REVIEW: Dead Kings #4 smacks readers in the face...and it’s great

By Zack Quaintance — For those of us who have been reading and enjoying Dead Kings, the promise of giant mech-based battling has been looming large since the start of the first issue, which dedicated its second and third pages to a full splash of mechs (one shaped like a bear, another wielding a laser sword…

Read More

TRADE RATING: Out of the Blue expertly captures the British spirit during WWII

Out of the Blue, Volume 1 is out 3/27/2019.

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
Price: $19.99
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.

REVIEW: Dead Kings #2, dystopian Russian quest comic finds its stride

Dead Kings #2 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — Dead Kings #2 is one of those sophomore issues that feels liberated from obligatory debut tacks—setting a hook, doing introductory worldbuilding, landing the obligatory final page cliffhanger (although we do get another one of those here). With that all previously accomplished, this issue instead move the plot forward at a lively pace. What soon becomes clear, then, is that what writer Steve Orlando and artist Matthew Dow Smith have created an epic quest comic, one with a pair of disparate protagonists venturing across dystopian Russia after a shared objective for vastly different reasons.

Cool. Count me in for that general concept. Where this comic hooks me further is with the way it judiciously doles out insights into each character’s past, showing rather than telling us their motivations. We see glimpses of Sasha’s guilt over how he treated his brother. We see that brother interned in a hellish prison camp (in a lightning quick and disturbing interlude), and as such, when we return to the main questing, things feel all the more meaningful. The same is true of the glimpses into Maria’s experience in the war that molded this dystopian world, we see how she has just as much reason to hate the failed systems and nation states that manipulated her during the fighting (as I wrote in my review of Dead Kings #1, the anger in this book seems most strongly directed at the failures of systems, societies, nation states).

That’s all pretty well done, and, to my mind, is another box this book can check as it moves closer to being able to jump entirely into a plot that pushes forward, rather than continuing to alternate past scenes. Another primary strength of this comic is the world that has been built. The ambience and visual touches these creators have constructed is evocative of vintage Final Fantasy, that one Werner Herzog documentary about Siberia Happy People, and also of the anger toward corrupt officials who’ve been abused the trust the public has placed in them. So yeah, this book is imaginative and timely.

I should note I found the back half of this comic to be far stronger than the first half, an effect of the story still having work to do to orient readers within its world and to introduce us to our characters. That’s why I’m so bullish on this book moving forward—once the introductions are over, the fun really starts, letting both Orlando and Dow Smith show off their abilities as swaggering action-based storytellers. Also, I’m still waiting with crossed fingers to see an epic large-scale mech battle, the mech battle were promised, the mech battle we deserve.

Overall: Dead Kings #2 continues to build this story and this world, evoking things like Final Fantasy video games and documentaries about Siberia in the process. The real strength and potential of Dead Kings really shows through in the glimpses of the action storytelling and larger battles the story seems destined to include. Jump on now and get ready. 8.0/10

Dead Kings #2
Writer:
Steve Orlando
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
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. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete his first.

Top Comics of October 2018

By Zack Quaintance — This month there are quite a few titles from spring and summer appearing for the first time, books that launched with promise, settled in, and just now landed really memorable issues. I’d certainly put Action Comics #1004 and Submerged #3 in that category, both of which come from series I’ve liked from the start and was just waiting for a marquee issue to celebrate.

Meanwhile, our Shout Outs for October is heavily weighted toward superheroes. I’m not sure how this happens (or why), but I will note our Best New #1 Comics of 2018 had more creator-owned books. This could all, of course, be happenstance. I should also note this wasn’t one of the stronger months for individual issues in recent memory, but a quick glance at November indicates that is soon to change.

And now! On to the comics!

Shout Outs

I pointed this out recently on Twitter, but we are, indeed, lucky to have National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates writing comics. His work on both Black Panther #5 and Captain America #4 was outstanding, continuing to establish him as a massive talent increasingly confident within this medium. Shout outs as well to artists Daniel Acuna and Leinil Francis Yu.

Coates, however, isn’t the only massive talent with two killer books in October. Jeff Lemire had Gideon Falls #7 and Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6, stellar works from great series. Props to Black Hammer guest artist Rich Tommaso and Gideon Falls’ Andrea Sorrentino for their contributions.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #5 was a pleasant surprise in a series that is consistently fits that description. Writer Dan Slott and artist Gang Hyuk Lim incorporate (heh) Tony’s ethically gray younger brother in a one-off that foreshadows repercussions for the main plot as well. I’ve just found the futurism and corporate politicking angles in this run intriguing, so far.

