Meet the Publisher: Talking Mad Cave Studios with CEO/CCO Mark London

By Bo Stewart, Harrison Stewart, and Zack Quaintance — There are an increasing number of startup and independent publishers in comics. So many, in fact, that it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all the great books they’re putting out. Vault Comics, TKO Studios, AfterShock Comics, Ahoy…the list goes on and on. To that end, today we’re launching a new feature called Meet the Publisher.

The concept behind Meet the Publisher is a simple one: we give you a resource to learn more about the publisher, the publisher’s comics, what the company seeks to bring to the industry, and more. This first edition is focused on Miami-based Mad Cave Studios. Below, you’ll find an interview with the rising publisher’s CEO/CCO Mark London. It’s the first of a series of three pieces on the site today, with links for the others below as well. Oh, and practically as I was typing this another new publisher just announced its presence on the market. See? Tough to keep up…

Now let’s get to our interview with Mark!

Check out our other Mad Cave Studios features!

Q&A with Mad Cave CEO/CCO Mark London

Mad Cave Studios CEO/CCO Mark London.

Q: So, let’s start with the basics...who are you folks, where are you from, and how long have you been making comics?

Mad Cave Studios is an independent publisher based in Miami, Florida. We’ve been hard at work since 2014, focused on creating unique, visually-stunning comics across multiple genres that captivate a wide audience. We want our #CaveDwellers not to passively read our comics, but enjoy taking a deep, introspective journey with our characters, environments, and themes. Yes, it may be profound, but it is who we are. You see, the company’s name, Mad Cave Studios, stems from the fact that we harness madness to create uniquely compelling and diverse comic books. We strive to produce quality books, so the reader can expect the best possible products.

Q: What inspired you to start making and publishing your own comics?

For me, it’s all about storytelling. I grew up in the ’80s, a helluva time to be exposed to all sorts of media: Comics, video games, movies, animation, literature; all great platforms for storytelling in their own way. I devoured everything I could get my hands on, but comics have always been dear to me. There is something about sequential art that really connects with me and mesmerizes me at the same time. To some, they are just pictures divided into grids, into panels, into pages, but for me, they’re so much more. So, I guess it was just a matter of time before I put my fascination with storytelling to good use and I chose comics as the medium.

Q: If you had to give an elevator pitch for your brand, how would you describe the comics that Mad Cave makes?

Mad Cave delivers fun, action-packed comics across a variety of genres. It’s Mad Cave’s obsession. World building stories. The hero's journey. Feel good comics. Those are the kinds of stories that I read, saw or interacted with when I was growing up and wanted to write my own versions of, the Mad Cave way.

Q: A somewhat sizable (or at least vocal) segment of our audience consists of aspiring comics writers, and I’m sure they’d like me to ask if Mad Cave has plans to eventually publish work by other writers….

Not at the moment, unfortunately. There are certain stories we are planning to tell in the immediate future. But that could change soon, who knows.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the talent search you recently ran…

Mad Cave’s initial releases of comics are written by me. Since we were starting a publishing /content building company and the writer is also the CEO, things tend to get a little crazy. If you look at Valiant’s inception back in the ’90s, Jim Shooter was writing those books. The Image founders were all writing and drawing their own books, Joe Pruett did the same thing for AfterShock with one of their launch titles (B.E.K.), Pizzolo at Black Mask…I could go on and on. So, since we are past that brutal first phase, and the company has grown substantially, it was a no brainer to acknowledge that we needed more hands on board. Hence the talent search. I’m happy to report that it was a success and we have some very talented artists and writers joining the ranks. I can't wait to show the world all of the new and interesting titles they’ve been working on, but all I can say is that the books, as well as the talent themselves, have heart, they are full of passion, and they are a blast to read.

Q: Can you describe the journey of starting out in comics publishing?

