The Saga Re-Read: Saga #4

Lying Cat and his human, The Will. 

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — This is it folks, the last issue before we start the final 50-issue home stretch. We're officially within a year of finishing this project! I can't speak for Cory (whom I know is itching to read ahead at a faster pace...and who could blame him?), but I've gotten quite a bit out of this little re-read project so far.

Part of the logic for doing this was to keep the story and the characters fresh in my mind during the one-year hiatus. This series is so well-done, though, that doing a slow re-read is having the added advantage of making me aware of layers and character growth I might have glazed over during my first read, when every time I cracked an issue I was mostly just concerned with what's going to happen?! Essentially, that's all a verbose way of noting that taking Saga at a slow, weekly pace is a new experience for me as a re-reader and I'm noticing things I might have missed the first time. 

Onward!

Saga #4

Here's the official preview text from way back when for Saga #4: 

Welcome to SEXTILLION, a distant planet where even your darkest fantasies become reality. See why everyone's talking about this hit new ongoing adventure from BRIAN K. VAUGHAN and FIONA STAPLES!

Oooo, that's all a bit more descriptive than the last two weeks. Sextillion! How exciting. The solicit has also segued from touting the book as a controversy to embracing it's roll as a budding mega-hit, the likes of which Image (and, really, the industry) hadn't seen since Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, which took a few years and a successful TV adaptation to really get rolling. Saga, meanwhile, was a hit right from the start. Now on to your takes!

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: This issue gives us another of Saga's distinctive intro pages, one of the first of many to come. Really, this whole issue is another pretty slow one, especially as it pertains to our central family with all the main action happening off-panel and the dramatics relying on conversation. It is interesting to look back at, though, because it depicts a desire on Vaughan's part to make even his villainous characters sympathetic right from the start (talking of The Will here). Sometimes I feel like comics writers become enamored with villains and backwards engineer sympathy. Not here, though. This issue also has that panel that I reference in my spoiler heavy Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad piece. Sigh.

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber:  Well, Sextillion is, umm, interesting. I’ve heard of these unique opening pages that Saga likes to throw our way, and this one was unique, for sure. Moreover, I quite enjoyed the back-and-forth banter between Alana and Izabel. I feel that relationship is going to grow on me. Also, it was nice to see that The Will can be sympathetic, at least as it applies to saving child sex slaves. And, it was nice to see that flat-headed slaver get his comeuppance. We have been getting a lot of great personal, character moments and relationship/world building, but that appears to be changing soon based on the last page. I can’t wait to see how the action and mayhem unfurls.

Cory’s New Reader Predictions:  We will be seeing the wrath of Gwendolyn, at some point. And I cannot wait for it!

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #5! Tweet us @BatmansBookcase with your own thoughts, and we may run them here next week...

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

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: Ryan Cady

Infinite Dark is slated for release Oct. 10.

By Zack Quaintance — Ryan Cady will make his Marvel debut this coming Wednesday, writing a backup story drawn by Hayden Sherman for the Old Man Logan Annual. The month after that, he’s launching one of the darker creator-owned books to be solicited all year. How dark? Infinitely so (the book’s title is Infinite Dark).

I could continue prattling about his credentials and how he’s basically the definition of an exciting creator to watch, but instead I’ll step aside now as Ryan answers our latest set of five questions with creators (plus one extra one about fast food)...

1. So, I had a chance to read the preview of Infinite Dark from SDCC. Really great stuff! Where did the idea for this story come from and what was your process like for taking it from idea to a fully-realized comic?

Thanks man! I’ve had the idea for quite awhile. It came out of some pretty rough, bleak times in my life, and I sort of hung onto this idea of “survival as a virtue.” Wanting to explore that, I turned toward this mishmash of horror ideas I’d had about the Heath Death of the Universe, listened to some really appropriate dark/emo music, and synthesized it all into a plot. It was just about bringing all those disparate kernels together under that theme, and getting it to be something Andrea wanted to create together.

2. The concept of the book and the preview left me feeling lonely and almost outside of myself…what sort of headspace did you have to get in while writing this story and developing these characters?

