Dark Fang and the Cynical Beauty of Truth

DF1.jpg

 

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?

DF3

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.

DF4

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?

DF2

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

 

Advertisements

Horror – Evolved

Evolution #1

Evo1.jpg

 

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?

Evo2

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!

Evo3

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?

 

Evo4

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

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.

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.