Review: Afterlife with Archie

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Story by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artwork by Francesco Francavilla
Lettering by Jake Morelli

“All hell breaks loose when a fateful accident sets a series of events in motion that will threaten the town of Riverdale like never before! When the dead begin to rise, craving human flesh, it’s up to Archie, Betty & Veronica to fight for their lives against the zombie hordes led by their former pal, Jughead…”

“This is how the end of the world begins…”

The cover exclaims “All new chilling tales!” and this description couldn’t be more spot on. Aguirre-Sacasa throws us right into the action which, of course, begins ‘in the dead of night’. From the outset the narrative is powerful and engaging, we’re immediately set on a tumultuous path. A path paved with witchcraft, necromancy and ultimately, the undead. It had to be difficult for Aguirre-Sacasa to envisage a way to introduce this chilling tale, as the title of the book is a huge giveaway to the premise. Despite this, Afterlife with Archie #1 is compelling and exciting and manages to be unlike any zombie fiction I have seen or read before. It has all of the conventions to make it a zombie book but none of the flavourlessness that tends to accompany the genre. Aguirre-Sacasa injects life into an age old tale. The narrative has tremendous pace, it carries the reader from start to finish seamlessly. There are no dull or lackluster moments, only moments filled with tension and suspense.

Francavilla’s artwork was a deciding factor in my reading of this book. His style is ideal for a book called “Afterlife with Archie”. Both his regular cover and his awesome variant are creepy, dark and perfect for the kind of thing this book is going for. With Francavilla, I always think I can know what to expect, being such a huge fan of his work. However, as with every other book bearing his name, he manages to surprise and excite me. Francavilla was meant to draw horror. If you follow him on Twitter you’ll have probably seen his posters for various classic horror films, now imagine a comic book filled with that dark, perfect artwork and you get Afterlife with Archie. The colour palette used in this book is really something to marvel at. The oranges really give the book a spooky, Halloween feel. He uses so few colours, yet manages to appear to use the whole spectrum. You could describe his work as minimalistic but then you would be overlooking the fact that to make something look so beautiful and perfect, it takes a certain degree of genius and a whole lot of time.

As my first venture into the world of Archie Comics, I never felt like I was missing something. Both Aguirre-Sacasa and Francavilla have done a great deal to make this book accessible to those who don’t usually read Archie Comics and that in itself is a huge achievement. There’s a great balance of suspense and humour which will bring me back for the next issue. It has all of the makings of a great comic and hopefully it has the readership too.

10/10

 

Review: Satellite Sam #3

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Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Howard Chaykin

“Mike reaches out to the only woman he recognizes in his dead father’s collection of personal girlie snaps, and not only does she have stories about the old man would curl your hair, but she sees a method to the old man’s madness. What if there’s a picture of his killer somewhere in the room where he died?”

Up until this issue I’d found it difficult to care about this comic, the first two issues failed to grab me. I’m happy to say that my faith in Matt Fraction was rewarded with this issue. I found that this issue was much easier to follow than the previous two issues and not once did it lack the wit and intelligence that has become the signature of Fraction’s work. The pacing of the narrative was perfect and the whole thing flowed seamlessly from beginning to end. As a fan of Fraction’s dialogue, it was nice to see it being used to full effect in this issue. I was glad for the absence of the live television aspect of the story, it made for a welcome change in my opinion. Non-linear storytelling can be difficult to pull off but Fraction does so flawlessly in this issue. This appears to be the taking off point of Satellite Sam, if future issues follow suit then this could quite easily become one of my favourite current series.

I have to admit, Chaykin’s black and white artwork has grown on me. I was unsure if it was going to work for me in the first couple of issues but this issue blew me away. Chaykin’s use of textures is something to be marvelled at and his panel layout is sophisticated and classy, two things that this book is on so many levels. The colouring (or lack thereof) really immerses you in this post-war 1950s world of black and white television. There is a beautiful scene in a jazz club that has just made me fall in love with this comic. Chaykin clearly understands what Fraction is going for with his narrative and, from it, is creating some visual masterpieces. I’m also really enjoying the cover work that Chaykin is doing on this series and I certainly look forward to more.

This issue has revealed more than the previous issues and I feel that was really necessary for this series. Fraction appears to be playing the long game, which is fine as long as I’m kept interested. I see this issue as a massive improvement on the two previous issues and personally, I cannot wait to read more. This issue is what the series really needed: a kick up the arse to get it going.

9/10

Review: Superior Foes of Spider-Man #2

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Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve Lieber
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Superior Foes follows Boomerang (AKA Fred Myers) and the Sinister Six (it’s actually five) in their various villainous pursuits. Issue #1 saw Fred locked up and this issue deals with the aftermath of his release. The great humour is still there. Fred and the guys are attacked by The Punisher while holding up a restaurant but they manage to escape with their lives. Despite the name of the book, Spider-Man doesn’t actually feature, which is fine because it doesn’t need Spider-Man to be a great book.

