By Hussein Wasiti — This is the second of Brian Michael Bendis’ early creator-owned work that I’ve read, the first being his true-crime epic Torso. Like Torso, this book also happens to be a true story. Fortune and Glory details Bendis’ personal experience trying to adapt his comic Goldfish for the big screen. In it, he depicts Hollywood as this strange other land, one which constantly surprises while also living up to every stereotype we’ve all heard about it. Bendis also provides the artwork for the comic, a dramatic deviation from Torso while also feels…Read More
By Jarred A. Luján — For those unaware, The Boys has returned recently via a new omnibus collection. The story, co-created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, follows a CIA-backed, physically enhanced outfit as they aim to keep superheroes in check. This is second part of my review of the omnibus, covering issues #7-#14 (you can read all about my bad teenage haircut…Read More
By Jarred A. Luján — The Boys, which is Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s series about a CIA-backed team that keeps superheroes in check, is back this year with a new omnibus that collects the first 14 issues of the series (Editor’s note: this review covers the first half of the omnibus, but check back next week for a piece about the rest!). For those not in the know, The Boys is a fairly iconic series co-created by…Read More
By Zack Quaintance — I read the first two issues of White Ash—a Kickstarter-funded comic written by Charlie Stickney with art by Conor Hughes and colors by Fin Cramb—around this time last year. I was intrigued by the concept. On its surface, the book right away deals with a withering coal mining town, named White Ash, thus the title. Its first over-sized issue follows a native son of that town as he tries to say one final goodbye to the place he grew up before heading to college. He goes around town, bidding farewell to the important people in his life, noting all the things he won’t miss, and working to collect on some a debt for yard work he did for the one wealthy family in town.Read More
By Zack Quaintance — The Replacer is a different sort of comicbook release for a few reasons. First is the format. This is a 64-page, full color graphic novella. What does that mean? Essentially, it means that you’re getting about three issues worth of comics (for the price of two, btw) all at once, so the story doesn’t have to take breaks. The Replacer is a dense and concentrated read with a streamlined beginning-middle-end, enabling its narrative to move with patience and really build to a crescendo without periodical trappings like obligatory last page cliffhangers, first page recaps, etc.Read More
By Hussein Wasiti — I’m not terribly familiar with Brian Michael Bendis’ creator-owned work. I’ve read most of what he’s done under his new Jinxworld imprint since moving to DC, so my foray into this re-printed edition of Torso is my first exposure to Bendis’ and collaborator Marc Andreyko’s early work. My major takeaway from this book was that this felt very consistent with not only his indie books, but with his superhero romps too. The style of dialogue and the occasional bold storytelling choices in this comic are still very much present in his output today at DC.
Torso delves into a basically unexplored period of the prohibition cop Elliot Ness’ life. Ness was the man who, along with his team of Untouchables, took down Al Capone, the famous Chicago gangster. Following this massive and famous victory, he moves to Cleveland for a new position as the safety director of that city. It’s definitely an antiquated position by today’s standards, and there is an undertone of futility to this job since Cleveland at the time was notoriously corrupt, with a lax police force and an equally ineffective mayor who limited Ness’ actions as safety director. In this environment a serial killer stalks the streets of the city Ness has come to protect, preying on innocent victims—decapitating and dismembering them—leaving only a torso for the authorities to find (thus the name).
The plot here is a fairly traditional affair, since we’ve all seen these kinds of stories before. A character is connected to a crime, in this case the Torso Killer is actively sending Ness postcards throughout the comic, and any attempt at catching the killer is undermined by either corruption or an incompetent bureaucratic system. What makes this particular story come to life, however, are the interesting and wide ranging historical details, which I’m not going to spoil here. Ness makes interesting choices over the course of the narrative and the reveal in the supplemental material that this was indeed all true was quite mind-blowing. Many of these historical details come across very well in Bendis’ artwork, which I’ll be discussing in great depth later.
