REVIEW: Bad Reception #1, experimental comics takes on social media

By Zack Quaintance — Bad Reception #1 asserts itself right away as an experimental comic (its form is very interesting) that also has a whole lot to say. A lot to say, specifically, about social media. This can, presumably, be attributed to the idiosyncratic and very talented creator Juan Doe doing pretty much all of the creating here himself. The writing, the art, the coloring, the lettering...Juan Doe does it all.

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REVIEW: Descendent #1 is driven by deep mysteries and authentic characters

By Zack Quaintance — From the moment I paused to take in Descendent #1’s trippy, psychedelic, and slightly sinister cover by Juan Doe, I knew I was in for something different. The imagery on the cover here really sets an interesting tone. It’s powerful, perplexing, and maybe even a little dangerous. It’s all abstract, yet it manages to evoke a shadowy danger coursing throughout history, which the preview text for this book mentions heavily. It’s a really impressive cover, bolstering the narrative before it….

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Top Comics to Buy for April 24, 2019: The Replacer, Criminal #4, and more

By Zack Quaintance — One of the things I’ve pushed against since creating this site is recency bias. All of us—fans and critics—have a shared tendency to praise and promote new #1 comics above mid-run installments or even finales. While there is a certain and acute level of brilliance required to create a strong debut, I think we as an industry tend to lose site of just how impressive and also difficult it is to sustain an interesting graphic sequential story for five, 10, or—as is the case with one of our...     

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REVIEW: Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #1 packs some real twists

By Zack Quaintance — When Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #1 was first announced, I was a little skeptical about the concept. The pitch for it seems to be, what if Mary Shelley didn’t invent the story in her most famous novel at all, what if she had actually lived it? I’m sure the idea came from a place of good intentions, an idea to turn the precocious Shelley into a…

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REVIEW: Orphan Age #1 has A LOT going on

By Zack Quaintance — Orphan Age #1 is a quick read that has a lot going on. It launches a relatively complex world pretty quickly. In this book, all of the adults on the planet died mysteriously 20 years ago, and now the children are running the world. This concept seems like one that could drive the book by itself, making the conflict one of unprepared youths shedding their childhoods…

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REVIEW: Dead Kings #4 smacks readers in the face...and it’s great

By Zack Quaintance — For those of us who have been reading and enjoying Dead Kings, the promise of giant mech-based battling has been looming large since the start of the first issue, which dedicated its second and third pages to a full splash of mechs (one shaped like a bear, another wielding a laser sword…

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Zac Thompson talks THE REPLACER, a new original graphic novella based on a true story from his childhood

By Zack Quaintance — Writer Zac Thompson (Age of X-Man, The Dregs) has a truly powerful new graphic novella due next month, on April 24, to be precise. The work, which is called The Replacer, is illustrated by Arjuna Susini, colored by Dee Cunniffe, and lettered by Marshall Dillon. Set in the 1990s, it tells a story from Thompson’s childhood tinged with horror genre trappings to accentuate the feelings, fears, and events.

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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: 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)
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.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Could the vampire comic Dark Red #1 have the smartest things to say about a divided America?

Dark Red #1 is out 3/20/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Dark Red—perhaps because of its name—is somewhat being billed as a political comic, a vampire thrown into the middle of rural Trump America, and to some extent, it’s definitely that. It starts off with the hero of this story working the all-night shift in a gas station. Chip is getting close to quitting time, which is high stakes for him seeing as he has to get home by sun up. This is (of course) complicated by a couple of drunks, rowdy truck drivers, one who rants like a right wing troll on Twitter and another who wets himself and forces Chip to clean it up.

Our story is off to the races from there, focusing heavily on Chip, his lifestyle, and the misery of living in a dying small town. The worst case scenario for a comic like this is that it becomes an exercise in one-sided, look how dumb and small and hateful and problematic these people are, a narrative that makes a good number of its characters part of some us vs. them cultural conflict. Dark Red gets close at times but doesn’t entirely do that.

Aside from the one truck driver at the start, the handful of characters we do see in this first issue are well-realized people motivated by simple things: the manager who wants the job done, the other truck driver who is embarrassed he couldn’t get to the bathroom in time, the woman who has a rare disease that makes her generate too much blood, thereby putting her at risk for clots and making her a great friend for a vampire. As a result, the central conflict of this comic is not so much us vs. them (a narrative you can find plenty of places these days, often well-executed and poignant), as it is man vs. the place he’s stuck living. That’s a really important distinction.

There’s a lot of setup that has to be done in this first issue, and so we only get a hint of it. It is, however, tantalizing. It occurred to me while reading this comic that we haven’t really had a defining story of what it feels like to be a good person from small town America, at least not since things like the changing economy, globalization, and the opioid crisis rendered those places thoroughly desolate and hardscrabble. Most great books, films, comics, name it...that take on the big city vs. small town divide are from other eras, casting it as a question of excitement vs. boredom, a matter of mostly deliberate choice. Sometimes it has to do with opportunity, but these days that whole conflict has perhaps evolved into something more severe, becoming a question of survival.

And what better hero to have for a story about survival than a schlubby vampire who works in a convenience store, lives in a trailer, and needs human blood to get by? Okay, maybe there is a better character than that, but this is comics, a medium built upon genre extremes, and in that context, I can’t really think of one better. Chip the truck stop vampire is a guy who lives in rural America because the city is too much for him, too intimidating, and he has a passable thing figured out here. There’s some real potential in that. Writer Tim Seely, artist Corin Howell, and letterer Marshall Dillon have hit on a concept that might just use vampires to deliver thought-provoking nuance (I know how that sounds but stick with me…).

In Dark Red #1, they work hard to set that up amid the normal debut issue trappings, the interesting opening and enticing cliffhanger. The real success of the book, obviously, will hinge on what they do later on via the execution. I don’t envy the inherent challenge this concept invites. It’s audacious, to be sure, but fortune favors the bold, in creativity as in many things in life, and from the start, a comic about a vampire in deep red America has been a pretty bold undertaking.

Overall: Dark Red #1 delivers a bold concept and a promising setup. It’s not as political of a comic as its title or cover suggests, with a subtlety of concern likely to be welcome to some readers. I’ll stick with it, because if a vampire comic ends up having the smartest things to say about American in 2019, there’s no way I’m missing that. 8.0/10

Dark Red #1
Tim Seely
Artist: Corin Howell
Letterer: Marshall Dillon
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 20, 2019

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

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