REVIEW: Babyteeth #14 is contemplative AND hilarious

Babyteeth #14 is out 1/16/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Babyteeth #14 marks the return of one of AfterShock’s best comics. This series wasn’t on a hiatus. No, it’s last issue came out in late October. Factor in the crowded holiday season (those dreaded times when commitments other than comics rear their heads), and the book’s short break felt more like an extended skip month. Either way, the book is back now, and you know what? It’s as sharp as it's ever been.

What’s perhaps most noticeable is the humor in this issue’s script. Basically, after a two-month hiatus, Babyteeth is back, and so is writer Donny Cates, at his most hilarious and absurd. This is the clever, pithy scripting that Cates used to announce his arrival at Marvel so emphatically in late 2017 with his work on Doctor Strange and Thanos Wins. It’s the dialogue that sounds like a mix of films by Richard Linklater and Adam McKay, conversational in a lazy Texas sort of way but never far from a slapstick and hilarious one-liner.

And Cates puts that humor to great effect here as we finally meet the McGuffin of this story, satan, giving him a number of one liners that made me chuckle aloud, which is pretty rare for me to do when I’m reading a comic. He’s not the only one being funny here, though. Artists Garry Brown and Mark Englert get called on to draw a very late painting by Vincent Van Gogh, and they come back with an image that’s just perfect...disturbing in an absurd way, like something from a raunchier version of Beetlejuice.

All the jokes, however, are sort of a trojan horse for something much deeper: a contemplation of mankind’s perceptions of satan and god, which is then extended into a look at the very nature of good and evil, and how from a certain point of view it’s nigh impossible to tell which is which. And look...I know, I hackles are up just writing that, but it’s not some kind of veiled diatribe about the media or fake news or something hackneyed like that.

Cates and the Babyteeth team have a deep biblical interest. They aren’t saying anything here about how the last Tweet you sent could be construed as both supportive and critical of whatever issue of the hour. This is a comic that after 14 issues is finding new thematic ground exploring the validity of some of society’s deep abiding perceptions about morality as shaped by our ideas of the being that created us.

And look, I know what we’re talking about here: a comic called Babyteeth that in the first issue probably (I forget) had a scene where the baby spit up and it caused an earthquake, or locust to fall from the sky or something. This isn’t Chaucer. It’s more fun than all that, and Cates know it. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to try to find some truth during the big goofy party. He is, after all, pretty great at that: see Thanos Wins and the Cosmic Ghost Rider character everyone loves so much, and see God Country, another comic in which his main writerly interests—Texas, theology, and badassery—work well in (very awesome) concert.   

Overall: An alternately hilarious and deep comic, Babyteeth #14 makes the best use of this comic’s concept yet. It’s filled with self-aware horror tropes that dance around real pathos and theology, and everyone involved is clearly having a blast with all of it. 8.5/10

Babyteeth #14
Donny Cates
Artist: Garry Brown
Colorist: Mark Englert
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Isola #6 is the return of a great series

Isola #6  is out 1/16/2019.

Isola #6 is out 1/16/2019.

By Zack Quaintance —  Isola is one of Image’s most interesting comics, in that it stands out for being both utterly beautiful and massively decompressed (see The Warning). The thing I find most intriguing about Isola, however, is that as the book gorgeously reveals more of what’s happening, why things are happening, who are these characters, and the histories they share with one another, it doesn’t lose much (if any) of its tension.

There’s a concept in fiction I think about often called the rate of revelation, which says that one way to create suspense in a story is to carefully dole out vital information at a certain pace as the plot goes on. This, I believe, is the main strength of Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s writing in Isola. They also do a great job of giving the audience what they need to make key orienting assumptions before truths become clear. One early instance of this is how in the first issue the tiger is treated with reverence and called Your majesty. My immediate guess was that a monarch had been converted into a tiger...and I was hell bent on continuing to read until I found out whether I was right.

The other (and more evident/impressive) strength of this comic is what is arguably industry-best semi-regular art. I mean, just look at this screen grab from Isola #5.

The artwork (by Karl Karl Kerschl and Msassyk) in Isola is among the best being done in comics today. Above panel is from Isola #5.

