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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Even more reviews of comics from Image, Marvel, DC, BOOM! Studios, and Dark Horse!

Welcome to another edition of Last Call Comics. Here, as we continually bolster AIPT’s weekly comics coverage, we catch any titles that might’ve fallen through the cracks. Or those books that we might not cover but still deserve a little spotlight. Either way, it’s a chance to explore more comics, generate some novel insights, and maybe add to everyone’s to-be-read pile.

Once more, happy New Comic Book Day to everyone.

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NIGHTS #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

As a critic, our jobs can be at times complicated. We have to try and absorb and disseminate what makes a story good in a way that’s thoughtful and appealing, and that’s not always so easy with monthly books. But we also have a few tools at our advantage, as demonstrated by my coverage of NIGHTS. Not only did I have the first three issues for some weeks, re-reading and contemplating as I saw fit, but I even got to talk to the creators.

And while all of that truly informs how I’ve approached my review of the debut issue, it didn’t take much to make me fall hard for this book.

NIGHTS is a truly singular entry in the realm of horror. It is an undeniably heartfelt love letter to the genre, as writer Wyatt Kennedy reworks our understanding of what these stories can be – intense and dark, but poignant and deeply human. In an alternate America with 31 states and actual monsters, the people and the freaks are as real as they are just plain interesting. Whether it’s our young hero Vince (he’s so thoughtful and multifaceted even as he just moves in with his cousin, and I can’t wait to see how he grows and develops further) to the vampire Grey (she’s a massive mystery — for Vince but also everyone — while also being so deeply raw and vulnerable), it’s a world where the gimmickry is meant to inform some deeply powerful interactions and relationships. The fact that it’s a strange world filled with wild horror elements is a bonus — a way to add layers and texture to these characters’ lives without ever distracting from what matters most.

Kennedy previously knocked it out of the park with Bolero, and the two books share a lot of humor and heart. But this latest series manages to do so much more, too, giving us powerful moments of friendship and romance even as it sets the stages for bigger, more harrowing moments to come.

So much of what matters about these character dynamics and whatnot is from the look of this world, courtesy of artist Luigi Formisano (as well as colorist Francesco Segala). It’s the work of Formisano-Segala that makes a lot of those aforementioned gimmicks really resonate — a kind of shorthand for this world’s true magic and why it proves both wildly familiar and altogether strange. (I kept coming back to the movie Monkeybone for that same profound mix of reality and fantasy interacting so fluidly.) Formisano’s work is also just deeply beautiful and utterly perfect for this specific kind of story, a robust and vivid style that’s so important to drawing people in and then letting the sheer humanity and overall relatability keep them glued to the page.

There’s also just many layers depicted in terms of the actual world of this story, and it makes things feel all the more grand while hinting at some of the larger history and context of NIGHTS. I found myself spending a lot of time just enjoying the backgrounds of the city and how it all feels so connected and engaging even when, say, there’s teenage skeletons in the mix — and that speaks to just how alive this book is and what it’s trying to do with telling this very thoughtful story about community.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book, and what it’s come to mean to me in recent weeks. (I haven’t even mentioned the ending, and it’ll likely rip your face off with its depth and impact.) But since I won’t spend 2,000 words on a single review, I will say what I’ve said is only the tip of the iceberg, and you should read it to fully embrace what this story is capable of both for horror and comics at-large. Seriously, take my word for it if only this one dang time.

Final Thought: A dazzling drama of big scares and bigger emotions.

Score: 10/10

From the World of Minor Threats: The Alternates #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

There was so, so much to love about issue #1 of The Alternates. The premise (B-list superheroes return from some fantasy dimension and must grapple with their tedious lives); compelling characters like Mary the Multi-Monster; and a generally weird and poignant exploration of identity, superhero politics, and how we each live an existence that doesn’t always cut the mustard.

But one thing I didn’t really know that I loved was Crab Louie.

Maybe because our large crustacean friend didn’t really step up until this second issue, in which the team visits a nightclub to find out who’s been giving Pre (a power-inducing drug connected to The Ledge dimension they were previously trapped in) to ordinary citizens. And the fact that Louie is an even more perfect lens into this world (without taking away from Mary’s lead role in #1) is a testament to the work of the writing team (Patton Oswalt, Jordan Blum, and Tim Seeley).

