Comics

Major Issues: Drifter #1

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Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein
Published by Image Comics on 11/12/2014

In Major Issues, we look at one newly released comic book from the last week.

Gardner Mounce

On a recent podcast, the guys at Cracked discussed an idea called parallel thinking. It’s what happens when two completely unrelated creators simultaneously come up with a similar idea. It’s not that the two creators are spying on each other, it’s that both have their finger on the culture’s pulse and feel that it’s an appropriate time for a certain type of story.

All that to say, Image’s Drifter isn’t the only new release to open with a spacecraft crash landing on an alien planet. Boom!’s Deep State starts in an eerily similar way. It soon veers off in a different direction, but both stories share the theme of living on a planet that soon defies your original understanding of it.

In Drifter, Abram Pollux crash lands on Ouro, an alien planet where everyone conveniently speaks his language. We begin with narration overlaying images of Pollux’s spacecraft hurtling through the atmosphere. The narration is written somewhere between the tone of Cormac McCarthy and Matthew McConaughey. You can imagine either delivering the opening lines: “Maybe it was shrapnel. A piece of all the things we’d left out there in the night.” Presumably, McConaughey would have then said, “All right all right all right,” whereas McCarthy would have let the protagonist get shot by a blind prophetic coon trapper. However, neither of those things happen so we can only conclude that writer Ivan Brandon is trying to go for something new here.

Following the crash landing, Pollux almost drowns, is almost eaten by an alien, and is subsequently shot. When he wakes up in a medic bay, he’s understandably in a lot of pain. However, he soon gets up and limps across town to get a drink (he’s grizzled like that) in the town’s bar, gets into a bar fight, and finally tracks a man through dangerous mountain terrain. The point is that Pollux is a bad ass (?).

At the end of the issue (no spoilers) Pollux discovers something that that upends his understanding of who he is and how long he’s been on Ouro. It’s not a unique or even necessary cliffhanger–I would have kept reading for the art and style of writing–but it raises some interesting questions nonetheless.

The art in this comic is out-of-control good. The images are crisp and beautiful. The world and the characters are defined and realistic. The world is submersive. Why take my word for it when you can drool over this spread of Ghost Town?

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Should You Get It?

Do you have a crash-land-on-an-alien-planet-narrative-shaped-hole in your heart? If the idea of parallel thinking is true, then the teams behind Drifter and Deep State suspect that you might. Between the two, I’d hands-down choose Drifter.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

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Major Issues: Escape from Jesus Island #2

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Escape from Jesus Island #2
Written by Shawn French
Art by Mortimer Glum
Letters by Peter Parker
Self-published
Released 9/17/14

Full disclosure: I had trouble picking a comic to review this week. All of the comics I bought at my local comic shop I had reviewed before or didn’t come out this past week. So, heart pounding, I scoured Comixology’s new releases for something that struck my interest. Finding nothing, I went at it from a different angle. I tried to find the most ridiculous thing possible. I think you see where this is going. Ladies and gentlemen, Escape from Jesus Island.

Escape from Jesus Island is about a corporation called ReGen that attempts to clone Jesus on a remote island by using the nails once used to crucify him on the cross. Many mistakes are made, and ReGen is left with a horde of mutants (“Christards”) whom they use in divinity-testing experiments. The Pope catches wind of Regen’s efforts to clone the King of Kings and sends a team to infiltrate the island to rescue him.

Obviously, the creative team behind EFJI has two goals with this project: maximum camp and maximum horror. It’s all kitsch and viscera, exploiting every horror movie trope, pushing every limit until it’s all a hilarious mess. It had me scanning the credits for some mention of Sam Raimi.

It’s irreverent and silly, but some of the humor rises above the camp with a nimble Vonnegutian edge. Issue two opens with, “In the beginning, God created earth, where animals lived in harmony with the natural world for millions of years. Then God created man, and that was the end of that.”