One of the highlights of this book is the dialogue between the villains which at times is just hilarious. Spencer has created an entertaining dynamic between the characters which is both compelling and easy to read. It never feels like a chore to read as some comics can. It’s been compared to Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye and this is possibly the best way to describe the book. It’s lighthearted and downright entertaining. It’s rare for me to laugh out loud at a comic but it’s something I’ve found myself doing while reading Superior Foes. This book has surprised me especially since I never intended to pick it up. Spencer has me rooting for these pathetic villains with their ridiculous schemes.

Lieber’s artwork is fun and quirky, unusual but not overly so. It compliments Spencer’s lighthearted narrative expertly and gives the book its upbeat tone. The balance between detail and simplicity is exceptional, it’s unlike a lot of what’s currently on the comic book market. Everything down to the panel layout is executed with brilliance and it’s evident that each detail has been thought about in a great deal of depth. Rosenberg’s colouring further heightens the quality of the books artwork.

The story is just beginning in this issue and it looks like it’s going to be fun, entertaining and most of all a must read. The inspiration for this book is evident throughout but it never takes away from its quality. Superior Foes isn’t perfect but it’s close to being at that high level. I expect more hilarity and nonsense from this book and I can’t wait to see how it develops.

8/10

Review: Hunger #1

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Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Colours: Jesus Aburtov

Hunger is billed as part of the ‘aftermath’ of Age of Ultron, however, when I read it, it never really felt related to the recent event. Rick Jones is a teenage boy who has been chosen by The Watchers to serve as the ‘Champion of Creation’, it’s not something he ever wanted to do. There is a Kree/Chitauri going on but something much more sinister is about to put that on hold.

One of the things I liked about this comic was the lightheartedness. It’s something that a lot of titles are going for at the moment and not all of them get it right. The lightheartedness is balanced with quite a grave story, again this is something Fialkov does very well. The narrative is vey direct, there is little in the way of unnecessary exposition and Fialkov avoids going off on tangents. While the high quality of the writing cannot be questioned, I’m not a huge fan of the story on a whole. I would have liked to see more characterisation of Rick Jones as I’m not all that familiar with him but that’s just me.

There is some really beautiful artwork in this issue, I particularly enjoyed the splash page later on in the book. The panels that depict outer space are, at times, phenomenal and, as someone who has a horrible fear of space, haunting. I really like the look of Rick Jones when he’s in space, kind of like a golden Silver Surfer. The artwork is highly detailed, I could honestly spend hours just studying each page and it’s little intricacies. The use of purples and pinks in the colouring is a clever little touch, it’s almost thematic since this is about Galactus, of course.

Despite the fantastic writing and excellent artwork this issue didn’t quite come together for me. I will, however, be picking up #2 as I can see potential shining through. This is a really solid book and definitely worth a read if you can get a hold of it. Also, what a damn good cover.

7/10

 

Review: Captain Marvel #14

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Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Scott Hepburn with Gerardo Sandoval
Colours: Andy Troy

This is the conclusion to the mini-event The Enemy Within and what a conclusion it is. The event saw the return of Yon-Rogg now called The Magnitron. Embedding himself in Captain Marvel’s brain he grew ever more powerful and dangerous. He awakened an army of Kree sentries to wreak havoc on the world. In this issue Yon-Rogg’s motive is revealed: he plans on destroying New York and having New Kree-Lar take its place.

This issue was an emotional one. I have grown attached to Carol Danvers after recently picking up this series and this is all due to DeConnick’s masterful characterisation. Carol is such a relatable and ultimately likeable character, to see her suffer in this issue hurts. Carol’s internal struggle is the one that touched me the most. She knows she is the cause of the problem and she knows that only she can end it, DeConnick communicates this so well through her narrative. The juxtaposition of the physical and internal struggle is just exquisite and DeConnick’s talent and intelligence really shines through in this issue as it has for the whole event.

I really love the cover of this issue (by Joe Quinones), as I have all of his covers on this title. The interior artwork is also something to be marvelled at. Hepburn depicts the characters’ emotions with such truth and intensity. He has taken the words of Kelly Sue and has created beautiful visuals that are just a delight to behold. Credit has to be given to Troy for his excellent work colouring the pages. Rather than using flat colours for backgrounds, he uses subtle gradients and patterns. The colours really bring the artwork to life and, at the risk of sounding cliche, they make it pop.

Captain Marvel is an absolute must-read for all comic book fans and this event has highlighted that for me.

P.S. I feel like now is a great time to brag about the fact that Christopher Sebela sent me Carol Corps dog tags which Kelly Sue gave him to hand out at SDCC. Chuffed isn’t the word.