Shout out to Bryan Edward Hill and N. Steve Harris for concluding their run with Wildstorm: Michael Cray #12, which ends the story of the titular character, murdering his way (sympathetically!) through evil versions of the Justice League within Warren Ellis’ new Wildstorm Universe.

Mark Russell is at it again in Green Lantern/Huckleberry Hound Special #1, which is set in the Vietnam Era, and told in a way that draws comparisons to now and leaves one feeling wistful for the integrity of Nixon and Watergate.

Not much to say about Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch’s Hawkman #5, other than carry on boys, what you’re doing with this character and book is refreshing and excellent.

Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis’ Superman #6 was good, but Action Comics #1004 was better. Bendis’ dueling Man of Steel series are two of our favorite things at DC right now. More on that below.

Our other favorite thing at DC? Scott Snyder, James Tynion, and some of the best artists in the business ongoing Justice League epic, which reads like a really smart big budget epic touching every corner of the DCU. This month we get Atlantis, spread through a bevy of titles, including Justice League #9 and #10, Aquaman #41, and the Justice League Aquaman Drowned Earth #1 special.

Top Comics October 2018

5. Hot Lunch Special #3
Writer:
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
After Hot Lunch Specials’ first issue, I pegged it as a generational, Fargo-esque Midwestern noir, a comic that planned to deal in equal parts with a modern American immigration story and the sort of organized crime retribution that would be more at home in The Godfather. There is, to be sure, a fair amount of that stuff in this comic. Hot Lunch Special #3, however, serves up notice to readers that this book is headed for places they never expected.

Every issue of this comic so far has been great, but this issue pushes the book to a new level, one of organic storytelling (not a food pun) that has me excited to see how this all ends up. I don’t know how to explain it that much better without revealing the twists. So, I’ll just say that Hot Lunch Special is a must-read comic, last month and from here until its end.

4. Redneck #16
Writer:
Donny Cates
Artist: Lisandro Estherren
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
From its start, Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren’s Redneck has been a neatly-constructed vampire romp, filled with Robert Kirkman-esque twists and a down home Texan accessibility Cates has honed. This issue, however, does something I wasn’t sure Redneck could: it goes to emotional places that are welcome and justified.

In fact, in the parlance of this title, I’ll say I reckon’ Redneck #16 is a great representation of Cates’ biggest strengths as a writer. It has a scene in which Nazis are outlandishly thrashed in a prison (so cathartic) and another later on in which a son inadvertently/reluctantly comes out to his father, who meets the news with easy acceptance. I never get tired of that scene, and Redneck #16 nails it. There’s been a whole lot of blood in this book, but this is the first issue with a massive amount of heart (in retrospect that sentence was gross and I’m sorry).

3. Submerged #3
Writer:
Vita Ayala
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Colorist: Stelladia
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
We wrote a Submerged #3 review, so we won’t rehash the many reasons we love this book too much, but we will note this issue made us even more interested in a title that has hooked us from the start. Simply put, Submerged #3 simultaneously takes us to the most fantastical places this story has gone while also rooting its stakes deeply in character. It’s a great mix for a wonderfully scary and introspective book steeped in personal experiences.

Like many of Vault Comics other books coming out right now, this one is very much a must-read title.

2. Immortal Hulk #7
Writer:
Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer:
Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Simply put, Immortal Hulk #7 is the best superhero comic right now. I am far from the only comic critic to say this. Hell, it’s probably comic book critic Twitter’s favorite title so effusive have we been with our praise. Not that that means a book is unimpeachable, but what writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett are doing here is truly special.

They’ve taken a horror-laden approach to Hulk stories, which has been done before just not with this level of detail, imagination, and willingness to go to truly disturbing places. In this issue, the undead Hulk gets his comeuppance at the hands of the Avengers, who use a satellite from space to blast him into pieces somewhere in rural Iowa. Except, comeuppance is the wrong word. This title does a great job of making you feel sorry for everyone involved, which is perhaps the only correct way to handle stories about such a brutal, rage-driven figure.

1. Action Comics #1004
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Ryan Sook
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Josh Reed
Publisher:
DC Comics
Price: $3.99
This issue hit me right in my personal life. In Action Comics #1004, Clark and Lois reunite after life has forced them apart. Now, my wife spent this summer in Washington D.C., covering federal immigration policy for the LA Times. Meanwhile, I was in California, working my own job, etc. In this issue, Lois and Clark pick up where they left off sweetly, almost as if nothing has changed, acknowledging that while neither can predict the future, their love is strong, even if their proximity must occasionally be distant.