It’s hard to talk about Elliot Ness without mentioning Brian De Palma’s 1987 film The Untouchables, arguably the most famous work about Ness’ life and one that provides a backbone for this story. Ness’ takedown of Al Capone acts as a specter hanging over Torso’s narrative; he’s frequently poked and prodded about his method of victory, which was busting Capone on tax evasion. This informs a lot of Ness’ arc throughout the comic: does he deserve the praise he’s received? Is he really the hero the public thinks he is?
Ness’ focus on taking down the Torso Killer stems from resultant insecurities, and his separate marriage issues stoke the flame of frustration he’s experiencing while working for the city. The outcome of this entire story is the perfect encapsulation of Ness’ character, in that he was too focused on what was in front of him instead of paying attention to the things that mattered, like his wife or his campaign to rid Cleveland of corruption. This is all so deftly handled by Bendis and Andreyko, whose depiction of side characters keeps the story from being an overly dark affair. Walter Myrlo and Sam Simon are the two detectives on the case, and their friendship is more or less the heart of this story. Their conversations together are trademark Bendis dialogue—snappy and witty—which works very well here.
The artwork by Bendis himself, however, is what really made this book stand out to me. Bendis handled every aspect of the art, from the pencils to the lettering. With Bendis in total control of the way the story unfolds, there are some impressively unconventional pages to be found here. Most of the time he operates with a basic double page structure, but he goes on to leave much of the top half of the right page completely dark while the final series of panels on the left page continues onto the next. One page early in the comic operated like this, and I found that to be such a bold and inventive way of highlighting tension and drama. This style of page layout achieves an intensive focus on the moment.
I mentioned earlier that the historical detail of the story lent itself to this art, and I attribute this to Bendis including real, historical images in the comic. City blocks to shantytowns to crime scene photos are all interwoven, another bold choice that cemented the realism on display. In filmic terms I’d consider it to be “cinema verité,” French for “real,” or “truthful” cinema. This technique also felt reminiscent of what famed comics artist Jack Kirby did with photo collages later in his life. The first few pages of the comic feature these images, and at first brush I found it to be a bit bizarre, but as I encountered them more I began to appreciate them.
Bendis also employs a lot of shadows, half-shrouding characters in ink. Bendis lettered the comic himself too, which was maybe my least favourite aspect of the book, or at least something I questioned while reading. I’m not an aficionado on lettering and what I know is primarily based on the standard of today’s lettering techniques. Overall, the lettering seemed thick and clunky. Bendis uses long and wide tracks to connect balloons, the size of which was rarely consistent. The placement of the balloons could have been better too, since there are some pages with absolutely insane layouts where I really needed the lettering to guide me through the sequence. Instead I was confused and sometimes read pages in odd orders. These issues were few and far between, however, and for the most part I was a fan of the general unevenness since it contributed to the indie aesthetic of the book.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the story of Elliot Ness, I’d recommend Torso wholeheartedly. The edition I read is part of a new line of republished Jinxworld material by Bendis, and I’m excited to read more of his early work. Bendis and Andreyko provide a full and real glimpse into the fascinating life of Ness here and into the brutal history of Depression-era Cleveland. The way the team told this story is both inventive and unique. Pair this some weekend afternoon with a viewing of De Palma’s The Untouchables and you’ve got yourself one strange prohibition era double feature.
Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
Artist: Brian Michael Bendis
Publisher: DC - Jinxworld
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2019
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Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. You can find his weekly writings over at comicsthegathering.com, and periodically on Weird Science. He is on Twitter as bullthesis, and he lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.
By Jarred A. Luján — Out of the Blue Volume 1, the second original graphic novel from AfterShock Comics, is the co-creation of famed war story writer Garth Ennis and the incredibly talented artist Keith Burns. It marks a reunion for the duo, which last team on another WWII aviation story called Johnny Red. Out of the Blue follows protagonist Jamie McKenzie towards the end of World War II, as he performs bombing runs on German supply lines in the worst possible plane with the worst possible commanding officer.