Brutal. It's like eating glass haha. Some might say that there is no right or wrong way to make comics, but in reality, there is. And there are the rules you painfully learn as you go through the learning process.  So, yeah, too many missteps to talk about in this interview, but that’s how you get better at something, right? I’m a firm believer that you learn more from your mistakes than from your achievements. Of course, the idea is to improve on those mistakes and never make them again. And if they do happen, just keep pushing forward and never look back.

Q: How difficult is it these days to get the attention of folks who read creator-owned comics and what have you found most useful in doing that?

Word of mouth is critical for the success of your book. You have to go to conventions in order to spread the word, to speak with as many retailers as possible so you can get your books into their stores and therefore reach fans. Have a website and join the different social media channels, so that you can engage with people who want to make comics or enjoy reading them.

Q: Where should an interested reader start if they’re interested in getting into Mad Cave’s comics?

The best way is at www.madavestudios.com and on social media including Facebook on Facebook.com/MadCaveStudios and @MadCaveStudios on Instagram and Twitter.

As far as where you should start reading, Battlecats was our launch title and it is coming back for a second volume in May. There is also cyberpunk, noir thriller,  Midnight Task Force. We also have Knights of the Golden Sun, a book that has really done well for us. That story is the original tale of good versus evil. Angels and demons. And our newest series, Honor and Curse, follows a young shinobi haunted by the spirits of his past.

Q: What advice do you have for someone interested in publishing comics, or really just getting into the industry?

Make sure that you love it. Pay attention to the whole industry, not just the comics. Learn the comics craft inside out. Practice as much as you can. Write, show it to friends and family, accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then rinse and repeat. There is no middle ground with comics and the learning curve is very steep. Like my wife likes to keep reminding me: “This is not a sprint, it's a marathon.” So keep pushing forward no matter what and if you stick through it long enough, then you have a shot. And never forget why you started making comics in the first place.  

Q: What does the immediate future hold for Mad Cave?

Comics, comics, and more comics. We are content builders and we have an aggressive strategy for the next three years that we strongly believe will benefit fans of all genres. Mad stories with mad twists are coming your way from writers and artists that love the medium, love the industry, and are giving it their best so that fans everywhere can have the best time reading comics.

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

Harrison Stewart is an aspiring human being whose goals include solving the mathematical equation for love. Follow him on Twitter for more writing stuff.

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

ADVANCED REVIEW: Man-Eaters #1 by Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Caramagna, & Lia Miternique

Man-Eaters #1 is out Sept. 26.

By Zack Quaintance — There’s a fantastic sense of freedom in Man-Eaters #1. The book is written by Chelsea Cain and drawn by Kate Niemczyk, a duo that last teamed together for Marvel ComicsMockingbird. I really enjoyed that comic, which was an engrossing puzzle box of a superhero story that also hinted (somewhat controversially...but I won’t get into that nonsense) at the themes in this book.

Mockingbird, however, addressed those themes subtly, putting superheroics at its forefront pretty much at all times. Man-Eaters #1, though, has the liberating benefit of being a straight satire. The book has mystery, action, and even a touch of body horror, to be sure, but all of those qualities grow from the story’s foundational poignancy, rather than having it be the other way around. The result is an unencumbered creative team firing with all its strength, and, simply put, it’s fantastic.

Visually, this comic is brimming with small details and gags that reward careful readers. Pencil Shoppe...Hand-Sharpened While You Wait!, an unseen kid labeled The Intern In Charge of Social Media., a Bitch Planet poster on the wall in a bedroom, etc. Niemczyk is a big talent, with clean and precise linework on characters and in backgrounds. There’s an eclectic two-page splash early in this book that sets the tone for the strength of the visuals to come, as well as for how much attention should be devoted to each panel, lest readers miss out on the details included for them by the creators.

And these visual gags in the early pages go a long way toward making the hefty amount of exposition we get up front story palatable. It’s not that big of a deal—stories with younger protagonists have a long tradition of heroes talking directly to the audience, introducing readers to the world the same way kids in real life explain things—but it’s still noticeable. The young protagonist and her narrative voice are both immediately likable, and the world and concept of this comic are more than interesting enough to make this comic engaging. In the end, this book is really well-done and smart, ending with a fantastic last page cliffhanger, as all great #1 issues should.