Review: Very Casual By Michael DeForge

I wrote this review a while ago. It was written for a publication that unfortunately never came to fruition. I’m not sure why I felt the need to tell you guys that but there you go.

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Very Casual is a collection of some of Michael DeForge’s previously published work. This book is the first of its kind from DeForge and boasts many of his most sought after and in some cases, out of print, comic strips. It’s held together by some excellent longer stories and laced with surreal shorts. Very Casual was an interesting read for me as I’m uninitiated in the work of DeForge and it’s unlike anything I’ve read before in a lot of ways. It’s completely original and perplexing. The artwork is often grotesque and the stories have an air of absurdity about them.

The theme of society flows heavily throughout the work in this collection. In many ways it is about acceptance and the fear his characters have about a lack of such thing in their lives. ‘All About The Spotting Deer’ and ‘Aesthetics’ are drenched in this theme and at times are strangely relatable. It’s fascinating that in so few panels you are made to feel for these unfortunate characters, that differ from yourself drastically. I found this collection of stories to be quite sad at times because it really does explore themes that are prevalent in everyday life.

The comics vary between simple black and white and vibrant colours. The colours, or lack thereof, often reflect the tone of that particular comic. The most notable black and white comics in this collection for me are ‘Cop Comix’ and ‘Cody’. I found ‘Cop Comix’ to be quite funny as it portrays a paranoia that many parents feel about their children, again something that the reader can relate to. I also found ‘Cody’, a longer comic that tells the story of Cody, a man who becomes addicted to littering. It’s so ridiculous, it’s funny but it’s also very bleak and profound.

It took me a while to understand the beauty that is the artwork in this collection. I found that as I read more of the stories I became more appreciative of the accompanying art. There are many strips that don’t have any writing and this is where the art really prevails. It only enhances DeForge’s status as a genius storyteller. A lot of the imagery is strange and sexual and while I still don’t fully understand it I can certainly admire it from the outside.

At times it is almost as if DeForge has become so immersed in writing his story that it begins to write itself, creating its own bizarre reality to exist in. This shows the skill that he possesses as a writer because it is no accident that he does this. He makes it all seem effortless but is in fact an intelligent device that he uses to outstanding effect.

As a first time reader of DeForge’s work, I found the experience to be mind opening. It has made me eager to explore his work further. A beautiful and at times harrowing collection of work. A must read.

Review: Batman/Superman #1

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Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Jae Lee (p.1-18) & Ben Oliver (p.19-25)

I’ve been hoping to pick up more DC books recently and I didn’t actually plan on picking up this book until I realised it had actually been sneaked into my weekly pull by my LCS. I need to thank them next time I’m in there. I read a lot of Marvel and some Image but I’m always wary of DC. I love Batman and Superman has certainly been growing on me in recent months. My only qualm with this book isn’t actually with the book itself. DC rely heavily on these two characters, 20 of the New 52 titles come somewhere under either the Superman or Batman umbrella. I would love to see DC push Green Lantern or Wonder Woman or anyone else to the heights they push their two top dogs. Anyway, back to Batman/Superman.

This issue takes the reader back to the very first meeting of the iconic characters. Both are young and still in the early days of their crime fighting careers. In the book, Batman and Superman meet for the first time but what’s interesting is the first meeting of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. It’s certainly an interesting dynamic and something I look forward to seeing in future issues. The juxtaposition of the two heroes’ upbringings is used wonderfully throughout the issue. Greg Pak cleverly uses a dual monologue to express the thoughts of both Batman and Superman. As a joint title, it’s important that each of the characters are equally central in the narrative. As a writer, it would be easy to make one of the characters more important yet Pak never does this. His writing is strong throughout, there’s a lot of excellent characterisation of both men. It would be too much to say that Pak has re-imagined the characters, he’s not. However, he’s made them fresh and interesting to readers, old and new.

Jae Lee’s work is exceptional. The darkness and fluidity in his work represents Gotham City beautifully. It’s the dark, gritty scene from your nightmares. The creepy black tree limbs that frame so many of his panels are just as important as the characters within them. The city of Gotham is often described as another character in Batman comics and films alike. Lee truly has brought the city to life in this issue, he has created a contrast with Metropolis which has a completely different personality. Lee’s unusual style does a wonderful job of setting the tone of this book and his peculiar panel layouts are more like intricate designs to contain his work. People seem to forget that two artists have worked on this book and I’m not sure why. Ben Oliver is the “second” artist on this book. Oliver’s style is more comic book-y than Lee’s and it is well suited to the pages he has worked on. While the change in style is obvious, I never stopped to think about it. If ever I stopped while reading this book, it was to appreciate the artistic talents on display.

I can’t wait to see more of this series.

10/10