The story has so much to unpack, but I want to jump into the artwork first. Burns is a member of the RAF Guild of Aviation Artists, a group that describes itself as the globally-recognized premier society for the promotion of aviation art. Burns is a testament to that statement. It almost feels like planes were designed for this man to draw them. The opening page of the book—a De Havilland Mosquito Fighter-Bomber flying over the remnants of a burning German ship—is in and of itself an amazing piece, and it sets the tone for the book. The battle sequences in this story are also more than just big and explosive; they’re dramatic and intense. Burns styles these pages in a way that showcases what a feat of machinery these little planes are, also capturing the depth and destruction of warfare. It’s all thrilling to look at, and this art alone could sell me on the book.
This story has one of my favorite casts of characters from any Ennis book in a while. Joseph Ranjaram, an Indian soldier in the British military, is the calm and eloquent balance to another character, Jamie. Jamie, in his own right, is a fun character, but it becomes clear early in the story that Jamie…well, Jamie is sort of an unlucky guy. His constant stumbles bridge upon heartbreaking turn after turn, which, ironically enough, is what introduces him to Joseph in the first place. Jamie getting partnered with Joseph is meant to be a punishment due to his race, and I loved that touch. Any WWII book that doesn’t shy away from the ugly shadow of racism, particularly and openly cast by Broome here, is one that adds an immersive edge of realism to its work. It should come as no surprise that Ennis, a man who happily introduces the harsh realities of war on the regular, is willing to address that unflinchingly as well.
Now, bear with me as I give a brief history lesson, one that I promise is relevant to this book. For those who maybe missed a history class or two, England suffered a pretty brutal time in WWII. From the May 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk to the intense bombing that occurred from July to October 1940, times were rather dark for the country during the war. Now, one of the things that I love about this time period in particular is the war propaganda that came out of it. I know, that seems like a particularly dorky thing to find interesting, but the differences in experiences of the war come out so clearly in the way nations represented it to their own countries. For example, American propaganda is vengeful, it’s angry. Reasonably so, something like Pearl Harbor is certain to bring out those feelings in a nation. England’s went another way, though. While there were certainly feelings of anger and frustration and vengeance, much of England’s propaganda was hopeful, because for quite some time it seemed like the end was nigh for Britain. There’s been plenty of time spent dissecting Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, given at the beginning of the intensive bombing, but it captures so well the British approach to their situation: Don’t lose hope, fight on.
That spirit is so wonderfully captured in this story. It’s a story of Jamie, who can’t seem to do a damn thing right at times, and who is given every reason to give up but refuses to do so.
He just seems to find himself in the plane, in the midst of battle, fighting for something worth fighting for. The book feels lighter than some of Ennis’ prior work, and I say that as someone who loved Punisher: Born and Sara (which I also reviewed), but that lightness is perfect for this story. It has dark edges, to be sure, including racism and Broome’s nastier intentions later in the book, but you can see the central vein of hope throughout Jamie’s story. The last few pages of this book are so great and so beautiful, and they capture the theme so well that I spent a very long time soaking them in.
If there is one thing I find frustrating about the book, it’s that the release is split in half. Volume 1 isn’t a cohesive story, it’s part of a much larger story that will obviously conclude in Volume 2. Yet, it feels like we’re really just kicking off by the time we get to the end. It feels a little disappointing that we can’t dive into it next month, like a monthly serial, or continue going through it, like a regular graphic novel. That’s a minor thing, and maybe that being my biggest issue is only another indicator of how much I enjoyed reading this.
Ennis and Burns make fantastic comics together.
Out of the Blue Vol. 1 (of 2)
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Keith Burns
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Release Date: March 27, 2019
Read more graphic novel reviews with Trade Rating.
Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.
By Harrison Stewart — I’ve always appreciated Alan Moore’s definition of magic. Instead of focusing on specific words or iconography, he posits that magic is simply a “purposeful engagement with the phenomena and possibilities of consciousness.” I can’t say for certain whether the creators of IDW’s Euthanauts had this exact definition in mind when crafting their work, but I can say this: There is true magic at work within these pages.
