TRADE RATING: The Immortal Hulk, ‘I’m not a bad person, am I?’

By Hussein Wasiti — I can’t stop thinking about The Immortal Hulk, the ongoing book by writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett that gives the jade giant a Cronenberg-esque rehaul. This comic is by far the most fascinating and engaging comic published by either of the Big Two, and the book’s success — despite its esoteric nature — is a testament to the strength of the storytelling. 

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TRADE RATING: Brubaker and Phillips' Bad Weekend is a reflective and brutally honest look at comics

This is a bit of an unusual release, due to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s interesting exercise in the collected release of the Bad Weekend arc from the current Criminal monthly series. The Bad Weekend hardcover collects issues #2 and #3 of the series, and tells the story of aging cartoonist Hal Crane and his criminal misadventures when attending a comic book convention. Joining him is Jacob Kurtz, a recurring character in the world of Criminal

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TRADE RATING: Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s SECRET WARS (Spoilers!)

Secret Wars is epic and subversive, but not in the way that you might think. Instead of paying off Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and Avengers runs in a traditional way that could involve swathes of characters from the 616 and the Ultimate universe going at it, quipping with each other and generally having a ball, Hickman went in another direction. 

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TRADE RATING: Brian Michael Bendis' Fortune and Glory is a masterfully-paced true Hollywood story

By Hussein Wasiti — This is the second of Brian Michael Bendis’ early creator-owned work that I’ve read, the first being his true-crime epic Torso. Like Torso, this book also happens to be a  true story. Fortune and Glory details Bendis’ personal experience trying to adapt his comic Goldfish for the big screen. In it, he depicts Hollywood as this strange other land, one which constantly surprises while also living up to every stereotype we’ve all heard about it. Bendis also provides the artwork for the comic, a dramatic deviation from Torso while also feels…

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TRADE RATING: The Boys Omnibus, Part 2

By Jarred A. Luján — For those unaware, The Boys has returned recently via a new omnibus collection. The story, co-created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, follows a CIA-backed, physically enhanced outfit as they aim to keep superheroes in check. This is second part of my review of the omnibus, covering issues #7-#14 (you can read all about my bad teenage haircut…

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TRADE RATING: The Boys is a welcomed blasphemy to our culture of superhero mythos

By Jarred A. Luján — The Boys, which is Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s series about a CIA-backed team that keeps superheroes in check, is back this year with a new omnibus that collects the first 14 issues of the series (Editor’s note: this review covers the first half of the omnibus, but check back next week for a piece about the rest!). For those not in the know, The Boys is a fairly iconic series co-created by…

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TRADE RATING: White Ash is a testament to the quality of Kickstarter comics

By Zack Quaintance — I read the first two issues of White Ash—a Kickstarter-funded comic written by Charlie Stickney with art by Conor Hughes and colors by Fin Cramb—around this time last year. I was intrigued by the concept. On its surface, the book right away deals with a withering coal mining town, named White Ash, thus the title. Its first over-sized issue follows a native son of that town as he tries to say one final goodbye to the place he grew up before heading to college. He goes around town, bidding farewell to the important people in his life, noting all the things he won’t miss, and working to collect on some a debt for yard work he did for the one wealthy family in town.

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TRADE RATING: New graphic novella THE REPLACER is a powerful example of blending genre and honest storytelling

By Zack Quaintance — The Replacer is a different sort of comicbook release for a few reasons. First is the format. This is a 64-page, full color graphic novella. What does that mean? Essentially, it means that you’re getting about three issues worth of comics (for the price of two, btw) all at once, so the story doesn’t have to take breaks. The Replacer is a dense and concentrated read with a streamlined beginning-middle-end, enabling its narrative to move with patience and really build to a crescendo without periodical trappings like obligatory last page cliffhangers, first page recaps, etc.

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TRADE RATING: Torso - A True Crime Graphic Novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko

The latest edition of Torso: A True Crime Story is available now.

By Hussein Wasiti — I’m not terribly familiar with Brian Michael Bendis’ creator-owned work. I’ve read most of what he’s done under his new Jinxworld imprint since moving to DC, so my foray into this re-printed edition of Torso is my first exposure to Bendis’ and collaborator Marc Andreyko’s early work. My major takeaway from this book was that this felt very consistent with not only his indie books, but with his superhero romps too. The style of dialogue and the occasional bold storytelling choices in this comic are still very much present in his output today at DC.