Essentially, Man-Eaters #1 did a fantastic job setting up its characters, world, and plot points, and I’m excited to see what the creative team will do with it all moving forward.

Overall: A smart and searingly clever satire, Man-Eaters #1 is a great setup for a comic that has important things to say. Visually, this book is a total treat, packing rewarding details and entertaining gags for careful readers into most of its panels. This comic gets a full endorsement. 8.5/10

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

The Eye of the Storm: WildStorm Past and Present

WildStorm is really 25 years old now. Really.

By Taylor Pechter — The 1990s was a consequential decade for comics, a decade of deaths and broken backs, of shoulder pads and huge guns. It was also the decade that gave us WildStorm Productions, an imprint created by then-rising star Jim Lee, who jumped ship from Marvel and DC along with other big-name artists following disputes over creators’ rights. When WildStorm began in 1992, it could have been dismissed as just more large guns, heavily-detailed art, and not much focus on story.

After the company grew in popularity, though, Lee sold it to DC. With this sale, DC editorial took the universe under its watch, ultimately overseeing great experimentation in storytelling spearheaded by writers such as Warren Ellis and Joe Casey and artists such as Bryan Hitch, whose worked helped redefine what comics look like.

Now get ready because today we’re jumping head first into the defining era of WildStorm, looking at the themes and visuals from the imprint that have had such a lasting impact on the comic book industry today.

StormWatch

StormWatch #37 brought Warren Ellis into the WildStorm Universe.

The year is 1997. The comics speculator market bubble has burst and sales of WildStorm books have stagnated. Enter Warren Ellis, a British writer who had done some work at but was not on many fans’ radars. With his run on Stormwatch starting at #37, however, that quickly changed.

Ellis would completely redefine the team, splitting it into three squadrons: Prime (defense against superhuman threats), Red (members with destructive powers for deterrent displays), and Black (undercover black ops). As the run started, Ellis introduced us to his thematic interests via the words of Frederick Nietzsche, I want to teach men the meaning of their existence; which is the Superman, the lightning from the dark cloud that is man.

Ellis’ run incorporated themes of corruption of power, the relationship between man and superhuman, and ultimately how supherhumans change a world. These themes are primarily conveyed through StormWatch leader Henry Bendix (alias The Weatherman), the StormWatch Black Team (Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift), and The High and his Changers. As the run progressed, StormWatch’s prominence grew while Bendix became madder with power, coming to view his team as the end-all, be-all of planetary surveillance and defense, akin to worldwide secret police. This eventually leads him down a path of murder and a removal from his position, with former field leader Jackson King (alias Battalion) taking over in his stead.

Meanwhile, the members of StormWatch Black personified rebellion, especially their leader, Jenny Sparks. As one of the proclaimed century babies, Sparks lived through the highs and lows of the 1900s, coming to be known as The Spirit of 20th Century. She’s also seen firsthand how superpowers changed society, with adventures through the decades as a solider in the wars and later a member of the shady Royal Space Program. This history also informs her relationship with John Cumberland (alias The High). The High is the main ideological lynchpin of the run, with his actions in the story Change or Die reflect the theme of the run, as The High actually says, We are Superhumans, just as your modern crimefighters and Covert Action teams. However, we feel a different responsibility than they do… They try to save the world, but make no effort to change it. This speaks to the somewhat hypocritical nature of the modern superhero. As time passed, StormWatch dissolved due to infighting, Bendix succumbing to insanity, and SkyWatch (the team’s satellite command center) being set upon by alien infestation. With most of the team dead, field commander Nikolas Kamarov (alias Winter) made the final decision to the throw the station into the sun. StormWatch was dead, but from its ashes rose a new force, an Authority that would either save the world, or rule it with an iron fist.