Ostensibly a trippy space opera with a Gothic twist, Euthanauts defies simple classification. It isn’t quite horror, despite loving nods to genre tropes. Nor is it pure adventure, despite prevailing senses of discovery and wonder. The story floats comfortably in the middle, employing familiar trappings to introduce novel ideas.
Chief among them is the notion that we have the power to define our own relationship with death. The concept may have ancient roots in many world cultures, but there are inherent difficulties in relaying such a message to an Anglophone audience. Social and religious pressures have long rendered engagement with the subject taboo. And when we do speak of death, our lexicon is strictly pejorative. Fear of the thing is prescribed even by our language.
Keenly aware of these innate discomforts, writer Tini Howard wisely turns to humor and allegory. The dialogue snaps, moving at such a clip that any sense of disquiet never has the chance to settle. Characters feel alive and fresh, each unique yet bound by the same forces. Howard establishes deep connections with her cast simply by allowing them to breathe and hold their own opinions on the strange events unfolding.
Initially, I was frustrated by the lack of clear boundaries to the world. The exact rules and functionality of the central technology are often confusing, at times even incomprehensible. But in the end, these concerns prove to be a forest-for-the-trees situation. I was thrilled in hindsight by Howard’s resistance to heavy-handed exposition. This is a writer who not only trusts but rewards her readers’ intelligence and patience, monthly release schedule be damned.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the story’s distinction between suicide and euthanasia. Though the line is often thin, Howard walks it with the utmost nuance and grace. She carefully sidesteps the temptation to conflate the two, painting violence and despair as the cancerous agents that corrupt our ability to claim “The Good Death.” In doing so, Howard stakes out a truly unique and sympathetic position in the conversation that has become increasingly relevant to our social media saturated generation.
While Howard’s words alone would make for a fine novel, Nick Robles’ art elevates them to soaring heights. Nearly every page is a feast for the eyes, demanding your full attention and appreciation. The imagery and visual motifs are as wildly ambitious as they are effectively mesmerizing. Oftentimes, I would simply stare at a page for minutes on end, occasionally backtracking because I still couldn’t believe he’d pulled them off with such apparent ease.
Robles masters the art of drawing your eye across the page. And that is no small feat in a book that isn’t afraid to shirk traditional panel structures. As topsy-turvy as the plot that drives them, the pages are delightfully innovative and clean. By visually melding the worlds of the living and dead, Robles puts his own stamp on the story, demonstrating the importance of writer/artist pairing in comics.
I love this book. And the experience is only enhanced by the collected edition. This is a story that is meant to be read and reread, each time offering new and exciting revelations. You’ll pick up on little nods and plot threads that seemed insignificant the first time around, only to reveal themselves upon closer examination as carefully planted seeds that will come to full bloom. Editor/curator Shelly Bond and the Black Crown imprint et al are to be commended for allowing such a potentially off-putting comic to come to print – the medium is better for it.
It was only after my third reading that I realized the impact of the spell that had been cast. The work haunted me, but I couldn’t say why. The death-positive undertones were entirely new to me, but I now stand indebted to the creators for a fabulous introduction. Though Euthanauts takes time to fully appreciate, the end result forms a delicate and sophisticated Danse Macabre that eschews morbidity for unabashed optimism. It is a timely invitation to join the conversation about the one thing which binds us all: the end. You would do well to accept.
Euthanauts, Vol. 1: Ground Control
Writer: Tini Howard
Artist: Nick Robles
Colorist: Eva de la Cruz
Letterers: Aditya Bidikar, Neil Uyetake
Publisher: IDW - Black Crown
Release Date: 2/27/2019
Check out more installments of our TRADE RATING original graphic novel reviews!
Harrison Stewart is an aspiring human being whose goals include solving the mathematical equation for love. Follow him on Twitter for more writing stuff.
