Friday, October 20, 2017

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature

I had a chance to buy this book this summer at HeroesCon, but instead went with All My Ghosts. I really liked that one, and I was intrigued enough to buy this Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature on Comixology. Like the title promises, it offers two stories (in a flip book format in hard copy). And I also must say that the title misses out on its other promise, as the book is sadly devoid of any creatures. Still, I found it a fun, if silly, romp through horror story genres.

The first story is a teen summer camp murder tale called Bee Sting. It is a fun, gory tale about a couple of teenage boys who decide to become camp counselors in order to meet and hook up with girls. Their plan seems to be working until a potential bee allergy leads down a path of unlikely twists that takes them to a convention of redneck cannibals.
Granted, this set-up is not the most novel or literary set of plot devices, but the story is still fun and energetic. There is an obvious love of the slasher genre that makes the book enjoyable and a sense of humor that sells a lot of ridiculous circumstances. I had a good time reading this story, even if it was not the most highfalutin kind of narrative.

For those interested, Bee Sting was made into a full length, indie film that led to a sequel called Bear Sting.

The second story in this book is The Curse of Stranglehold, and it is more of a horrific urban legend. The premise is that a teenage outcast mysteriously vanished 20 years ago, and he was presumably murdered by a mob of angry, jealous rivals. Two decades later, the teenage descendants of the townspeople dare to drive up to and make out in the infamous scene of that crime, and those who are sexually active pay a terrible price. They also learn much of the past misdeeds of their parents.

As with the first story, this one was a fun take on a hackneyed genre and has its charms, even it I saw the ending coming. I liked it less than Bee Sting, however, mostly because the end of the story devolved into many panels full of expository text rather than action played out via the images.

These stories were a collaboration between writer Matthew D. Smith and artist Jeremy Massie. The duo have another work under their belts, the current ongoing, all-ages series Amazing Age. Massie has a few solo titles to his credit, including the aforementioned All My Ghosts and a quirky superhero tale called The Deadbeat.

I was not able to track down many reviews of this book, and the ones I did find were somewhat negative. Jessie Sheckner concluded about Bee Sting, "Smith and Massie both have a great deal of talent – that much is plainly evident – however they’d do well to either channel their work into something with more originality and substance or, at the very least, avoid sleepwalking through clichés in a tired narrative that ends with a bad lesbian joke." Roby Bang called The Curse of Stranglehold "a decent comic," but felt that "the art is inconsistent and sloppy, dragging down the overall quality of the work."

Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature was published by Alterna Comics, and they offer a preview and more info about the book here. Given the subject matter and gore, I recommend this book for more mature readers.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Moonshine, Volume 1

Moonshine is a high concept series, a period piece comic with lots of horror aspects. The main plot deals with the Mob in 1920s New York City seeking to get a supply of choice moonshine for its nightclubs. The source they seek is Hiram Holt, a scarred patriarch who defends his property with extreme prejudice against anyone who threatens him. That includes snoops, thieves, and even federal agents. What is more, he has at least one large, furry, ravenous, and viciously powerful creature at his disposal.
Lou Pirlo, a gangster with an appetite for vice, is sent down to persuade Holt to sell his liquor to be distributed in New York City. He does not exactly fit in in rural Appalachia, West Virginia to be specific, which leads to some incidents. Also, he does not exactly get on well with Holt, but he does end up making a deal with his children, which rains down some pretty dire consequences. One of Pirlo's vices is an eye for beautiful, dangerous women, and he finds two that fit that bill. One seems to want to help him, and the other appears to have more sinister motives.
This book is full of bloody violence, double crossing, and murder, and the supernatural elements add a degree of heightened menace to the noir setting. I also very much appreciated the unresolved mystery behind the identity and intentions of the wolf creature (creatures?). This book ends on a quiet note after a huge confrontation, but it also left me yearning to see how certain events will resolve. Also, it does not hurt that the artwork is phenomenally executed, with strong lines and many cutting figures.