Like I said before, I was in a hard place. 2017 was the worst year of my life, personal-life wise. I moved across the country for a relationship that started crumbling, I lost of lot of support structures, some friendships collapsed, money was tight – I felt kind of lost out there. But coming out of that – surviving at any cost and finding a home even if it’s not who you were before…that’s sort of where I was when it finally became time to script. And even if the story starts off as bleak as can be, in pure empty oblivion, I promise there is hope for these characters. Even if they don’t have much yet, themselves.

3. Andrea Mutti’s art is so good, such an interesting hard sci-fi aesthetic. What is the collaboration process between the two of you like?

Andrea Mutti is one of the most enthusiastic people in comics. He’s always cheery, always excited, always pushing me. I have a lot of close character thoughts, but he’s always so good about making sure I remember the dynamism of comics, the big images and dramatic action that can precede or even help further convey those moments. Plus, he uses a lot of friendly emojis in his emails that just always make my day.

Hayden Sherman's art (via Twitter) for Cady's story in Old Man Logan Annual, out Sept. 5.

4. What can you tell us about the story you’re writing for next month’s Old Man Logan Annual, from what I understand it’s an excerpt from Frank Castle’s War Journal…

Oh man, I could not be more ecstatic about my Marvel debut, man. This story is…Well, it’s an examination of Frank Castle – one of the most nihilistic dudes in the Marvel Universe – traversing the Wastelands of the Old Man Logan timeline – easily the most nihilistic time period of the Marvel Universe. And while that sounds bleak and brutal and awful (and the story is, at times), where we’re taking Frank still gives him a leg to stand on. A crusade. He’s going to encounter some people who want to recreate the mistakes of the past, and he’s having none of it.

5. So, when you haven’t been mentally inhabiting post-heat death survivalist scenarios or alternate future stories about whatever-it-takes vigilantism…what comics, books, TV, movies, music, etc. have you been consuming lately?

Ha! Well, I’m a huge D&D fan, so I play in a couple campaigns and I’m a huge fan of the Adventure Zone podcast. I like podcasts and audiobooks cause I drive a lot and listen to ‘em when I do chores, etc. So I’m big on TAZ and the Magnus Archives, and I’m doing my best to work through a lot of the “Top Horror Novels of All Time,” and try to get back to my roots, as it were. Comics-wise, I’ve actually been trying to go back and read more formative, classic stuff – I just finished Transmetropolitan, some old X-Men runs, a few Ennis stories…Like I said, trying to shore up my roots.

The Beefy Crunch Burrito in all its...glory?

+1. As a noted fast food connoisseur, what if any fast food products are most likely to survive the heat death of the universe and why?

Taco Bell re-releases the Beefy Crunch Burrito once every couple years, and everyone loves it, but they never keep it around for long, even though demand is crazy high and it’s easy to make with ingredients they mostly keep on hand anyway. I imagine that somewhere on board the Orpheus there’s some kind of future Taco Bell, and even though all food is available with matter processors, even though there’s no actual time or seasons or anything, they STILL only release the fucking thing once a year, just to torture these poor people.

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

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

REVIEW: Wasted Space #4 by Michael Moreci, Hayden Sherman, Jason Wordie, & Jim Campbell

Wasted Space #4 is out Aug. 22, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — One of the qualities (among many) that has drawn me to Wasted Space is its sheer complexity. This is the series’ fourth issue, and going in I found myself wondering what facet of this story Moreci, Sherman, et al. would explore here in greater depth. Would we finally see Devolous Yam (almost)? Would we learn more about the powers shared by our series leads (almost again)? How about more of Legion, the giant unstoppable force driven to absolutely stomp our heroes (no, but check out #5’s cover)?

The first three issues have just laid so much excellent groundwork, planting tons of compelling seeds for the creators to explore (great news: this book had been granted ongoing status, now likely to run for at least 20 issues). Anyway, we start here with protagonist Billy having his longest conversation yet with The Creator, a robot who appears only to him and is also basically God to the vast majority of the galaxy.

Wasted Space #4, much like preceding issues, doesn’t spoon feed its audience easy answers. Instead, it keeps marching forward, putting characters in deeper jeopardy and revealing info only as it applies to that. What does, however, become clearer in this fourth installment is that Wasted Space likely aspires to be a pretty direct (although not heavy handed) allegory for our current times, one that challenges readers with difficult questions.