The art has a photorealistic quality that lends itself to twisted violence. A more representational style would have made this feel less Evil Dead and more Stick Wars. But the horror is over-the-top and pretty damn scary. Just check out the following image:

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Should You Get It?

You’ll love this if you’re the sort of person who enjoys over-the-top comics like Preacher or movies like Evil Dead and I Spit On Your Grave.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Hawkeye #20 and Why It’s the Best Superhero Comic Around

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Hawkeye #20
Written by Matt Fraction
Cover artist: David Aja
Art: Annie Wu
Published by Marvel, 8/18/14

My problem with most superhero stories is that superheroes are defined by their privilege rather than their problems. The first question we ask about a superhero is “What powers (privilege) does the hero have?” instead of “What problems do they face?” Superman has super speed and super strength. Spiderman can shoot webs. Wolverine has claws and can heal himself. In all of these cases, the power is more important than the problem the hero faces.

This is bad writing because we can’t emotionally relate to privilege. We can’t relate to a person who has super speed or strength or laser vision. We can relate to Rick in Casablanca because of his problem: he’s torn between the love of a woman and helping a Nazi resistance movement. Now, if we just threw in there that Rick also has the ability to fly, then we’d expect for his ability to fly to play a big role in the movie. If he can fly, then the chance for Rick to solve his problems in a relatable, human way is over. Now the movie is about how he’ll solve his problems in a superhuman way that we can’t emotionally relate with.

Hawkeye doesn’t completely avoid this problem. After all, we know Hawkeye for his power. He is the person who’s great with a bow and arrow. But writer Matt Fraction sets this iteration of Hawkeye on a human (rather than superhuman) scale. For example, the whole series kicks off not with a display of might, but with an injury that puts Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) in the hospital. No matter how good Hawkeye is with a bow, he is but human.

Why is this better than a superhero comic? Because we can relate to it. Clint Barton is an Avenger, but a human one with really shitty “powers” compared to Thor and Iron Man and the others. His pride in his abilities causes him to fly too close to the sun, time and time again. It’s not his powers that keep us rooting for him, but his lack of powers. Unlike Superman, who can only be harmed by some ultra rare element, Hawkeye can be defeated by anything. Fraction doesn’t have to keep inventing bigger and badder super villains to compete with Hawkeye’s abilities. Because he’s human, Hawkeye can be defeated by gravity, or even his rent.

Not only does Hawkeye have relatively shitty “powers” but there’s not even just one Hawkeye. There are two: Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. They’re just human, after all, so why not share the responsibility of being a hero? This male-female counterpart dynamic could potentially blow the door right open for some sexist, rigid, gender role bullshit, but Matt Fraction makes both characters not only equally as talented, but allows both to have their own quirks, neuroses, senses of humor, and charms. Personally, I like Kate Bishop more. She’s a hell of a lot funnier.

What Fraction can be praised for more than anything else is that he’s made this comic about the characters rather than hokey cliffhangers or a single central conflict. There are overarching conflicts, but many issues are standalone stories, and oftentimes about completely innocuous things like what Clint Barton’s dog does when Barton’s out of the apartment (Fraction’s just skilled enough to make those issues the most endearing [seriously, pick up the dog issue, it’s amazing]).

Should You Get It?

If you start reading Hawkeye, you’ll be hooked. Not because it offers a glimpse of superheroes punching each other, but because Matt Fraction has written a couple of great characters dealing with relatable problems both big and small.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

An Interview with “The Kingdom” Creator Jason Bienvenu

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Our own Gardner Mounce recently spoke with Jason Bienvenu, the creator of The Kingdoma comic about “a magical realm where animals have evolved in the absence of mankind.” You can also read Gardner’s coverage of the series here.

GARDNER MOUNCE: First, tell us a little about yourself and your background.

JASON BIENVENU: Jason Bienvenu (b. 1979). I’m an illustrator and designer born and raised in South Central Louisiana (Lafayette). I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, with a concentration in graphic design from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I love collecting action figures, playing video games, and hanging out with my wife, Natalie, and my daughter, Elizabeth.