The duo behind this book are writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso. The pair collaborated on the long-running and influential comic series 100 Bullets, which won multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. Azzarello has also written a number of other comic series for DC Comics, most notably Batman and the New 52 version of Wonder Woman. Risso has also worked largely at DC, on many books with Azzarello. Both creators speak about their work on Moonshine in this interview.

The reviews I have read have been mostly positive, with minor quibbles about the general pacing or the use of accents. Chris Tresson opined, "It was slow, but a good kind of slow." Sam Wildman wrote, "It’s a well written book with fantastic artwork that brings Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso back together to tell an intriguing story of werewolves and bootleggers. Despite the somewhat slow build up, it has a satisfying conclusion and really makes me believe in the potential of future story arcs." Benjamin Bailey encouraged people to "buy this book to see Risso unleashed and creating some of the finest pages he’s ever crafted."

Moonshine Volume 1 was published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. This book collects the first six issues of the series, which is still ongoing.

This book features a lot of violence, some nudity, occasional profanity, and adult themes, so it is suggested for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cast No Shadow

The protagonist of Cast No Shadow is a slight high school student named Greg, and he has a few very relatable circumstances. He is dealing with the loss of his mother, who died a few years ago. He is uncomfortable with his dad's girlfriend moving in with them. His best friend Layla has always had his back, but lately has a crush on Jake, a really popular kid who used to torment Greg when they were younger. Jake keeps wanting to hang out with Greg, calling him "little buddy," which annoys him to no end. And they all live in a small town full of tourist traps, the latest of which is the largest hairball in the world.

All of these features are pretty normal for adolescents to deal with, but Greg is not exactly normal. He was born without a shadow, which might not seem like the most ground-shaking condition, but it does mean that something is different about him. What it seems to be is that he is somehow able to see ghosts, especially the one of Eleanor. She is a poltergeist who scares people away from her abandoned house, but she and Greg hit it off, becoming romantic. So Greg and she spend a lot of time together, which sets off something sinister within Greg that ends up threatening the entire town.
I am not going to spoil much more, because I most of the fun of this book lay in its gradual reveals along the way. I will say though that I felt this story was very engaging and interesting. There was a lot more showing and not telling at the onset of the book, which made making sense of the dual narrators a real mystery. However, as the plot got toward the end, there was a lot of information dropped in quick fashion that made for a bumpy ride. Still, I loved the artwork and characters. They were portrayed in a cartoonish manner, but still are very realistic and nuanced. In the end I was enchanted by the internal logic of this storyworld, with its unique take on ghosts and the afterlife. The ending may seem cheesy to some, but I liked this cheese very much.


Cast No Shadow was a collaboration between writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Anissa Espinosa. Tapalansky has a few other graphic novels under his belt, including A Radical Shift of Gravity, Samantha Loring and the Impossible World, and Awakening. This book is Espinosa's first graphic novel, though her work has appeared in a number of comics anthologies.

The reviews I have read about this book point to its strengths but also its hiccups. Dustin Cabeal summed up, "The story and art stumble in places, but ultimately find its way and presents a story that I enjoyed reading as an adult, but one I would have loved to have read as a child." Publishers Weekly concluded that "although Greg’s lingering pain over his mother’s death is keenly felt, the mysteries surrounding Nick’s shadow and Eleanor’s past are inelegantly and confusingly addressed in rapidly deployed info dumps, leaving the conclusion rushed and unsatisfying." Kirkus Reviews tersely summarized it as "Engaging but not without flaw."

Cast No Shadow was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

A preview copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Wolf, Volume 1: Blood and Magic

Wolf is a detective book that has a lot going on, including a number of supernatural elements. The book's protagonist Antoine Wolfe is seemingly immortal. He is hired by an incredibly rich, racist, and crooked businessman to retrieve an adolescent girl who may be the antichrist. His best friend is a tentacle-faced demon straight out of the chronicles of Cthulhu. He also runs afoul of criminal vampires, multiple ghosts, apparitions, and spirits, not to mention a werewolf, too.