But, friends, we are not here to talk Isola #5! Nor are we here to continue to discussing this comic in a super broad sense. We are, in fact here, to talk Isola #6, which marks a return after a hiatus and the start of the book’s second proper story arc (the Isola Vol. 1 trade is out now, btw, and as I wrote in our Top Comics to Buy for January 16, it’s one of those reasonably priced introductory Image ones, which means with $10 and a little more than an hour you can get all caught up on this fantastic comic…). And it’s quite a solid return, to be sure.

When we last left our two main protagonists—Olwyn, the tiger who wouldbe/is queen; and Captain Rook, charged with escorting her to a possibly magical place called Isola that also might be bad and could maybe not exist—they were encamped under a tarp in the rain after an ordeal that almost claimed the life of the queen. This issue is characteristically decompressed, dedicating its first seven pages (nearly ⅓ of the total) to a slow vision in which Olwyn interacts with her mother. It’s gorgeous, cut with the dreamlike blue hues that marked the last issue’s desperate end, and it also does some work in the plot, leaving me (at least) with a couple of key questions.

The first is maybe more obvious: what role did Olwyn’s family—her parents and erratic brother—play in her current danger and plight, and secondly, what is happening with the animals in this story, are they all as the queen humans banished (or escaped) into other forms? It’s a great question to raise, one that really has me engrossed in what’s happening in these pages. The other significant developments here are that we see yet again that the queen’s forces pose a threat to her and are also erroneously marching toward war in her name, and, perhaps more importantly, a small friend of Rook’s learns what’s going on. The plot, however, is less important than pointing out that Isola maintains the beautiful aesthetic and patient storytelling with ample revelats that have made its first volume such a joy. I’m pretty glad this comic is back.

Overall: Isola #6 is yet another gorgeous burst of sequential art from this creative team, more of the developing fantasy tale with its themes of loyalty, desperation, trust. This is the first issue back after hiatus, starting a new arc. I’m loving this title, and I encourage any with even mild interest to pick up this issue along with the $9.99 first volume Image trade. 8.5/10
Isola #6
Brenden Fletcher / Karl Kerschl
Artists: Karl Kerschl / Msassyk
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 is a quieter Spidey book with big implications for SPOILER

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 is out 1/9/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — I am generally opposed to comics like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, a fourth Spidey title that takes its place in line behind the flagship Amazing Spider-Man, the rising and youthful Miles Morales: Spider-Man, the intriguing prestige Spider-Man: A Life Story (a six-issue mini about what it would have been like had Spider-Man aged from his creation in real-time), and the perpetual runner-up book, Spectacular Spider-Man. I know there are super fans out there who just can’t get enough of the character, but I find it all just a little much.

In fact, in all likelihood I’d have probably have skipped this book if it wasn’t written by Tom Taylor, who has a shining history of taking a little much ideas like this one and turning them into absolute gold (see Injustice, see X-Men: Red). The concept here is based around a hyper-local take on Peter Parker and his heroics, and the plot of this debut issue sees him literally tending to the troubles of his actual physical neighbors.

The main story in this comic (illustrated with clean adequacy by Juan Cabal) is totally fine. It’s not flashy and it’s mildly intriguing, featuring a nifty little mystery. There are some good jokes, and the book seems to go out of its way to let readers know its complimentary to Amazing Spider-Man, incorporating all the recent minor status quo shifts we’ve seen in that title. The latter is a really nice touch that a long-time superhero reader like myself appreciates. Nothing takes me out of a story more than when an auxiliary title for a Spider, Bat, X, or Superman title just outright ignores the status quo elsewhere in the line. It’s to Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man’s credit that it doesn’t do this.


There are also some nice character moments here, showcasing Peter Parker as a micro-scale humanitarian, but they are nothing we haven’t seen before and seen often. What is likely to really get fans talking is the backup story, which is focused on and narrated by Peter’s Aunt May, iconic Aunt May. I don’t typically make a practice of revealing plot points in these reviews, but it’s hard to discuss this comic without doing so here. The backup story exists pretty much entirely to reveal that Aunt May is suffering from cancer.

This narrative weight is a good case for the book to make for its very existence, if a little unconvincing. I could be wrong, but it seems doubtful to me that a character as iconic as Aunt May would face any real danger in the pages of the third (or arguably fourth or fifth) most prominent Spider-Man title. In fact, in this day and age, I’d only really be convinced if one of these books was headed for a line-wide event or a milestone issue. Still, Tom Taylor is a powerful writer with a big heart, and, while I doubt Aunt May is in any real danger, I trust him to tell stories with this point that intrigue and satisfy on an emotional level.