GM: When did you first know you wanted to write comic books?

JB: In the fall of 2011 I did a lot of animation work for an Xbox XNA game that never got produced leaving me frustrated that I had done so much work on a project that wouldn’t see the light of day. At that point I decided that I wanted to take on a project from start to finish that won’t cost me an arm and a leg; a project that I could learn as I go.

From there I began making little Post-it notes on the look of some of the characters and jotting down ideas. By the spring of 2011 I had begun what would become the first issue of The Kingdom.  I had a story arc/road map of where I wanted the series to go, but nothing set in stone. At that point I was still learning how to create my first comic and wasn’t even sure I would finish the first issue!

While struggling through the first issue, I realized how fun and rewarding it was, and my wife Natalie and I would go over dialog together and it really began to come together.  By the time I finished the first issue I told myself, “Okay, you can do this.”  So I created a Kickstarter to help fund the printing of the books and the rest is history!

GM: Which comic book creators inspire you most?

JB: When I was doing my comic research I picked up Mike Mignola’s Hellboy books and studied them and took in as much as I could from them. They are still a huge influence on me today.

But in a real face-to-face sense I would have to say my friends Kody Chamberlain of Sweets and Punks and Rob Guillory of Chew really helped me out more than I could ever convey in words. We were friends before I decided to start doing comics and I was actually shy about asking them for the longest time, but once I did they gave me really invaluable advice on everything comic wise, from the art and how to transfer line art to digital format to how to have a successful showing at comic conventions. I can’t thank them enough for that.

GM: What are your ambitions for your writing career?

JB: I know a lot of people want to work on the “big” books like Batman and Captain America, but right now for me, I have stories that I want to tell and I have several writing partners on other projects that I am super excited about, so at the end of the day, for now, I would say I want to be able to continue creating comics and would love for the work I create and will produce in the future to be published so that more readers will have the chance to enjoy it.

GM: What was the most challenging aspect of working on The Kingdom?

JB: I’d say the most challenging part of working on The Kingdom was the last two issues of the story arc. I would work my day job, then stay up until 2 a.m. working on each issue, which took about three months to finish both of them. My wife and I had just had our beautiful little girl so there was no guarantee that when I was done at 2 a.m. that I would actually get to sleep the rest of the night, ha!

GM: What was the most thrilling?

JB: I’d say the most thrilling part for me was when I received the trade paperback edition in the mail and I felt the weight of it in my hands and flipped through the pages, and just looked at what I created with the help of my wife and all the Kickstarter backers. It was one of those, “wow, you really did it, kid” type of moments.

GM: What is one unexpected thing you learned while working on The Kingdom?

JB: That I am a comic book creator! This was the first comic book I ever created and I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever finish it, but once I got the first issue down I felt like I had found my groove and I really feel like I found out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. That was a great feeling.

GM: Which character in The Kingdom do you most identify with?

JB: I’d say Pale. Pale is basically me, but Thane has a lot of aspects of me in him as well, ha!

GM: As the sole creator of The Kingdom, you don’t have the difficulty of explaining your story to an artist or interpreting a writer’s story. With that in mind, what is your process for creating an issue? Do you write a script first?

JB: Whenever I created the story I knew where I wanted it to go. I had a “roadmap” but I felt like the story should be very organic. I wanted to let the story unfold and I had a lot of fun surprises along the way. For instance the rat Reekey was basically only a plot device to get Pale from point A to B, but I wound up liking him so much that he became this major part of the story and I really like to work that way. Also my wife, Natalie, is listed as editor but in future prints she’ll be listed as writer, as she helped me with much of the dialog, especially between Mala and Thane, who are basically me and her.

The process: whenever I start an issue I look at my road map. Then I close my eyes and literally envision the entire issue one page at a time. As I finish a page I draw it out as a “thumbnail” sketch in my sketchpad and add dialog, like a good joke or important plot point, and continue on until that book is completely thumbnailed out. Then I move onto the dialog and finally start on the artwork itself. Once all the artwork is completed I go in and add all the word bubbles. Then I print it out and Natalie and I go over all of the dialog and make sure it all fits and sounds right and that there are no typos, etc.