There are plenty of interesting questions asked in brief, but the one I see at the heart of this thing is about repercussions. This is a theme hinted at in every issue, and so it’s no surprise it shows up again here, but what this book seems to want its readers to think about is not causes of systematic oppression or tumult, but rather what is the responsibility of individuals to respond to grave trouble, what is the just thing to do and how does one continue doing it after personal losses mount? It’s heady and compelling stuff, at times blurring the troubling line between staying comfortable and embracing outright nihilism.

Hayden Sherman, meanwhile, continues proving himself one of the most versatile sci-fi artists in comics, as capable of nailing scenes entirely reliant upon facial expressions as he is of rendering extreme violence or intricate spaceship interiors. He’s supported here by Jason Wordie’s vibrant colors, and by Jim Campbell’s letters, which do quite a bit, getting across long tracks of whispered conversation seamlessly. When a letterer is at their best, their work breezes by without notice, and that’s certainly the case with Campbell in this issue.

Overall: Wasted Space #4 is rich with both sporadic bursts of idea-heavy conversation as well as with space opera action, which is basically this series’ MO. For those as engaged with this comic as I am, this issue is yet another step forward in one of the most exciting sci-fi epics in comics today. 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.

Five Questions with Creators: Charlie Stickney

White Ash #1 by Charlie Stickney and Conor Hughes.

By Zack Quaintance — Charlie Stickney is the comic writer behind White Ash, which just recently completed its third successful Kickstarter. White Ash, as we wrote in our February 2018 New Discoveries, is a compelling and well-done comic that combines bits of classic fantasy stories with a star-crossed lovers conflict and sets the whole thing in rural Pennsylvania—it’s well worth checking out.

Anyway, Charlie was also kind enough to take some time out to talk to us for Five Questions with Creators feature, discussing White Ash, Kickstarter comics versus indie publishing, and advice for comics writers who are just starting out.

Let’s do it!

1. How many Kickstarter campaigns have you done for White Ash?

This is our third Kickstarter for White Ash. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we’ve been successful on all three outings and that each has progressively built upon the last. If all things continue to go well, a Kickstarter for Chapter Four should be live sometime late in October or early in November.

White Ash #2.

2. What have you learned about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign in the process?

This is a HUGE topic. There are websites like comixlaunch that devote (really informative) weekly podcasts to the subject. I will say though, for me, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that a big misconception people have about Kickstarter is they think making a great comic and putting it on the platform will be enough. And that’s not the case. You have to understand how the Kickstarter algorithm works. Kickstarter only makes money when your project funds. So projects that are doing well are promoted. Projects that don’t have a surge of backers, don’t get any love…no matter how great they are. So, you need to make sure that to get funded on Kickstarter, that you kickstart your campaign on Kickstarter. That means on day one, you need a bunch of backers lined up. For our most recent campaign, we had a huge surge of returning backers that got us off to an amazing start, which eventually carried us to over $23,000 in funding.

But for our first campaign, when nobody had heard about White Ash, that meant making sure we had enough people lined up who would pledge right off the bat to help create that surge to get the ball rolling. One way or another, you need a big pool of day one backers.

White Ash #3.

3. What are some of the advantages of funding your comic through a Kickstarter campaign?

We use Kickstarter as a pre-sales distributor. So in essence, it’s our version of Previews Catalogue. From that perspective it has a lot of advantages. While the actual Previews has a larger reach, we’re still seen by a huge number of people who buy comics. And the percentage of revenue we give to Kickstarter is only a fraction of what we would give to Diamond (and currently we are self-published so there’s no publisher fee/cut). Which means we’re making more on Kickstarter per issue than we would on the stands in a comic book shop. Plus, we still own all of the intellectual property rights, so if someone wanted to turn White Ash into a TV series or a movie, we’d again be the ones making the money.  

4. What advice would you give a would-be creator who has an idea for a book right now on how to go from idea to physical comic?

I think it depends on what the creator’s background is and how much experience they have with the art form. But let’s assume for the sake of this question that they’re a writer with a little experience and a decent understanding of the medium. If that’s the case, there two things they need: a finished script and an artist/team of artists to work with. And they won’t be able to get the second without the first.