Overall: In a quiet and polished debut, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 does just enough to justify an addition to the Spidey line. A major development for a long-time character also happens in the backup story. It remains to be seen if this title will feel worthwhile moving forward, but Tom Taylor has done great things with lesser concepts, so for now I’m sticking with it. 7.0/10

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1
Tom Taylor
Artist: Juan Cabal
Colorist: Nolan Woodward
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $4.99
*Full credits aren’t clear for the backup, but the editor notes the team included Marcelo Ferreira, Robert Poggi, and Jim Campbell.

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Criminal #1 is a gorgeous, modern classic crime comic

Criminal #1  is out 1/8/2019.

Criminal #1 is out 1/8/2019.

By Bo Stewart — Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips tell the best crime stories in comics. Period, and it’s not even close. This creative team has forged a partnership over many years and dozens of volumes of comics (their recently concluded series Kill or be Killed made our top comics of 2018). They understand each other perfectly, and it’s a joy to see how this deep creative understanding ultimately deepens the words they create. It’s on full display here for their latest book, Criminal #1. Simply put, missing this comic would be criminal (please forgive me).

There’s something distinctly satisfying about Brubaker/Phillips comics, in that they somehow manage to provide the exact right amount of content. I never feel short changed, but the comic also never overstays its welcome or ends up feeling bloated. In the single-issue format, that kind of satisfying consistency is quite the accomplishment. These guys are so good that, in my opinion, comic readers take them for granted. This issue serves as a reminder that this creative duo tells the stories with the best pacing in comics.

Criminal is long-form storytelling at its finest. Instead of focusing on a single character or narrative, the creators lean into the world they have created for inspiration. Previous volumes of this book have each focused on a single character or event set within the Criminal sandbox, a sprawling epic that covers decades of crime and generations of criminals affected by it. The world of Criminal is well established, fully deserving of the old the world is a character axiom. It’s a sandbox that the creators clearly enjoy playing in, and, if this issue is any indication, the world of Criminal won’t run out of worthwhile stories any time soon.

Full disclosure, I have not read the entirety of the original Criminal run. The four (of seven) volumes I have read were all amazing, though. I was a little hesitant about starting this new run without having first finished the others, but, rest assured, newcomers to the series will have no trouble keeping up. Each volume has been its own standalone story and it appears as though the new run will follow suit. These stories inform one another, but they are in no way dependent on one another.

This latest Criminal #1 focuses on Teeg Lawless. Previous fans will immediately gravitate towards the protagonist because Teeg is a figure that has loomed large over the series (his sons Tracy and Ricky Lawless are main characters of previous volumes). This is a story interested in the cyclical nature of crime and how strong it’s grasp can be. Crime doesn’t just affect the individual criminal, it infects entire families. The gangster’s son becoming a gangster is a tale as old as time, but one that will always be ripe for exploration.

Phillips continues to improve (if such a thing is even possible), and his line work has never been more detailed. Teaming up with colorist Jacob Phillips (who is his son) brings a different dimension to the art. Heavy use of blacks and neons (you know, noir stuff) really lends itself to the storytelling. It reminds me of Mat Hollingsworth’s colors on Wytches but without the paint splotches. I have no reservations just coming out and saying it: this is Phillips’ prettiest book yet.

Overall: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal #1 is a perfect continuation of a crime series that ranks as a modern classic. If you enjoy crime fiction, in any format, this one is an absolute must read. 9.5/10

Criminal #1
Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Jacob Phillips
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Bo grinds for the Man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros

REVIEW: Gunning for Hits #1 is a fascinating, if esoteric, look at the music BUSINESS

Gunning for Hits #1 is out 1/9.

By Zack Quaintance — The debut issue of Gunning for Hits has some heavy narrative lifting to do. This is, of course, by its own design. Gunning for Hits #1 is a normal-sized comic that essentially sets out to orient readers within two worlds: the always-tricky one of a new story (with its own setting, tone, characters, rules of reality, etc.), as well as the dense fiduciary side of the music business during the transitional (cassettes/vinyl to CDs) 1980s. Given the nature of this book—it’s a crime comic about the music business, after all—there is, of course, overlap. Still, the dual exposition makes for a relatively dense first issue.