GM: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it and how do you balance your day job with working on comics?

JB: I still have a day job, so I do lot of comic work on weekends and at night and during holidays, which can be really grueling and difficult at times, but also very rewarding.

GM: When writing The Kingdom, did you outline the entire plot in advance or did you create it issue by issue?

JB: Yes I outlined the entire story arc, but it was more of a “roadmap” as I knew where I wanted the story to go but I allowed for it flow and have a more organic feel, which allowed me to take what I had built up from the previous issue and incorporate it into the next.

GM: Is there a type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? (Love, action, suspense)

JB: I found from working on other comics that for me a large page of dialogue between a couple of people was difficult because as the artist I have to make several panels of people sitting on a sofa look engaging and interesting, which was really challenging but fun at the same time!

GM: What advice would you give to young writers?

JB: Never wait for permission to follow your dreams.  Once you know what you want in life, go for it. You’ll make mistakes but it’s the best way to learn and never be afraid to fail.

GM: How would you have been stereotyped in high school? Jock? Band nerd? Theater kid?

JB: I’d have to go with class clown, ha!

GM: What are you reading right now?

JB: I try not to read anything while I’m writing, and I’m working on issue eight of The Kingdom right now.  However, the last thing I read was The Hobbit, which was a Christmas gift from my wife. I would sit in bed and read one chapter at a time and just take it all in; what an amazing book!

GM: What’s next for you? Any future projects?

JB: My next project is called Vamped, about a group of nerds being introduced to the world of Vampers. It’s a dark comedy written by Donny Broussard and illustrated by me. Think Clerks meets The Lost Boys! We are three issues into a six issue story arc and have recently started work on issue four. I’m also working on a sci-fi noir with Brando Gary called Dusk, which I’ll start on when Vamped is completed this summer.

GM: Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about you or The Kingdom?

JB: This project started out as a personal challenge and turned into an inspirational project for me. Growing up with dyslexia presented its own set of challenges, so I tended to fall back on the amazing 80s era that was around when I was a kid. The same era that promoted fun and joy is what I wanted to bring back and share with you guys. I hope that this story inspires you to share in that same nostalgia and that you have enjoyed the story as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

GM: The character designs in The Kingdom are wonderful. Do you have a favorite one?

JB: Thanks! I have to say that character design is one of the aspects that I enjoy the most when creating comics.  Pale’s character design is very near and dear to my heart, even though his look evolves throughout this story arc.

I really wanted his outward appearance to suggest what was going on under the surface in his mind and heart. I also wanted the reader to worry a little that he wouldn’t wind up being the hero they thought he was.

GM: Can you describe the process of developing the design of that character?

JB: With respect to the character design of The Kingdom, I was very focused on each character’s look and feel, and the first thing I thought was “each character has to be distinct!” I wanted the reader to know who they were even if they were in total silhouette.

After I got their look and feel down, I focused on the color scheme. I found a lot of inspiration from the 1980s Masters of the Universe and Thundercat cartoons and toys. Those characters had very bold and wild color schemes that in some cases should not have worked, but they really did and it taught me a lot about my own color palette.

Major Issues: The Kingdom – Rise of the Ape King

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Gardner Mounce

In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Updated Mondays.

The Kingdom – Rise of the Ape King
Story and Art by Jason Bienvenu
Published by Kingdom Publishing

In the afterword to The Kingdom, writer-artist Jason Bienvenu states that his goal with this project was to create a story reminiscent of the 80s cartoons he grew up with. And though you won’t find fighting robots or cats with boobs in The Kingdom, you will find a lovably familiar good vs evil story with a knack for cheesy one-liners. So in that regard, Bienvenu succeeded.