They made a gag hero into the one with so much heart and depth — the one who is struggling the most with the feelings of disconnect and uncertainty plaguing The Alternates (and thus he feels hugely important as we enter this world further). Yet he’s never any less of a joke, and that potent combo really exemplifies why this issue, and the book at-large, is so great. It’s an utterly unflinching character study, and one that gives lots of time and perspective on each character (even as Louie serves as the kind of “mascot” for this issue).

We see their strengths and weaknesses go hand-in-hand, and that informs the roles they play in cracking this mystery and what that ultimately means for their continued immersion back into “ordinary” life. Persona, for instance, gets ample time to shine, and we really see why she hides behind a mask and why she may or may not ever want to go back to The Ledge — and it’s always done in service of the larger story and without pulling back too far.

Whereas I think the story is solid throughout, the art is a little more nuanced. It’s certainly hugely compelling, and effectively having two art teams (Christopher Mitten and Ian Herring handled the bulk of the issue, while Tess Fowler gets to show off on a few key pages) is so utterly important. It’s where we get a lot of really layered and textured moments, including instances for Louie to emote and complicate our take on him and the struggle he’s locked into. And while having different art means things land all the more effectively, there’s always a solid consistency throughout, and things look like highlights rather than alien moments that ruin our immersion into this decidedly bonkers world dripping with layers and emotionality.

But whoever is behind the pen, the big tent-poles of this issue — be it more brief insight into The Ledge, or a partygoer who earns furniture-themed powers — are always handled with humor and heart. As with Louie’s depiction, it’s all a grand and silly gag that nonetheless feels devastatingly real — and readers are forced to reconcile with that across the board. Whether characters are sharing an intimate moment (that may be pregnant with more layers and meaning) or fighting some bad guys, that balance between the absurd and the all-too-real is all-consuming, a wild ride into both some creative head-space and our own understanding of these super stories.

The thing about Crab Louie is that he’s a good man (at least so far). He’s desperately trying to do the right thing (be a husband, father, and hero) even as every instinct inside of him says to run back to his fant-a-sea. There’s never any judgment or the like — the book/creative team allows Louie, and the others, to be themselves in relationship to their shortcomings. That feels like a really novel way to treat one’s heroes, and just another reason as to why this book’s so compelling already. I can’t wait to see what happens when the story unfolds further, and the dimensional rift of humanity and storytelling wonders that await us and our lovable squadron of losers.

Final Thought: You aren’t ready for this psychedelic trip into the human condition.

Score: 9.5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy #7

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

So far, the creative team behind Guardians of the Galaxy have made a series especially inspired decisions. Like, turning the team’s most beloved member (Groot) into the overarching big bad and a general existential foe. Or, as with issues #5/#6, killing off the rest of the team.

But as the solicitations promised, issue #7 may be the absolute boldest move of them all as the Guardians are replaced by Wiccan and Hulkling. A bold strategy, indeed.

I won’t confirm whether the actual Guardians are dead or not (or otherwise indisposed), but I think if you love superhero comics, you’ll know things are a tad more complicated than they might appear. Still, the introduction of Hulkling and Wiccan is great because 1) their dynamic and relationship fits well with that of the Guardians, and so it feels all that more natural, and 2) it’s a nice kick in the butt for this book. Because after six issues slowly building this story, writers Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing are finally getting going in a major way. The Guardians (whatever version this might be) are poised to take the Grootfall conflict into a grander direction, and one that could involve some old enemies and some very big stakes.

But more than that, issue #7 was a way to explore Grootfall’s larger thematic purpose over how it started and the shape it’s taken. Again, I can’t spoil it, but it’s not what you think (on any level, really), and it’s about a much deeper understanding of Groot beyond the lovable mascot or badass fighter. It’s the context that pushes him into a more significant place — a theme of this whole dang book so far — and that in turn gives the rest of the Guardians a chance to show off the power of this family and how they continue to collectively evolve. All of that (including the Hulking-Wiccan intro) is about fully honoring this team and what it fully represents as a force for good in a deeply imperfect universe.

