Give American Gods All The Awards Already!

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Hermit living and general, hedonistic ignorance have kept me largely oblivious about the criteria on which comic books win prestigious awards, but while I’m not privy to those esoterics, I have no problem singing the praises of the comic book adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

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There’s some kind of TV adaptation of American Gods in the pipleline isn’t there? This might have some clue as to the origins of this comic series from Dark Horse Comics. As such, you’d wonder why they didn’t come out with the comics sooner, because by all standards, this is a comic of fantastic quality. Gaiman and P Craig Russell have been credited as the comic’s writers, but anyone who’s read the novel lately (yes Mrs English teacher, give me a gold star!) might recognise large portions of the novel being paraphrased or straight up lifted directly from the source pages. This isn’t something to take lightly, as exemplary editorial skill would’ve been necessary to decide what makes the cut from the novel to the literal drawing board (unless of course Scott Hampton exclusively uses digital media). Speaking of magnificent artwork, Hampton’s contributions display a deep sense of care and ambition. His choice of angles, colour combinations, and a range of strokes result in images that feel realistic, vivid and textured. This is not the kind of artwork that features in too many comics these days, and this comic is all the better for it.

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As someone who’s read the book fairly recently (a month or so ago, without a clue that the comic was out) there was nothing I could fault with this comic. I was happy to learn that the artist’s depiction of Wednesday wasn’t as unkind as my own mental image of the character. (I actually pictured Wednesday as a Rodney Dangerfield type, with the bulging eyeballs that are perfect for leering at small town motel front desk clerks and barely legal waitresses.) So I doubled back and pulled up the novel to skim through the opening chapter. What happens next will shock you! No, please don’t stop reading – that was just a shoutout to the lame headline writers of clickbait infamy, but you already know that don’t you, you intelligent so-and-so! All dicksucking aside, I discovered during my skim that there were some inconsistencies between Gaiman’s descriptions of character appearances in the novel and in the comic. While this has mostly only been seen with a couple of jailbirds, I wonder if I’m allowed to feel as dissatisfied as I did with the depiction of Shadow. I always pictured him as more of a line-backer, or a meathead marine with a heart of gold, but the artist had different ideas.

 

Interestingly, at one point during the reading, I marvelled at the word count per page and thought for an instasec that maybe it was a little too verbose. These foul thoughts soon vanished when good sense returned, with the realisation that those were more likely the thoughts of inane selfie-addicts and twitter-freaks. (These special breeds no likey words but likey hashtags and likes very much). I can happily report that this comic was a fun parallel to the novel, and I’m hoping that all further instalments feature the little chapterettes at the end of chapters like the novel did. If the success of the American Gods novel was anything to go by, then it’s a safe bet that Neil Gaiman can look forward to a string of accolades for the comic book adaptation of the story of Shadow.

 

And so, gentle reader, I’d highly recommend that you go outside to your nearest comic shop and buy American Gods now! Spend time outdoors, life is too short and you’ll never be as young as you are right now. In fact, buy this book and read it during a picnic or something.

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Why is Mind MGMT So Underrated?

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If you’re in the market for a non-superhero, creator-owned comic book and you’ve not picked up anything from Dark Horse Comics in a while, Mind MGMT is the fuckin’ way forward. (sorry Mom, I used a big boy word!)

Whether or not Matt Kindt is exactly what a modern comic book writer needs to be is a question best left to people who smoke cigars and drink cognac in rooms that smell of rich mahogany. Not all comics are meant to sell millions and pander to the masses, just as not all books etc are meant to be best-sellers. You’d be forgiven if you’ve never even heard of this book before, because the publisher really doesn’t have a behemoth marketing department like the bigger houses do. I guess we can all just imagine what it would’ve been like if this one became mainstream and got bought by a corporation and then chopped and changed and sexed up for a film adaptation, and then an animated series and then all the merch (that’s where the money’s at anyway right?) I wonder what the good Mr Kindt would say to that.