Simply put, it’s a lot to read. It’s also fortunately a really interesting read, especially for anyone like myself who has dabbled in unhealthy or obsessive music fandom, to the point that just enjoying songs wasn’t enough and there grew a compulsion to learn about individual labels, promoters, etc. What Gunning for Hits seems bent on doing is pulling back that curtain in as entertaining a fashion as possible, and there are indications in this debut that the creative pair of new writer Jeff Rougvie and artist Mortit just might have the plan and artistic chemistry needed to pull it off.

Rougvie, for one, has the music business cred for this to be taken seriously by anyone with a passing interest in how their favorite hits were made for many years. You can find more on Jeff Rougvie’s website, as well as in the back matter of this first issue, but long story short: he’s been in the industry for decades, making things happen behind the scenes and most-famously working with David Bowie. To a certain type of person with an interest in both comics and music, it’s an incredibly lucky thing that someone with Rougvie’s resume is so motivated to tell a story with this medium that shares his vast insights and knowledge. Another fortunate thing is that he’s found an artist like Moritat who so clearly gets what Rougvie is trying to do here and is game to provide visuals. There’s a lot of text, and Moritat’s work deftly weaves around it, adding a grimy aesthetic to the proceedings and shining when it’s called upon to do so. It’s a great visual foundation for the esoteric knowledge Rougvie is dropping.

Readers shouldn’t, however, expect a light or overly-accessible read, especially not for those who have only a casual interest in music. This is specific stuff for people with some background related to at least part of its subject matter, be it music, or business, or both. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to interview Rougive about this book for ComicsBeat, and he cited Think Tank’s level of specificity as comparable to that found in Gunning for Hits, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Whereas Think Tank (a great and underrated comic, btw) relied heavily on military research and future-facing science, Gunning for Hits builds its own narrative atop bygone financial practices of a now-smaller business. It’s interesting stuff, to be sure, but it may have to work a little harder to win over any readers who aren’t initially intrigued by its premise.

Ultimately, whether or not Rougvie and Moritat are able to translate Rougvie’s music business insider status into a successful story that finds an audience will hinge on whether they can make a broader connection to the implications of capitalism on society at large, drawing a metaphor between the time and events in their story and our lives today. They’ve picked the right setting to do it—the greed is good 1980s—and the right aesthetic—crime. With my own propensity for getting lost in details and my love of music, I’m definitely compelled to keep reading.

Overall: Writer Jeff Rougvie and artist Moritat spend the majority of Gunning for Hits #1 orienting readers within the depths of the music business. They also lay some groundwork for the crime aspects of their story, which have the potential to be equally as engaging. It remains to be seen whether this act will harmonize in a way that results in chants for an encore, but there are some unique ingredients here that could make for a great comics story. 8.0/10

Gunning for Hits #1
Jeff Rougvie
Artist: Moritat
Letterer: Casey Silver
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Die #2 subverts D&D nostalgia trend by charging headlong into darkness

Die #2 is out 1/9.

By Zack Quaintance — In the first issue of Die, a group of six young friends disappears into a fantasy world, returning after time has lapsed, beaten up with one of them missing and another missing an arm. In a pop culture moment laced with relatively bright (Stranger Things may as well be Disney compared to Die) nostalgia-laden D&D remembrances, the first issue of Die set itself apart, staking its claim as a darker, more serious alternative.

And now Die #2 is somehow even darker.

I suppose it’s a little bit on me and my expectations. This additional darkness is not a bad thing, quite the contrary (we’ll get to that), but I certainly expected this book to set up maybe some darkness when the characters were middle-aged and dealing with trauma in the real world, before plunging them back into youthful, likely cathartic fantasy adventure. That may still come, but based on Die #2, things have to get worse before they can start to get better.

Fair warning...this next part may contain spoilers. There’s a scene in this comic wherein the character who’s been lost in the fantasy world all these years (and as a result is presumably a bit stunted) models a villian off a shared middle school or high school crush...and another character gleefully destroys here. It’s a very real scene, real and adult and sensical. But holy hell is it dark. The creators know this, though, and it’s certainly not played for sensationalism (often an issue in lesser comics). I think one of the other characters even remarks at how twisted the whole episode felt.