However, if you’re really dying to know what Grootfall is, you only really have to pay attention to a few key pages. As with the previous issue, artist Kev Walker and colorist Matt Hollingsworth have created these storyboards, as it were, that elegantly and perfectly encapsulate some bigger truths to both Grootfall and this chapter of the Guardians in general. They’re just as epic and poetic as Lanzing-Jackson’s narration, and they provide a really convenient and effective means of exploring the crux of this story. They’re basically visualizers that never feel insulting and instead are great for boiling things down for anyone who needs a little more input. And that’s not even the art team’s biggest accomplishment in this issue, either.

Be it the Groot-ified animals on a planet, the dynamic relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan that plays out with subtle gestures, and/or the interplay between light and shadows as a character gauge, the normally sharp art felt especially alive here with tension, depth, and a profound mix of beauty and subtle menace. In an issue dominated by conversations and exposition (even the really important, compelling kind), there was enough force and texture here to keep things interesting. And that only helped make all this big reveals and moments feel all the more groundbreaking.

It would seem that this book is gearing up for a decidedly direct moment: a massive space battle for the Manifold Territories/Grootspace. But even if I’m expecting lasers and explosions galore, this book has trained me enough to know it won’t be that simple, and that’s a very good thing. But no matter how many layers or subplots may converge, it’s all likely going to land like a giant flaming Groot-meteor.

Final Thought: New members, big reveals, and oversized drama await you in Grootspace.

Score: 8.5/10

Quest #3

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

In some ways, Quest #2 was a bit of a miracle. It took a rather tenuous start, albeit one with some potential as a new kind of fantasy tale, and gave it a second shot at a first impression. And what made that issue so successful was a number of things, chief among them a more dedicated pacing and a focus on small acts of humanity.

That trend very much continues with issue #3, as our heroes (Anya, Tor, and Nuru) find some much-needed info in a library to help them battle the nasty demons who kidnapped Prince Devyan. While their revelations comprised the bulk of this book’s surface-level value, creators Jonathan Luna and Crystal Wood had much more planned for this important issue.

That includes even more poignant backstory between our two lovebirds, the addition of a new group from the kingdom (to complicate and even add to the sheer number of human elements here), and even a little automaton from the library that should serve as a “mascot” and source of comedy. What all of these decisions share in common — aside from being perfectly in line with the rest of the book — is that they’re not meant to be groundbreaking but that they’re still hugely effective. They’re decisions that lean in to what this book does well (make us engage and care for these characters) while extending the look and feel of this novel fantasy realm (we’re moving slightly beyond the Southeast Asian core in some cool ways while retaining those sentiments) and also building the narrative in a way that lets things simmer accordingly.

The first issue struggled with that sense of momentum and fostering these connections; issue #2 improved on that greatly; and this latest issue went even further by giving us some world building and enough excitement and adventure without overwhelming or breezing by the book’s biggest moments (i.e., the princess learning more about herself and her relationship and connection with the prince).

If this issue had any downside, it was the distinct lack of creature magic, which the previous two issues had heaps of (which were both cool and served the purpose of more world-building). That’s not to say there wasn’t some of that in this issue — there’s the aforementioned automaton, and even some approaching nasty buggers that help end this issue with a proper cliffhanger — but that it felt a little minimalized here.

That’s a mostly minor price that I’m willing to pay as the humanity here continues to build in slow and deliberate means, which keeps things feeling close and intimate as this rich realm continues to develop organically. This is one heck of an adventure, and we’re only still just getting started.

Final Thought: This quest is becoming all the more compelling and rewarding.

Score: 7.5/10

City Boy #5

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of DC Comics.

My love affair with City Boy was really tested with issue #4. Because as much as I’ve truly felt for the story of young Cameron Kim and his burgeoning city-centric powers, it was last month’s chapter that reminded me of some clear downsides in the story from writer Greg Pak and artists Minkyu Jung and Sunny Gho. Namely, a certain repetitive nature and a tendency to not let Cameron’s development advance too far.

Luckily, a lot of that’s been thrown out the window with issue #5.

