly bloggers and art enthusiasts who might buy a box set or a DVD (remember those, kids?) simply on the merit of their packaging and menu screens. He deserves more, and I hope that after you check out his work you raise your own glass to him and his efforts.

gotg5

Let’s wind this up now with a fun summary that wont bore you to clicking onto something a little less mentally challenging or stimulating (if you stop reading now to go get some exercise, I will forgive you, I’m already miles behind on my required daily step count – it’s tough for flabbies like your friendly neighbourhood cheese lover). All-new Guardians could quite fittingly come with the subtitle: ‘Welcome to where the 80s never ended,’ what with its genuinely feel-good, action comedy. As ever, the guardians play by their own rules, and while this ragtag band of misfits aren’t the superior foes of Spiderman, you’d have to argue your point if you classed them in Marvel’s flagship lineup of heroes. The guardians are the lovable rogues and misfit reprobates that a large chunk of readers see ourselves as, not the noble super soldiers, or genius billionaire playboy philanthropists. You’ll see the banter, the pranks and all the things that made the films so great to watch, except for the unspoken thing between Peter and Gamora, or Gamora and Peter, depending on whether you like people opening doors for you or not. The guardians are in outer space, but they’ve still got very human problems and their story is fun and funny, with no sign of preachy SJWs anywhere on the horizon (I go with the urban dictionary definition of SJW, so please consider that before you cast your first stone at me). The guardians are crafty and comedic… they employ stealth, intrigue and deception to achieve their objective…are they ideal role models for younger readers? Fuck no, but comics are art and entertainment, and DO NOT have a lesson in morality and ethics as one of their pre-requisites. For this and several other subtleties that this mediocre blogger has missed, this book deserves your time.

 

Off you go now, gentle readers, to your own adventures to the internet shops to procure this comic, or to your nearest or dearest comic shop. Take a friend with you, or a sibling or parent, or a sibling figure or a parent figure, or even a child, give them the things you never had and try not to sweat the small stuff, there’s a much bigger picture that you’re a part of, so shine on, you crazy diamonds.

The Time Marvel Comics Was Pro-Islamic-Extremist, Anti-Christian and Anti-Jewish

xmg1

 

Well then, there’s a bunch of words the both of you probably never thought you’d see as the title of a blog post! But no, gentle reader, the merciless Marvel seems to have fallen afoul of virtue once again and let me reassure you that you aren’t hallucinating and that you haven’t misread – this actually happened, and a torrent of ugly backlash resulted.

 

Marvel’s latest cash-grab approach to comic production saw the launch of X-Men Gold last week, and in the time it takes to rage quit your twitter account, a rampage of critics came forward to tear it to pieces because of Ardian Syaf’s careless addition of pro-Islamic-extremist rhetoric. And out came the wolves. They wanted blood, and blood is what they got as Marvel acted on their declaration to take disciplinary action against Syaf. He was fired, and quite boldly and correctly announced on social media that his career was over. The offensive images are to be altered in all forthcoming editions of the comic, so anyone who’s bought a real life, tangible copy of this book (my humble self included) is now a proud owner of a bonafide article of subliminal hatespeech. On a related note, I’d like to call attention to one of life’s most beautiful and sadly, most overlooked pieces of wisdom : don’t sweat the small stuff, and stop taking things and words too seriously! Back to business, my friends and onto the unpopular questions that we as intuitive beings must ask. Were the critics (they come from various ethnicities and theistic and atheistic backgrounds) justified in for calling for Syaf’s figurative blood?

xmg6

Let’s look at the panels in question. The first four inserts are fairly ambiguous, and manifest as the signboard for a jewellery store aligned near the head of team leader Kitty Pryde (a Jewish woman apparently), a signboard for a store named 212 (the popularised name of the December 2 2016 mass protests against Jakarta’s Christian politician Basuki Tjahaja Purnama) and 2 character extras sporting, respectively, (but apparently also disrespectfully lolzoid) a baseball cap and a t-shirt emblazoned with the number 51. Now, while the Jew reference to Kitty could’ve been a coincidence, the fact that the number 51 appears twice within the same panoramic panel seems about as accidental as wearing a pair of assless pink leather chaps to a business meeting. To take things even further into murkier water, a panel on the following page shows Colossus sporting a jersey with the team logo and “QS 5:51” on the front. Later, we see an allusion to Nightcrawler attacking Kitty with a baseball bat. Fun fact: Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic, so was the artist still sending a subliminal message?Aaaand that’s a wrap! Roll credits, because while Colossus struck the ball right out of the park, this drawing expedited Syaf’s being chucked out of the Marvel Comics stable. Dude, you can’t reference Quranic verses that advise believers against befriending Christians and Jews and expect no consequences. Syaf’s buffoonery isn’t unprecedented, since he’s allegedly a repeat offender, which only fuelled the fire of hate towards him and, (based on reaction on vlogs and blogs and their unmindful and odious comments sections) hate towards Muslims as a whole. The rabble were roused, and the hate spewed forth, and poor Ardian Syaf garnered more infamy for his hapless career moves than his unexceptional pencilwork ever could.

