Image

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: God Hates Astronauts #3

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Gardner Mounce

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

God Hates Astronauts #3
Story, Art, and Colors by Ryan Browne
Published by Image Comics  11/5/2014

God Hates Astronauts is what you’d get if Adventure Time was written by the guy who made the videos at SickAnimation. It’s a ridiculous space opera about about a group of superheroes called the Power Persons Five who are hired by NASA to prevent redneck farmers from launching their rocket ships into space.

Browne manages to give this story cohesion by consistently introducing the weirdest elements imaginable. There’s King Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger, the despot of the Crab Nebula. He is, in fact, a tiger eating a chesseburger always. There’s the Southern ghost narrator in the cowboy hat who honestly just gets on my nerves. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But since Browne is doing the art and the words and everything, there’s really no one to tell him no.

The best visual element of this series has to be the sound effects, which Browne uses as another opportunity to tell a joke. When Dr. Professor suddenly wakes up in issue #3 from a bad dream, there’s a motion line leading from his pillow to his head and the sound effect “WAKE THE FUCK UP!” that follows. At other times, it seems Browne is subverting the sound effects trope at a more basic level. When characters point, there’s a sound effect for that (point!). When characters eat a burrito, there’s a sound effect for that, too (“burrito!”).

But, brevity being the soul of wit and all, these recurring jokes that were so funny in issue #1 and were starting to wear off in issue #2 are now plain boring in issue #3. Browne’s off-the-wall writing is now expected, and he raised the bar so high to begin with that there’s really nowhere else to go. It’s like a good SNL sketch turned into a lackluster movie. It’s an exercise in stretching a joke to its breaking point.

Should You Get It?

I would read the online comic first over at his website.

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: Rasputin #1

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

Gardner Mounce

Rasputin #1
Story by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo
Colors by Ivan Plascencia
Letters by Thomas Mauer
Published by Image Comics 10/29/14

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

There are few historical figures as primed for a magic realism retelling than Grigori Rasputin. The man survived something like (let me check my research) seven thousand assassination attempts. In Rasputin, Alex Grecian suggests that the mad monk’s knack for avoiding the grave wasn’t luck, but magical abilities.

Issue #1 begins at a dinner party. Rasputin is offered a glass of wine which he’s certain is poisoned. In narration, Rasputin muses on the origins of his name and mortality. The art in this scene is dark and full of cramped panels with off-kilter compositions. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that a ghost, which is presumably only detectable by Rasputin, is standing behind the mad monk’s chair the whole time. More on that in a second.

Off a shot of Rasputin toasting his hosts with the poisoned wine, we’re transported back to Rasputin’s childhood home in Siberia where he helps his mammoth father collect firewood. This scene, and the one following, is mostly devoid of dialogue or narration. There are panels that could be accused of being redundant and unnecessary, or meditative and brooding, depending on your take. Personally, I think it takes guts to allot two pages to silent wood collecting in a debut issue. It slows down the pace and allows the reader time to ruminate on Rasputin’s humble beginnings. Or maybe writer Alex Grecian just really likes stories about wood collecting.

Following this scene are two scenes that introduce Rasputin’s ability to not only heal wounds but to bring back the dead. In the latter of these scenes, Rasputin has the choice to revive a man-eating Siberian death bear or his abusive father. Sorry, dad, but this choice was too easy. The colors in these Siberia scenes are faded, low contrast blues and browns, presumably to reflect the hazy recollection of memories rather than a favorite Instagram filter.

Probably my favorite detail in the flashback portion of this issue is how the creative team chose to express the Rasputin clan’s illiteracy by using icons for items like “firewood” and “death” instead of written words. Ever since the “pizza dog” issue of Hawkeye, I’ve been dying for more “icon speak” in comics. Rasputin’s dying father uttering “[skull icon]” isn’t as cute as pizza dog, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Issue #1 wraps back at the dinner party where Rasputin calmly downs the glass of poisoned wine. By now it’s obvious that the ghost standing behind Rasputin is his dead father. Whether his ghost dad follows him around as a sort of revenge or as a demented guardian angel is not clear just yet. So far he’s just stood there with his hand on Rasputin’s shoulder, perhaps to show that Rasputin feels his overbearing influence even years after his death. Or maybe death has given his dad some much needed perspective about how much of a dick he was in life.