By Jarred A. Luján — The 7 Deadly Sins is another one of TKO Studios’ debut books. Featuring the artwork of Artyom Trakhanov and colors of Giulia Brusco, it’s the comic book debut of television writer Tze Chun, who is also a co-founder and publisher with TKO. The story here is a western-style tale, taking place in 1857, in the greatest state in human history, Texas (Editor's note: Jarred is a Texan, obviously). The story follows a priest who recruits six death row criminals for a mission deep into Comanche territory.
Westerns are hard stories to pull off anymore. There was a time in American culture where westerns were everywhere. They helped to shape American film, particularly moives like Shane, Dirty Harry, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Unfortunately, there’s only so many of these kinds of stories you can tell without things getting a little…repetitive. Most modern westerns now try to blend elements of the genre with others, like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (sci-fi/fantasy/western) or the movie Logan (superhero/western).
Chun and Trakhanov don’t really do that here, which I felt concerned about at first. I love westerns, but did we really need another story about outlaws and cowboys, or someone being the best gun in the west? The answer to that is probably not, but Chun skates around it altogether with one of the wildest group of characters in any western.
A runaway slave, a Chinese surgeon, a slave turned Union soldier, a cannibal, and a white man living as a Comanche all exist in this story. That’s such a diverse and strange roster, but Chun manages to pull it off well. The characters help to really breathe something fresh and new into a genre that is almost traditionally repetitive at this point. The 7 Deadly Sins unapologetic inclusion of slave characters was one of my favorite parts of the book. Westerns have something of a notoriety of shying away from that element of the era, but Chun unflinchingly puts it in the spotlight here, including the central protagonist.
Unfortunately, this character roster is also something of a weakness as well. There are a couple characters in the book that I had a hard time rooting for. As the story goes on and we see some of the things these people have done—and how little interest some have in redeeming themselves—it feels difficult to continue wanting them to succeed. Obviously, not every death row criminal can have a sob story where they didn’t mean to harm someone or they were wrongfully convicted, but because of The 7 Deadly Sins unique characters beings its strongest suit, losing concern for one or two of them does its damage. Regardless, Chun manages to focus the story on the characters you stay keen to, which makes it worth sticking with despite those brief, difficult moments.
Looking at these pages is really something else, though. This book is gorgeous. Trakhanov lays down some brilliant line art here. The actions scenes feel kinetic, they feel violent. TKO’s giant-sized pages are one of my favorite parts of their releases, because you really get to see the brilliant artwork in a larger, more exciting format. Not to mention Giulia Brusco, who really shines on this as well. Her color work is so good in every scene. Some of my favorite parts of the book are Jericho’s flashbacks, where most of the panel is done in blue, but he’s colored in red. The change is subtle, simple even, but it adds to the depth of emotion going through the character at that time. I live for color work like that.
Briefly, I think letterer Jared K. Fletcher is wonderful in here as well, and I promise it isn’t just because we share a first name. The letterers in this book stand out because they flow so well together with the art. The simple moments are kept simple, but when the book gets violent or tense, we see the colors of the letters themselves stand out, or they seemingly look scrawled on the page. The letters here really add something special to the pages, and it’s some of my favorite lettering altogether.
One of the bigger surprises I found from the book, though, is that this is literally Tze Chun’s first venture into comics. He’s obviously got a background in film, having worked on a wide range of projects, including Gotham, but I’m hoping we’ll see more comics from Chun soon. With a wild story like this, I’m sure he’s got some even more surprising stuff locked away in his head. As a matter of fact, I felt like there was some potential for more story with one of our 7 Deadly Sinners, so I’ll hope that we see more in the future.
Ultimately, The 7 Deadly Sins is fun as hell. While it struggles with its own gritty and unique character group, the book’s focus on the right members of its cast makes it easy to read and another solid offering by TKO Studios.
The 7 Deadly Sins
Writer: Tze Chun
Artist: Artyom Trakhanov
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Publisher: TKO Studios
Price: Digital $13.99, Paperback $17.99, Individual Issues in Collector’s Box $24.99
Get It: Via TKO Studios
Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.