 
 

This book features many of the conventions of noir books, including a hip narrator, lots of double-crosses, shady characters who are up to no good, and revelations that complicate everyone's lives. I quite enjoyed reading this book, even if it was not the most ground-breaking kind of story. Some clever plot twists and novel interpretations of classic monster tales helped, as did the expressive and creepy artwork. The coloring is especially exceptional, as you can see from the excerpt. If you are a fan of noir detective tales with a dash of supernatural mayhem, this is a book for you.

Wolf is the creation of writer Alex Kot and artists Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge. Kot has worked on a number of works from comics to video games for multiple companies. Taylor is a commercial artist and comics creator with a number of credits. Loughridge is a colorist who has worked on many Batman titles as well as some indy works like Deadly Class and Southern Cross. Kot speaks at length about his work and inspirations on Wolf in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have mostly rated it as solid, if not spectacular. Peter Marinari enjoyed it very much, stating, "Kot and his collaborators have conjured a bit of true magic with this ouroboros of a tale that forced me to pick it up for a re-read just seconds after I finished." Kieran Fisher liked it fine and opined about the series, "It’s not quite perfect yet, but it’s certainly headed in that direction." There are also a number of reviews of it on Goodreads, where it has an aggregate 3-star rating.

Wolf is published by Image Comics, and they have a preview and more information about the series here. I borrowed this volume using Comixology Unlimited service, and it is intended for mature readers.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Secret Coders: Robots and Repeats

In this fourth book in the Secret Coders series (I reviewed books 1 & 2 here), the trio of programmers at Stately Academy, Hopper, Eni, and Josh, find themselves in even more ramped up situations. In the last book, they learned about the secret history of the school and found out that the source of their woes was the evil genius Professor One-Zero. Now, not only is the evil Professor changing the school schedule to further his evil schemes, but the school administration tries to break up the group so they can't foil any more plans. And the avenue for doing so is going through each of their families!

Not only does this book feature one of the more realistic parent-teacher meetings I have read, it also has a revelation that one of the characters who has been around since the beginning is actually from another dimension. That, coupled with the trio's getting to know the Turtle of Light (the most powerful turtle in the world), raises the stake on their investigations. So, simply put, there is a lot of dramatic build-up here that I think will get paid off in Book 5 (due out next year).

I have two caveats about this book, as well put together and interesting as it is: 1. It really helps to have read this series from the beginning, so this book is not a great jumping on point for a new reader. 2. The sections where they explain the specifics of coding still bogged me down some and took me out of the story. I know that those parts are necessary for solving the puzzles and moving the plot forward, but they are just a bit slow.
 

This book is a continuation of the collaboration between Gene Yang and Mike Holmes. Yang is one of the premier comics creators working today. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and is currently the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He also won the Printz Award for his graphic novel American Born Chinese. He explores themes of immigration, belief, identity, and growing up in his many works, including The Eternal Smile, Level Up, The Shadow Hero, the twin volumes Boxers & Saints, and his current run on New Superman. Holmes is best known for his work on the weekly comic True Story and drawing Adventure Time comics.

The reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Kirkus Review complimented it, writing, "Yang’s integration of coding concepts into an actual mystery plot even as he continues to deepen character development in under 100 graphic pages looks effortless; Holmes’ panels continue to visualize those concepts inventively." Conversely, Dustin Cabeal wrote that this will be the last book in the series he will read, because "the teaching moments are breaking the story too often, and it feels like the experiment here was to have both be interesting and work together. They’re not and haven’t been which is a shame." For further contrast, more reviews for the book can be seen at Goodreads, where it currently has a 3.5 star rating.