So start with the script. Don’t just hash around ideas. If you want another professional to work with you, you need to show them what you’re bringing to the table. So write the entire script out.  Once you have a script in hand that you think is ready for prime time, then you can go looking for an artist. Jim Zub has a website with some amazing advice for writers (and comic professionals in general). He devotes an entire post to finding an artist. I recommend reading that, and everything else on his blog. But where I’d personally recommend someone go nowadays to find an artist is Twitch Creative. There you watch them live stream their art, chat with them, and get a sense of what they like to draw. This is important, because finding an artist for your book is a lot like dating, you need to be compatible. Just because you’re both great on your own, doesn’t mean you’re going to be great together. Then once you find that partner, get cracking, because making a comic book is a lot of work.

5. For fans of White Ash, is there anything you can give away about where the story and characters are headed?

One of the nice things about self-publishing is that we get to tell the story at my pace. And I’ve really enjoyed taking my time over the first three, extra-long issues, getting to know the characters and the town of White Ash. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy good action sequences. And without giving too much away, I can say we’re going to get a lot of action in Chapter Four. It’s the climax to our first story arc and we’re wrapping some bits up with a BANG…and some slicing…and skewering…and, well, you get the idea.

Charlie Stickney and Conor Hughes at San Diego Comic Con.

Charlie Stickney is a writer/producer from Los Angeles who has worked in various fields of the entertainment industry (animation, film, television) for close to 20 years. He’s written for companies including: Universal Studios, Sony Pictures, Revolution Studios, and Scholastic Productions, developed and creating shows like Cosmic Quantum Ray and Horrible Histories. Charlie has always had a passion for comics. While in college, he interned in the editorial offices at Marvel Comics. And were it not for a job offer in Los Angeles, the plan after graduation was to move to New York to write comic books. But now, after a longer detour than intended, he’s returned to his roots with the fantasy/romance/horror comic book, White Ash. Billed as Romeo and Juliet meets Lord of the Rings…in rural Pennsylvania, White Ash: Chapter Three just finished an insanely successful run on Kickstarter.

Check out our other Five Questions with Creators pieces and other Comics Lists here!

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.

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.

The Saga Re-Read: Saga #1 and Foreshadowing

The lewd-yet-mundane opening panel is an ocassional Saga tradition that started way back in issue #1.

By Zack Quaintance & Cory Webber — Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples recently announced a 1-year (minimum) intermission for Saga, our favorite ongoing comic here at Batman’s Bookcase. To be blunt, we’re ambivalent. We know artistic inspiration is fleeting and intangible, and that one cannot always just will it into being. Great work is often done by creators who are rested, happy, unstressed. Basically, we know even massive talents like Vaughan and Staples need a break.

That’s our logical stance. Emotionally, however, we’re bummed to go an entire year without Saga, and so we’ve decided to occupy ourselves by undertaking an idea we saw on Twitter: during Saga’s 52-week (minimum) intermission, we’re going to re-read the series in its entirety, one issue per week.

We’re going to talk about what happens (briefly), share observations made with the benefit of hindsight, and wrap up each installment with impressions from a first-time reader. We’re going to keep spoilers to a minimum to make this accessible for veteran Saga fans and newbies alike. And we’re going to invite you all to join us—like a massive and amorphous online book club, without the part where everyone meets to talk about it for a few minutes before devolving into unrelated conversations and drinking lots of wine.

Anyway...there you have it. Check back each Friday for the next year (gulp!) as we discuss our re-read of Saga.

Saga #1

Here’s the official preview text for Saga #1:

A rare scene of the two species in combat. The war the series is so heavily informed by is afterward waged mostly off panel.

Y: THE LAST MAN writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN returns to comics with red-hot artist FIONA STAPLES for an all-new ONGOING SERIES!  Star Wars-style action collides with Game of Thrones-esque drama in this original sci-fi/fantasy epic for mature readers, as new parents Marko and Alana risk everything to raise their child amidst a never-ending galactic war. The adventure begins in a spectacular DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE, with forty-four pages of story with no ads for the regular price of just $2.99!

That’s a decent description, although the Game of Thrones comp is off...there is no dynastic politicking to be found here. Saga #1 definitely has hints of Star Wars, though, including but not limited to this killer line: It was a time of war. Isn’t it always.