The Authority

Out of the ashes of StormWatch rose The Authority, a team formed by former StormWatch Black operatives Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Swift. It also included Apollo and Midnighter, The Engineer, and The Doctor. The Authority’s story is broken up into three four-issue arcs, which focus on innate fears with society: the fear of terrorism, the fear of foreign invasion, and the fear of the unknown. Through The Authority, Ellis wove a tale of a team of powerhouses trying to save the world and to also change it for the better. However, their goals came at a cost.

What Ellis also did was break down the glitz and glamour of a superhero team. The Authority is brash, arrogant, and—most of all—violent. Cities were leveled and an entire alternate Earth was destroyed. The Authority, however, considered it just part of the job, losses to make the world a better place. Toward the book’s end, the team eventually faced an alien entity that was blocking out the sun. Jenny Sparks shocked its brain and the day was won, but at a cost that shook the team to its core. As the century wound down, so did the life of Jenny Sparks. After 100 years of being a planetary defense mechanism, she died at the stroke of midnight January 1, 2000, in the arms of Jack Hawksmoor. With a new century, however, came a new generation of defenders.

The Art: While Ellis’ scripts were certainly groundbreaking, so too was the artwork of Bryan Hitch, inker Paul Neary, and colorist Laura Depuy (later Martin). With wide panels, splash pages galore, and cinematic action, Hitch was, and still is, the main purveyor of widescreen comics art. With Neary’s clean inks and Martin’s luscious colors, The Authority is still one of the most visually influential books in modern comics.

Wildcats

Casey and Phillips WildCats run was short but excellent.

What happens to covert teams that don’t have a war to fight? What happens when a teammate dies, splintering the rest of the team? Or, when a team’s leader wants to transcend to a higher level of living, one that requires he be killed?

In 1999, writer Joe Casey and artist Sean Phillips took over Wildcats and set out to answer these questions. After a mission gone wrong, Zealot is killed and Grifter is left reeling. Grifter has become a washed-up shell of his former self, trying to find answers about Zealot’s death. On the other end, Lord Emp (known to Earth as Jacob Marlowe, leader of the Wildcats), is asking his long-time rival Kenyan to kill him so he can ascend. Kenyan, however, instead kills himself, and Spartan is forced to kill Emp. In the aftermath, posing as Emp’s great-nephew Jack Marlowe, he is bequeathed HALO Industries and inherits Emp’s fortune. Meanwhile, Priscilla Kitaen (alias Voodoo) and Doctor Jeremy Stone (alias Maul) are living together. Jeremy has locked himself in his lab to to find a cure for a disease.

That’s a lot, to be sure, but overall Casey tells a story about destiny and legacy. Spartan has to deal with running HALO and guilt for killing Emp, which is easy enough because as a synthetic humanoid, he feels no emotion. This, however, conflicts with Grifter mourning the loss of his trainer and lover. Spartan also has to deal with having the Marlowe name, a target since Emp had many enemies. After Pris is nearly murdered by superhuman serial killer Samuel Slaughterhouse Smith, she is visited by a Daemonite, of which she is a half-breed. With that meeting she fully comes to terms with her heritage. Optimism reenergized, she then looks to a brighter future, alongside Jeremy.

The Art: Joining Casey on this book is noir art master Sean Phillips. With deep shadows, imposing figures, and brutal action, Phillips creates a foreboding tone to perfectly match Casey’s script. Sadly, the book only lasted two years before being cancelled but returning a year later as Wildcats Version 3.0. In a short time, however, Casey and Phillips crafted one of, if not the defining runs on Wildcats.

Planetary

It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way. This is the mantra for Warren Ellis’s magnum opus, Planetary. A decade in the making, Planetary revolves around a four-person team of mystery archaeologists who explore the world. This team consists of Elijah Snow, our ride along character Jakita Wagner, The Drummer, and Ambrose Chase.

With Planetary, Ellis constructs a story that revolves around genre and—more importantly—pop culture. This journey through 20th century pop culture is seen through the eyes of Elijah, who like Jenny Sparks is one of the century babies. The series has one main through line, but each issue also tackles a certain genre, breaking it down and showing how it has changed the world. These stories included a ghost cop out for revenge in Hong Kong (Dead Gunfighter); the somber Vertigo-tinged To Be In England, In The Summertime; the hypocrisy of vigilantism in The Torture of William Leather, and the metaphysics of superheroes in Zero Point.