The story is archetypal and familiar: Pale, the outcast hero, rises to power in the wilderness only to come back to save the kingdom–like Luke Skywalker, Simba, and David did before him. He wears the hero of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth thousandth face. In any case, the series’ raison d’etre isn’t its story, but its art.

Character design, in particular, may be Bienvenu’s special gift. Bienvenu communicates his characters’ essences through their designs. Trepidacious, naive Pale wears showy red armor that nonetheless doesn’t fully protect him; his white mohawk and hard features reveal a youthful determination. Pale’s father, the lovable oaf, hardly wears any armor to show that he’s cocky and unconcerned. The Boar-O, a giant [mega]bear, wears nothing but an eyepatch and a metal arm–exposed, vulnerable, but fully confident. Even without backstory or dialogue, these characters are three-dimensional.

With such attention to detail, it’s frustrating that Bienvenu feels the need to over-explain the comic through dialogue and narration. The first issue is the most guilty of this, and acknowledges a lack of confidence in Bienvenu to tell a visual story. However, as the story progresses, the narration takes more of a back seat. By issue two, Bienvenu makes bolder moves in page layout, sequencing, and framing. By issue three, his confidence is perceptible. And issues three and four show Bienvenu at his most confident. The narration is minimal, the dialogue enhances rather than hinders, and the art flies off the page. Take the following splash page, for example. Among other things, Bienvenu breaks the background environment into broken panels, like cracked glass, to reflect the sudden violence of the scene.

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Speaking of environments–as a native Louisianian, Bienvenu understands how to communicate the heat and humidity of the jungle with muted greens, muddy browns, and a sun that emits waves of feverish heat. Conversely, his night scenes communicate quiet awe for a pre-electricity view of the stars. The cities of The Kingdom are designed with similar attention to detail. Each has its own style of architecture and mood. My only wish is that he would have made some of these environments splash pages for us to drool over.

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Though The Kingdom oftentimes runs through the motions of the hero myth, it never takes itself too seriously. Bienvenu set out to have fun, and he did. The story is full of wise-cracking corny stepdad jokes, but that’s sort of what makes it so fun. In any event, it puts on full display a new artistic voice who will no doubt helm exciting future projects.

Where to get it:

Comixology
Amazon

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Wayward #1

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Wayward #1
Written by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings
Colors by John Rauch and Jim Zub
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Published by Image Comics 8/27/14

My high school English teacher taught me that it’s bad form to begin an essay with a quote, and that’s why I’m saving it for sentence two. Someone once said that anyone can write a first act. It’s fun and easy to come up with a group of characters and establish a conflict; it’s in act two where things get tricky. Even so, a first act can be told poorly. Wayward’s problem is that it sets up its pieces so quickly that it doesn’t seem to enjoy its own premise.

Issue one falls into the trap of trying too quickly to get to the action. It assumes readers don’t have patience for the setup and are rolling their eyes until someone draws a sword. Protagonist Rori Lane, an Irish-Japanese high school student, lands in Japan to start a new life with her mom. For some reason, her mom doesn’t pick her up from the airport, which conveniently allows Rori to discover her new superpower–the ability to see her literal future path displayed for her in a red line (exactly like Donnie Darko’s ability to see his future path in a blue line). She catches up with her mom over dinner and explores Japan a little. Three men in an alleyway accost her. She’s saved by a ninja girl. They fight them off. The guys end up being turtle monsters, she discovers she can jump buildings for some reason, etc, etc.

