Death of Love

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For any comic book fan that’s fending off Valentine’s Day blues, maybe a good dose of humour is the best thing for it. Enter the Death of Love. Despite the morbid title, this isn’t one of those melancholic laments about a crestfallen Romeo. Instead, we’re given a story that seems familiar and relatable, which is why this comic ought to appeal to more than it actually will.

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As someone with a history of loneliness and alienation, it was easy for me to empathise with the protagonist, Philo Harris. Like millions of people, Philo is a nice guy whilst simultaneously being an asshole, and, as such, has a warped idea about romantic love. He’s unable to move out of the friendzone Zoe has put him in, and like millions of insecure guys have done, Philo’s desperation makes him turn to the advice of misogynists. It turns into something reminiscent of that track from Blink 182’s 2001 album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (you know the one, if not, look it up). So now you’re wondering where exactly is all the humour I had mentioned earlier, and this is one of the major virtues of this debut issue.

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As you read this story, you’ll notice how writer Justin Jordan drops some major truth bombs, usually voiced by Philo’s best friend Bob, and it might make you take a good hard look at your own situation. Surely that’s a mark of great writing, isn’t it? Bob’s knowledge of the Zoe situation affords him a perspective that is objective and honest, and I think I wouldn’t be alone in wondering how differently things would have turned out for myself had I been given this kind of a dose of tough love way back when I was growing up. But it’s not all just introspective seriousness. The comedy vibe in Death of Love is clear and present throughout, which is something readers like yours truly could really appreciate. Jordan has managed to guilefully blend the seriousness of Philo’s struggle with the feel-good humour that’s often observed in the interactions between best friends and bros. The art of Donal Delay, Omar Estevez and Felipe Sobreiro is also largely responsible for the lightness of the subject matter, without taking away the desire to see how the rest of the story unfolds.

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With four issues left to go, readers will wonder what happens next for Philo and his lonely friends, and about the origins and motives of pill-pushing demon Eris. Will he eventually find love with Zoe? I have my reservations, because these kinds of stories usually need another female character to be into the protagonist for his love quest to be resolved. Let’s hope the rest of the series delivers as much cupid-killing fun as the debut did.

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Misguided Dopamine, Adolescence and PolitiX

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OK kids, today we’re gonna talk a little bit about politics, emotions and other trivial points, so put down your gluten-free kale shakes and get ready to get triggered… I mean #triggered.

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A curious theory says that certain people are addicted to what some people call negative emotions, like sadness and sorrow. I used to be one of those people, before my heart and mind changed; I turned over a new leaf and resolved to channel the energy from those emotions into different outlets. It’s not as easy for others as it was for me and everyone has their own path to self-realisation, and, like everyone else, I have beautiful days and others that just aren’t as sunny. Sometimes I wonder just how different of a person I would be today if I had chosen a path of optimism instead of being addicted to what I now see was pessimism in my adolescence. When I meditated on that thought a long, long time ago, I realised that on some level I was addicted to being sad and didn’t want to be happy because I was so used to being sad that it, ironically enough, comforted me. In somewhat the same vein, I’m kind of wondering if the X-men are almost self-sadistic and happy to wither away and live a life of struggle and failure before Xavier’s dream can be realised.

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The X-Men are as revered today because of the gargantuan power of nostalgia and the whole idea of viewers seeing themselves and relating to characters they view. X fans can relate to the adolescent vulnerabilities, petty rage, identity quests and relentless grudges we see in the X-books. So riddle me this, is the X factor in these X books some kind of hybrid love of doom/failure/sadness mixed with some audacious optimism and idealism? There’s no way the X-men will ever succeed in fulfilling Xavier’s dream for mutants to live harmoniously with humans. They are fighting a losing battle in their bid to protect a world that fears and hates them. And this is probably what endears underdogs, others and misfits like you and yours truly to them so much. Sure, maybe a boatload of us stopped giving a fuck when the X books lost the calibre that they held in the 80s and 90s, but with stuff like X-Men Red, things are starting to look and feel a whole lot better.

 

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In X-Men Red, Jean Grey is alive (SLOL – Sarcastic LOL), and getting all political in her bid to keep Professor X’s dream alive. But for any story to be compelling there needs to be conflict, and before too long mutant ambassador Jean Grey realises she may have stepped onto a battlefield she should’ve studied a few plans for ahead of time. I wondered, why X-Men Red? Is it a reference to Jean Grey as team leader? Maybe subtle foreshadowing of some horrifying bloodshed to come in upcoming issues? Perhaps it’s a reminder of the ever-present danger that mutants live in. (Maybe its just in keeping with the theme of the ongoing X books being colour coded). Whatever the reason, Red is possibly the best X book currently out there.