This is overall a great debut, one that orients the reader in the world of Saga and also introduces a number of excellent character designs, including Lying Cat, Prince Robot IV, and the utterly fantastical chaos our young family encounters at the Uncanny Bridge. What this debut perhaps does best from a script perspective is establish the relatable dynamic between Marko and Alana, our two central lovers. In fact, a better solicitation might have been Star Wars-style action collides with Romeo and Juliet-esque drama if the star-crossed lovers had managed to have a child…but in 2012 (same as today), George R.R. Martin was a far more relatable reference than ol’ Willy Shakespeare. Sigh. 

This foreshadowing is yet to come to fruition, although it is established a few panels later that Alana carries a non-lethal weapon called a heart breaker...

Veteran and First-Timer Perspectives

A Re-Reader’s Perspective by Zack: What’s most interesting to me is the foreshadowing. So much plot is hinted at by via quick lines. I won’t go into detail (spoiler free, after all), but for re-readers I don’t have to. In terms of craft, Vaughan’s preference for exploring family dynamics versus war is evident. Staples art, meanwhile, is noticeably rougher—in everything from colors to linework—but her ambitious and unique designs are here from the start. Last, I’ll just note that a Saga tradition—the lewd-yet-mundane first panel—is the perfect place for our story to start.

Veteran readers who are all caught up show also checkout Why Saga #54 Hurts So Bad.

 

A New Reader’s Perspective by Cory Webber:  Wow! Okay, I get why I’ve heard fans hyping this book since I started reading comics four years ago. First, Saga #1’s world building is uncanny. After just one issue, I feel like I’ve been living in their same universe. Also, Vaughan writes these characters as if they’re real people he’s known for a lifetime. They are flawed, emotional beings—none more so than Alana and Marko—and I find myself sympathetic toward almost all of them (hey, I’m just not sure about The Will and Lying Cat right now, okay?!). Out of the gate, Alana is my favorite...she is witty, feisty, sardonic. I did, however, have to re-read this book a couple of times due to its length. This issue is dense, yet it’s not overly complicated, nor is it filled with any inconsequential fluff. It’s just so detailed that you really have to pay attention. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned Staples’ art. She brings an enormous amount of emotion and humanity to her characters through their faces and postures. Even, surprisingly, for characters that have TVs for heads. I’m excited to finally be starting this journey, and can’t wait to see where this goes...even though I hear the final issue before the hiatus is a real heartbreaking note to end on.

Cory’s New Reader Prediction: The last page shows Alana and Marko with the baby, along with a narration from an older Hazel that makes me think one of them won't make it past #54. There’s no way Alana will be killed off, so I’m guessing Marko kicks the bucket along the way. I sure hope I am wrong!

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to check back next Friday for a discussion of Saga #2!

Cory Webber is a work-from-home entrepreneur who also reads and reviews comics for fun. Find him on Twitter at @CeeEssWebber. He lives in Lehi, Utah with his wife and three sons.

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

LYING.

REVIEW: Black Badge #1 by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins, Hilary Jenkins, & Jim Campbell

Black Badge #1 is a polished and confident debut from the same team behind Grass Kings.

By Zack Quaintance — Black Badge #1 is writer Matt Kindt and artist Tyler Jenkins follow up to Grass Kings, and, at first glance, it seems to be a gentler story, one about a group of scouts on a special trip to faraway South Korea. Like its predecessor (and like most comics, really), however, there is also a darker complexity at work here.

There are a few layers to this book. There’s the premise: our heroes are part of an elite troop of boy scouts that the U.S. government sends on covert missions, kind of like green berets with a deceptive and innocent veneer. There’s the thematic interests: merit badges here seem to be standing in for ornamental and ultimately meaningless life achievements, things we convince ourselves we must obtain because we’re told that’s what we should want. And there’s an examination of what it means to be the good scout, or in this case, soldier.

Black Badges #1 is very much a straightforward and well-done introduction to this story. It’s an engaging read, a polished #1 comic that never stumbles by over-explaining who are heroes are, which does the double work here of leaving room for the creators to later build in secrets. We get a four panel grid in which a bully underestimates each of them, saying things like, You brought everything you need? Your tedd bear in there? And, Willy. Dude. you need to lay off the scout snacks. Typical bully snark that shows us how our elite team will be both perceived and underestimated.

This excellent four-panel grid does a great job telling us about our protagonists without feeling like an info dump.