So, the story centres on Meru who’s suffering from writer’s passiveness despite putting out a best-seller two years prior. No, it isn’t writer’s block, because she isn’t unable to write what she feels in her heart, but rather, she just does not write (and who cant relate to that, right? Can I get an Amen from my atheist brothers?). The impetus for her action is a news story about the mysterious Flight 815. She calls her agent to tell him that she’s now off to solve the mystery of the enigmatic flight during which everyone on board lost their memories. Yes, despite that LOST reference, I swept away any concept of possibilities of cop-out endings and soldiered on with my reading mission and was (spoiler alert, snowflake,) happily rewarded.

I only heard about this book after a buddy recommended it, and in typically egotistical fashion, I assumed my pal was nudging me to finally produce some words as per my ‘writer/blogger’ status would require. As such, I gave myself a timeframe to finish the entire 36-issue run (3 years worth of material) in a way that would also allow me to finally play Lego Marvel Avengers and (suck at) Mortal Kombat on the PS4, shop for food, prepare food, do lovey-dovey stuff with the lady love, delay paying my bills and not exercise, i.e it had to fit in with my usual run of things. “Long story short,” do as I say, not as I do, young padawan, and do not force yourself to binge read this on your computer or digital device … get it on print motherfunka!!!!

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Mind MGMT is a beautifully crafted story that spans a surprising number of time periods, locales, languages and motifs, which, some may argue, is what’s expected of an espionage-themed story, but it still manages to feel fantastic and gripping. A couple of issues in, after having my eyes opened to the various possibilities for artwork in comic books, I entertained the idea that Kindt’s artwork was meant to be an under-layer to the story. I like to wonder what the results would’ve been if we had some comic book artwork’s heavyweights on the creative team, because God damn…there are some real chunks of awesome on these pages. The watercolours are good, but what would happen if Kindt decided to appropriate sections of each issue to certain artwork styles. I take nothing away from his efforts, since I draw and write like shit, so fair play…no…no…. all hail Kindt! (It’s hard to be a critic of anything these days).

This is the era of overstimulation, and Kindt seemed to know about it ahead of time, when you consider how many different narratives are packed into each issue. Mind MGMT came out way back in the foul year 2012, far before bearded art nouveau babies cried into their gluten-free kale shakes, but still, it reads well now, in the 1984 that is 2017. There’s a good chance that you’re gonna dig this title, especially if you’ve got a poet’s heart and take pleasure in taking time out to appreciate little things that people often tend to completely miss. Maybe other reviewers have written about the inclusion of subtext on the sidelines of the actual pages, but I will not. Oh wait..I have just now done so. Moving on, there are myriad other jewels in this treasure box and since you’ve so kindly acquiesced to read a nobody’s blog, I will offer you some examples: — editorial notes from Meru’s editor, references to comic book artwork versus story content, references to some of the time’s most compelling pop culture and even the pursuance of the character naming process that was popularised by the likes of Stan ‘the Man’ Lee.

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Matt Kindt demands a certain level of attention and cognition that other comic writers simply do not (like an agency broadcasting the signal to wake sleeper agents into action! *Mindblown*) and eagle-eyed readers will discover some rewarding revelations later on in the story. The final issue of the penultimate arc was one of the story’s highpoints, with a vivid layout and unspooling of the Eraser’s backstory. Put down the gun bae/fam, that wasn’t a real live spoiler! While a story of this scale wouldn’t be without its moments of inconsistency, these episodes are few and far between, so go pick up the entire series today.

Kill or Be Killed – Bullseye or Bullshit?

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Ed Brubaker has kept his hand on the pump in convincing fashion in Kill or Be Killed, breaking the rules of comic book storytelling, and showing everyone exactly how a comic book needs to be written.