So yes, that’s the one we’re dealing with here. With that established, the larger question becomes does it function well in the service of the story. I was going to write entertaining story there but at this point that doesn’t quite feel apt, at least not yet. There will likely be a victorious counterbalance to the challenges at some point (that’s how stories work), but it’s early in the proceedings here and we’re not ready yet. I think it functions quite well. As I wrote in my Die #1 review this is a patient and assured book. Gillen believes in his story, and Hans...well, Hans is a towering talent of an artist and everything she does on the page here is nothing short of a joy. It’s a great combo for a story that I expect to keep ramping up like the most memorable role playing campaigns.

And really that is this comic’s aesthetic: it’s the most memorable role playing game you’ve ever played (complete with Gillen penning engaging back matter about dice and characters and the sterling GM he is) mashed up with what I think is a creator’s interest in examining the lives of his characters over time, the ways that they’ve aged and why, and, perhaps, whether they can recapture how it felt to be young, or, on a darker note, whether they can avoid habitual pitfalls that sowed some of their lives’ disappointments.

Overall: Die #2 continues to embrace realism and darkness within the context of a mystical and immersive life-altering role playing game. Just as the debut before it, this sophomore issue is a thrilling slowburn that sets itself aside from the current wave of D&D pop culture nostalgia by doubling as an uncut look at the disappointments of middle age. 8.5/10

Die #2
Kieron Gillen
Artist: Stephanie Hans
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics asBatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Hardcore #1 is a crazy good idea with solid pacing

Hardcore #1 is out 12/19.

By Zack Quaintance — Robert Kirkman—creator of The Walking Dead, Invincible, etc.—is one of the best idea writers in comics, with any new series attached to his name pretty much guaranteeing a certain accessible sort of enthralling-yet-simple conceit. It’s a level of vision that has made him basically as successful as one can get within the industry. In fact, it’s been said that he first pitched The Walking Dead as having a twist part-way through that would see aliens arrive and have been responsible for the zombies, because no one but him could see a world in which just doing a simple zombie comic would work.

This is all a long way of noting that the idea behind Hardcore #1 was first created by Kirkman and seminal artist Marc Silvestri, back in 2010 for the Top Cow pilot season concept, which saw that publisher running a series of original concepts, essentially first issue pitches. Well now Kirkman’s own Image Comics imprint is reviving some of those (see Stellar early in the year), and Hardcore is among them.

Taken over here by the more-than-capable team of Andy Diggle (Thief of Thieves) and Alessandro Vitti (Iceman), Hardcore is the story of a government program involving a new technology that allows operatives to pilot the bodies of other humans, often using them as drone-like assassins to takeout threats to national security, or dictators, or whomever. The use of drone in that description is intentional, given that this comic goes to pretty blatant lengths to draw a connection between the tech central to its plot and drone piloting, essentially painting this as the next evolution of those military initiatives.   

It’s a solid enough idea, but one that could have played as simplistic if not executed properly. Diggle and Vitti, however, are a more than capable team to pass it off to, delivering a tightly-plotted and impeccably-paced story here that gleefully bounces from one suspenseful plot point to the next. This is a fantastic first issue, in that the creators here manage to fill us in on all the needed exposition in a way that feels like it has stakes, rather than being a transparent and slow info dump (a pet peeve of mine in debuts).

What also does wonders for this book is that rather than sticking to the straight governmental military angle, the story here introduces an element of proprietary conflict. Not to spoil too much, but the primary villain of this story is the man who invented the technology that allows users to occupy from a remote location the bodies of others. He resents that another pilot—our main character—has been tapped to use the innovation he developed, and...well, you’ll have to read the book, but what he does from there creates waves likely to power this story quite well moving forward. Vitti is a great choice to render this whole thing, deploying a style here that’s reminiscent of both the tech and military worlds at once, as well as intricately detailed in an almost photo-realistic way throughout much of the exciting proceedings.   

Overall: A fantastic execution of an unsurprisingly solid idea for a new comic, Hardcore is one of those first issues that expertly drops off all the needed exposition as it hops along its perfect pacing. The overall quality of this comic, however, will be determined by where it goes now that its foundation has been laid. 8.0/10

Hardcore #1
Story By:
Robert Kirkman and Andy Diggle
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist: Alessandro Vitti
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Freedom Fighters #1 prods us to appreciate history

Freedom Fighters #1 is out 12/19.