This first issue is well-told, an effective and entertaining means of learning who are heroes are, what they do, and, in part, why they do it. It works well as a hook, although the exact direction of the plot is still fuzzy. There definitely seems to be an exploration of morality in the offing, one that might use the age of the characters to explore idealism as well as the way children are often treated as invisible non-actors (our team’s secret weapon). Previews of future issues also hint at the book taking a look at foreign policy, and they've definitely set up a great lens to do just that. I certainly trust Kindt and Jenkins too, especially after the success they had with Grass Kings, which had a less engaging premise, at least on its surface.

Overall: Black Badge #1 seems to be the start of another great series by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. This first issue has all the exposition we need plus some intriguing hints into its thematic interests, yet it never feels like an info dump. This is a confident and polished debut issue, one that hints at big things in store. 8.0/10

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: Relay #2 by Zac Thompson, Andy Clarke, Jose Villarrubia, & Charles Pritchett

The Relay features a story conceived by Zac Thompson, Eric Broomberg, & Donny Cates.

By Zack Quaintance — The Relay, as those who read the first issue are aware, is an epic science fiction story about messiah figures, the evolution of ideals, the safety of conforming, and colonization. In issue one, we glimpsed daily life on Earth—complete with dissident unrest. In issue two, the focus shifts to how denizens of powerful Earth interact with colonial worlds. The Relay #2, however, is far more than just a statement about imperialism, which has been done often in modern sci-fi.

No, in this issue the book places a welcome and heavy emphasis on ideological debate. It’s nearly impossible to go into specifics without tipping the twists—of which there are nearly half a dozen—but I’ll try my best now to discuss what this story is about and why I found it so engaging.

Essentially, The Relay #2 examines what happens when a dissident’s original teachings evolve into dominant rule, inherently turning them against the values of the dissident who created them. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s likely intended to be. There’s a Jesus allegory at work here. Historically, Christianity in its earliest throes was subversive, a loving approach to life under Roman oppression. Christianity ultimately won, of course, and so the society we live in now is shaped by its rule. Basically, the same teachings that were once subversive have assumed power, gaining the ability to do the oppressing or to grant rationale for colonization (it’s all a good deal more complex, but that’s my own abbreviate, comic book review take).

In The Relay #2, this allegory is clearly tipped when one character is surprised to meet another, blurting Jesus, you’re really him, to which the subject character responds, I’ve been called many things, but never Jesus...as Christ-like a line as one could conceive of. It’s all very complex, and this is a text-heavy issue, to be sure, but the team has done such great foundational work establishing mystery and stakes (what’s more important than the fragility of a protagonist with a beloved and deeply-held world view?) that simple conversations in this issue are as tense and compelling as any laser battle or lightsaber duel could ever be.

In my The Relay #1 review, I drew comparisons between that comic and the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin or Philip K. Dick. This second issue re-enforces that comparison, especially to Le Guin, whose own anthropological sci-fi is such a clear influence. Le Guin is my favorite science fiction writer, as well as one of my favorite writers period, which is perhaps why I’m loving this comic so much. Simply put, for fans of hard sci-fi or complex societal explorations in comics, this series is not to be missed.

Overall: The Relay #2 continues establishing this series as one of the smartest comics today, diving deeper into the anthropological concerns of the debut. Heady and dense, the stakes here involve our perception of reality itself. Is there anything more consequential? This book makes readers work hard, to be sure, but the intellectual payoff is well-worth the effort. 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.

July 2018 New Comic Discoveries: So Much Horror

By Zack Quaintance — Ice cream men, sunlight, sweethearts...there’s not usually anything scary about all of that innocuous and gleaming wholesomeness, but comics is comics, a skunkworks for ideas, and as such an enterprising group of creators has, indeed, made ice cream men, sunlight, and sweethearts scary. This is the central throughline of our three picks for July 2018 New Discoveries (the feature in which we finally catch up with comics we've been meaning to read). All of these stories take the precious, the quaint, the everyday pleasantness of being—and viciously mine them for hidden terrors, which, let's face it, seems appropriate for our recent times.

This is, after all, the odd and acrimonious year of 2018, wherein the news is a horror show and any attempt to understand the direction of the country by engaging with your neighbors is liable to end in a berserker bout of verbal combat. Maybe that’s why I found these three books so engaging...they contained ideas that seemed innocent, but, upon closer examination, were rife with seething dysfunction. If these comics are any indication, such explorations can yield fantastic stories (see also David Lynch, specifically Twin Peaks).