I found it true to my own experiences with such reunions, especially in tone. I’ve also been a reporter for a decade, and I like Lois quitting the newsroom. I’m not advocating for superhero stories going too far into media industry weeds, but having the most-celebrated journalist on the planet give up the lousy daily newspaper grind to write books is a logical move. Books are, quite frankly, what everyone I know at daily papers now aspires to write. Mileage will (and should) vary based on your own connections with these classic characters; I only speak for my experience with the material.

Check out our Best New #1 Comics of October 2018 plus more of our monthly lists here.

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

REVIEW: Dead Kings #1 Turns Its Anger Toward Failed States

Dead Kings #1 is due out Oct. 24. Variant cover by Michael Gaydos.

By Zack Quaintance — Dead Kings #1 sees writer Steve Orlando telling another angry retribution tale, one heavy with grit and swagger in which we get interactions like this one: Bartender: I don’t know that name… Anti-Hero: I’ve punched a lot of faces to get here. I think you do. That’s all very telling about the type of world Dead Kings #1 inhabits.

Plot-wise, this story takes place 30 years after a techno-magic war in a place that must have once been Russia but is now called Thrice-Nine, which the book’s preview text describes as a dirty folklore world that limps along, degenerating into a place filled with paranoid and poison. Indeed, we definitely get all of that. Hell, most (if not every) interaction here is brimming with both of them.

Really though, Orlando writing an angry revenge story that promises violence to come is nothing new. Not after his most recent creator-owned book, Crude, or his breakout DC hit, Midnighter. What I find interesting here is the cause of the anger. In Midnighter, the anger was inherent to the titular character, an effect of his status as an embodied weapon. In Crude, the anger came from repression of self, both from one’s family and from one’s society. It’s only one issue so far for Dead Kings, but my early sense is that the anger and violence in this story will be driven by the failure of nation states, by the peasants who have been abused and marginalized by the namesake Dead Kings.

There are, to be sure, also some familiar themes from Orlando’s past work in play too, themes very much evocative of the recently-concluded Crude, specifically that one of the main characters is out to save a lost twin brother persecuted for loving another man. There aren’t really diminishing returns though. Dead Kings is pretty heavily steeped in both the gritty and the fantastical. I mean, this is a story that on one of its first pages has a kaiju-sized steam-powered bear mech.

Matthew Dow Smith and Lauren Affe are a well-suited art team for this story, too, with their work lending the proceedings a punk aesthetic through every frustrated or pained face (and there are a lot of them). The visuals here are equally as capable of action, and based on some of the outsized splash pages at the start, my sense is that the best is definitely yet to come from all involved.

Overall: A gritty first chapter that seems to promise outsized adventure and fantastical warfare to come. There’s a lot to be said about the way states fail their peoples from generation to generation, and this might be the book we need right now to say it. 8.0/10

Dead Kings #1
Writer:
Steve Orlando
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
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.

Top Comics to Buy for October 10, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — This week is one of those recovery weeks, wherein the vast majority of the comics world was at a massive con (in this case NYCC), and many of us are still dazed and catching up on sleep (not me, I stayed home in California and slept like a baby, but I digress…). The scheduled books from the Big 2 roll on, though, while the indie offerings are strong too. It is, as has become normal for 2018, another strong week for comics.

Yes even with the NYCC hangover, there’s still quite a bit going on this week, ranging from new title debuts—Devil Within, Infinite Dark, and Murder Falcon are all well worth your time and money—to the continuations of two of my favorite superhero books right now—Hawkman and Immortal Hulk. Oh, and about NYCC: I have a separate piece coming later today about the top new comic announcements. So keep an eye out for that! But for now let’s narrow down the comics you plan to buy for this coming Wednesday.

Let’s do it!

Top Comics to Buy for October 10, 2018

Crowded #3 (Read our review of Crowded #1)
Writer:
Christopher Sebela
Peniciler: Ro Stein
Inker: Ted Brandt
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Cardinal Rae
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Circe and Trotter, two of the heaviest hitters in the private murder industry, have just landed in Los Angeles, looking for Charlie and eager to collect the almost two million dollar Reapr campaign on her life. Charlie, oblivious to the growing danger, tries to carry on her freewheeling lifestyle while under Vita's lock and key. But even their safest safehouse can't keep the fame-and-fortune-driven killers off their trail for too long.
Why It’s Cool: Through three issues, Crowded continues to be a perfect amalgamation of suspenseful plotting, clear and clever visual storytelling, and a high-concept that extrapolates our present into a logical and terrifying future. This issue continues to entertain as it builds the near-future world out and introduces some intimidating new villains that are sure to complicate our heroes’ fight for survival amid the crowd-sourced bounty on one of their heads that continues to grow.