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Should You Get It?

If you like slow-building historical magic realism fiction about occult religious figures with magic powers, then yes, probably you’d like this.

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: Wytches #1

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

Gardner Mounce

Wytches #1
Story by Scott Snyder
Art by Jock
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
Edited by David Brothers
Published by Image Comics, 10/8/2014

Disclaimer: I missed my opportunity to write about Wytches the week it came out because I was on vacation. I’ve been waiting for this comic all year, though, so I’m going to break my own newly-released comic rule. You can berate me in the comments. I can take it. (Full disclosure: I can’t take it)

What Scott Snyder wants you to know right off the bat is that Wytches won’t have anything to do with the witches of popular lore. He cleverly shows this in the first two pages. On the first page is the definition for “witch,” and the second page shows that definition scratched out. His point: abandon all preconceived definitions here. That’s also probably why he spelled it “wytches,” though he could have just misspelled it. Jury’s still out on that.

Issue #1 focuses on a horror movie trope as old as time. The Rooks family, running from their dark past, moves into a new house in a new town, only for that past to outrun them. Our teenage female protagonist’s name is Sail (full name Sailor). It’s more likely an implication that she’s the “sail” of the metaphorical family ship that keeps it moving forward, but all I could think of was that cat video…

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The dad reads like a Jack Torrance for the 21st century. He’s a great father to his daughter, a great husband to his wife, a writer–though of comics rather than novels–and very good under pressure. He’s certainly the lynchpin for this family. A character this noble must have flaws, though, and by the end of issue one, Mr. Rook’s cracks begin to show. He has a short fuse, which is a little too close to the Jack Torrance mold for him to be his own unique character, but whatever. However, since the mother is in a wheelchair, could we conclude that the father’s short fuse put her there? Jury’s out on that, too, though that would be a wonderfully dark twist.

The part of their dark past that we do find out about in this first issue is that Sail (SAIL!) witnessed a bully get shoved through a tree hollow.

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Did I mention that this comic is creepy? Everyone believes that Sail killed the bully, thus why the family moved to a new town. Obviously, Sail is more than a little shaken up by all this.

One of the worst mistakes a horror writer can make is to play their story heavy handedly. The creepier the horror, the greater need for a humorous or light counterpoint. Snyder does this well via the fun-loving Mr. Rooks and a couple of well-planted details that give the story authenticity. For example, one of Sail’s new classmates warns her of their teacher’s knack of “dick brushing” students–what happens when someone passes behind you in a crowded room and “accidentally” brushes you with their dick. This is the perfect way to bring us out of the horror for a moment before Snyder thrusts us back in.

The art team’s efforts are sharp, layered, and studied. Jock lays the groundwork with effortlessly composed panels of razor sharp inks, while Hollingsworth uses a multimedia approach to his colors. In the girl-shoved-through-the-tree scene above Hollingsworth blends moody greens and bruised purples to emphasize the primal violence seen in Jock’s drawings. In the scene below, Hollingsworth matches nauseating yellows and greens to the visceral mood of the scene.

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Speaking of deer sneaking into your house and vomiting viscera on the carpet, Snyder manages to lay the groundwork for a theme that I’m partial to in horror movies: nature is evil and will intrude the shit out of our puny civilization. It’s epitomized by the woods, deer, and, of course, the wytches. As we soon see, the wytches in this title are closer to the monster in The Blair Witch Project than the double, double, toil and trouble witches of popular lore. But unlike Blair Witch, which derived its power from withholding what the monster looked like, Wytches reveals the monster by the end of issue #1. Though the monster is terrifying, it does seem like the wizard reveals himself too soon. In spite of this, issue #1 leaves us with more questions than answers, and that will certainly keep us reading.

Should You Get It?

Though Snyder employs nearly all the horror movie tropes in this first issue, he delivers a truly creepy, character-driven story that promises a new twist on an antiquated monster. This is a must-pull.

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