With all that in mind, let’s look now at our July 2018 New Comic Discoveries!

July 2018 New Comic Discoveries

Eclipse Vols. 1 & 2 by Zack Kaplan and Giovanni Timpano

In Eclipse, the sun has become an indiscriminate killer. A mysterious solar incident has occurred, turning sunlight lethal and forcing humans to spend the daytime underground. Old power structures have crumbled; new ones have risen in place. A mysterious group of albinos—immune to the light—have now appeared. They are murderous, engineered by corrupt societal leaders who are now targets of their revenge. Those are the high-minded things I like about the book. On a base this is really freaking cool level, I also dig the creative ways bad guys weaponize the sun, like using mirrors, poking holes in walls, etc. It’s scary and exciting stuff.

This book had been on my radar for some time, especially after writer Zack Kaplan’s other comics—Port of Earth and Lost City Explorers—were met with such enthusiastic reviews by many writers I admire and respect. This book’s concept essentially succeeds by turning the nurturing presence of sunlight into a lethal menace that exacerbates societal ills, ills that were easily ignored during less trying times, ills such as power disparities, corruption, and sacrificing the lives of those deemed inconsequential in service of the higher classes. This concept, of course, needs a grounded character-driven story, too, and Kaplan and artist Giovanni Timpano have definitely crafted one, one that is improving as their run continues. If only there were a fitting adjective to describe the exciting outlook for this book, to say the future of this story is...something. Oh well.

Check out our review of Eclipse #9!

Ice Cream Man Vol. 1 by W. Maxwell Prince & Martin Morazzo

There are so many good horror comics coming out right now (have you all read Gideon Falls? so good!), but, even amid the onslaught, Ice Cream Man by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo stands out as exceedingly sinister, like if Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, Stephen King and sometimes also David Cronenburg had a kid who grew up resenting the dysfunction of the suburbs and was now letting the pent-up angsty darkness flow. This is an anthology (I wish there were more of those...especially on TV, but I digress…), unified by the titular Ice Cream Man, who is, of course, always way way worse than he first seems.

Ice Cream Man Vol. 1 is excellent, and it’s a credit to this comic that through four issues nothing here becomes predictable. Not its structure, its characters, its themes. It’s sort of like The Twilight Zone in that all you know at the start of each installment is things fall apart. This, I think, speaks to our throughline of looking closer for dysfunction in 2018. I hadn’t realized this before, but the Twilight Zone was created after decades of American’s questioning each other, looking for commies or fascists or Soviet spies, etc. With a similar climate now, stories where horror lurks beneath a shining veneer are poignant as ever. Whether Ice Cream Man was conceived with this in mind isn’t relevant—the fear of what's being hidden is both real and compelling.

Sweet Heart #1 by Dillon Gilberton, Francesco Iaquinta, Maco Pagnotta & Saida Temofonte

For the third choice of our New Discoveries list each month, we spotlight a less-known book or a Kickstarter project, and this month it just so happens to be Sweet Heart by writer Dillon Gilbertson, artist Francesco Iaquina, colorist Maco Pagnotta, and letterer Saida Temofonte (the Kickstarter for Sweet Heart #2 runs through Aug. 10, btw). Gilbertson shared the first issue with us, and, man, is it a great fit for this list, turning childhood—and the traumas that occur—into a horror story with a fantastic mystery at its center. Simply put, Sweet Heart is a great comic that deserves to scare and disquiet a larger audience.

Gilbertson’s use of an omniscient narrator is understated when it needs to be and creepy as all get out when a more threatening tone is appropriate. Iaquina’s art is a great fit too, with his monster designs standing out as especially impressive, and Pagnotta’s colors add quite a bit. There’s also an impressive confidence in this book that isn't always present in crowd-funded comic efforts, a sense that the team has an urgent story to tell. The book’s greatest strength, however, is its poignant central metaphor, which I suspect is about childhood illness (or maybe hereditary addiction?) but, really, has a universality to it. Basically, whatever dysfunction was in your house (we all had some), I’m guessing you’ll see it play out here. I recommend supporting this one, for sure.

See all our past months of new discoveries here. And check back to the site next week for our Best Debut Comics of July 2018 as well as our Top Comics of July 2018, too.

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