Hot Lunch Special #3 (Read our review of Hot Lunch Special #1)
Writer:
Eliot Rahal
Artist: Jorge Fornes
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
There are no secrets now. Only bodies. It's dinner time, and Dorothy and Jordan are competing to sit at the head of the table, both forcing their family members to make hard decisions. Do the Khorys go to the cops? Or do they go to war? The Khoury criminal legacy is fully revealed. Some choices have already been made-the Irish crime lord, Big Jim Moran, is getting anxious. He's left too many loose ends, and he's forced to cut strings. The order has been given. It's time for everyone to die.
Why It’s Cool: I’ve called this book Fargo-esque in the past, but I think after three issues that’s kind of a reductive description that does it a bit of a disservice. Sure, Hot Lunch Special has crime noir and an upper Midwestern setting in common with Fargo, but it also sets itself apart with its deep interest in family dynamics. This is a deliberate and nuanced book, grissly and compelling in equal parts, and I’m absolutely all in on following it to its finish.

Immortal Hulk #7
Writer:
Al Ewing
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
They're the reason he died. They're the reason he came back. Now THE AVENGERS have to bring him in. But how far will even Earth's Mightiest Heroes go to cage...the IMMORTAL HULK?
Why It’s Cool: I’ve made no secret that I love Immortal Hulk, especially in my recent look at the Top 5 Marvel Comics Right Now. For me, this is squarely a MUST BUY comic until further notice. I love how writer Al Ewing has exercised restraint with incorporating pieces of the usual Hulk mythos, limiting appearances by Banner’s normally-robust supporting cast. That is slowly changing, though, and here we see Hulk poised to tangle with The Avengers, as Hulk has long been wont to do.

Murder Falcon #1
Writer/Artist:
Daniel Warren Johnson
Colorist: Mike Spicer
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
From DANIEL WARREN JOHNSON, the creator of the Eisner-nominated series EXTREMITY, comes MURDER FALCON! The world is under attack by monsters, and Jake's life is falling apart: no band, no girl, no future... until he meets Murder Falcon. He was sent from The Heavy to destroy all evil, but he can't do it without Jake shredding up a storm. Now, with every chord Jake plays on his guitar, the power of metal fuels Murder Falcon into all-out kung fu fury on those that seek to conquer Earth. It’s time to shred.
Why It’s Cool: Murder Falcon #1 is brimming with the sort of self-aware over-the-top comic book cheese I love: monsters, mayhem, kung-fu fighting falcons, and metal chords so savage they can alter the physical nature of the world around them. THere is, however, a surprising amount of heart to this book as well. As entertaining as its name and cover implies with a surprising amount of thought behind it all, Murder Falcon is the best comic out this week...a MUST BUY.

Supergirl #23
Writers:
Marc Andreyko & Kevin Maguire
Artist: Kevin Maguire
Inkers: Sean Parsons & Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: FCO Plascencia & Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Tom Napolitano
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Supergirl's cosmic quest continues as she searches the galaxy for the truth about Rogol Zaar's connection to Krypton's destruction-and if there are any other culprits to be brought to justice. The library police are hot on Kara's trail after she breaks into the Green Lantern database on Mogo, but she's short on credits to pay the fine.
Why It’s Cool: One of my favorite parts of Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman run to date is the idea that Krypton was not destroyed by a natural disaster but rather a concentrated act of bigoted hate. It’s a very 2018 idea, this notion that major power structures can be manipulated by playing on base fears of the other. Anyway, in Supergirl we have Kara adventuring through space with Krypto the dog, working to solve the mystery of whether the planet’s destruction was a hate crime, who perpetrated, and—most poignantly—what powerful group of people worked to cover it up. This is, simply put, one of DC’s best comics right now.  

