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Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/26/24

Comic Books

Last Call Comics: Wednesday 06/26/24

Even more reviews of comics from Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics!

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 #8

Comics

Courtesy of Image Comics.

I get that I’ve been over the moon about Nights since day one. Creators Wyatt Kennedy and Luigi Formisano have truly been on a roll in crafting this bloody and engaging slice of alt-history sci-horror. But that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of earnestly critiquing Nights when it does make missteps or even outright mistakes. In fact, my deep and sustained engagement with this book puts me in a unique enough position to understand those issues and still appreciate this book for what it is and what it represents.

And Nights #8 is a really great place for us to test out that hypothesis/relationship as the series’ second arc rolls onward.

After a really solid start with issue #7, Nights‘ latest chapter suffers from what I’d consider to be minor structural flaws above anything else. Namely, I think we’re starting to see some level or instance of a formula play out. Issue #8 started out with a really great Halloween party, where Vince, Gray, Ivory, and the rest of the gang got to have some fun and make heaps of Seinfeld-ian pop culture references, only for Gray to be kidnapped twice (you’ll see what I really mean by that) and Ivory having to help save the day (with an assist, of course, by the increasingly superpowered Gray).

From that supernatural battle sequence, I was reminded of some of the key moments in the first arc — not only in terms of the actual structuring of this issue, but also the way Gray and supernatural phenomenon in general are treated. It’s all very piecemeal, and we’re left with teasers about people’s true natures and what’s actually coming (and has been since the end of issue #1). Sure, that kind of effective worldbuilding is great, but I couldn’t escape the fact that we’re continually being engaged with the whole stick-and-carrot gimmick.

Sure, that’s paid off in the end — i.e. the massive reveal about Gray’s “vampirism” — but it doesn’t change the fact that seeing the narrative’s arc can be a little tedious. That, and I have this small doubt that whatever this issue’s “big bad” was teasing at couldn’t be nearly as big or bold as the stuff with Gray from that first arc. I’ve never doubted this book till now, but that tiny shred of it has me worried that all this gimmickry is just a lot of bluster, and this second arc may be blowing smoke up our collective rears to make up for a reveal that won’t be nearly as shocking or impactful.

But that’s all totally conjecture at this point — plus, I’ll recognize it’s a touch hyperbolic given my otherwise sunny relationship with this book. Still, it’s all worth saying to give those ideas and concerns some important shape as my connection with this book evolves. But in terms of actual, fully identifiable issues, I think the art here suffered a little. Normally, Formisano (joined by colorist Francesco Segala) knocks it out of the park, but this issue just felt different.

Given that it was a Halloween party, we got some really great costumes, including a particular psychic Pokemon and a video game rapper with swagger to spare. And the relationship between Gray and Vince continues to be a really great creation not only emotionally but also that it has so much physical presence and power. But aside from those tentpoles, everything else just felt good enough as opposed to its usual dazzling prowess. The issue’s end, for instance, fell a little flat, and it felt hard to see what they were hinting given how it felt a little out of left field. (In that way, it felt almost like a “manifestation” of this issue’s problems with hinting at things too much and making us wait for more tangible info.)

Meanwhile, some of the gore didn’t land with its usual depth and prowess — even when Gray pulled a person apart, I didn’t feel that usual rush (and it’s easy to get me going with body horror). Even some of the action scenes didn’t have the same heft and oomph, and they felt a tad forced or rushed as we had to have a little more time at the party (in another instance of this book hinting/teasing far too much). Lastly, this issue didn’t have nearly the little tweaks and devices that extend and inform our understanding of this world’s lore, and that just made things feel a little muted.

Did I hate this issue? Heck no, I’m still giving it a damn good score because I adore Nights and all the things it actually did right. The party may have been a little formulaic teaser, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still full of the humanity and hilarity that has always drawn me into this book. The aforementioned “big bad” of this issue may or may not last all that long, but there’s an intensity and power there that has always made the “villains” of this story seem really competent and not just meaningless meat for our heroes to rip and render.

That’s also a big part of this book’s ongoing thematic interests. In this issue, especially, the creators hinted at ideas of how power clarifies and informs a person’s nature (fitting giving Gray’s upgrade) as well as how we engage loved ones. (Gray and Ivory make two very different choices here with their respect to their boos, and that speaks volumes about the pair and how that informs the events moving forward.) And speaking of Ivory, his continued presence — having returned to play “uncomfortable father figure” — is really refreshing. Ivory is a little uncertain or under-shaped at this point, and I love to see how he’s spinning this story in new directions (even if it’s slightly at the cost of Vince’s screen time in this issue).

So, then, why does this issue still get such high marks despite some real issues? Well, I think it has to do with sitcoms, which is exactly what this book is at its core. We understand that sitcoms involve varying levels of tropes, cliches, formulas, and stereotypes, and we engage them because of (and not in spite of) those elements. The rub, then, is to see how things move and develop within that “framework,” and that we find the things that excel as much as we recognize when things fall short. In the case of Nights, it’s doing well within the skeleton it’s operating within, and even when I can see the bones sticking out, I still enjoy it.

But I point that out because to not do so would ignore the “pact” made between creators and readers — we owe it to them to engage with this material in a way that’s real, uneven, and sometimes a bit complicated. Nights is still my fave book going, and I feel better when I can still adore it despite some genuine concerns. It just means what we have is maybe more real than even Gray and Vince (kidding).