xmg5

What are the more pertinent questions in this debacle? Are the actions of the entitled social justice warriors (please keep in mind that I believe that there are the few that are not like the many) hypocritical? You can hear some arguing that it took guts to convey your political ideals while on company time, but what Syaf did wasn’t quite as forgivable as lightly dipping his pen in the company’s ink, instead, he took a massive dump in the company’s water cooler. How or why he would choose to repeat such a grave error is beyond me. Didn’t he learn his lesson from the first time? Was he brave for doing what he did? Discretion is the better part of valour, and whether he was making some kind of stand for his cause is up for debate. What’s for certain though, is that when it comes to the professional arena, it’s perhaps best to leave your ideology at home and do what you’re paid to do. He might whine and moan about his career being over, but who knows, maybe he deliberately wanted to portray himself as some kind of martyr. It’s fun to speculate! At the same time, his face and name and probably now a raft of other personal information is being circulated online, whereas the courageous keyboard warriors and armchair admirals cower behind the veil of anonymity, claiming safety in numbers, insulated behind the security of darkness, digital handles and avatars.

xmg4

Which leads us to ask, now that this pest has been dealt his marching orders, should the allegedly offended still be frothing at the mouth? While you’re chewing on that cud, you might also want to ruminate on the origin of the backlash, and how much responsibility lies with the editors who saw fit to green light the pages? If the media is to be believed, the complaints began after readers made the connections, and Syaf dimwittedly gloated about his mischief on social media. Tsk tsk, talk about pride going before a fall. There’s no doubt that the majority of people despite all their altruistic inclinations and leanings, will, to a degree, put their own interests higher up on the list of priorities. There are some who doubt that Americans, are as educated and aware of the world outside of their own nation when compared to their peers from other countries. That being said, how aware was the editorial bureau of political goings-on back in Indonesia? A number of bloodthirsty youtubers I researched referenced the artist as Adrian instead of Ardian, which in itself speaks volumes. Would they have even known about this if Syaf had remained tight-lipped instead of blowing his own trumpet online? Who can say? We’re all left with a number of options now as to how to play this. Should we forgive and forget? Turn the other cheek? Behead the sinner? Have him lashed at a public forum? Or have him parade the town streets in sackcloth and ashes? I wonder.

Why A Black Cloud Holds Promise

bcloud1

After reading the debut issue of Black Cloud, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the beginning, middle, or end was the best part of a comic book arc. Sure, the resolution towards the end of a story usually tends to hold more water, but this comic reminded me of how enjoyable and how much promise, potential and possibility lies within the pages of a debut issue.

The writing duo of Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon can be proud of their work on this issue, laying a foundation that remains true to the core of this story about stories and imagination. No, I didn’t research this title at all before reading, and I wouldn’t consider myself a superfan of similar themed comics, so is it a surprise at all that I enjoyed reading this? Well, for starters, this steered clear of superhero territory, which tends to score points at least in my book these days. We’re given a nameless protagonist who, we learn, has some degree of superhuman power to speak of, but not much else. Then there was the tongue-in-cheek reference to corruption in the political spheres, and mentions of the deluge of information that is contemporary life. The writing team’s wistful words in key panels struck a chord with me and I couldn’t help but think about carefully curated news schedule and how much attention a catastrophe such as the ongoing Syrian war gets in the mainstream media. Maybe the world would care more if they were made to care, the way they’re made to care about reality TV shows and shopping for bullshit and forms of government that pretend to care but really only want your money and to enslave you.

blcoud4

Speaking of fantasy, I realise that in hindsight, I should’ve guessed that Black Cloud would’ve been part of this supernatural genre, what with the protagonist wielding an otherworldly sword (a mastersword perhaps?) on the cover. But, make no mistake; this book isn’t about a jolly romp through the Candyland orchard. With an ‘M’ rating, this book features drug references and other mischievous indulgences like big boy words and even more naughtiness in suggesting the breaking of rules, or defiance of authority, as alluded to in the opening sequence. The editorial team’s deliberate choice to avoid names, except for Kay, Mayor Denny Havemeyer (pronounced have a mayor?) and his son Todd, in an odd way reassures you that there will be a good helping of revelation in upcoming issues, and just like in the first Matrix film, we learn about the existence of alternative worlds, or different levels of existence. Even within the clichéd base for comic book stories…New York City.

I probably wouldn’t be alone in guesstimating that the theme of colour will play a major role in the coming issues, especially with obvious clues like the word ‘black’ in the title. Is it a reference to black clouds and the rain, which seems to be the calling card of our heroine’s arch nemesis? Artists Greg Hinkle, Matt Wilson and Dee Cunniffe have presented a world that seems fun to wander around and get lost in – a place with moods and secrets, places that are welcoming and places that are unsettling. Their deliberate pre-determined colour palette has made it easier for readers to decipher whether the characters are in the real world, or I one of the other settings we are shown throughout the book. It was similar to what the art team did on the opening arc of Jason Aaron’s most recent run on Dr Strange, which was a delight to see on the page.

 

blcoud2

And so, as we await future installments, we can wonder about things that may or may not be so trivial in the story, such as whether or not a drug dealer can be termed as one if he doesn’t actually peddle any substance, what are the limits of our protagonist’s powers, and what are the logistics of being taken on an excursion into the (brace yourself for a Stranger Things reference) the upside-down or a sub-level. You might also wonder whether the protagonist really needed to give the poor street vendor such a hard time. But take heart and be strong! The future is uncertain and the end is always near, so let’s think positive thoughts and consider all the promise and potential the debut issue of Black Cloud offers us.