To an extent, this issue has the same kind of structure as previous issues. Only where Cameron previously had collabos with Nightwing and Superman, this issue’s pairing with Swamp Thing feels decidedly more robust. Maybe it’s because they share a gimmick as avatars, or that both have struggled with their origins to an extent. Either way, they had a more substantial connection, and that really allowed us to delve into the core of both characters.

And from that, we get some really poignant insights into what Cameron really wants and even a bit of corresponding direction in his story. That once again generated another vital chain in the story loop as we get the first proper happening for Cameron to push him toward the climax as this unwilling tool for Darkseid’s campaign to take over the Earth. Even more than adding some real stakes to the story, it was also a way to still connect it all back to Cameron and his ongoing story in reuniting with his mother — it’s that dynamic that informs this entire book.

All of that leads into a rather impactful ending, and while I won’t spoil much more, this feels like the first time where everything has coalesced and we’re primed for a big finale with some massive stakes (while still getting all that big emotional exploration and sentimental payoff).

And as the piece de resistance to all of that, the art delivered in a really big way. No more magic with weird city birds, but a powerful look at The Green and how it relates or connects with Cameron’s own powers and what that all means from a story perspective. Which is to say, lots of great subtle work to use The Green as this device for exploring interpersonal relationships, how certain things always survive loss, and even what it is that makes up the personal bonds we hold so dearly. I think this book has always done a solid enough job reflecting the specific powers here, and the mythos surrounding that, but this issue especially brought that home in such a powerful way. It expertly took some of these motifs and issues from slightly gimmicky (again, city birds) to something more thoughtful and poetic in their scope and feel.

That’s likely the real and true strength of this issue: the surge in humanity and emotionality, and the way we’re all on this journey of discovery together. Cameron’s now set on a very specific path, and I hope it’s those lessons that can move him in the right way versus whatever everyone else might want for him. I have no idea what will happen in the (expected) finale, but I’m sure of at least one thing: there’s a more than good chance of that issue breaking readers down both emotionally and spiritually.

Final Thought: After a brief hiccup, our boy is finally building to something big.

Score: 8.5/10

Operation Sunshine #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

As I commented in this week’s Judging by the Cover, Operation Sunshine feels really novel. Sure, it’s yet another vampire story, but this one’s about “lower class” vamps launching a heist to steal back their humanity from purebreds. (So like Ocean’s Eleven if it were perpetrated by a reverse, genuinely likable Deacon Frost.) But a good premise alone can’t make a book – luckily, Operation Sunshine has just as much to offer beyond that initial eye-grabbing gimmick.

For one, it’s the art of David Rubin and colorist K.J. Diaz. Together, they create a really novel and inventive version of New York City, one that’s markedly familiar and decidedly bright and chaotic in its feel while maintaining the prerequisite grit and chaos for just such a story. Rubin’s designs for the various vamps perfectly captures the core aspects of the OVs (the nasty purebred vampires) and the Bugs (the humans who have been turned and exist as a lowly in-between), and that shorthand really informs how we engage both “camps.” Add in Diaz’s colors, and there’s both more clarity for both groups (which helps further explore their dynamic) while also adding to the singular feel of this world and our investment in exploring its layers alongside our leads.

And speaking of those leads, it’s their characterizations that really feel just as novel and inventive as the physical world. Hex is an old Bug who plays really street smart and savvy, and Steve is a recent convert that still maintains some hope for his own humanity. Pairing these two together should make for a solid bit of contrast, and I’m curious and excited to see what we can learn about the two while exploring some of that tension and also how they might commiserate (or not?) around their own waning humanity.

Of course, having such rich and nuanced leads makes sense as the book was written by Henry Zebrowski and Marcus Parks from The Last Podcast on the Left. The pair bring a more nuanced and inventive take to structuring a comics story, and that bent feels important in building this world and getting us interested in it’s many moving parts. It could be easy to get lost in vampire lore, but they keep it just breezy enough while still building something more in the grander vampire narrative/canon. I also appreciate that the story has a more socially relevant angle — classism, if you hadn’t already guessed — even as it felt a little too forced or on the nose at some points in this issue.