By Bo Stewart —  If you caught my review of Sara #1, you know how much I enjoy World War II stories. Something about that event—and the break in the human spirit it represents—lends itself to great stories. In many ways, I don’t think the world has recovered from WWII, and part of me believes we never will. Though many of us wish to move on, I find this lack of closure to be a good thing. Humanity needs constant reminders of the past or we will be doomed to let our mistakes repeat. Freedom Fighters is one such reminder. Like the TV show Man in the High Castle, Freedom Fighters reminds us of how pivotal World War II was to human history by reversing the script and creating a reality where the Nazis won, known in the DC Universe as Earth-X.

This debut issue does a lot of narrative heavy lifting. It gives us all the necessary background information on the original Freedom Fighters (established in the ‘60s), hints at an ongoing mystery surrounding the personified Uncle Sam, and sets the stakes for the central conflict with the modern-day version of the Freedom Fighters. Though this is a packed issue, it never feels overstuffed.

Our story opens on November 22, 1963 in Nazi occupied Dallas. Just as this is a significant day and place in real American history (the day and city of JFK’s assassination), it proves to be significant to the alternate history writer Robert Venditti is crafting. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but the event centers around Olympian and real-life American Hero, Jesse Owens, who also happens to be the leader of the original Freedom Fighters. Venditti is using these dates and historical figures deliberately. They are reminders of history that many have already forgotten. It’s a really nice and subtle way of layering (what I assume to be) the ongoing themes of the book into the narrative.

I suspect we will be following the modern-day team for the majority of the book, but I found myself more interested in the ‘60s sequence due to its bleaker tone. The art is impressive throughout, but I also can’t help but feel like it’s missing a ton of world-building opportunities. This is Nazi-occupied America – scenes where the sun is shining and kids are playing ball in a park just feel…off. The architecture, the vehicles, the fashion all feel too similar to our real world. Don’t get me wrong, the book is gorgeous, but it could have taken better advantage of its premise.

Alternate history is always a draw for me. Throw superheroes into the mix and you have the makings of a memorable book. Freedom Fighters has somewhat of a Watchmen feel in that a multigenerational superhero team is finding its place in a world where history took a drastically different turn. It doesn’t reach the thematic heights of that seminal graphic novel, but it also isn’t really trying to. I suspect the creators would be perfectly content if this book simply made us as readers reflect on our history and be grateful that we avoided the nightmare of this fictional world.

Overall: Freedom Fighters #1 is an ambitious book that cleverly uses alternate history as a prod to remember and learn from real history. 8.0/10

Freedom Fighters #1
Robert Venditti
Penciler: Eddy Barrows
Inker: Eber Ferreira
Colorist: Adriano Lucas
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

Bo grinds for the Man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros

REVIEW: Long Lost Part 2 #5 is a colorful and explosive penultimate chapter

Long Lost Part 2 #5 is out 12/19.

By Zack Quaintance — Long Lost is a story about leaving your hometown—be it in rural America, the south, or the mountains—yet feeling a mysterious pull to return, that call to home that we all hear from our past. But when you get there, the place is nigh-recognizable. People have suffered. Relatives you thought you knew are so different as to be irreconcilable with who they once were in the past. They’re all acting out in strange ways, motivated by the hopes of enticing a magic cure for suffering, unemployment, sickness...even if their methods are making them all uglier.

This is a powerful metaphor (if I’m right about it) for our times, to be sure. And I think I’m at least partially onto something here. There’s a pretty telling bit of dialogue in this fifth issue of the story’s second half, with Piper—the more proactive and repressed of the two sisters at the story’s core—telling her sister how badly she just wants this town to be out of her life and gone. For many of our generation who’ve uprooted and found new homes in more urbane cities and enclaves, it’s a poignant and relatable feeling she’s expressing, one that in the past two years has maybe even come to have a damaging effect on our country. We’ve ignored difficult conversations and watched as family descend to a dark place where, ultimately, they vote against their own interests and become...ugly and least to us.  

I’m tempted to call this a good-looking and poetic metaphor for what it’s like to argue politics with friends, family and former classmates from a small hometown, but there’s another layer to Long Lost that I’m struggling to wrap my head around without yet having read the final issue. There are more intimate themes at work here related to the way our relationships as children shape us as adults. There’s also some moralizing, perhaps, about the value in forgiveness, in taking our family members for the good they provide while reconciling ourselves with their failings in order to move forward, especially if those failings are related to a mental illness (another presence that has loomed large throughout this story).