 

As if it wasn’t enough being part of the writing team at HBO’s Westworld, Brubaker had time to pen this bold and gritty revenge story about a young college kid who gets a new lease on life after failing to kill himself. Thankfully, Brubaker didn’t have to stay within Marvel Comics’ usual boundaries, or else we’d be given an unconvincing, watered-down version of this story. There will be a fair number of people who’d take exception to the title of this comic book, and indeed some of the darker, point-blank depictions of violence throughout the story, but in doing so, they run the risk of missing out on the emotional depth of a story that is very human at its heart.

 

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While there are flying bullets, nude psychedelic art, demons, revenge killing and a smattering of sex, the thought-provoking writing makes this a brilliant introspective comic from Image. Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser’s artistic contributions play a big role in making this comic great, and they’ve stayed true to the crime noir flavour, with profuse servings of bold blacks and reds, the preferred colours of our protagonist Dylan – when he’s in vigilante mode. The writing in this book doesn’t glorify violence, in the same way that its artwork doesn’t portray its characters as being specimens of perfect physical beauty. But the dark is balanced with the light, and having dedicated columns for narration and artwork between all the darker tones made the reading experience truly enjoyable. That being said, I would’ve liked it better if the demon was portrayed with less of a resemblance to Carol from Where The Wild Things Are.

 

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Ironically, the first words in the comic are “Wait..wait,” which is something the creative team simply does not do, at least not when we’re talking about delivering a beautifully graphic, no-holds-barred and introspective story. Sure, it’s hard to write a story that doesn’t borrow from others, especially since some believe that they’ve all been told before, but the creative team didn’t let that stop them from presenting a top-tier comic. An anti-hero that seeks outlaw vigilante justice whilst clad in a black hoodie, a character that finds himself in possession of a new empowerment but is still reluctant to do what he must to better his situation, someone who must kill others on behalf of a more powerful being – these have all kind of been done before, but the moment I read the line where Dylan narrates that “Psychopaths run for president!” I just went Ohhhh dayum! But wait…there’s more.

 

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In this, the era of the new dumb, it’s such a joy to read a comic that doesn’t talk to its readers like they are five-year-olds. Brubaker’s work on the 4 issues released thus far show off his gift for introspective narration and keeping readers hooked. His words gave me the vibe that he was writing from the heart. Despite the clichés (best friend who protagonist crushes on is dating his roommate/buddy) everything that Dylan goes through endears him to the readers – you really feel for him and genuinely care about what’s going to happen to him next. There are no wasted words, scenes are perfectly paced and you’re introduced to the right number of characters at the right time. But does all that backstory really need to be at the start of the comic? In this case, the book doesn’t seem to suffer from the author’s choice to do so. Besides, Brubaker subtly and quite brilliantly makes social commentary about what this time in human history will bring. He underlines the racism in the mainstream media, talks about possibly his bashing his own work with lines like “My imagination was being affected by all the shitty old movies I was watching,” and even adds some surprising insights into love.

 

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Kill or Be Killed is probably one of the best contemporary comic books you could read today. While it’s incredible in places, it’s still very credible, and with a very human story at it’s heart. For these and so many reasons, you ought to check this book out.

How to Avenge and Look Fabulous Doing It!

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They say you don’t choose whom you fall in love with, and I wanted terribly to hate on the re-launched Avengers title just because I was so saturated with the oversaturation of Avengerism and Marvel in general pop culture. But then I read this comic.

 

Despite the ugly Marvel NOW! branding on the cover, Avengers #1 is pretty dope. My first impression was that they needed to drop the ‘W’ from the brand because Marvel really has turned into one of those embodiments of human greed. Okay, so it’s not the worst thing out there, but holy fuck, do they piss me off sometimes. Like for instance on the cover of this book. Why in the blue fuck is Wasp so camouflaged? At first glance, I clocked the wings, but her face almost doubles as a warped bit of Vision’s abdomen. And don’t get me started on Hercules’ pose. Yes, Hercules is part of the Avengers now. Yay? I can’t decide. What I do know is that I think I’ve had enough of these Alex Ross covers. We get it dude, you’re talented “af,” but Marvel’s watered down your epic cache with the volume of Ross covers across some of it’s more prominent titles. I was, however, solaced in the knowledge that Mark Waid was steering the good ship Avengers.