Top New #1 Comics for October 10, 2018

Others Receiving Votes

  • Amazing Spider-Man #7

  • Avengers #9

  • Captain America #4

  • Crowded #3

  • Flash #56

  • Hawkman #5

  • Oblivion Song #8

  • She Could Fly #4

  • Suicide Squad #47

  • Titans #27

  • Unnatural #4

  • Venom #7

  • Weatherman #5

  • Wildstorm: Michael Cray #12

  • Wonder Woman #56

  • Wrong Earth #2

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

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

Relay #3 by Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, Donny Cates, Andy Clarke, Jose Villarrubia, & Charles Pritchett

By Zack Quaintance — When I finished reading Relay #3, I took a moment, inhaled, and stretched a one-syllable expletive into five or six. I don’t use much profanity (or I didn't before November 2016, ahem), and I usually say words with the regular amount of syllables (because I’m not Pauly Shore in the ‘90s...anyone get that? sorry, never mind). This comic, however, is as intricate and complex as any I’ve reviewed, as laden with disparate and heady ideas as it is with plot twists and perils for our hero.

Relay is, simply put, a precisely-executed hard sci-fi book that sets out to disorient and misdirect its reader...and then wildly accomplishes its goals. It’s why I love this book, and it’s also why I, quite frankly, find this book a major challenge to review. I, however, will bravely soldier on (hold your applause) throughout the length of this series, because I think Relay’s complexity will attract a large and loyal audience, catapulting this book into a massive hit, and also I want to engage with it on a deeper level, hopefully catching as much of what’s happening as possible before my head explodes (no regrets!).

Phew. Okay, now about this issue: in some ways it’s utterly different from all that came before, yet how it expands your perception of this story is entirely consistent with the first two issues. What actually sets Relay #3 apart is the long stretches within where Andy Clarke and Jose Villarrubia absolutely decimate eyes and minds with their artwork.

I’m becoming (somewhat) used to Zac Thompson’s whip-smart scripting and the brain twists of the story he cooked up with Eric Bromberg and Donny Cates, which point one way while suddenly teleporting another. Until now, however, Clarke’s linework has been detailed and imaginative yet fairly grounded in a futuristic vision of reality. That changes here. There is a stretch in Relay #3 where the art is grotesque in its design but stunning in its execution, abstract in a way that disorients while also serving the goals of the story. It’s really impressive, and based on the cover for Relay #4, we’re surely in for more.

As with the end of the first two issues, the final panel of Relay #3 leaves our story with an entirely new status quo. As such, I think it’s becoming clear that part of this story’s ambition is a statement about reality, showing us how fallible our perceptions are due to the inherently-limited nature of the information we as individuals have access to. We just believe so much because it’s what we’ve been told, be it history, customs, religion, politics, power structures, technology. In past reviews I’ve talked about how this story’s interests are colonialism, conformity, and God, and I think all of that is still true, but I’m starting to also suspect Relay has a point to make about the very nature of reality.  

Overall: This book is becoming more engrossing with each issue, so much so that I suspect word of mouth will soon catapult it to much wider audience. I highly recommend jumping on board now. Start at the beginning, of course, but whatever you do, read this comic—this series is not to be missed. 9.5/10

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

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Top Comics to Buy for September 5, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Phew, this week is packed tighter with great books than the shoebox where I used to keep my comics as a kid back before I shelled out the little bit of cash to get my first short box. That probably wasn’t as clever as I hoped it would be, but you get what I’m saying all the same. This? This is a good week for comics. In fact, we even had to write up six books instead of the usual five, and even then we were still force to make some tough choices.

In fact, it’s so good that it was a real challenge to pair down my list. I can usually confidently pick out the five comics I recommend most just by looking at what titles are coming out in a given week. This week, however, I had a near-crippling amount of indecision. Anyway, Leviathan, Relay, and Snotgirl all muscled their ways onto this week’s list just by virtue of being amazing comics.

Let’s take a look!

Top Comics to Buy for September 5, 2018

Batman #54
Writer: 
Tom King
Artist: Matt Wagner
Colorist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Dick Grayson-the original Robin-gets to spend some quality time fighting crime with his mentor for the first time since Batman popped the question to Catwoman. It's a walk down memory lane as Bruce Wayne helps Dick get over the loss of his high-flying acrobat parents, which in turn led to his crime-fighting career. Guest artist Matt Wagner (Mage, TRINITY) jumps on board for this special issue!
Why It's Cool: Cool is probably the wrong word for a book that seems like it's going to be a modern classic, a touching yet never saccharine examination of the father-son dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Batman's recent Cold Days arc was a near-masterpiece, but it's heartfelt and honest single issues like this seems to be \that keep Tom King's Batman among my favorite recent runs on the character. 