By Hussein Wasiti — In my adventures through Comics Twitter, I’ve frequently come across praise for writer Cullen Bunn, who recently penned AfterShock Comics first original graphic novel, Witch Hammer. My familiarity with Bunn and his work extends only to his Big Two comics, and I’ve been anxious to check out some of his other comics for a while. After reading Witch Hammer, I’m glad I did. While there’s nothing wrong with Bunn’s more mainstream work, this story just completely elevated my perception of him as a storyteller, so much so that I’m now inspired to seek out more of his independent work. Witch Hammer is bloody, brutal, and beautiful, with a message that might leave your skin crawling after you put the book down.
Witch Hammer is a horror story that follows Agent Ada Frontenac and her partner Agent Guinness as they investigate a series of gruesome murders, which they believe are all tied into some kind of cult. As it turns out, the truth surrounding the case is something that Frontenac and her partner have a hard time grappling with, especially when they learn who exactly is carrying out these murders and why this man is on his quest for revenge. Our two main characters are ultimately Frontenac herself and the killer, Jacob Nance. Both of their journeys are tied together without the other truly realizing this to be the case.
Frontenac is clearly a woman of faith, albeit one who is struggling with her beliefs. She’s been investigating murders for a while, and her introduction is very deftly handled by artist Dalibor Talajic in a beautiful nine-panel page, one of the few in the book. Bunn doesn’t explicitly state what is going through her head, but Talajic’s deft and efficient storytelling gives readers just enough visual context to understand her headspace. Frontenac overall comes across as a hopeful person who believes justice will be done and those who deserve salvation will receive it. This results in a very personal kind of conflict for her since the longer she investigates murders, the more she questions this line of belief. Her first page features her throwing her cross necklace on her bed, where it lands atop a gruesome crime scene photo. It’s a stark juxtaposition and the perfect encapsulation of not just this comic, but the state of mind of this main character.
I was blown away by Talajic’s work throughout. I’d only previously read his Foolkiller series over at Marvel, but his panelling and overall storytelling was very strong. He uses a lot of panels per page, with an average of around seven or eight, and sometimes as many as eleven. With this, the storytelling was very focused and overall he made great economical use of space. I described his layouts as deft and efficient earlier, and that applies to his entire approach to this story. There is a lot of violence in this book, executed by the characters almost dismissively, and the numerous and precise panel layouts contribute to this element of the story in a really exact manner.
Talajic’s layouts are very restrictive, and readers may find themselves feeling claustrophobic. This could very well be the Talajic’s intention—to create a feeling of cramped unease with the layouts. There are some nine-panel pages here that Talajic lays out a bit differently than one would expect, which I found incredibly refreshing due to many modern artists rarely using the nine-panel page in a substantial way. Sebastijan Camagajevac’s amazing coloring also sets the tone of the story perfectly, while letterer Marshall Dillon deserves substantial credit for managing to render the panels readable, due to their cramped sizes.
The carefully-vague nature of the story somewhat leaves the ending up to interpretation. Bunn is dealing with heavy themes in this book, namely the lines between religion and violence, and whether one intentionally or unintentionally begets the other. What lines can we cross before coming to some semblance of inner peace? When blinded by false promises, who are we to blame: ourselves, or those who lead us on our path to begin with?
Witch Hammer is pretty wonderful, although some who are squeamish to violence may want to steer clear. There are some truly horrifying images (it is a horror comic, after all) that some readers will not appreciate. I myself enjoyed it all quite a bit. Cullen Bunn’s compelling and horrific storytelling combined with Dalibor Talajic’s tight and suspenseful art have given us my favorite comic so far this year.
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Colorist: Sebastijan Camagajevac
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Released: Dec. 19, 2018
Check our reviews of other trade paperbacks and graphic novels in our reviews section!
Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. You can find his weekly writings over at comicsthegathering.com, and periodically on weirdsciencedccomics.com. He is on Twitter as bullthesis, and lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.