REVIEW: Calamity Kate #1 is one smooth debut

Calamity Kate #1 is out 3/13/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Calamity Kate #1—from Magdalene Visaggio, Corin Howell, Valentina Pinto, and Zakk Saam—has a fantastic first page. You’ll see it should you decide to read this comic (which, I think you should), and you may have already seen it in previews, but I still want to take a moment to talk about how much I liked it here. The creative team does an excellent job pulling the audience’s gaze down through a set of five page-spanning horizontal panels, each one of which unveils a new detail about the titular heroine, Calamity Kate.

It gets the always tricky business of info dumping out of the way in a quick burst, in a way that doesn’t bog down its narrative once it gets going while still telling us most everything we need to know about our character, where she’s at now, and what she seems to want out of life. We learn she’s leaving alone, she’s been eating takeout, her dark apartment is covered in posters of monsters, she was married, she’s been divorced, she has swords, she has a leather jacket. Then at the very bottom, we get her mind state: I’m not dead, far from it.

By page three she’s jumping, teeth gritted and sword drawn at a giant monster, we know pretty much everything we need to be oriented as an audience, and the only reasonable reaction becomes, hell yes, let’s do this!

The intro was perhaps what stood out to me most, but the rest of the comic goes on to be great too. Between this book and Morning in America, writer Magdalene Visaggio continues to make a strong case that she’s one of the best (and most complex) dialogue writers in comics right now. When her characters talk to each other, there’s always a sense that what’s being communicated is a great deal more than what’s being literally said. You can feel strains in friendships, complex histories, and tiny agendas. It makes for well-realized characters and tons of additive interactions.

And it’s not always about the interactions. Sometimes the lines crackle with interesting juxtapositions (this one jumped out at me, I packed up, left my job, left my apartment, and drove west in an old continental and started hunting monsters). Another bit of very solid writing here is how the emphasis of the plot stays on Kate’s emotions. The opening was about her loneliness, first and foremost, with the book (wisely) waiting a bit longer to establish that she’s a famous monster hunter in a world where monsters have become a too-common disaster, not unlike wild fires or mass shootings. It’s a bold move, and it pays off excellently, grounding a genre story in the feelings of real people (my favorite).

Corin Howell, the artist for the series, is also having an ascendent year as a creator, having drawn other notable books like Girl in the Bay and Dark Red. On Calamity Kate, Howell is joined by colorist Valentina Pinto, and the result is what in my opinion is her best artwork yet. The lines are clean and sharp as all get out, and the visuals oscillate seamlessly from anguished quiet moments of honesty to a woman combating scaly drooling creatures with a katana. It all slows super well, and the flourishes really pop, driving the action and big emotional beats in equal parts.

Overall: A really well-done first issue, Calamity Kate is a tight and well-told story with a solid concept and great characters. Come for the famous monster-hunter living in Encino premise, but stay for the quiet look at honesty, friendship, and feeling alone. 9.0/10

Calamity Kate #1
Writer:
Magdalene Visaggio
Artist:
Corin Howell
Colorist: Valentina Pinto
Letterer: Zakk Saam
Publisher: Dark Horse 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: Morning in America #1 marks the start of a compelling new teen adventure

Morning in America #1 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Morning in America #1, simply put, is a comic about what it feels like to be a teen. It focuses on a group of friends, who are maybe only tenuously interested in spending time with each other. The dialogue in this comic is exceedingly well-written, seeing its characters bickering often throughout, doing so in a way unique to high school, a time when we’re maybe not yet sure what type of person we’d like to be around just yet.

The end result is book with four strong and distinct characters who all feel real, which goes a long way to making the larger plot engrossing. Speaking of the larger plot, there’s also a mystery at work here—it’s 1983 in smalltown Ohio, kids are disappearing, and a new factory has opened up without seeming to provide jobs to anybody. Still, for me the real highlight was the way creators Magdalene Visaggio and Claudia Aguirre gave their young characters so much room to think and brood and breath.   