Border Town #1
Writer:
Eric M. Esquivel
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Publisher: Vertigo
Price: $3.99
When a crack in the border between worlds releases an army of monsters from Mexican folklore, the residents of Devil's Fork, AZ, blame the ensuing weirdness-the shared nightmares, the otherworldly radio transmissions, the mysterious goat mutilations-on "God-dang illegals." With racial tensions supernaturally charged, it's up to new kid in town Frank Dominguez and a motley crew of high school misfits to discover what's really going on in this town torn between worlds. 

Why It’s Cool: To quote our Border Town #1 ADVANCED REVIEW, Border Town #1 is a strong start for a reinvigorated Vertigo imprint, a relatable coming-of-age teen drama in one of the least understood yet most argued about parts of the country. The art is terrifyingly detailed, and the story leans enthusiastically into time-tested horror tropes, also finding new ground by adding Mexican/Chicano folklore and mythos.

Cover #1 (of 6)
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Mack
Publisher: Jinxworld
Cost: $3.99
Years in the making, from the award-winning team of Brian Michael Bendis and multimedia sensation David Mack, comes a brand-new graphic novel experience. And it's all kind of based on a true story. Sort of... Deep in the American intelligence community, someone realizes that comic book creators, who travel all over the world to sell their wares, might make the perfect cover for operatives in the dangerous, topsy-turvy world of intelligence and counterintelligence...and that's when all hell breaks loose. This is the story of the time the world of comics and the world of international spy work smashed together-with unexpected results!

Why It’s Cool: The creative team for this book have both worked with the government at various times, I believe, in consulting capacities, bringing their unique knowledge about narrative threats and the like to bear on real-world problems. It's poised to give this book—which is shaped by an excellent concept already—an added layer of honesty and truth. I really enjoyed Pearl #1 last month, the first fresh title from Bendis' reborn Jinxworld imprint, but Cover #1 looks like it's on another level. It stands to be such an honest look at life for comics pros, intermingled with an espionage story and stunning David Mack artwork. All indications are that this six-part series is going to be one to remember.

Leviathan #2
Writer & Letterer:
John Layman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colorist: Michael Garland
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
"'TIL DEATH DO US PART," Part Two...While Ryan DeLuca tries to piece together exactly how his friends summoned a giant monster, government defense forces take the fight to the depths of the Earth, where monsters dwell. Then, of course, they piss off the wrong monster.

Why It’s Cool: The second issue of the new book from Layman and Pitarra (who are an unbelievably complimentary team, btw) really hints at a much different book than I was expecting. I won’t go into detail about a comic that’s not out yet, other than to say that if you liked issue #1 you’ll love this one, and, even if you didn’t like #1, I’d still recommend giving this a chance, because it’s quite possible this book is up to more than you think.

Relay #3
Writer: Zac Thompson
Story By: Zac Thompson & Donny Cates
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
In the future, the galaxy is united under a monolith known as the Galactic Relay. Although the towering monument is meant to inspire conformity of ideas, technology, and progress, it is not without its enemies and many have begun to resent the foreign structure. And now, Jad Carter, a Relay employee, has found the Relay’s mythological creator. An interstellar mug causes a complete breakdown of reality. Jad travels inside the Monolith but it raises more questions than answers.

Why It’s Cool: The most complex and intricate sci-fi book on the shelves today...in market that is booming with great entries in the genre. Relay #3 expertly builds on the themes and complexity of its first two issues, while giving artist Andy Clarke some space to blow readers minds the way the story by Zac Thompson and Donny Cates has so far. This entire creativity team is firing on all cylinders. This book is a slow burn, but I’m starting to suspect it might end up being a mega hit. If you haven’t been reading this, I’d highly recommend grabbing all three issues this Wednesday, setting aside roughly 90 minutes of very quiet time, and diving all the way in.

Snotgirl #11
Writer:
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Artist: Leslie Hung
Colorist: Rachael Cohen
Letterer: Mare Odomo
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
NEW STORY ARC! Chapter 11: "MY SECOND DATE.” While her friends have some concerns, Lottie just wants to take her relationship with Caroline to the next level-which is why she's keeping it a complete secret!

Why It’s Cool: I mean, it just is (that’s a joke from the issue). As I Tweeted immediately after finishing this issue, there's a lot of comics that comment on our times, but Snotgirl does so in a really unique and refreshing way. Its interests are seemingly innocuous, but look closer and this book is often just as scary as comics about war or fascism. Content deals heavily in social media, vanity, modern priorities and values, and the price of appearances, all through an incredibly relatable and terrifying prism of neurosis.