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Having Waid on the creative team is like having Kobe Bryant in your corner when you play ball against your buddies – a sure thing. And quite early on in the book Waid highlights his comic heavyweight status with an old Avengers combo, upgraded for the new cast. When you’re talking about what is arguably Marvel Comics’ hottest superhero team right now, it only made sense to have superstar talents producing the book. Waid’s words gave the art team of Mike del Mundo and Marco D’alfonso plenty to expand on and their contributions have probably brought in more fans and pleased existing ones too. Since I’m a nitpicky ne’r-do-well I’ll just crib by saying that their treatment of Peter Parker didn’t do it for me. We are pretty much given the Peter Parker of his high school years, instead of the seasoned photojournalist who still can’t catch a break. His goof-in-a-business-suit routine jelled with his persona, which is something I love-hated about this book. It’s infinitely better than the suave, composed and arrogant Tony Stark (in the role of Avengers financial patron). The turd-like design of the Quinjet, meanwhile, ought to have been given a re-working if deadlines permitted it.

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As I turned the pages, I realised I was heading down appreciation avenue despite my expectations. I’m in the ”Marvel? –meh!” stage of comic book appreciation and awareness, but the way this story was told, and the arrangement of the eerie ending panels just made me realise that when in the presence of giants, always watch your step! This book deserves all the #respect and accolades it gets, because this is pretty faultless…at least for a Marvel comic.

Up in Flames

Robbie Reyes: Ghost Rider

 

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Marvel Comics is a storm of fast and furious productivity, and has, more so in recent years, given preference to commercial cache whilst putting artistic value on the back burner. Like the people who produce commercial music these days, it seems like the puppetmasters are forcing the creative to produce material that isn’t as thought-provoking or of a high standard, so much so that it could easily be described as disposable. No current title does a better job of conveying this sentiment than Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider does.

 

Okay Marvel we get it, you’re pandering to the masses…the kids with the disposable incomes who don’t really buy that many comics compared to older, quality-conscious readers. But for the love of Stan Lee, throw us a bone here! I really wanted to get on board and support this title, despite knowing that Marvel, like the Apples and Samsungs of the world don’t really, really, care about their end-users anymore. And like any mass-produced, mass-marketed commodity, there was bound to be slag. In the Marvel Now! stable, Robbie Reyes Ghost Rider is the slag.

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This title is a relaunch, one of the many that are taking place to corroborate the raft of tie-in appearances in the contemporary Marvel Cinematic Universe in film and TV. As such, the debut issue features ‘warranted’ appearances from some of the comic giant’s current superheroes, whether as mentions or in the totally awesome flesh. However, the connections between the titular character and the guest appearances is lost. Robbie Reyes, and the Ghost Rider himself, seem like the sub-plot in their own comic. And while the art of Danilo S Beyruth, Val Staples and Jesus Aburtov does shine in some places, Felipe Smith’s overall writing doesn’t give the artists enough room to showcase their skills.

 

As I read this comic I wondered : why was any of this necessary? Are characters created solely to pacify the social justice warriors and snowflakes that currently populate the earth? Does entertainment media have to offer representatives of all ethnic and racial minorities and sexualities and backgrounds in their cast as a disclaimer? They’re all trying to convince the world that they are so progressive and aware of every ethnocentric aspect in the entire human populace. Look, we have an LGBT character! We have a muslim! We have an autistic character! Look how forward-thinking, broad-minded, aware of the contemporary world and America and young people we are! Love us! Buy all of our merchandise and everything else we will produce!