My own inability to completely process what’s happening in this comic aside, this is still one singular and gorgeous book that’s difficult to put down. In fact, it’s late on a Sunday evening as I write this and I’m going to push through and finish. I mean, there’s only one more chapter remaining. That’s a supremely high compliment for a penultimate issue if I’ve ever written one.

The only other thing I’d like to note before I move onto reading said issue is that Lisa Sterle’s artwork is fantastical and creepy all throughout this book. It’s a credit to her work that this deep into the story she’s still finding ways to make the tone all the more threatening and engaging without sacrificing even a little bit of clarity. Sterle’s work has been rather understated throughout the slow and mysterious burn of this comic, but—without tipping into spoiler territory—she is less restrained toward the end of this chapter. Her work becomes kinetic and rich with ominous tones, almost psychedelic as it reaches grand flourishes that really earn this story the thunderous climax on which this issue is ended.  

Overall: Long Lost Part 2 #5 perhaps marks the end of what has been one of the most poetic slow burn stories in all of comics, as this issue ends with a burst of colorful psychedelics. If you’ve been following this story, this is likely to be your favorite issue to date. 9.2/10

Long Lost Part 2 #4
Matthew Erman
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Publisher: Scout Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Friendo #3 takes aim at big box retailers with a heavy dose of grindhouse horror

Friendo #3 is out 12/19.

By Zack Quaintance — “You know decline’s not linear.” This is the first line of Friendo #3—a comic about a near future in which late-model capitalism has been extrapolated to some terrifyingly-familiar places—and it may as well be a mission statement for this book’s ambitions. At least, that’s my take after three issues, and I appreciate this kind of tipping of the thematic hand. It enables the creators to focus on the story, almost like they’re saying, okay, you know what we’re up to now...but you have no idea how gruesome this world can get.

This world and by extension our own, really, seeing as Friendo takes place in a future so near it makes one wonder if some of the story’s technologies are currently in research and development, with ethical conversations (or, more likely, public relations conversations) taking place about whether this tech should be put into beta. So, that’s my 20,000-foot Friendo perspective.

This issue also gives readers a closer view of the story’s themes. In the first two issues, we largely saw our main character explored as a consumer, as a pawn in marketing schemes at first, later tapped and exploited for his (somewhat meager) buying power. This issue shifts the angle from which it explores over-blown capitalism by putting scrutiny on big box retailers and how they treat workers. In this comic, a Wal-Mart stand-in (named Cornutopia, which, awesome) gets the brunt of it, being directly implicated for the current state of the nation because 20 years ago it extinguished small business owners and is now embracing automation to boost profits even further.

Automation means layoffs. Layoffs mean rage. Everything spirals. The center cannot hold.

The dots are connected: the nation is in a place where individuals are being melted down (literally in one scene) until all that’s left is indebted buying power. It’s an obvious state of decline, the causes for which date back years, and how did it come about? Private companies went wild and unrestrained. Given a few trusting inches, they gobbled up miles, until one day we were all living in a disaster. How sure am of this message? Well, there’s even a scene in Friendo #3 that depicts the owners of Cornutopia literally murdering a representative of the IRS.

On the nose? Oh, like crazy. But this is an audacious comic. That brings me to the other layer of this book, the one that’s less symbolic and more of an entertaining romp laden with grindhouse visuals. The base pitch for this book is maybe that a man’s personal marketing bot comes to life and hi-jinx ensue. Well, not to spoil anything here but after some early events, that marketing bot is somewhat much worse for the wear, rendered in glory gory (so sorry for that word play) here by Martin Simmonds.

As I noted in my Friendo #1 review, the first few issues of this comic built a complex narrative foundation, one from which the creative team could have told a number of fascinating stories. After Friendo #2, I was fully on board with its exploration of the extremes of greed and indifference. Where is my head at following Friendo #3? Now, I’m starting to want the answers—what in the world is going to happen next?    

Overall: Oh, the horror. Friendo continues to look at what happens when corporate control and capitalism runs rampant over society and individuals, doing so in this issue by taking a searing look at big box retailers like Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, an entertaining grindhouse plotline is unfolding, like a guide leading us through a field of complex ideas. 9.0/10

Friendo #3
Alex Paknadel
Artist: Martin Simmonds
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Taylor Esposito

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.