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 know...my 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
Writer:
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.

Top Comics to Buy for January 16, 2019

By Zack Quaintance — This was an interesting week for comics, in that many of the best creator-owned books coming out were well into their runs or midway into their first arcs. There are, of course, some interesting new #1 titles (there always as are, as that’s where the money is at, and all), including Adventure Time: Simon and Marcy, Black Widow, and Invaders. There’s also Marvel Comics Presents #1, which is the one I’m personally most interested in.

Still, great creator-owned books like Black Badge, Gideon Falls, Lodger, and Wic + Div all seem to be caught mid-arc. So, we’ve done what any good comics recommender would...read the issues and sorted them out and come up with some recommendations—even if there aren’t any good jumping on points to be had, except for Isola (more on that in a moment). We hope you’ll find it all helpful!

And now, onward to the comics!

Top Comics to Buy for January 16, 2019

*PICK OF THE WEEK*
Babyteeth #14
Writer:
Donny Cates
Artist: Garry Brown
Colorist: Mark Englert
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
So, hey, welcome back, folks. How about that issue 13, huh? I told you it was bananas. Anyway, look, I'd like to be able to tell you this one is easier or nicer somehow, but real-ly...have any issues of this book not been insane and weird? Would you even believe me If I said it was? No. You wouldn't. So, yeah, this issue is more of all that. Plus: BETRAYAL! (Dramatic music cue!)
Why It’s Cool: This issue really teases out writer Donny Cates’ abilities as a humor writer, which were last seen this directly during his first Marvel work on Doctor Strange and Thanos. Meanwhile, artist Garry Brown also gets some great chances to shine here in what is the first issue back after a bit of a break, using his design skills to also get in on the humor tip. It’s not all laughs though—this issue also raises some pretty stark questions about the devil and God, and, by extension, about our concepts of good and evil. Basically, this is the first issue in a while that really makes good on the immense promise Babyteeth had at launch way back when, so much so it makes me absolutely elated I stuck with this series.

Black Panther #8
Writer:
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Kev Walker
Colorist: Stephane Paitreau
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
"THE INTERGALACTIC EMPIRE OF WAKANDA: THE GATHERING OF MY NAME" Part 2 For years, the Maroons have lain dormant, planning the next stage of their rebellion. At last, it is time to strike - with a treasure hunt for unstable Vibranium! And with the Black Panther once again in their ranks, they're certain of victory. But what will victory cost? When the chips are down, will the Maroons rise to heroism, or are they doomed by the trauma of their past?
Why It’s Cool: Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates just keeps getting better and better at the comics game, and while his best work may be taking place over in Captain America, his current bonkers intergalactic arc on Black Panther is really no slouch. It’s a bit hard to make out what exactly is going on here—my guess is something funny with a wormhole...thank you to the Shuri title for the tip—but the imagination involved with the story is absolutely off the charts. Kev Walker also returns for another issue, which I’m all about because I thought Black Panther #7 was stunning.  

Electric Warriors #3
Writer:
Steve Orlando
Artist: Travel Foreman
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
The revolution starts now! Inceptor accidentally digs too far into the memories of the Electric Warrior from Gil'Dishpan and uncovers a conspiracy at the heart of the Covenant. The planet games are meant to bring profit and keep the various peoples across the galaxies in check, rather than encourage peace and cooperation. If Inceptor can convince the other Warriors of what he's learned, it might just spark the revolution that will free a galaxy.
Why It’s Cool: Simply put, Electric Warriors is the Big 2 comic right now that not enough people are talking about. It’s an impeccably-told future-set tale with a savage sci-fi concept. This issue pushes that concept a step further by—well, I won’t tip into spoiler territory but I will tell you that you should without question be reading this book. Especially if you fancy yourself any sort of DC Comics continuity buff, or even a hardcore DC fan.  

Isola #6
Writers:
Brendan Fletcher / Karl Kerschl
Artists: Karl Kerschl / Msassyk
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Olwyn has returned from the land of the dead, but did she return alone? The journey to Isola continues...NOW BI-MONTHLY!
Why It’s Cool: Isola is the best-looking comic coming out today (with apologies to The Dreaming), and this is the start of a new arc. The first trade is out there at the super reasonable $9.99 Image introductory price. It’s also a fairly decompressed comic, which means that with $10 and an afternoon, you can get caught up for this new jumping on point. And trust me when I tell you it’s very much worth. Not only is the art absolutely stunning, but the world is well-built and the characters compelling. The narrative is also paced with a rewarding rate of revelation, doling out enough to stay interesting without ever tipping into overly wordy dumping of exposition.

