Top Comics to Buy for April 10, 2019: Detective Comics #1001, Livewire #5, Infinite Dark #5, and more

By Zack Quaintance — A very tardy set of Top Comics to Buy for April 10, 2019 this week, but what can I say? There were a lot of great books, and I wanted to make sure I’d read as many of them as possible before settling on my recommendations. It’s called due dilligence, and I’ll be damned if I don’, do it. Yeah.

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REVIEW: Fearscape #4, venture deeper into the mind of a failed writer

Fearscape #4 is out 2/13/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — I don’t entirely know what’s up in Fearscape. So, before reading Fearscape #4, I went back and re-read this series from its start, seeing if I’d missed any clues. I came back with a few things, but on the whole, I didn’t develop great theories about what’s happening or why. Certainly not any I’m confident enough to lay out here, dear readers (sorry, I really did read a whole lot of Fearscape today).

Before unpacking my re-read, let me say this is a strong ambitious comic. Artist Andrea Mutti and colorist Vladimir Popov’s designs are top-notch, as is their delineation of the Fearscape from reality. There is (likely intentional) confusion over meaning, but it is always clear when a character is fantastical or real, unless it serves the story to blur lines. Writer Ryan O’Sullivan does impressive work maintaining the insecure pretentious voice of faux-literary luminary, Henry Henery. I’ve tried complex voices like his myself—maintaining a consistent tone for four issues is truly impressive.

Now, on to my re-read. Two ideas stand out in this idea-dense comic. The first is the tearing down of usual story structure. The second is the culpability of readers in stories, ie if I’m not turning pages, nothing happens to characters, like Schrodinger’s fiction. The many references to these thoughts make me suspect disorientation is by design, and the real villain of this comic is stories in the first place, especially those of literary figures who thrive on validation for cleverness.

Interior artwork from Fearscape #2.

Conversely, there are ample references here to the learned reader versus the casual reader. The learned reader is, presumably, someone with a handle on what’s happening and how various meta-fictional touches are being deployed. This person maybe even knows why. The casual reader, meanwhile, is someone yearning for the predictable comfort of a Campbell hero’s journey, a story about a person—good or bad—who wants something, struggles, and emerges changed...often for the better. In Fearscape, the casual reader is derided by Henry Henry, perhaps more than anything (which is saying a lot because this guy derides all damned day).

The book is without question succeeding on disregarding conventions and discomforting casual readers. What remains to be seen, however, is if it uses that to tell an engaging story that raises questions about the art life and—in a broader sense—the human condition. To me, Fearscape #4 feels like a deepening psychological nightmare, a trip into the mind of a writer riddled with anxiety and imposter syndrome and desperation, having spent his career compartmentalizing personal ambitions while translating other work.

There are, however, elements that suggest a further skewing of reality...Henry not having parents but being Arthur’s ward, Arthur and his alzheimer's, Henry Henry telling us he’s dead. These suggest a deeper story, one I have not yet figured out but remain absolutely determined to experience.

Overall: Fearscape #4 is another strong issue of a meta-fictional comic about how it feels to have unfulfilled literary aspirations. This comic remains a must-read for English majors and literary dabblers, anyone who has taken a creative writing workshop or read canonical novel in a coffee shop and daydreamed about their name on its cover. 8.8/10

Fearscape #4
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

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.

REVIEW: Fearscape #3 continues its dark examination of a failed writer’s mindstate

Fearscape #3 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — In Fearscape #3, writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Andrea Mutti’s meta exploration of the darkness inherent to an unsuccessful creative life gets...even darker. Now deep into its story, Fearscape continues to be a comic entirely unafraid of darkness, intent to use its clever pseudo-New Yorker literary fictive voice to unpack the worst sort of artistic impulses. This combination of fearlessness and form is making for a compelling (and intensely singular) comic, one bent on examining why such feelings (as well as the actions they give rise to) occur, what they mean, and the damaging potential they can have on one’s life and morality.

This third issue opens with some of the delusion that has been present throughout. It starts with what seems like a writer’s fantasy—finding a novel finished, exactly as you would have written it, without you having to do any of the actual work. But not so fast. It’s obviously not that easy (nothing is in Fearscape). The found book is not the work of our hero, Henry Henry, but of the bed-bound mentor whose home he essentially burglarized in the first issue before being swept into the mythical realm of the Fearscape. Henry Henry is not finding a book he wrote without remembering; Henry Henry is stealing whole a finished novel from a sick mentor. For shame!