This would be too much for one issue anyways, but writer Jim Zub dumps additional exposition on us in gobs of narration. Comics are a combination of words and pictures, but I’d argue that they’re a visual medium first. I hold them to Alfred Hitchcock’s standard that, like film, if they are played “silently” (without narration) the story should still work. It’s the cliche: show don’t tell. Narration should never do the work that the visual element could do. Most of the narration in Wayward could have been relayed to the reader visually, but oftentimes the narration just parrots what the comic is already showing. For instance, in one scene Rori struggles to take an afternoon nap, but is unable to do so due to jet lag. There are three frames. In frame one, Rori is lying down, staring at the ceiling. The narrator says, “I wonder if my brain will stop whirling long enough to take a nap.” The second frame is the same shot, to show that time has passed. The third frame shows Rori sitting up, indicating that, no, her brain won’t stop whirling long enough for her to take a nap. The reader understands this and needs no further indication, but Zub provides two additional layers of narration. First, Rori says, “Nope!” Second, the narrator says, “I guess it’s time to go exploring!”, which is an unnecessary line since the next panel shows Rori exploring. Zub commits this crime of over explaining constantly in issue one. The overall effect is that it reads like a rough draft, like Zub is still in the process of learning what his characters want and hasn’t yet found a way to tell the story in an interesting visual way.

Artist Steve Cummings and colorist John Rauch created this comic for a niche audience: the anime-ers. Skin is translucent. Hair is green or blue. Everyone’s dressed like they’re in attendance at Anime Expo. I’m not an anime or manga fan, so the art doesn’t feel like an homage to a Japanese style so much as it feels derivative of it. However, Cummings’s perspectives are noteworthy. Wide shots distort like wide angle lenses, giving the effect that the comic is filmed. It gives issue one a slick cinematic feel that definitely catches the eye. Now, if only Zub would trust him enough to take that camera eye and show us Japan and Rori Lane’s knotty relationship to her parents rather than tell us about it.

Should You Get It?

No. Unless manga is an obsession for you, and you’ve read all the manga, and you need anything that looks like manga or anime right now.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Supreme: Blue Rose #2

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Now updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Supreme Blue Rose #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Tula Lotay
Published by Image Comics
Published: 8/20/2014

Issue #2 of Supreme: Blue Rose opens on a scene that can be described as both artfully crafted and expositionally convoluted. It withholds exactly the information that would contextualize it–who are these characters and what is their purpose in the story? And, really, that’s exactly how Supreme: Blue Rose itself can be summed up so far. Warren Ellis reveals layers of the story like a magician overturning cards, but it’s two issues in and we’re just seeing the beginnings of the trick. Who knows how long it will be until he unveils what he’s up to.

The story so far: Darius Dax, a wealthy investigator of “blue rose cases”–rare events that do not typically occur in nature–hires Diane Dane, an out of work journalist, to investigate a strange event in upper New York state for an exorbitant rate. Dax plans to sell his findings to “actors” or “entities that act upon the geopolitical sphere” for even more money.

Before getting back to Diana Dane’s story in this issue, we wade through additional new subplots. Like artist Tula Lotay’s multimedia approach, there are layers upon layers of subplots. In the opening scene, an enigmatic woman leads an aged writer up a spiral staircase to [heaven?]. Following this is another installment of Professor Night, a TV show Diana Dane watches that is stuffed with non sequiturs and high-minded pronouncements. Its dark imagery is a reflection of the psyche of the Manhattan of the Supreme universe: violent and paranoid and cowed. It’s possibly an unconscious parallel version of the events of the story proper, like Tales of the Black Freighter was for Watchmen. Finally, there’s a scene in which a [mathematician] solves an equation that puts her in contact with an intelligent source from somewhere in deep spacetime.

When we catch up with Diana Dane, she’s grabbing a limo ride with a representative of Darius Dax, code name Twilight Girl Marvel. Twilight Girl Marvel explains to Diana that her position as a limo driver is a temporary reprieve from her true job as a “versioner”–someone who tests alternate versions of history and their would-have-been effects. We’re just getting back to some semblance of linear, understandable plot when suddenly Diana falls into a dream state in which she envisions an alternate history in which a North African scientific empire pioneered Mars.

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Should You Get it?

Supreme: Blue Rose is one of those puzzle-piecer stories for fans of Memento or Donnie Darko or Primer where every single frame will probably have multiple meanings. It’s for those with an allergy to exposition dumps and patronizing narrators. It’s for “smart” readers. In comic form, a story like this can be frustrating. Can you imagine watching two or three scenes of Memento at a time with a month between each installment? On the other hand, maybe it’s just convoluted for the sake of convolution. The question is: how much do you trust Warren Ellis?