Recommended New #1 Comics for September 5, 2018

  • Bully Wars #1
  • Dreaming #1
  • Jinxworld Sampler #1
  • Old Man Logan Annual #1
  • Silver Surfer Annual #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Captain America #3
  • Cosmic Ghost Rider #3
  • Dead Hand #6
  • Death of Inhumans #3
  • Deathstroke #35
  • Eclipse #10
  • Giant Days #42
  • Immortal Hulk #5
  • Justice League #7
  • Paper Girls #24
  • Seeds #2
  • Thanos Legacy #1
  • Unexpected #4
  • Unnatural #3
  • Walking Dead #183

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Beyonders #1 by Paul Jenkins & Wesley St. Claire

Beyonders #1 is out Aug. 29. 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — The opening pages of Paul Jenkins and Wesley St. Claire’s Beyonders #1 are not unlike having a conversation with someone who is really into historical conspiracy theories at a party or a bar: the information comes at you so fast that you can’t make much sense of it...all you know is that there’s something much much larger going on here, something that may or may not be worth going all in on.

In that sense, Beyonders #1 does a great job opening up a new comic, throwing out an intriguing hook that basically encapsulates what this story is about, one that will surely make clear to like-minded readers that they’re in for something worthwhile. For those who are maybe a little overwhelmed with the opening, the creative team does a great job of getting us right to our protagonist, who himself then makes clear that he finds this all a bit overwhelming as well. That he does it with some funny too is another enticing quality laid out early by Beyonders.

That’s all really great on a surface level. What I found more enticing about this book was the hints at bigger questions about conspiracy culture, about how it’s accelerated in odd regions due to the Internet and about how certain types of people are prone to use it as a distraction from more tangible and immediate things in the world around them. It’s all so relevant for this tough year of 2018, and Jenkins and St. Claire do a great job of conveying that without being heavy-handed.

Some of the scenes of Jacob’s real life, however, are just a little too on the nose and convenient, especially one where he’s called into his principal’s office so the man can give him a speech and also inform him he’s been denied...by every college he applied to. That convenience took me out of the story a little bit (just a little), but thankfully the book is never far off from lapsing back into its central concern: conspiracies.

Jenkins and St. Claire are experienced creators who know their craft stuff, and the book reads quickly. Everything here is well-polished and easy to digest. Whether or not is proves to be a lasting series, however, will likely depend on how well it continues to unpack the reasons online culture has accelerated belief in conspiracies.

Overall: There are a lot of surprises in this comic, as one is right to expect from a book about conspiracies, and they’re all well-done. In the end, I’d heartily recommend this comic to anyone who gets lost down conspiratorial rabbit holes on the Internet with any degree of regularity. 7.0/10

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

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Five Questions with Creators: Zack Kaplan

Zack Kaplan

By Zack Quaintance —  Writer Zack Kaplan is on the rise in comics. He’s currently writing three new and exciting series: Eclipse and Port of Earth for Image’s Top Cow imprint, and Lost City Explorers for AfterShock Comics. Both Eclipse and Lost City Explorers have also been optioned for TV, with the latter getting the call pretty quick after its first issue. It’s impressive stuff, and as fans of his work, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more success coming Kaplan’s way soon.

With that in mind, we recently talked to Kaplan for a new feature we’re launching on the site: Five Questions with Creators. It’s exactly what it sounds like. No more explaining needed...so, let’s get right to it!

1. I’ve seen in other interviews and your own notes with Eclipse that you’ve had some pretty interesting jobs...so, what are the most interesting jobs you’ve had (aside from creating comics)?

I mean, people may know I was a poker dealer and a SAT tutor, but I’ll tell you, one of the most interesting jobs I had was a movie trailer surveyor. I did temp work for a data entry company and they would input surveys measuring audience reaction to movie trailers. I punched in thousands of these surveys, and then I asked, hey, who does this? Someone goes to movie theaters and watches how the audience reacts to each trailer and gives it an “Okay” or “Good” or “Great”, and sure enough, there were a ton of people doing this around the country and sending in their data. So I said, “Can I do that?” and they said sure. For about two months, I went and watched movies and before the movie started, I would go to the different theaters and showtimes and gauge audience reaction, which was a completely subjective and random measurement. My own personal evaluation of whether people thought that Mission Impossible movie trailer looked good or great. It was a very random guess, but they reported this data to the studios, and they probably made pivotal decisions based on my keen insights. And I got to tell people I get paid to go watch movies. That was pretty interesting!