Old heads, like your friendly neighbourhood comic blog writer, would surely love the old-school feel of the tried and tested X-men fodder – the civil rights struggle, the fear and hatred towards mutants, the futility of their heroism and the chemistry between the characters that we’ve known for decades such as Namor, and Nightcrawler. Meanwhile, to thwart the tiredness of familiarity, the roster includes youngsters such as Gentle, Honey Badger, Trinary and X-23. As it stands now, I’m in a WTF place trying to make sense of the inclusion of these unknown new gen players, but hopefully as more issues come out we’ll start to warm to them a bit more. Tom Taylor deserves accolades for his treatment and for having the cojones to tackle writing duties for a series that features heavyweights like the once-dead Jean Grey. I’ll admit that I was surprised with the way the debut issue went. On more than one page ending I thought, “OK, this is it, they’re ending it kind of safely, which I can live with.” But the reason I’m so eager for the trade now is because of the resolution this well-written story is begging for.

Artists- Mahmud Asrar and Ive Svorcina

 

Is 2 in 1 Better Than 4?

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M2n1a.jpgThe Fantastic Four are dead. Long live the Fantastic Four. The wise amongst you are aware on some level that the only constant in this life is change, and that nothing lasts forever. And so when megalomaniac Marvel decided to kill off their first family during the Secret Wars incursions we were all left wondering how they were going to inevitably bring back the Fantastic Four. This was probably just some kind of fixed term deposit/timeshare deal, because the wheels of commerce tend to turn mercilessly, and the monopoly machine knew that it was only a matter of time before they owned all the rights and intellectual property they needed to sustain capitalism until our own world faced its inevitable impending implosion. We still don’t know how Reed, Sue and the kids will be reinserted into the existing Marvel multiverse/universe/whatever they’re calling it these days, but it will happen. In the interim, we can check out Marvel 2 in 1 Thing and the Human Torch.

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We’re all patting ourselves on the back as we ponder the immense power that nostalgia can wield over those who cherish a bygone ideal, tale or even an emotion. Is that a consolation or an acknowledgement of our shared awareness? I leave that to you, gentle reader, to decide.M2n1c

 

You’re clearly curious about Marvel 2 in 1, or wondering what other readers thought. Maybe my opinion comes from having been off comics for a while (strange enough for someone who ‘maintains’ a comic blog), but this felt familiar and friendly. Would you call this a safe read? Yeah, why not. The first 2 issues are full of familiar faces and places and literary devices that writer Chip Zdarsky and others have undoubtedly put out before. But the human is indeed a complex animal, with a potential to harm and also to heal, and while I’ll give this story a thumbs up, others might flip it off.

 

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There is enough luscious art in these pages courtesy of Jim Cheung, John Dell, Walden Wong and Frank Martin to satisfy your everyday aesthete, while the story will have haters, and lovers in equal measure. I consider myself more on the latter, but not completely. There’s enough to make you turn the pages and resist the urge to pick up a PS4 controller and game instead of putting down ideas onto a page and writing a blog post about it, at least in my case. Others will disagree, but I couldn’t find anything I disliked about these 2 issues, and would happily recommend you reading them. I can understand why some people might not buy these books – on principle and because of simple economics. Don’t work overtime just to be able to buy each issue, I’m sure it’ll be just as much fun to read as a collected omnibus.

Dark Fang and the Cynical Beauty of Truth

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You know how they say variety is the spice of life? Well, some might argue that the same principle applies when it comes to comics. Not every issue, debut or otherwise, is a home run. But does my ominous intro reveal my thoughts on the debut issue of Dark Fang?

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I know that the majority of you, my constant readers, aren’t looking for the shortcut or the hack. You’re far more intelligent than the average, a blue chip player and a diamond in the rough. And so, you wouldn’t just stop reading after I say that maybe Dark Fang #1 isn’t the easiest book for readers to sink their teeth into. Whilst slipshod in places, the book wasn’t as watered-down and soulless as this one standout failure that Marvel put out months ago. (I won’t mention the comic, but I’ll say that I’d reviewed this debut issue months ago, and received the vitriol of a bona fide reviewer type whose opinion people pay to read. Write me and I’ll reveal all.) But was I being too harsh with that comic that didn’t leave a lovely aftertaste in my mouth? Was the bona fide reviewer right in judging/hating on me for telling my truth? This isn’t terra nova guys, so let me be implicit with the answer to that question.

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Dark Fang is a brilliant reminder that comics need to vary in style and delivery. Not everyone is looking for the meaning of life in these panels. Sometimes we just want to kick back and relax and have something to take our minds off of the grind. And I hear your next question gentle reader : what’s at stake when we can’t sink our teeth into Dark Fang? Well my friends, we can get all meta about this and say that the creative trio of writer Miles Gunter, artist Kelsey Shannon and letterer Taylor Esposito are trying to remind us about the pointlessness of our lives and that the real wisdom lies in enjoying the ride while we can and not be a dick to our fellow human beings, the creatures we share this world with and to the world itself! How’s that for anti-cynical? I don’t know what the good folks I just named were aiming for in the debut, but I can say that it was a fun read, despite the few tell-tale rookie elements in certain areas.