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The current Ghost Rider is a discount Spawn (skull, black costume and chains?) and even a discount Ghost Rider of old. They’ve settled on a handsome and sleek greasemonkey with a heart of gold who seems to have a wooden, two-dimensional relationship with his younger brother. Oh and he’s Latino and has fire-related powers. Anyone watch Suicide Squad lately? Is my déjà vu justified? What an absolute waste of time, especially when you consider how dark, vengeful and fiery the original character was. The new guy plays things a little too safe, in the relative safety of an American muscle car’s driver’s seat instead of riding into the night on an enflamed motorcycle saddle.

Despite any accolades, awards or recognition a comic book publisher may receive, it’s always a gamble when picking up a new comic. Save your money and time and don’t buy or read this book. If there are people in your life who you’d like to confuse, or if you’d like someone to dislike or distrust you or even doubt your intentions, then gift them this book, but do not read it.

Writer – Felipe Smith

Artists –  Danilo S Beyruth, Val Staples, Jesus Aburtov

Moonshine

Moonshine

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Maybe its because comic book fans today are largely overstimulated by a million and one tweets and status updates and the newest vape juice that there’s hardly any room anymore for the simple and the straightforward. Whether that’s necessary or whether it’s an example of the continued drive of human endeavour is up for debate, but in the case of Moonshine from acclaimed writer Brian Azzarello, different flavours deftly combine to create a delicious concoction.

Elements of film noire, countryside horror and depression-era Americana come front and centre in the new book to largely beautiful and compelling effect. Azzarello shows off his storytelling chops, combining with Eduardo Risso’s artistic contributions in a story that fits perfectly in the stable of offerings from Image Comics. Like me, most fans will immediately be taken by the highly stylised cover of issue 1, with the suave and polish of a 1920s gangster suit. It’s hard to not stop and take notice of the classy combination of red, white and black, a colour combination fans have seen most memorably from the popular work of Frank Miller (who actually put together the variant cover.) Inside the book, the colour palette widens considerably, acting as a worthy parallel to the unfolding drama.

Moonshine delivers what one would easily expect from a story that’s set in 1929 America, with the criminal activities of prohibition bootleggers taking centre stage. The cover and opening panels do well to present readers with something familiar, with feds in pursuit of criminals in the American wilderness in a time when masculinity basically meant being sexist. But soon enough we find out that there’s more to this story than just armed agents in suits and hats. Was I the only one who heard the voice of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill from Goodfellas narrating Lou Pirlo’s asides? This gave the comic a great vibe, and if you considered yourself a fan of Boardwalk Empire, you’ll probably find more than one thing to raise your glass to.

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While the narration and story-telling were clearly the stars of the show, they had stellar support with the artistic talents of the aforementioned Risso. The story’s differing moods and situations were conveyed in emphatic style, adding dramatic tension to several scenes, including scenes without dialogue and all-important establishing shots. The final panel count and arrangement couldn’t be bettered, and the book’s colours help keep readers grounded within scenes. Still, it was easy for the mind to wander and wonder about the connections between the townsfolk, the creepy inbred-looking mechanic kid and whether there’s a lycan aspect to the story, what with the reference to the moon in the title and the action in the opening scenes.

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While the award for most original comic book title might not actually go to Azzarello for this book, we can console ourselves with the Bard’s words about a rose. This begs the question : – how long should a comic book name really be? Does less equal more? Won’t generation Tinder just abbreviate it anyway? There’s the possibility that it’s the grown-ups that make all the businessy and editorial comic-book decisions and that these merciless overlords have veto power over all and decide that they know exactly what the public want. It is what it is I guess, or IIWII, I mean #IIWII, in post-millennial speak. In any case, Moonshine’s debut issue makes me want to order another round, and maybe ask around how I can procure some more for my private stash.

 

 

Writer – Brian Azzarello

Artist – Eduardo Risso

Green Valley

Green Valley

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As I dove headfirst into reading Green Valley (no, not the Puscifer track), it made me remember all those self-made millionaire successful types who kept advising people to do something that scared them once a week. My results greatly vary, because for me, this new series has too much valley and not enough peak.