2. How do things like having been a poker dealer on the graveyard shirt or having taught screenwriting in the Philippines inform your stories?

I’m a big people watcher. I’ve always enjoyed jobs that allow me to watch and interact with people. Characters in stories are three dimensions, but people are like eight dimensions, and I’ve always found that fascinating. Being a poker dealer, I got to see a lot of interesting people and how they handle the challenges of an involved game like poker, but that was mostly people-watching. Teaching writing is a far more interactive practice, where you have to not just communicate the principles of the craft, but in a workshop setting, identify each student’s needs and address them in a way that helps that student improve. At the end of the day, I think all those experiences help me better understand that people are complex, and I try to capture those complexities and nuances in my writing.

Port of Earth #8 came out this Wednesday.

3. When and how did you first become interested in writing comics?

It began in 2002 when I came back to comics. I had read superheroes growing up, but when I discovered Brian K Vaughn’s Y THE LAST MAN or Greg Rucka’s QUEEN AND COUNTRY or everything Warren Ellis, I realized how diverse and multi-faceted the medium was. I got to see it through adult eyes and gained a whole new appreciation for it. I began reading and collecting a lot of creator-owned comics. I was already pursuing writing in film and TV, but I think that was when the seed was planted: cool writers write cool and original stories in comics. From then, whenever I thought of a story idea, and wondered if it would make a good movie or TV show, I started to wonder about comics. And finally, I took the plunge and decided I wanted to write a comic series too. I spent years trying to land a pitch. When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I still thought I was writing a comic, and it wasn’t until it came out that I realized I was becoming a comic book creator.

4. Your career trajectory has been really cool to watch...what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to someone who is where you were years ago and would love to eventually be where you are now?

When I finally landed ECLIPSE, I was very nervous. I’m a perfectionist and I wanted it to be great. And that’s simply too much pressure. So, I had to tell myself, Zack, this is not the one. This series, it can be good, you can do your best, but in your life, this one isn’t the one. This is the one that leads to the one. And that allowed me to do two things. Write without such pressure. And realize another important lesson. If I’m just writing good stuff until I get to the one, and none of these are the one, then I’m the one. I’m the product. And as a writer, or an artist, or any creative, I think if you realize that you are building a career of many projects and stories, and some will be good, and some will not, but overall, you are building a long career of creating, that thinking helps. It helps new creators to think small and create a lot of short content to get their names out, it helps inspire creators to work on lots of projects, because you never know which one will be the one. Who knows, maybe ECLIPSE will actually be the one, after all. Maybe not. I’m just busy writing lots of stories now, I can’t think about which one is the one.

5. Lost City Explorers seems to me like a classic teen adventure story for 2018...what are some of your favorite classic teen adventure movies?

Oh, where to begin! GOONIES! INDIANA JONES! Is ET an adventure movie? I think so! How about NEVER ENDING STORY or EXPLORERS? LABYRINTH or BACK TO THE FUTURE? I loved all of that fun, maybe campy stuff from the ‘80s. But I think what inspired THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS was wanting to have my version of those stories but without the 1980s nostalgia. It seemed like whenever people made those stories, they always had a nostalgia to them. I wondered what would a teen adventure look like in modern times. I’ve seen teen dramas. I’ve seen big world teen stories like HARRY POTTER or HUNGER GAMES, but those aren’t our world. So yes, THE LOST CITY EXPLORERS is my teen adventure but in our very own modern times!

+1. Do you remember the worst sunburn you’ve ever had...and do you ever think about it while you’re writing Eclipse?

When I was growing up, I went on a ski trip and got my face so burned, the skin was peeling off. My nose was a mess, and, of course, I came back to high school and they were taking the class pictures. Ugh! But this was years and years ago. The crazy thing is nowadays, it’s not even enough to put on sunscreen once for a day at the beach or a day outside. You have to reapply. The sun is becoming more and more deadly to us. This is happening, and 50 years from now, who knows how bad it will be. That’s what I love about the concept behind ECLIPSE. The sun is supposed to be this positive, happy, plant-growing force in our lives, but everyone secretly harbors a hatred to the sun and the one time it totally burned them. Screw you sun, we never forget!

Click here for a review of Eclipse #9 and here for a review of Lost City Explorers #1.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.