Dark Fang does a great job of disguising social commentary as the thoughts of a meandering vampire who is out of time. Despite her tragicomic backstory, she doesn’t seem to bear the cross of loneliness as say a Lestat, or Frankenstein’s monster did in their own stories. She has found a way to land on her feet by exploiting the inhabitants of the world she is now a part of and apart from, which makes us wonder how much of that is taking place around us without us even realising it. Does your government really care about you? Oh snap! I hope I don’t upset anyone by speaking my mind about political stuff! And so close to Christmas too! What will Santa make of this?

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Like many bands during the whole nu-metal tsunami of the late 90s and early 2000s, it seems that the creative team decided to keep things ambiguous on their cover. Simply going by the cover page we can only assume that the figure of a fanged woman biting into a globe is a grotesque Eve with the fruit of the forbidden tree. The theme of temptation continues on the following pages as she learns about the art of seduction and control and how to wield her powers over men and women. (P.S. let’s give Gunter, Shannon and Esposito props for making it clear that females can dig females too and that doesn’t have to be weird.) I’m not giving this debut issue any votes for comic of the year or anything, but the optimist buried somewhere within the realist that is me believes that past all the sleek feminine curves and blatant sexuality there are hidden messages out there for anyone willing to look a little closer and just a little deeper into the darkness.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the creative heads of Dark Fang got their share of fan(g) mail based on this debut issue. Is this going to win any Eisner Awards this season? Probably not. Is this the pinnacle of comic book writing in these hideous, heartless times? I wouldn’t say so. But fuck it dude, it’s a fun read, the way any horror comic ought to be. Besides, it’s just the debut issue. Who cares that we haven’t been given the protagonist’s name other than on the mail page? Let’s just keep reading with our fingers crossed. Stay gangsta.

 

 

Writer – Miles Gunter

Artist – Kelsey Shannon

Letterer – Taylor Esposito

 

Horror – Evolved

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Yeah, yeah, I know…I should’ve read Evolution #1 like three days ago or whatever, but guess what, I’ve already kicked my ass about missing out, so give a flaw-abiding citizen a break will ya?

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On long, introspective commutes to and from work like many good people, I ponder the whole human condition and wonder how much I’d shape things differently if the clay was in my hands. This makes for a dangerous mix of mischiefs, because in the end it would all add up to something that would meet my own selfish desires, neither corrupt nor kind, yet entirely both and with several twisted caveats. For instance, I’d make myself the tallest person on the planet, without gaining any height. Everyone else just had to be shorter than my current, average height. Sure, the woke amongst you will recognise that this infantile desire is typical of any misfit, and you’d sooner or later argue either for or against the beauty of nature’s choices. People are meant to be a certain way and variations are what has helped the human race to survive all these years. People aren’t meant to live past a certain number of years because nature has selected them to leave this world. Looks like everyone’s subject to it – everyone you know, everyone you will ever know and everyone you’ve ever known. So, why hasn’t the human race evolved yet to become more than just a temporary resident of this planet? Maybe it’s because we’re not supposed to, but anyways, let’s talk about how awesome Evolution is!

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It takes a village to raise a child, and Evolution’s parents can be proud that all hands were on deck for that monster debut issue. The guilty parties this time around are artists Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd and writers James Asmus, Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebala, Joshua Williamson. Guys, these people have put down some amazing pages that’ll make you eager for more. When you look at his illustrations you really get a sense that the artist invested bundles of attention, and love into his work, with tight, deliberate shading that has been used to great effect in every panel. Boyd sparing use of the obvious colour red in this horror comic shows his pedigree, as does his colour palette for the story’s varied characters and settings. The writing team shows us how it’s done, guys, with triple plotlines under a single umbrella story. They haven’t given us knights in shining armour, or boy-scout blue-eyed aliens to aspire to, which holds a lot of water. The characters who seem aware of the impending pandemic are miscreants and upstarts who have been forced into, in a sense, servitude. What comic book fan worth their weight in graphic novels couldn’t get behind that?

 

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Part The Exorcist, part The Walking Dead and part 28 Days Later (I think – I’ve not watched either of the latter, but my spider-sense tells me I’m leaning more on the probably correct side of things on this one), Evolution is a badass read. If you’re a horror comic noob like yours truly, you’ll probably want to brace yourself for some R Rated fun, and turn pages slowly. Oh, and read it alone in a dark, candlelit room, with the curtains drawn and Vozes Da Tranquilidade playing at some kind of audible level.

 

Writing team – James Asmus, Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebala, Joshua Williamson

 

Art – Joe Infurnari and Jordan Boyd

 

 

Horror in Redlands Florida

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.