Superman #7
Writer:
Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Ivan Reis, Brandon Peterson, and Jason Fabok
Inker: Oclair Albert
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
It's the moment you've been waiting for: the shocking return of the son of Superman! A year spent traveling the stars changed Jon Kent. Are parents Clark and Lois ready for the all-new, all-different Superboy? Secrets are revealed, a new look debuts and Superman's world is changed forever!
Why It’s Cool: There’s a reason that Brian Michael Bendis dueling runs on Action Comics and Superman made our Top 5 Comics of 2018: they’re both really really good. Action grabbed me right away, but I must admit it took just a tiny bit longer for Superman to really reel me in. Now that it has, however, I just can’t get enough of this book. Superman #7 is another fantastic installment with top-tier art and a plot that keeps the pages turning. It also has something that Bendis is proving himself impressively adept at: a new iconic moment largely shaped by logical ways in which the rest of the city, Earth, or galaxy would come to view someone as powerful and benevolent as our guy Clark Kent. These are exciting and special superhero comics, and I feel lucky to be reading them in real time as they come out.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Adventure Time: Simon and Marcy #1

  • Black Hammer Director’s Cut #1

  • Black Widow #1

  • Invaders #1

  • Marvel Comics Presents #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • A Walk Through Hell #7

  • Amazing Spider-Man #13

  • Black Badge #6

  • Catwoman #7

  • Conan the Barbarian #2

  • Detective Comics #996

  • Gideon Falls #10

  • Hawkman #8

  • Ironheart #2

  • Lodger #3

  • Middlewest #3

  • Supergirl #26

  • Venom #10

  • Warning #3

  • Wicked + Divine #41

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.


REVIEW: Crude #6 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude #6 is out 9/19.

By Zack Quaintance —  It all ends here...unfortunately. I can’t help but feel like this story deserved to be longer. Clearly, there were plans for that at some point. The solicit for Crude #6 says END OF STORY ARC, not end of series. But, alas, writer Steve Orlando’s note in the back of this comic makes it pretty clear that our story has now ended, and, really, so too does the action on the page.

Crude hit its emotional heights last issue, with a revelatory chapter in which the protagonist finally got what he really wanted all along—a better idea of who his son was and what his son’s life was like. Throughout this series there has been somewhat of a duality, a physical plotline in which the main character battles the actual villains, thugs, and conspiracies responsible for his son’s murder with his highly-skilled fists; and an unseen subconscious struggle the main character has waged against guilt he felt over being dishonest with his son about who he was.

It’s been a powerful book, to be sure. There are surface level lessons about acceptance, but those stories are ones that have been told quite frequently in recent years. How Crude sets itself apart is with the case it makes for familial honesty. The exact nature of the secrets that our father and son duo kept from each other matter less as our story progresses. Piotr is not guilty per se about having been a government tough, and when he learns of his son’s bi-sexuality he’s accepting. It’s the lack of emotional courage that kept them from being honest with each other that engendered the deep guilt and regret, not the nature of their lives.

And it’s actually this notion that makes me most regret we won’t get more issues of Crude. It’s an intriguing one rarely (if ever) tackled by such a macho story. I’d have liked to have seen it tackled at a slower pace. Orlando and the art team of Garry Brown and Lee Loughridge, however, do a great job here of wrapping up the physical action on the page, making it both satisfying and cathartic. The foil for Piotr is aggressively awful right up to the point our hero doles out his comeuppance. It’s a classic revenge plot resolution, executed to perfection by skilled creators. I just wish we could have seen more of the lead-up and aftermath, of what Piotr’s life and grieving will be like.

Overall: A cathartic and fitting end to a book that packed as much of an emotional punch as it did a physical one. This final issue felt a bit compressed, but the creative team should still be proud of the emotional journey it put its protagonist through. If you missed out on Crude as a monthly comic, I HIGHLY recommend picking it up in trade. 9.0/10

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.

REVIEW: Crude #5 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

By Zack Quaintance — I’d like to start today by discussing Crude #5’s artwork. Garry Brown is a doing yeoman-like work on this book, creating panel after panel that brims with exactly what this story calls for in any given moment, be it a kinetic and violent pastiche or quiet emotional impact of our hero learning something heartbreaking and new about how he failed his son. Brown has been putting out killer work for a while now—from Black Road with Brian Wood to Babyteeth with Donny Cates—but, simply put, Crude is his best book to date.  

Phew, now on to the story. Crude #5 is the penultimate issue of the first arc, the place traditionally reserved for the steepest escalation in both action and consequence, and in that regard it certainly doesn’t disappoint. This is easily the best issue of Crude yet. What is perhaps most interesting about it is how much we learn about Piotr’s relationship with his murdered son, Kirilchik, which so far has been shown in brief, often only through a father’s mourning lens.