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Shutter #5

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Now updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Shutter #5
Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Leila del Duca, Owen Gieni
Published by Image Comics
Published: 8/13/2014

In its first five issues, Shutter has suffered from being married to its influences. Critics and readers have accused it of sharing too many similarities with Saga. There are too many analogues not to. Saga’s Lying Cat is Shutter’s Alarm Cat. Saga’s Alana is Shutter’s Kate Kristopher. Saga’s no-holds-barred world building with its television-headed technocrats and armless spiderwomen is reflected in Shutter’s ghost assassins, living-dead butlers, and cat mafias.

However, Shutter differs from Saga in a few important ways. First, Shutter is a family drama rather than a planet-hopping space opera. Sure, Shutter’s Kate Kristopher is an explorer, but our story begins after Kate’s last adventure with her father, when her father died tragically. It is the story of a grounded explorer, crippled by depression. Second, Saga’s narrator couches the story from a safe distance in the future where she can speak on the events with humor and forgiveness. Shutter has no narrator, no guiding voice to contextualize Kate’s struggle or assure the reader that, at some future time, all this will work out.

Comics are too often guilty of stripping female characters of both clothes and realistic personalities. Most women in comics are attractive, as if comic creators fear that unattractive female characters will be unpalatable to male readers–which is bullshit and insulting to both genders. Kate Kristopher is three-dimensional and independent, but, like the comic itself, is drawn too heavily from influences. She is a mixture of equal parts Hawkeye’s Kate Bishop and Saga’s Alana. She shares Kate Bishop’s off-beat humor and quirky vernacular, and Alana’s strength of character and knack of flying off the handle.

The first unique characterizing moment for Kate Kristopher happens at the end of issue 5 (no spoilers). It’s a game-changer, and comes so far out of left field that it makes you wonder how writer Joe Keatinge will handle the inevitable fallout. This is his chance to transform Kate from an amalgam of influences into a deeply flawed and unique person. But, if he fails, it will all have been for shock value.

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Should You Get It?

If you haven’t started Shutter yet, wait until the trade paperback of the first six issues hits stands. Due to the giant cliffhanger at the end of issue 5, issue 6 will show us if Keatinge has the chops to take the story in a fresh direction.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Spread #2

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Now updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Spread #2
Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Kyle Strahm
Published by Image Comics 7/6/2014

The post-apocalyptic story seeped into the cultural consciousness at the end of the nineteenth century with Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man, and has been retold in countless incarnations since. We’ve our plague-pocalypses, zombie-pocalypses, pocalypse-pocalypses (this hasn’t been done yet?), all serving to sate our need to punish ourselves in fiction for how great of a job we’re doing fucking everything up. In such an over-saturated apocalypse narrative market, what must a new narrative do to stand apart and be successful?

Not much, apparently. Spread’s first issue sold out its first two printings and is heading into its third, and the second issue sold out immediately. So what’s it about? How does it stand apart? Combining elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the baby-as-narrator device from Saga, Spread is an amalgam of things guaranteed to work. In a world ravaged by parasitic organisms capable of banding together into larger mega-organisms, a man named No must protect the world’s only hope: a baby actually named Hope, whose tears have the power to dissolve the parasites’ bodies. I’m not suggesting that Spread is bad. It’s actually a lot of fun. It combines the right elements of visceral art, disgusting monsters, creepy characters, and heady pacing. But if you’re looking for a fresh take on post-apocalyptic stories, look elsewhere.