Torso delves into a basically unexplored period of the prohibition cop Elliot Ness’ life. Ness was the man who, along with his team of Untouchables, took down Al Capone, the famous Chicago gangster. Following this massive and famous victory, he moves to Cleveland for a new position as the safety director of that city. It’s definitely an antiquated position by today’s standards, and there is an undertone of futility to this job since Cleveland at the time was notoriously corrupt, with a lax police force and an equally ineffective mayor who limited Ness’ actions as safety director. In this environment a serial killer stalks the streets of the city Ness has come to protect, preying on innocent victims—decapitating and dismembering them—leaving only a torso for the authorities to find (thus the name).

The plot here is a fairly traditional affair, since we’ve all seen these kinds of stories before. A character is connected to a crime, in this case the Torso Killer is actively sending Ness postcards throughout the comic, and any attempt at catching the killer is undermined by either corruption or an incompetent bureaucratic system. What makes this particular story come to life, however, are the interesting and wide ranging historical details, which I’m not going to spoil here. Ness makes interesting choices over the course of the narrative and the reveal in the supplemental material that this was indeed all true was quite mind-blowing. Many of these historical details come across very well in Bendis’ artwork, which I’ll be discussing in great depth later.

It’s hard to talk about Elliot Ness without mentioning Brian De Palma’s 1987 film The Untouchables, arguably the most famous work about Ness’ life and one that provides a backbone for this story. Ness’ takedown of Al Capone acts as a specter hanging over Torso’s narrative; he’s frequently poked and prodded about his method of victory, which was busting Capone on tax evasion. This informs a lot of Ness’ arc throughout the comic: does he deserve the praise he’s received? Is he really the hero the public thinks he is?

Ness’ focus on taking down the Torso Killer stems from resultant insecurities, and his separate marriage issues stoke the flame of frustration he’s experiencing while working for the city. The outcome of this entire story is the perfect encapsulation of Ness’ character, in that he was too focused on what was in front of him instead of paying attention to the things that mattered, like his wife or his campaign to rid Cleveland of corruption. This is all so deftly handled by Bendis and Andreyko, whose depiction of side characters keeps the story from being an overly dark affair. Walter Myrlo and Sam Simon are the two detectives on the case, and their friendship is more or less the heart of this story. Their conversations together are trademark Bendis dialogue—snappy and witty—which works very well here.

The artwork by Bendis himself, however, is what really made this book stand out to me. Bendis handled every aspect of the art, from the pencils to the lettering. With Bendis in total control of the way the story unfolds, there are some impressively unconventional pages to be found here. Most of the time he operates with a basic double page structure, but he goes on to leave much of the top half of the right page completely dark while the final series of panels on the left page continues onto the next. One page early in the comic operated like this, and I found that to be such a bold and inventive way of highlighting tension and drama. This style of page layout achieves an intensive focus on the moment.

I mentioned earlier that the historical detail of the story lent itself to this art, and I attribute this to Bendis including real, historical images in the comic. City blocks to shantytowns to crime scene photos are all interwoven, another bold choice that cemented the realism on display. In filmic terms I’d consider it to be “cinema verité,” French for “real,” or “truthful” cinema. This technique also felt reminiscent of what famed comics artist Jack Kirby did with photo collages later in his life. The first few pages of the comic feature these images, and at first brush I found it to be a bit bizarre, but as I encountered them more I began to appreciate them.

Bendis also employs a lot of shadows, half-shrouding characters in ink. Bendis lettered the comic himself too, which was maybe my least favourite aspect of the book, or at least something I questioned while reading. I’m not an aficionado on lettering and what I know is primarily based on the standard of today’s lettering techniques. Overall, the lettering seemed thick and clunky. Bendis uses long and wide tracks to connect balloons, the size of which was rarely consistent. The placement of the balloons could have been better too, since there are some pages with absolutely insane layouts where I really needed the lettering to guide me through the sequence. Instead I was confused and sometimes read pages in odd orders. These issues were few and far between, however, and for the most part I was a fan of the general unevenness since it contributed to the indie aesthetic of the book.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the story of Elliot Ness, I’d recommend Torso wholeheartedly. The edition I read is part of a new line of republished Jinxworld material by Bendis, and I’m excited to read more of his early work. Bendis and Andreyko provide a full and real glimpse into the fascinating life of Ness here and into the brutal history of Depression-era Cleveland. The way the team told this story is both inventive and unique. Pair this some weekend afternoon with a viewing of De Palma’s The Untouchables and you’ve got yourself one strange prohibition era double feature.

Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel
Writers:
Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
Artist: Brian Michael Bendis
Publisher: DC - Jinxworld
Release Date: Feb. 19, 2019

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Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. You can find his weekly writings over at comicsthegathering.com, and periodically on Weird Science. He is on Twitter as bullthesis, and he lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.

TRADE RATING: Out of the Blue expertly captures the British spirit during WWII

Out of the Blue, Volume 1 is out 3/27/2019.

By Jarred A. Luján — Out of the Blue Volume 1, the second original graphic novel from AfterShock Comics,  is the co-creation of famed war story writer Garth Ennis and the incredibly talented artist Keith Burns. It marks a reunion for the duo, which last team on another WWII aviation story called Johnny Red. Out of the Blue follows protagonist Jamie McKenzie towards the end of World War II, as he performs bombing runs on German supply lines in the worst possible plane with the worst possible commanding officer.

The story has so much to unpack, but I want to jump into the artwork first. Burns is a member of the RAF Guild of Aviation Artists, a group that describes itself as the globally-recognized premier society for the promotion of aviation art. Burns is a testament to that statement. It almost feels like planes were designed for this man to draw them. The opening page of the book—a De Havilland Mosquito Fighter-Bomber flying over the remnants of a burning German ship—is in and of itself an amazing piece, and it sets the tone for the book. The battle sequences in this story are also more than just big and explosive; they’re dramatic and intense. Burns styles these pages in a way that showcases what a feat of machinery these little planes are, also capturing the depth and destruction of warfare. It’s all thrilling to look at, and this art alone could sell me on the book.

This story has one of my favorite casts of characters from any Ennis book in a while. Joseph Ranjaram, an Indian soldier in the British military, is the calm and eloquent balance to another character, Jamie. Jamie, in his own right, is a fun character, but it becomes clear early in the story that Jamie…well, Jamie is sort of an unlucky guy. His constant stumbles bridge upon heartbreaking turn after turn, which, ironically enough, is what introduces him to Joseph in the first place. Jamie getting partnered with Joseph is meant to be a punishment due to his race, and I loved that touch. Any WWII book that doesn’t shy away from the ugly shadow of racism, particularly and openly cast by Broome here, is one that adds an immersive edge of realism to its work. It should come as no surprise that Ennis, a man who happily introduces the harsh realities of war on the regular, is willing to address that unflinchingly as well.

Now, bear with me as I give a brief history lesson, one that I promise is relevant to this book. For those who maybe missed a history class or two, England suffered a pretty brutal time in WWII. From the May 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk to the intense bombing that occurred from July to October 1940, times were rather dark for the country during the war. Now, one of the things that I love about this time period in particular is the war propaganda that came out of it. I know, that seems like a particularly dorky thing to find interesting, but the differences in experiences of the war come out so clearly in the way nations represented it to their own countries. For example, American propaganda is vengeful, it’s angry. Reasonably so, something like Pearl Harbor is certain to bring out those feelings in a nation. England’s went another way, though. While there were certainly feelings of anger and frustration and vengeance, much of England’s propaganda was hopeful, because for quite some time it seemed like the end was nigh for Britain. There’s been plenty of time spent dissecting Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, given at the beginning of the intensive bombing, but it captures so well the British approach to their situation: Don’t lose hope, fight on.

That spirit is so wonderfully captured in this story. It’s a story of Jamie, who can’t seem to do a damn thing right at times, and who is given every reason to give up but refuses to do so.

He just seems to find himself in the plane, in the midst of battle, fighting for something worth fighting for. The book feels lighter than some of Ennis’ prior work, and I say that as someone who loved Punisher: Born and Sara (which I also reviewed), but that lightness is perfect for this story. It has dark edges, to be sure, including racism and Broome’s nastier intentions later in the book, but you can see the central vein of hope throughout Jamie’s story. The last few pages of this book are so great and so beautiful, and they capture the theme so well that I spent a very long time soaking them in.

If there is one thing I find frustrating about the book, it’s that the release is split in half. Volume 1 isn’t a cohesive story, it’s part of a much larger story that will obviously conclude in Volume 2. Yet, it feels like we’re really just kicking off by the time we get to the end. It feels a little disappointing that we can’t dive into it next month, like a monthly serial, or continue going through it, like a regular graphic novel. That’s a minor thing, and maybe that being my biggest issue is only another indicator of how much I enjoyed reading this.

Ennis and Burns make fantastic comics together.

Out of the Blue Vol. 1 (of 2)
Writer:
Garth Ennis
Artist: Keith Burns
Colors: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Rob Steen
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $19.99
Release Date: March 27, 2019

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Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.