In them all, Ellis demonstrates how the aspects of various genres has affected society through use in pop culture. While the macro exploration of genre and pop culture is the book’s driving force, the heart of Planetary is the micro exploration of Elijah Snow as a character, as well as how he becomes more in tune with the world. Snow’s motives, while staying somewhat consistent throughout the first half of the series, shift as we approach the final act. As readers, we are Elijah, not just in terms of the world Ellis is crafting but also the world outside our window. There is so much to explore here, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.  

The Art: Not to be outdone by Ellis’ deft scripting are John Cassaday’s art and Laura Martin’s colors. Cassaday shifts his style throughout each chapter to capture the tone. This can mean changing panel sizes, borders, shadows, or expressions. It’s commendable how much work he put into each page, and it’s made even better by Martin’s amazing colors, with bright reds and blues making the art pop. This book was subject to many delays, attributed to both Ellis and Cassaday, but Planetary eventually ended with its 27th issue, becoming one of the most celebrated comic books of all time

The Wild Storm

Twenty years after he helped redefine the WildStorm Universe with StormWatch, Warren Ellis is doing it again with The Wild Storm, which just released issue #16 this week. This time, Ellis is writing a stripped down, no frills, corporate espionage tale focused on three organizations: tech giant HALO (run by Jacob Marlowe), black ops intelligence agency International Operations or IO (run by Miles Craven), and secret space program Skywatch (led by Henry Bendix). This is an entirely new story, rather than a continuation of past titles.

The main conflict in this series is rivalries between organizations, with the story asking how Earth would react if it was ruled by these power structures. There is, of course, a twist. While IO is interested in Earth and its resources, Skywach is more interested in ruling space, even going as far as colonizing other planets. After Bendix starts getting a vested interest in Earth’s resources, IO starts to retaliate. Caught in between this corporate battle is a team of rogue IO and Skwatch agents who have formed their own covert action team, a Wild CAT. Their objective is to stop this war, fearing it will tear the planet apart.

The Art: Joining Ellis on art duties is Jon Davis-Hunt, whose simple yet dynamic style lends to the gritty espionage themes and to the frenetic action that is wonderfully brutal. His linework combines with the gorgeous colors of Steve Buccellatto. With stripping down the universe and giving it a more modern feel, this creative team has given new life to characters Ellis made his name writing.

In conclusion, following its start in the ‘90s, WildStorm went grew from the typical extreme fare of the decade into one of the most fertile grounds for storytelling in all of superhero comics, doing everything from looking at how superheroes have changed the world to how a team can survive in a world that doesn’t accept them. WildStorm also has a history of art that has redefined the style of comics, from the widescreen destruction of The Authority by Hitch, to the noir stylings of Wildcats by Sean Phillips, or the versatility of John Cassaday in Planetary. These artists helped raise a new generation, also contributing to the creation of the modern comics event.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey—hopefully you too will now jump into the eye of the storm. 

Taylor Pechter is a passionate comic book fan and nerd. Find him on Twitter @TheInspecter.  

REVIEW: Ice Cream Man #6 by W. Maxwell Prince, Martin Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, & Good Old Neon

This titular Ice Cream Man is a real piece of work...

By Zack Quaintance — Ice Cream Man #6 is yet another nasty (in a good way) read from one of the most bleak-yet-mesmerizing comics of all-time. In broad strokes, this series is about a sinister Ice Cream Man who serves as the only throughline in a series of disparate tales that add up to one of the most unflinching looks at the everyday lives of modern Americans...in any storytelling medium. Abandon hope all ye who open this book, for sure, yet also know that it will somehow never cross the line into sensationalism. In other words, start reading this and you probably won’t give it up.