What also added to the authenticity of the story was the way the characters moved throughout the world. Morning in America #1 never fell prey to that common coming-of-age issue wherein the teens are overly precocious, knowing everything or exerting so much control over situations that it starts to take an audience out of the story. Part of why the four characters at this story’s heart feel so real is that they are surrounded by consequential situations that rely (at least in part) on the actions of the adults in their worlds. Parents bicker about jobs, questions at school go answered, and when the protagonist of the story gets in trouble, the intervening mother and officer tasked with handling it seem more exasperated than concerned. It all rang rather true to my own experiences back in high school, feeling both under-respected and under-cared for.

In terms of the artwork, Claudia Aguirre’s lines are detailed and interesting, augmented by an interesting color palette that displays an impressive tonal versatility. There are pastels for sunsets and brighter colors for actions. What I found most interesting, however, was the book’s first page, which was maybe a flash-forward, showing one of our characters (I think) running from a monster as neon colors disrupted drabber tones that had set over the little city. It’s so attention-grabbing it could potentially function on its own as a poster. I really dug it.

Morning in America #1 is, in the end, a patient comic that sparks an interesting mystery, using its excellent character work in the service of a story that feels compelling and real. I’m not sure what it’s larger thematic interests are. There are hints of globalization affecting industrial smalltown America, although that seems at odds with the 1983 time period just a little bit. Basically, we know we have a group of teens who maybe don’t get along all that well and definitely have troubled behavioral records, and we know we have a monster-mystery unfolding (plus maybe aliens?). It’ll be interesting to see how and to what ends this story brings it all together.

Overall: Morning in America #1 is a rare coming-of-age comic that excels at realistic character work. A compelling start to an interesting mystery, this book is definitely one for teen adventure fans to follow. 8.0/10

Morning in America #1
Writer:
Magdalene Visaggio
Artist: Claudia Aguirre
Letterer: Zakk Saam
Publisher: Oni Press
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: Vagrant Queen #1 by Magdalene Visaggio, Jason Smith, Harry Saxon, & Zakk Saam

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Vagrant Queen No. 1 is the latest book from Vault Comics, which has been on a hot streak this year (at least for my tastes) with Cult Classic, Deep Roots, and Wasted Space, in addition to its several excellent ongoing titles. One thing I’m fond of saying about Vault is that the publisher has one of the highest minimum bars for quality of any in the indie comics game.

Really, a high level of artistry and storytelling is the only major commonality between Vault’s disparate titles, although they are all generally built upon sci-fi or fantasy concepts (Cult Classic notwithstanding, as it has more of a nostalgia-driven horror bend). With this in mind, Vagrant Queen builds on that reputation, while giving the publisher a book that is just a bit different from its other recent efforts.

Vagrant Queen stands out in that it puts good ol’ fashioned quips and space opera in front of the capital B Big ideas that have driven many other recent Vault books, including Deep Roots and Wasted Space. The concept is still a high-minded one, with a tagline on its back cover that really lets you know what’s for sale here: “They took her throne. She told them to keep it.” This is a sci-fi action book about a deposed princess with no interest in her own privilege.

Smith and Saxon excel at conveying impact in  Vagrant Queen #1.

Smith and Saxon excel at conveying impact in Vagrant Queen #1.

Writer Magdalene Visaggio first earned my trust earlier this year with her work on Eternity Girl, the breakout hit of DC’s soon-to-be-concluded Young Animal line, and this debut made me an immediate fan of both artist Jason Smith and colorist Harry Saxon. That team uses wide but tight, almost claustrophobic panels for its action sequences, ones that really emphasize points of contact to convey the force of impact. It’s a great and exciting effect.

Really, I’m always and forever down to watch wily heroes shoot at gaggles of soldiers as they hastily board a spaceship to make an escape. This one is a fast read, too, one you may return to the start of once you’re finished to take it in a second time. Visaggio, Smith, and the team have built an intriguing lead in to a world here, one that promises prison world’s, exploration of monarchical hypocrisy, and a perfectly-coiffed sinisterly-smiling bad guy who I want to see more of—I’ll definitely be back for a second issue.

Overall: Vagrant Queen #1 is an action-packed and quick debut for another exciting new series from Vault Comics, one that almost surgically familiarizes us with our characters and our world. It’s a bit lighter on big ideas than other recent Vault debuts, but the action and pacing works so well that it hardly matters. 7.8/10

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