 

Okay, it’s still early days, and we’re only talking about a debut issue in this review, but from what we’ve been given, I think I’ve seen enough. Am I being overly critical about this tale of the knights of Kelodia? Do I not know enough about Dungeons and Dragony things and medieval mythological quest comics to be able to offer something positive in what I’m about to say? Have a heart and hear me out, because despite all the beautiful artwork presented here, readers might find themselves wondering what the requirements are for a comic script to be deemed print-worthy at the hallowed halls of Image Comics.

 

Now I’m no expert on the colloquialisms of the medieval age, but I can differentiate between a post-millennial punk from a baby boomer just by the words they choose to use. This was one of the first sticking points I had with Green Valley – the dialogue. Characters seem unstuck in time, using language that seems far too alien for a medieval fantasy drama. The artwork is lush and exquisite, very easy on the eyes, especially the horse drawings, the landscapes and all the colouring effects. If they could get all that nearly flawlessly, why was there such a dissonance in the writing? The cover and the artwork led me to expect a lot more in terms of dialogue. The characters aren’t some six-year-olds, so why the need to make them speak as if they were? I would’ve expected something a little more Shakespearean. Don’t tell me they didn’t have space to work it in, because those panels are big and roomy enough for a bit more polished language. The dialogue between Sir Bertwald and Ralphie made me think that they were actually in a sort of simulation or video game, a la Westworld or something similar. Why? Their complete lack of seriousness despite being in the presence of Brutus Gargus of Pendergast, the Barbarian Lord, the Warrior King. Despite being outnumbered a hundred to one, and despite the massive salvo of arrows the knights of Kelodia displayed no sense of urgency. So, are they superpowered? Going by the clues writer Max Landis has left us with, we have no real idea. Maybe they wield a persuasive shield, which sadly didn’t persuade me to be excited for the next instalment in this 9-part mini series.

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The inconsistencies aren’t limited to just the words however, with some artwork completely defying character dialogue in the earlier scenes of the comic. Later, we also see a throwback to Joe Madureira’s Phalanx, which might be intentional, but I don’t think so. Meanwhile, the Knights are lauded as “the greatest warriors of the earth,” but what warrants this? The fact that a wimpy self-proclaimed Barbarian Lord ordered his 400-strong army to retreat after having only his ear shot? Sorry, not buying it. Maybe this book is a study on the warped perceptions of people, just as Bertwald moans about being misinterpreted by his closest friends. Was this book also meant to feature scenes of comedic greatness? If the beehive scene was an attempt in that direction, I would’ve welcomed a harsher editor. Which has to make you wonder – did the editors over at Image Comics decide to let Landis enjoy free rein on this because of his acclaimed Superman: American Alien or his screenwriting accolades? If it is so, my response mirrors that of Amalia unguarded and alone outside the city walls: “Drat! Drat!” Unlike her, I would be forgiven for using those words, since I’m probably closer in time to when that phrase was actually coined.

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If the writer was deliberate in his inclusion of gay overtones, weak, inconsistent character backstory, and a shadow of a Jax and Tara scene from Samcro, then hats off to him. Don’t even get me started on the whole one sleeping sentry that led to the Warrior King’s successful vengeance on the city, its king, castle and countrymen. This book just doesn’t give a shit about numerical probability. I also wondered whether the writer was a closet Bollywood action film fan, going by the way he allowed Amalia’s body to smoke and smoulder even in death while Bertie is unclad, but largely unhurt.

 

In his address to readers, Landis promises in strategically used uppercase letters that we really have no idea what lies ahead, and the optimist in me wants to believe him. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder whether some readers would even care after reading the debut issue. Other reviewers have been a lot more graceful in their reviews, which can only lead me to think that there is something wrong with me and what I want in the comics I read. But if I’m flawed, does my admitting it therefore absolve me of my sins?

 

 

 

Writer – Max Landis

Artists- Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cliff Rathburn, Jean-Francois Beaulieu