But it’s a mostly forgettable “sin” considering how perfect the story is in building a proper world around its messaging. Plus, there’s clear passion, depth, and intent throughout, and it’s made this debut a genuine success. It’s those parts that turn a solid start on paper into a genuinely cool and funny slice of offbeat horror — and there’s every reason to believe there’s only more gore and hijinks to come.

Final Thought: A transformative and entertaining spin on the same old vampire story.

Score: 7.5/10

Wesley Dodds: The Sandman #1

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Sure, the Dawn of DC remains a big focus for the iconic publisher. But there’s just as much emphasis on old-school storytelling and heroes, including the great stuff happening over in Justice Society of America. Now, you can add Wesley Dodds: Sandman to that same list — it’s a slice of what DC has always done best and why it’s present feels just as exciting and important.

To some extent, you can’t engage this book without thinking of and/or referencing Sandman Mystery Theatre. And while that book had a more poetic and psychedelic quality overall, both projects feel interested in crafting a human look at the very noir-y adventures of Mr. Dodds.

However, this book’s writer, Robert Venditti, doesn’t try to ape that book at all, and instead gives us a similar kind of noir (gritty but with a certain grace and style) while making it feel all the more like a modern DC story. It’s reflected in the way the story tells a decidedly old-school tale — Dodds must get back his scientific journal before all hell breaks loose — but with the humor and sensibilities of a story tailored for a modern audience which mostly loves big superhero action. It’s a decidedly solid start, and while there’s still a proper big bad to be had, this first chapter nails it in terms of great interactions with Dian Belmont, a compelling take on Wesley (he’s motivated and intense without being needlessly tortured), and creating a perfect tone in terms of all this noir goodness.

It’s also the art that really helps in grounding this story in its many (read two) traditions. I’ve previously felt a little irked by the art of Riley Rossmo — it often felt a little too cartoonish and deliberately bizarre. But here, as tempered by some great inks from Ivan Plascencia, we get a rather perfect blend of cartoonish weirdness, psychedelic undertones, and some real grit and filth. All of that together really plays up some of this early book’s bigger motifs and accomplishments, like repurposing the old-school heroics for a younger audience and informing some other tendencies of this book that make it more than just another detective story. It’s not that it’s any less overly cartoon-y in its feel — rather, I think the art provides a certain contrast and sense of texture that never distracts from a story that’s firmly grounded in the story it wants to tell.

The mystery at the heart of this book has only been hinted at so far, but it’s going to be a proper bit of cat-and-mouse drama. And likely one that looks and feels both appropriately dangerous while reminding us of the joy of DC’s nostalgia-centric offerings. If that’s not a real Sandman-inspired dream, then what is?

Final Thought: Old and new DC meet for a really great start.

Score: 7/10

Fishflies #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Image Comics.

In his review of Fishflies #1, my colleague Colin Moon made some really great points about Jeff Lemire’s latest slice of small town magic. Chief among those is the connections (both spiritual and more overt) to Essex County, which you could argue is perhaps the artist-writer’s standout work in a rather stacked bibliography. And while it’s too much early to tell with this project, I couldn’t help but feel like this is also quintessential Lemire as I wrapped up issue #2.

After issue #1 — in which a young girl named Fran befriends a fleeing robber who has been transformed into a massive fishfly, like those covering her Canadian small town — #2 builds deliberately and methodically. We learn a few important bits — the state of the young boy who was shot in #1, more about Fran’s place in the school hierarchy, and even just what kind of man is under that monstrous bug exterior. But mostly it let Lemire show off why he’s such a powerful storyteller.

He’s clearly invested in the same kinds of overarching themes, like the madness of small towns, the lives of latchkey kids, and even the influence of subtle sci-fi or fantasy elements. But this book goes deeper still — there is an overt tension and undercurrent of dread like you won’t always find in other Lemire books. Add in the targeted bit of whimsy — like the flying lesson between Fran and the giant bug-man — and this book is clearly on a slow boil. I can already see the moment when something happens — perhaps with the boy? — and everything will explode into a deluge of volatility and intense emotion.