Much of the rest of the issue is spent elucidating the mindstate of a plagiarist. What’s most impressive to me about Fearscape #3, though, is how it shows rather than tells (that old creative writing canard) a set of feelings that are incredibly personal. O’Sullivan continues to play with form for a third straight issue as he does this, putting rectangular narration boxes over the traditionally round word balloons during a mental episode, which creates a writer’s fantasy of what the hero wants to hear versus what’s really being said. It’s used with great effect to convey how someone as delusionally ego-driven as Henry Henry can justify plagiarism, altering the reality around himself to be comfortable with artistic theft in a way that feels heroic, at least to him, anyway.

Other familiar writerly feelings found in this issue include: the ennui (a very Henry Henry word, btw) of publishing fiction and finding out it’s not the cure to whatever ails you, finding that no one else understands your special interiority, and wanting in alternate turns to embrace and disavow the muse that motivates you to write (to say any more about this last one would give away the climax of this issue).

Fearscape had one of my favorite debut issues this year (if not my very favorite), and little has been lost as this story has proceeded. I am admittedly very much the target audience for this—a comic book reader/author of short fiction who has published here and there but not put out a full collection—yet I’m sure this story has quite a bit to offer anyone who has ever contemplated any sort of career in the arts, especially when its full scope becomes visible at its conclusion. I am, however, now ready for ol’ Henry Henry to either start some kind of growth, or to hit rock bottom. I’m just not sure how much more of his continued descent into delusional awfulness I can take (which is something I’ve said more than a few times about our current president—rim shot—thank you, thank you).  

Overall: A literary comic about what it feels like to be a struggling artist, Fearscape continues its descent into delusional frustration, doing so with a clever narrative voice and some visual tricks that convey a mindstate in ways only comics can. This is a must-read book for anyone who has contemplated the art life. 8.8/10

Fearscape #3
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99

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.

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Despite the name of this website (which is ironic!), I’m prone to Batman fatigue. It’s not that I don’t like the character. No, I think it’s pretty easy to make a case for Batman being one of the most compelling characters to ever grow from American fiction. It’s just that I don’t often see much new ground for stories about Batman to cover, so prolific are DC’s Batman releases. That said, I still fairly regularly find myself drawn into and torn up by well-done Batman stories.

This week ambushed me in that way. As you’ll notice shortly, two of our Top Comics to Buy for December 12 star the Dark Knight, while a third gets a recommendation in our new #1 comics section. So yes, this is a great week for all things Batman. It’s also a great week for Marvel’s (arguable) flagship character, Spider-Man, as Amazing Spider-Man hums right along and Miles Morales returns to Marvel’s pages just in time for his big screen review. Coincidence? Hardly. This is Marvel, and synergy is what’s for sale.

Now on to this week’s comics!

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

Batman Annual #3
Tom Taylor
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99
"THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PENNY!" Alfred Pennyworth has been Batman's most trusted ally and confidant since the Dark Knight first hit the streets of Gotham City. Now, witness Batman's battle for justice from Alfred's perspective and learn how harrowing that journey has been as Batman experiences one of the worst nights Gotham City has ever seen-a night that will push Alfred to the breaking point! Best-selling writer Tom Taylor presents an epic tale that promises to be one of the most Alfred stories ever told!
Why It’s Cool: This is an emotional and well-told Batman story that may have you tearing up within the first three pages. Taylor and Schmidt are a pair of creators deserving of much bigger stages, and hopefully incredible work like this will help them get there. This is also a self-contained story, so even readers who have been off Batman proper for a while, can still pop into buy this comic.

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
J. JONAH JAMESON has a new job as a shock jock, but is the world ready for a pro-Spider-Man JJJ? More importantly, is Spider-Man ready? His post-secret-identity relationship with Jonah was already complicated, but this very public embrace may put him over the edge! Spidey's definitely not ready for the Enforcers to come at him harder than ever!
Why It’s Cool: If it weren’t for Immortal Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man might be our favorite book at Marvel right now (with apologies to Black Panther and Captain America). It’s just been so good since launching with a new #1 issue in July, and now it has artist Ryan Ottley rejoining writer Nick Spencer to presumably replicate the creative alchemy that made the first arc so special. It also has some momentum, with last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #10 ranking as one of our favorite issues of Marvel’s flagship Spidey title in many, many years.