I know I won’t any time soon. Ice Cream Man #6 is yet another great issue. In many ways, this is the book’s most experimental story yet, following one character through three divergent life paths, all of which are depicted in near-total silence (and are also depressing as all hell). The reason why the story fractures into three (and gets the name/flavor of Strange Neapolitan) becomes clear near the end, when (no spoilers) the script comes out and just basically states its central conceit.

Like all issues of this book, this one starts out idyllic before descending into horrors both real and existential.

This is, to be blunt, is a story structure that on the surface seems like it shouldn’t work, should instead tip into feeling too gimmicky. It is, however, pulled off expertly by the creative team. Let’s talk first about the work Chris O’Halloran does with his colors, utilizing three distinct palettes to separate the alternate futures of the nameless hero. This is challenging in itself, but O’Halloran also makes it work while sticking to the general strawberry-vanilla-chocolate color scheme of neapolitan ice creams. It had a high potential to look goofy, but O’Halloran nailed it, using his shades to perfectly compliment Morazzo’s artwork.

Perhaps the most impressive feat in this book is the triply (mostly) silent script, which tells three distinct stories that hit complimentary beats almost always at the same time, even while moving at different speeds through the protagonist’s lifetime to basically end at the same haunting spot. Thematically, this story is somewhat one sizable note, but in terms of craft, it’s easily one of the most impressive feats I’ve seen a writer pull off with structure in some time, possibly since Eric Heisserer’s vignette tapestry in the Valiant book Secret Weapons.   

Overall: Ice Cream Man #6 is another astoundingly well-done comic that scares you as you read and then lingers with you existentially for days after you finish. This series continues to be one of the most unflinching looks at everyday lives in modern American...in any storytelling medium. 8.5/10

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

ADVANCED REVIEW: Bully Wars #1 by Skottie Young & Aaron Conley, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, & Nate Piekos

For Bully Wars, Skottie Young teams with Aaron Conley, a Skottie Young-esque artist.

By Zack Quaintance — I heard writer Skottie Young on the Word Balloon Podcast a few weeks ago talking about his new book, Bully Wars, saying the aim was to make an Image comic that was accessible for all ages but didn’t exactly feel like a story strictly for kids, a challenge for creatives in any field or medium. It’s that sweet spot that made Pixar films so vibrant in the studio’s early years. They hit the mark repeatedly then, and continue to do so with relatively high frequency to this day. Call it broadly safe but smart appeal.

Well, Young and his Bully Wars collaborators—artists Aaron Conley and Jean-Francois Beaulieu—however, have come pretty close to finding that sweet spot in this first issue. There’s not even close to anything in this book that would ring as inappropriate for young readers, and, despite my obvious disadvantage of being a kind of old guy (I will only ever admit to being somewhat older than 22), I’m fairly certain the bright colors, exaggerated and cartoony character designs, and classroom setting will be a big draw for all ages of kids, likely up through high school. I know I certainly would have dug this in my day of angsty (but improving!) late ‘90s comics.

When it comes to appeal for adults, Bully Wars #1 is slightly more of a mixed effort. The twists in how characters are perceived are interesting, but the book will likely need more substance to hold older readers’ interests long-term. There are, however, plenty of signs in this first issue that that substance is coming. This brings me to the other goal Young mentioned for Bully Wars on Word Balloon: incorporating more understanding into the standard school narrative of bully bad and mean. The book definitely has hints of an aspiration to humanize its bullies, although at this point those aspirations are still in nascent stages.

Young’s interests as a writer, though, are fairly subversive (see the recently-concluded I Hate Fairyland), and so I think it’s safe to assume he’ll get where he’s aiming for. I know that I’ll at least be following this book for the entirety of its first arc. Really, the background sight gags (an athletic apparel company called Sike got a little chuckle out of me) and excellent cartooning on par with some of my favorite animation is enough to seal its appeal for me.

Overall: Bully Wars #1 is a vibrant all ages comic with a lot of promise and potentially even an important lesson about labels. This comic does more than enough with its first issue to pique my interest in where it’s headed. 7.5/10

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

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