And, sure, there’s big emotions and massive stakes in other Lemire books, but the tension here is practically all-consuming. That repetitive “CRUNCH” device he’s used across both issues is masterful — it’s earned the power of some sound design tidbit from your favorite Coen Brothers movie. And that’s likely because Lemire is as much on his A-game visually as he is in expertly laying out the story itself.

Yet somehow the “CRUNCH” bit is only the smallest of Lemire’s mighty demonstration of storytelling prowess. This is certainly among Lemire’s most minimalist projects, and the blacks and whites have such vivid life throughout. Then toss in that expert use of red in just a few key instances — for blood but also something like Fran’s jacket — and you get this layered device made for linking ideas of death and innocence alike. Even his character designs — the vaguely human aspect of the giant fishfly, and the perpetually snotty nose of Fran — feel like powerful devices to portray character elements while further adding to the themes explored here. (The stuff with Fran, for example, is a great shorthand for her other-ness and connection to our giant bug friend.)

Not every book can feel so packed with energy and life while looking so bare-bones, and Lemire manages to bridge the gap because he controls key moments — like Paul’s mom talking about the importance of the bugs to the local police chief — without having his presence ever feel burdensome whatsoever. It’s a proper masterclass by an artist working in their true comfort zone as well as at or near the top of their craft.

Which isn’t to say this is going to be the most compelling thing Lemire has ever done — I often prefer stuff in the Black Hammer-verse because it accomplishes the same sentimental goals and has way more action. Rather, I think this book will stand out as it’s the most Lemire-ian form of communication and engagement — he’s telling us some (slightly disturbing) bedtime story about all the things that matter most to him personally and professionally. And reading this is a powerful way to know him and appreciate the ways in which Lemire is making us think about family, politics, and even the shape of our own realities. It’s a story still very much in its larva stage but that has already proven to be gorgeous and endearing in how it flutters about.

Final Thought: Jeff Lemire is working at a career high with this weird and enchanting tale.

Score: 8.5/10

Blade #4

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Have I recovered since my “fumble” with Blade #3? Sure, even I can let myself off the hook for a minor misstep. (Especially as it’s one made easier considering our “guest” doesn’t appear till the end of the issue.) Instead, it’s best to focus on the highlights — that issue spent most of its pages building the Blade-Rotha dynamic, providing solid character studies, and adding to the mythos of The Adana for a generally great step forward.

But even a sponge could track the events of issue #4.

It’s this latest issue where the whole heist vibes that I’d mentioned in earlier reviews really takes on its most literal iteration. Blade, Rotha, and Miss Tulip land on the train of a nasty vampire overlord to steal the actual sword of Lucifer Morningstar in order to kill The Adana. And such a direct chapter means a lot of pretty direct feats of badass-ery, like killing vamps with a sword and a really solid planning “segment” that would make Ocean’s Eleven feel inadequate. I love the tone and pacing for this book as it’s tailor-made for casual fans to jump aboard (train pun intended) and enjoy something direct in its tone.

But don’t let that “surface-level” stuff fool you; writer Bryan Hill has imbued this heist with real layers. On the one end, that’s to do with the appearance of our aforementioned guest, Doctor Strange. Not only is he (as I’d guessed) a great foil for Blade, but he adds to the history and mythos of this adventure. From there, he also sets up some bigger stakes, moving from a mere cameo to something all the more sinister for Blade. And speaking of our fanged friend, he’s also got some interesting potential dynamics to play out in regards to the stolen Satan’s sword — it’s a rather simple device that should help cultivate new understandings of the Daywalker. And, of course, The Adana proves to be more complicated than just your villain of the week.

All of these decisions seem important to be about keeping this story tight and thrilling while extending the world of Blade as a hero with a multifaceted canon and history. That’s clearly something that I think often gets buried under the whole vampire killing thing. (Even Strange makes a passing/semi-flippant remark about Blade: Vampire Nation.) It’s about having it both ways, and here Blade gets to be the big, flashy action hero while showing us some real layers to his work and the greater consequences of his efforts.