Robots and Repeats was published by First Second, and they provide a preview and more here. This series also has its own dedicated website with videos, info about all the books, and downloadable activities.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Loose Ends

Originally a limited series published about 10 years ago, but not finished, Loose Ends was re-published as a 4-issue limited series earlier this year. It is subtitled "A Southern Crime Romance," perhaps to associate this work with the writer's more famous work Southern Bastards.Out of those three descriptors, the one that stood out the most for me was "Crime."
As you can see from the opening vignette, the protagonist Sonny is a drug-runner. Here he decides to take a detour to pay off an old debt, settling up with his ex with a good chunk of change for raising their son. Of course, things go south in an unexpected way, setting off a chain of events where Sonny ends up on the lam with a voluptuous woman named Cheri. He does not realize it at first, but she is an acquaintance from his adolescence. Together, the two share a kind of romance, though it's more like the best thing two desperate people can do to stave off loneliness, despair, and poor choices.

The two are pursued by double-crossed criminals, dirty cops, and the authorities, but they are also dogged by the past, which appears in many instances via flashbacks such as this:
In these, we are privy to what went on during the tortured duo's high school years. We also see Sonny's days as a soldier in Afghanistan as well as the pivotal moments when he turned to crime. This book is ambitious in that it tackles a great many social issues wrapped up in a pretty violent, compelling crime drama. I won't way that it sticks the landing in every case, but it is a good read, and a book I plan to revisit. The action is intense, and the drawings and colors are electric and spectacular.

Loose Ends is a long-term collaboration between writer Jason Latour, artist Chris Brunner, and colorist Rico Renzi. Latour is more known for his artwork on the Eisner and Harvey Award winning series Southern Bastards as well as for writing Spider-Gwen. Brunner has drawn a bunch of comics, usually working with Latour and Renzi. Renzi colors lots of comics, including Spider-Gwen and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Latour and Brunner both speak about their work on this series in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been pretty mixed, except for the universal praise for the artwork. AJ Zender called it "a visually and intellectually beautiful story that captures the extreme highs and lows of Sonny Gibson’s life." Daniel Vlasaty had a more tempered response, writing that it "felt some important pieces to the story were left underdeveloped, and just dropped into our laps without much explanation or follow-through." Jason Segarra concluded that it was "high on visuals, but a little rushed as a story."

Loose Ends was published by Image Comics, and they have previews and more available about it here. Because of violence, sexual situations, and profanity, I suggest this book for more mature readers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Through the Woods

This book is another one I am kicking myself for not reading years ago when I first got it. Luckily, one of the students in my Graphic Novels and Multiliteracies seminar chose it for our weekly read, and not only did I get to experience it but will get to discuss it, too. Put simply, Through the Woods is a collection of five gorgeous, horrible, and chilling stories.

These stories are reminiscent of classic, gothic horror tales a la the Brothers Grimm. They feature dark strangers, wintry settings, isolated families, envy, loneliness, ghouls, mysterious manors, and labyrinthine forests. Also, they are all master classes in pacing, revelation, and building suspense. Everything in this book, the artwork, the poetic text, the character designs, and the layouts, contributes to beautifully rendered stories, an atmosphere of dread, interesting characterizations, and scenes of pure fantasy and amazement. I am not even going to go into detail about the separate stories, because I think a reader should get to experience them for themselves to get the optimal impact.

I cannot heap enough praises on this book. It blew me away.
Seriously, you need to buy or borrow this book RIGHT NOW.
This book's creator is Emily Carroll, who won multiple awards for this debut, including two Eisners and an Ignatz. She publishes much of her work online and has a good number of her stories available to read online at her website. They are well worth checking out. She talks extensively about her work and career in this interview.

The reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. Amal El-Mohtar called it "stunningly beautiful" and "magnificently executed." Sarah Horrocks wrote, "There is also a poetry to Carroll’s written word that you rarely get in western comics." Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed up, "A sure winner for any reader with a yen to become permanently terrified. Brilliant."

Through the Woods was published by Simon & Schuster, and they have a preview and more info about it here.