Bitter Root #2
David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorists: Rico Renzi & Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
An evil force stalks the streets of Harlem as Berg and Cullen face off against a deadly creature that may be more than they can handle. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a mysterious stranger unleashes furious retribution in the name of justice.
Why It’s Cool: The work of building this world and the way it works was set into motion so wonderfully by Bitter Root #1. Now, the creators are free to let us know more about their story and its characters. This is a visually lush and intellectually complex book, one that doesn’t flinch as it depicts monster hunters confronting ghoulish members of the KKK. In this second issue we learn more about the long-standing family dynamics at the heart of the relationships between our character. This book, simply put, continues to be an utter joy to read.

Detective Comics #994
Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Batman's strangest case begins as the new creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke take over DETECTIVE COMICS! Commissioner Gordon calls in the Dark Knight Detective when there's a murder at the Gotham City Aquarium-staged to look exactly like Thomas and Martha Wayne's crime scene, right down to the Playbill and pearls. How does this bizarre homicide tie into the shadowy monster that attacks Dr. Leslie Thompkins? This creature looks to wage a war on Batman-and it's using Joker Gas to do it!
Why It’s Cool: There’s so much Batman goodness packed into this first issue of the countdown to Detective Comics #1000, the comic that launched the character. It starts with a bizarre mystery and just gleefully builds from there. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this Tomasi/Mahnke run and hadn’t heard the kind of buzz one might expect for something like this, but this first issue is poised to build that excitement right back up.

Fearscape #3
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
Having escaped the clutches of the Fearscape, Henry Henry tries to... Aha! You'll use my name, I see, but won't let me speak! That you would require solicitation copy for the third issue, after the genre-redefining brilliance of the first two, is nothing short of a personal insult. The work speaks for itself. Any tale of my exploits should not be hawked to those asleep at the wheel.
Why It’s Cool: This meta story of literary writers’ doubt barrels forward, with protagonist Henry Henry returning from the mythical storytelling Fearscape realm to the real world. This is a singular comic unlike anything else coming out today, and every issue is one to be poured over. This story brims in equal parts with braggadocio and imposter syndrome. For serious patrons of the art and would-be creators, this series continues to be a must.

Check out our reviews of Fearscape #1 and Fearscape #2.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Batman Who Laughs #1

  • Defenders: Doctor Strange #1

  • Defenders: Silver Surfer #1

  • Fantastic Four: Wedding Special #1

  • Goddess Mode #1

  • Magic the Gathering: Chandra #1

  • Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

  • New Talent Showcase 2018 #1

  • Planet of the Apes: Simian Age #1

  • Sasquatch Detective #1

  • Spawn Kills Everyone Too #1

  • Vampirella vs. Reanimator #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Avengers #11

  • Black Panther #7

  • Cemetery Beach #4

  • Dead Kings #2

  • Electric Warriors #2

  • Hawkman #7

  • Lone Ranger #3

  • Murder Falcon #3

  • Oblivion Song #10

  • Outer Darkness #2

  • Redlands #9

  • Skyward #9

  • Supergirl #25

  • Superman #6

  • X-Men Red #11

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

REVIEW: Infinite Dark #1 by Ryan Caddy, Andrea Mutti, K. Michael Russell, & Troy Peteri

Infinite Dark #1 is out 10/10.

By Zack Quaintance — Infinite Dark #1 is a space survival story, albeit one that functions differently than most stories that fit that description. Space survivalism often sees a protagonist or group of protagonists fighting desperately to return to Earth (or whatever other habitable planet) as oxygen or power or food depletes. What sets Infinite Dark #1 apart is that there is no return waiting for the humans in this comic. There’s nowhere to go at all.

Ryan Cady and Andrea Mutti’s Infinite Dark is set after the heat death of the universe, on a single space arc that has escaped annihilation. There is no pressing concern to be outrun, with the characters here chased only by the knowledge that the vast majority of life has been snuffed out around them. In this story, it’s survivor’s guilt, nihilism, malaise, bleak routine, and lack of a vibrant future that people must confront. It’s powerful stuff, a complex and nuanced dive into human psychology, one that feels forlorn and relatable in ways most dystopian sci-fi stories don’t.

Andre Mutti’s first page from Infinite Dark #1…space has rarely felt so claustrophobic.

Cady builds Infinite Dark atop painfully universal feelings: these characters are safe, at least in terms of having basic needs met, yet that alone is not enough to make them content. The titular infinite dark comes to serve as an effective metaphor for depression so severe, so palpable as to be almost smothering. The plot grows from an inciting incident that threatens to make life even worse. It’s a compelling murder mystery with a great horror tinge, but mood is really what’s for sale here.