Meanwhile, on the art side, the team of Elena Casagrande, K.J. Diaz, and Valentina Pinti backed up their writing cohort in some rather big ways. Few teams do sight/visual gags quite like this collection of talents; issue #4 had heaps of such moments that were either hilarious (Blade chopping vamps) and/or revealing (Blade’s confrontation with the train’s head vamp). It’s an approach and “language” that I think speaks to what this team does really well: create solid action set pieces while maintaining some larger momentum for building Blade’s world and the new history and developments that are currently taking root.

The art has so far in this series has been able to create a lot of the inherent appeal (a hugely stylized, endlessly bloody aesthetic) without stepping on the narrative’s more reserved, borderline quiet work in creating some novel space for Blade. If it’s successful (which I’d say it certainly is), that’s only because it’s the look and feel of the book that screams in big, bold colors and movements while also leaving room for quiet glances and whatnot. (Strange in this issue comes off really nuanced while fostering a lot of that understated tension.) Plus, any issue with exploding vamps and peeling skull caps is a big win.

I think what makes this book especially appealing is that it treats the violent and the evocative with the same mix of commitment and patience. It’s what allows people to feel entertained in an immediate way as the rest of the story starts to slowly amass under our shared skin. We’re seemingly at some ending as the issue lays out a big confrontation with The Adana. But if my gut is to be believed, there’s still so much more to this madcap, extra bloody caper.

Final Thought: Like the titular hero, this story cuts deep without you fully realizing it.

Score: 7.5/10

Hunt for the Skinwalker #2

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 10/11/23

Courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

I really tried to enjoy issue #1 of Hunt for the Skinwalker. I’m no UFO fanatic, but the tale of an alien-infested ranch, and the fact that it was plucked from the real world, proved doubly enticing. Yet that debut suffered from some real issues, namely as writer Zac Thompson tried to balance that poignant family drama with the actual reporting/nonfiction elements, resulting in a mostly uneven process.

Issue #2, then, has some clear upsides but also many of the same core issues.

For one, a lot of the reporting bits feel more distinct this time around, which is both an upside and also a real downer across this chapter. So, while a kind of explainer about “chupas” was relegated to one brief section — making any disruption to the story feel minimal — it was still enough to feel like a deliberate stand out and not ingrained into the story proper. This whole adaptation should really revolve around Tom and Ellen and their family, and without that deeper sense of heart and soul, it just feels like another one of the countless other half-baked alien stories.

At the same time, though, there were even some notable issues with the actual family dynamic. Where the debut felt poignant and grounded, some of the dialogue in #2 plays off a little clunky and awkward —less like a slice of prestige TV series and more like a bad adaptation from TLC. I think there’s still plenty to connect to, especially as the dad, Tom, feels really compelling in his journey to preserve his family and maintain his way of life. (And big decisions in this issue helped show the larger scope of his struggles in some rather compelling ways.) But it often felt like the book couldn’t really unleash some of the emotional bits in a more concise and engaging way as it tried to fully serve the nonfiction aspects and this book’s connection to “reality.”

It was a run of bad luck further experienced (at least in part) by the art from Valeria Burzo and colorist Jason Wordie. The first issue really set up a decidedly solid and grounded look, something that gave us that heft of our world while feeling distinctly connected to the most fantastical parts of comics. Still, this issue got a chance to show off a bit more, with some animal mutilation stuff that felt disturbing in a big way while making it impossible to fully look away. While that dynamic was interesting, the book’s visuals also had to foster other moments, like awkward horse rides and lots of Tom sneaking around at night, that just didn’t have the same oomph and also took away partially from those moments where things got good and confrontational for readers.

The visuals here have had both the easiest and hardest tasks in terms of facilitating this world and what it feels like for the family. An uneven performance, though, felt like another thing to go wrong when maybe it didn’t have to.

I get that trying to have this book’s more fantastical stuff become divorced from the grounded reality isn’t a likely prospect; it’s the two halves that really shape and inform one another. But as it is right now, it’s that heft of our world that’s preventing this book’s upsides (the family drama, the brain-melting body horror, and the alien “magic”) from truly excelling and engaging readers in some vital ways. Can there be a solution? I don’t know, as it feels like a pretty elemental defect. Maybe some conspiracies are better left buried by time and history after all.

Final Thought: This hunt may ultimately be in vain.

Score: 6/10

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