Final Thought: If you love something, you must sometimes poke at its open wounds.

Score: 8.5/10

Operation Sunshine: Already Dead #3

Comics

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

I’ll give it to writers Henry Zebrowski and Marcus Parks: Operation Sunshine/Operation Sunshine: Already Dead has been audacious from the start. Because combining a robust vampire story with an intricate heist/caper seems like an easy sell, but this series has been anything but direct or straightforward this whole time. There’s been plenty of ups and downs along the way, but as we near July’s final issue, things are in a very good place for our plucky little crew.

In fact, issue #3 may be one of more productive and streamlined issue of this series’ entire run.

It begins with the art from David Rubín and K.J. Diaz. Across the entire overarching story, the pair have continued to deliver some impressive moments. Be it a vamp-centric vision of New York City, a sweaty, more primal spin on Miami, the variety of vampire anatomy, and just the way the lore is hinted at and explored visually, Rubín and Diaz have often give us bloody and silly terra firma when the mystery got deep and the layers really began to pile on.

In issue #3, however, that sense of blood-soaked magic reaches a new apex. There’s some really top-notch gore across this issue, and it’s given the time not only to be visceral and all-consuming, but it also facilitates a lot of tension and emotion without relying on the story and dialogue as much to bring us into this chapter and get us to feel the ebb and flow of this caper. And few teams do gore like Rubín and Diaz — it’s unsettling but always so dang cheery, and in that dynamic we feel immersed in this world and thus better capable of engaging and responding in a way that isn’t always so easy when this plot unfurled so slowly and methodically.

And speaking of silly, we also get a version of a vampire Christmas party. Whether it’s the cheery monsters in Santa hats, or the weeping human “guests,” it’s just a moment to really feel the charm and heart of this book. To see just how insane it really is, and what kind of world is happening underneath the mission. It’s a place I’d spend hours (likely until I was eaten myself), and it’s part of the reason why I’ve kept going with this book even as it’s clearly taken its time.

But of all the visual feats in this issue, I think my favorite has to do with a rather big moment regarding Steve. I don’t want to spoil what it is, but I can say that it’s not only super gory fun, but it’s also a chance to let this book’s themes and messaging really resonate outside the narrative once more. For a book that’s about vampires ultimately trying not to be vampires anymore, the book hasn’t always shown us why. Here, with Steve’s “starring role,” we get a better sense of the real scopes of vampirism in this universe, and maybe why it’s too be avoided. In that way, this powerful visual cuts through a lot of noise/static inherent to this story and gives us a direct moment to latch onto emotionally. It came at a perfect time, too, and the stakes seem really high in all the most important ways.

Still, we can’t give all of the credit to the art team; Zebrowski and Parks also have a really strong showing in issue #3. There’s not a lot of planning left or things to build to, and most of the issue is the team seizing on their various roles. In that sense, then, we get a kind of payoff from all the build-up, and we can experience this plan with all the excitement and tension that isn’t always as robust and/or apparent in previous issues. It really felt like things were no longer mostly hypothetical in this issue, and that made such a huge difference.

Even if it’s just Hex having problems opening a panel/grate, for instance, we’re caught up in the moment and what that uncertainty actually feels like outside of the “safety” of the planning stage. This book’s been obsessed with outlining every moment leading up to this, and now that we’re here, we’re allowed to just take it in across an issue that runs and tumbles in the very best ways. It’s nice to see the speed and pace of this issue’s storyline respond to the moment, and what we get is the real sugary goodness of a proper caper after all that waiting.

Perhaps as an extension of that, this issue also addresses another “problem” of this book. Namely, they’ve done so much work to set up the odds and foster uncertainty and tension about the group’s interpersonal dynamics. The overarching example of this, of course, is the shady Anwar — we’ve never really been sure who he’s working for and his larger end goals. And now that things have actually popped off, as it were, there’s a moment here where we see Anwar not in the hypothetical but actually putting into motion his true machinations. And what are those? Not only will I not spoil it, but even I’m not 1,000% sure. Instead, it’s another instance of this book doing and not just saying, and you really need to see how everything finally snaps into place and settles to fully appreciate what this moment means.

I can say, though, that it’s another important payoff, and a moment in this story where all of that lead up seems generally worthwhile. I could be wrong about Anwar, or there could be more twists and turns ahead, but then maybe that’s the point. Once the story actually happens, I want everything to explode suddenly or go very wrong or move in ways that counter my experience so far. That’s how we get some real stakes and our investment actually feels worthwhile.

I have some ideas about how “Operation Sunshine” will turn out for our crew. But, again, I welcome the idea that I have zero clue about how the chips may actually land. And I’m OK with being right or wrong because this issue gave us the thing that actually matters the most: letting the story actually happen, and to bring us along with a speed and increased brevity that makes me more active in my participation than ever before. Preparation and build are great, but now that we’re in the thing, it all feels so deeply thrilling because the creators have made decisions to bring us along not as “test subjects” but willing residents of this insane world. And I for one can’t wait to see how our friends and enemies square when the -ish really hits the fans.

Final Thought: Welcome to the weird, bloody, and silly endgame, folks.

Score: 8/10

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