Cady’s narration really bolsters the mood throughout, with a number of excellent lines, including That’s what the Orpheus feels like—humanity’s perfect tomb, outwitting the end of all things, the ultimate habitat...and Mutti’s artwork shines especially well in exterior shots of the ship, making it as small as it must feel to those inside. Space has rarely seemed so claustrophobic. This book also builds toward an intriguing crescendo of rapidfire plot points that culminate in a fantastic cliffhanger (as debut comics must). So yes, while it certainly looks like no fun to be aboard the Orpheus, as a reader I’m signing up for the long haul.

Infinite Dark #1 is also an interesting companion to another major creator-owned book launched this week, Daniel Warren Johnson’s Murder Falcon. At their cores, both books are about unthinkable loss. Whereas Murder Falcon takes a fantastical approach to grieving, Infinite Dark’s perspective is rooted in reality, which is a credit to how real the characters are, given Murder Falcon is set in our world and this one takes place in limitless space.

Overall: Infinite Dark tells an intriguing story steeped in depression with a deep and nuanced understanding of human psychology, plus forlorn visuals to match. This complex comic makes readers feel as if they too have boarded a space arc following the heat death of the universe. A must-read for fans of meaningful science-fiction, with extra points for so adeptly incorporating horror and mystery tinges. 9.0/10

Read our recent interview with Infinite Dark writer Ryan Cady.

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.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Fearscape #1 by Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti, & Vladimir Popov

Fearscape #1 is out Sept. 26, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Fearscape #1 is the latest new series from fast-rising indie publisher Vault Comics, with hints of a diverse range of stories about stories, from movies like Midnight in Paris to famous cartoon shorts like Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Google it, you’re likely familiar…). This comic is smart and unique, and it pushes the limits of the sequential graphic storytelling medium, deploying a strong literary voice along with a concept that ranks among the best of today’s creator-owned comic wave.

It’s one part Saga, Monstress, or Wic + Div, and it’s one part that killer short story you read in The New Yorker, maybe by Zadie Smith, T.C. Boyle, or Lauren Groff. It’s an amalgam of your favorite graphic novels and that conversation you had last week with that annoying guy in tweed at your friend’s dinner party, the one who kept referencing his MFA.

Phew. That’s an onslaught of gimmicky descriptors, but this book grows from, speaks to, and stands upon mankind’s storytelling traditions. As such, references are perhaps the best means of giving readers an idea of what they’re in for when they open this comic. Now then, let’s get granular and go into Fearscapes’ plot, strengths, and best lines, shall we?

Plot: An otherworldly being called The Muse comes to take humanity’s greatest storyteller to The Fearscape, a realm of dark magic where human fears exist as living creatures. That storyteller is tasked with overcoming the greatest of all fears, thereby freeing humanity from them. The Muse comes for a venerable fantasy writer and instead finds Henry Henry (perfect failed author name, btw), a fraud who is busy stealing a manuscript from the home of the aforementioned famous writer, who is Henry’s friend/benefactor and is also sick and dying. It’s a lot, but Andrea Mutti’s artwork is clear and imaginative, and it orients the reader, while writer Ryan O’Sullivan makes excellent use of authoritive narration, which brings us to Fearscape #1’s single greatest strength...

...its voice, which is just pretentious enough to remind us what type of guy Henry Henry is (seriously, perfect name) without making us totally hate him, although holy wow is it close. Voice does so much work in this story, conveying that our main dude is a personification of imposter syndrome, oozing insecurity with his pretentiousness cranked to 11. It remains to be seen if the creators can emotionally vest us in the guy, but for now the intrigue and imagination is so compelling it doesn’t matter.

So, let’s get into some of best lines, including: All authors are ultimately translators; endlessly rewording stories and ideas we’ve heard countless times before.

And this resentful take on genre writing: Twenty-seven novels. All of them fantasy. All of them set in the same trope-ridden dragon-infested world.

Finally, this shot at a particularly loathsome subclass of human: Yet, despite this, we shall still find ourselves opposed by the casual reader and, even worse, its mutated older sibling, the critic.

Overall: A nigh-perfect debut, a unique comic that pushes the boundaries of sequential graphic storytelling. Fearscape #1 is one part killer creator-owned comic, one part famous literary short story, and 100 percent not to be missed.  10/10

Fearscape #1 is available Sept. 26, 2018.

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

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.