I once had a writing teacher who stressed what he called The Rate of Revelation. It’s a simple enough concept: stories live and die by how much new information we’re getting at any given moment. That’s not to say writers have to be telling us what our hero’s favorite food is all the time or something, but rather that a writer’s job is to find compelling ways to continually show an audience who these people they’ve invented are, what they’re made of, and why they matter.

And that’s exactly what Orlando’s script excels at in Crude #5: it finds new and compelling ways to constantly give us revelations about our hero, this time having the thoughts and feelings of his murdered son quoted back to him by someone who knew his son while he was alive. Our protagonist thus far has been nigh-invincible (thus far), at least when things devolve into violence, to the point I find myself unconcerned about his physical well-being. When he starts to learn key details (no spoilers!) about his son’s life—and the next panel pulls away to show how small he is in the room at that moment? Ho man, was I on the proverbial edge of my seat, and it just got more tense from there.    

Another thing Crude #5 does well is deepen its shady corporate culture plot, showing the exploitation of real people, which is thematically so relevant right now that it hurts. To say anything more would be to risk giving too much away. Lastly, I just want to note that this script has a wealth of really impactful lines, including one of my favorites: But there’s no self-respect in living just under people’s noses. Great stuff.

Overall: Crude #5 is the best issue of this book yet. More than a stage-setter for next month’s first arc conclusion, this comic is rich with revelations about its lead character and the world he’s beaten his way into. This series is career-best work for both Brown and Orlando, must-read comics. 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.

REVIEW: Crude #4 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude #4 is out July 18.

By Zack Quaintance — Crude #4 is yet another intense and emotional installment for one of the smartest series in indie comics. This book has a pair of clearly established plot lines—a father-son revenge story, and a meditation on late-model capitalism curtailing the humanity of individuals—and in this issue they begin to thoroughly intertwine in a way that really pushes the story forward.

Crude #4 opens exactly where the preceding issue left off, with protagonist Piotr Petrovich demanding information about his murdered son from a mob of attackers, all of whom he subsequently dispatches while incurring no greater damage than a cut on his arm. No greater physical damage, anyway. The larger stakes of the battle (as well as this book) involve what our hero learns about his son.

Being able to win fights but wanting instead to know more of his lost son is a value structure established quite well by Crude’s first three issues. Where #4 finds new ground is in its exploration of workers rights, corporations, industrial cartels, and the way individuals are controlled and debased by corrupt systems, no matter how hard they work. It also starts to explore the generational gap that has taken hold in society's across the world: the father as a good trusting soldier, the son as someone striving for change. This may be a reductive, but Crude is sneakily timely as hell.

In one particularly effective scene, a shady besuited executive rages that a single man is causing him so many problems, a man who is effectively acting outside established structures. It’s a telling metaphor, one Orlando and Brown have previously hinted at but kept in the background, wisely devoting earlier issues to vesting the audience in the more poignant father-son story.

One of the things I liked most about Crude #4, though, was the growth for the hero (or the promise of growth soon). It’s the best sort of character development: painful yet exactly what he wanted. Piotr has essentially been broken down of his own volition, continuing to learn that he didn’t know his son at all. Now begins the fascinating work of watching how he responds.

I’ve made this (likely simplistic) comparison before, but the emotional complexity of this comic is a bit like a Russian novel. At the same time, Orlando and Brown are clearly seasoned comics creators, because the usual qualities of great visual storytelling in chapter format are very much present: action, cliffhangers, callbacks to earlier issues. For me, it's this mix of fundamentals and meaning that make Crude so compelling.

Overall: Crude continues to have one of the most compelling hero's journeys in all of comics, one that blends gritty action with emotional devastation and subtle commentary. This fourth issue again ups the stakes in ways I could not have predicted. 9.0/10

For more about Crude, read our previous reviews of Crude #2 and Crude #3.

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

REVIEW: Crude #3 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, & Thomas Mauer

Crude  is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

Crude is a violent and complex revenge story, driven by a father-son relationship.

By Zack Quaintance — As much as I liked Crude #1 and #2—and I did, a lot—it’s #3 that firmly establishes the book as one of my favorite ongoing creator-owned titles, up there with Saga, Monstress, and Southern Bastards. To get even more specific, it was actually this issue’s last panel that cemented it with such lofty company, a panel I will, of course, only discuss in vague terms here, because spoilers are bad, etc.

Anyway, a quick refresher: Crude is from writer Steve Orlando, artist Garry Brown, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Thomas Mauer, and it's about a former Russian assassin seeking information on/revenge for the death of a son he never understood, a son who sought a new life in a far-flung oil city in Siberia (I think). When that son is murdered amid a dispute between rival oil companies, our hero heads to Siberia to do what he should have done in life—get to know his boy. And also to kick an incredible amount of ass, usually shirtless and streaked in greasy filth for a tactical advantage (I’m telling you, this comic rules).