The story is strong and has been diligently introducing the right elements. In this issue, writer Justin Jordan introduces some new characters. First we meet Ravello, the Fabio-esque leader of a group of bandits. Unlike the other scarred, dirty characters of this world, Ravello is an unscathed Adonis–the visual antithesis to issue 1’s creepy thin man who has the power to spawn additional parasites. Then we meet the series’ first mega-parasite (pictured on the issue’s cover). And finally, baby Hope’s mother Molly, a totally capable mother who is in no way balls-out crazy. Though the story elements are strong and balanced, the story’s chief flaw is in taking itself too seriously. It rides too many familiar elements to not be self-aware and poke fun at its own premise.

The art is bloody and visceral, and probably the series’ best element. Artist Kyle Strahm can handle anything Jordan throws his way, including parasites exploding from eyeballs and multi-mouthed worms. If there’s anything in this series that can be said to be funny, it’s in the gratuitous use of violence. It’s funny in the exploitative way of John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino movies.

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The old parasite chewing through the eyeball bit. Too funny.

Should You Get It?

For post-apocalypse junkies only. You won’t find anything necessarily fresh in its pages, but if you need to feel that psychic catharsis by seeing humanity punished for all its mistakes, you could do worse than Spread.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com 

Major Issues: Low #1

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In Major Issues, we look at one newly-released comic book each week. Now updated Mondays.

Gardner Mounce

Low #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Tocchini
Published by Image Comics
Publication Date: 7/30/14

Louis C.K. has a great joke about telling his daughter that in millions of years, once she and everyone she knows is dead, the sun will explode and kill everyone on earth. There’s not much of a punchline other than the fact itself, and finding it funny might be the litmus test for whether or not you’d enjoy Rick Remender’s latest series Low, a story about humanity’s last ditch effort to escape an expanding sun by living in cities beneath the ocean surface. Remender–always the pessimist–says it’s a story about optimism. We’ll see.

Unlike Remender’s other currently-running series, Black Science, a no-holds-barred sci-fi story that is supposedly written without a plan, Low promises something more classic and structured. There’s a clearly defined ticking clock (the sun is expanding) and even some mustache-twirling bad guys. We meet Johl, his wife Stel, and their two children. They are descendants of the Caine family, a founding family of the underwater cities. In this issue, Johl and Stel take their two children out of the city for the first time and run into trouble with underwater savages.

Remender paces the first issue well, but flounders with the exposition. He mostly avoids his trademark pessimistic narration, and opts instead to stuff his characters with exposition-heavy dialogue. In the first scene, Johl and Stel have one very stilted post-coitus conversation about plot points. But thanks to artist Greg Tocchini’s ability to draw realistic body language, we pick up that the two are very much in love. They just don’t have a lot to talk about besides exposition.

As for the art, Tocchini creates a visual vocabulary out of Low’s underwater aesthetic, especially in his use of spheres and circles. Not only are some of the panels themselves circular, but so are many aspects of the city’s architecture, and much of the technology is spherically designed. The spheres suggest air bubbles rising from oxygen tanks, the glass bubble that encases the city, the sun and the earth, and serves to indicate how fragile spherical things are in general.

Even better is Tocchini’s way of suggesting the central conflict with the color palette. The two-page title page separates the world into burning red and absolute black–the polarizing forces of the burning sun above and the crushing ocean depths below.

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Between these two extremes is where our characters live, in warm amber and deep jade–suggesting human warmth and the more habitable ocean depths, but also suggesting how sandwiched our protagonists are between destruction above and oblivion below.

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Like most of Remender’s comics, I’m more excited by the art than the writing. Even in a comic about earth’s inevitable destruction, Remender’s writing comes off as heavy-handed. However, as long as he keeps pairing himself with artists like Tocchini who can add nuance and layers of meaning, I’ll keep coming back for more.

Should You Get It?

You could probably wait until the trade paperback of the first story arc. If you’re new to Rick Remender, I’d skip this and check out his series Deadly Class. It’s the best thing he’s got going right now.

Gardner Mounce is a writer, speaker, listener, husband, wife, truck driver, detective, liar. When asked to describe himself in three words, Gardner Mounce says: humble, humble, God-sent. You can find him at gardnermounce.tumblr.com or email him at gmounce611@gmail.com