Badassery aside, Crude’s compelling character motives and poignant imagery make it truly special. Let’s look at both of those in detail, starting with motives. Piotr (our hero) is on a dual quest, one for physical revenge, and another to know his son better. It’s the second one that’s really compelling. In fact, one gets the sense Piotr is less distraught by death—in his reality life is cheap—than by never being emotionally honest with his son, which causes him to feel culpable for the murder. Simply put, I fear more for Piotr emotionally than physically, as I learned in this issue when our hero learned details about his son during a pair of fight scenes. There’s just so much relatable father-son BS masculine angst.

Basically though, the aforementioned dual motivations are what push the book forward. An ubiquitous piece of creative writing advice is to create a character and give that character something they want, badly. The more we know what the character cares about, the more we care about the character. And the more wanting something puts the character in difficult situations, the better. That’s what Crude does so effectively (again, see #3’s final panel!).  

Garry Brown is doing career best work in  Crude , especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

Garry Brown is doing career best work in Crude, especially as it pertains to the conceptualization of the imagery.

The second strength—poignant imagery—makes Piotr’s motivations all the more visceral, the way only comics can. Every issue has had a haunting panel conveying Piotr’s mourning and regret. This issue, however, has the most memorable yet, wherein Piotr walks through a seedy alley with a ghostly coffin chained to his neck, ridden by his son who waves his arms as if it were the bomb in Doctor Strangelove. Oof.

Overall: Crude #3 exceeds previous installments, raising this book up among my favorite creator-owned titles right now, as well as among my favorite Image books period. It’s well-constructed and perfectly-executed, a bleak and deeply emotional story about damage caused by emotional distance and dishonesty between fathers and sons. 9.8/10

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

REVIEW: Crude #2 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, & Lee Loughridge

Crude No. 2 by Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge is a rare second issue that builds expertly on its predecessor while also standing alone as a rewarding read. On the surface, this issue is the story of a turf war between a dominant oil company in a far-flung industrial Russian city and an upstart rival, with an old man who has a history of violence  interjecting himself into the fray.

I’m not doing the plot justice (read this book for yourself—I strongly recommend it), but it’s equal parts bleak and compelling, heavy on ethos and fast-paced, graphic storytelling. It's very good. When evaluated as a continuation of Crude No. 1, however, this issue becomes a deeper and more rewarding part of a larger narrative about a man solving a mystery, seeking revenge, and potentially atoning for his life's chief mistake.

One of the qualities to Orlando’s work that puts him among my favorite comic book writers (dating back to his excellent 2015 Midnighter) is how he refuses to dumb anything down for readers. There’s a promise I’ve found made by Orlando comics, something along the lines of If you work to immerse yourself in this story, to really focus and engage with what I’m doing here, I will greatly reward you for your efforts.

And this new creator-owned book from Image Comics is his strongest work to date. In the first issue, Crude showed itself to be a story of juxtapositions of two lives, one of violence and another of domestic bliss, all within its first four pages: two of which showed our protagonist, Piotr, at breakfast with his family, and two of which showed him violently thrashing enemies.

One problem I see at times within modern comics is a somewhat gratuitous use of time jumps: Then. Now. Five Minutes Past Then. Next Thursday, etc., but Crude uses non-linear storytelling to great effect, thereby justifying every time jump. Crude is a story that must incorporate mistakes made through time—not so much the violence of Piotr’s past but rather his decision to keep it hidden from his son—and it uses juxtaposition to make those mistakes all the more powerful. The non-linear time elements in this book are, in other words, essential.

There two panels, which appear in both  Crude #1  and  #2 , are at the crux of its story.

There two panels, which appear in both Crude #1 and #2, are at the crux of its story.

Crude's artwork also bears mention. The nature of our plot is such that there’s a significant amount of interiority. It’s basically a story of a man grappling with regret, which is a difficult conflict to convey in comics, but Brown and Loughridge’s art does an incredibly effective job working in tandem with Orlando’s scripting. In issue No. 1, when Piotr first sees the body of his son, the book excels at showing rather than telling, deploying panels that alternate between the body and the man’s reaction as he hears earlier dialogue echo in his mind, asking “this your son?” and we realize he’s weeping not only for his loss but because his own life of secrets prevented him from ever truly knowing his only boy. Powerful stuff.

Overall: Crude No. 2 introduces a framework for the challenges and mystery our protagonist must fight to overcome, and it does so in a suspenseful way that doesn’t sacrifice any of the interiority that made No. 1 so compelling. Orlando, Brown, and Loughridge are really building something special here, something that feels powerful as well as painstakingly deliberate. 9.3/10

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