Dark Horse – Read About Comics http://www.readaboutcomics.com Where to find out what's really good. Mon, 16 Nov 2015 17:36:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.10 Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 27: A Town Called Hell http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/08/05/usagi-yojimbo-a-town-called-hell/ Mon, 05 Aug 2013 13:00:55 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2520 By Stan Sakai208 pages, black and whitePublished by Dark Horse

There are a handful of comics that have gone on for years and years and are reliably excellent. The problem is that, after a while, it’s easy to take them for granted that they’ll always be around and always be fantastic. Having gone on hiatus [...]]]> By Stan Sakai
208 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

There are a handful of comics that have gone on for years and years and are reliably excellent. The problem is that, after a while, it’s easy to take them for granted that they’ll always be around and always be fantastic. Having gone on hiatus early last year so Stan Sakai could work on 47 Ronin, I do occasionally worry that being forgotten could be the fate of Usagi Yojimbo. But with a new collection now on the shelves, now is as good a time as any to find out what you’ve been missing all this time. Because trust me, Sakai’s long-running samurai epic is still a pleasure to read from start to finish.

This latest volume, A Town Called Hell, has a story structure that works well for both a serial and collected format, something that regularly eludes many comic creators. Sakai’s stories here open and close in the small town of Hell, as we get to watch ronin Usagi first arrive and offer assistance to the townspeople after two different organized crime bosses use the area as a war zone, and then later return to help clean up what turned out to be unfinished business directly related to his first attempt at help. It’s a fun way to tell a continuing story, with time passing between the two visits to Hell and Usagi getting into other adventures and strange encounters as he wanders the countryside. It’s only when his past catches up with him that he discovers what needs to be done, and Usagi Yojimbo circles back around for a second pass into the forsaken town.

A Town Called Hell, and Usagi Yojimbo in general, succeeds in no small part due to the strength of how Sakai writes its main character. Usagi himself is both noble and pragmatic; it’s too easy for people to write a character that’s supposed to be the hero as also unrealistic or a little too "good." Here, Sakai keeps Usagi very realistic; he makes mistakes, he’s not afraid to kill (the body count here is higher than a new reader might expect), and when cornered by a rambling old woman he’s not against finally fleeing when her back is turned. That’s not to take away from the plotting, which is generally strong too. There are three stories in-between the two Hell sagas, and of them the first two ("Nukekubi" and "The Sword of Narukami") serve as perfect examples of Usagi Yojimbo. The first dips into Sakai’s interest in Japanese mythology—springing a traditional monster on a startled Usagi—while the second has more to do with how to maintain personal honor while avoiding taking a fatal journey. Both of them have a good beginning, middle, and end; it’s all carefully put together and in a manner where it’s a satisfying and logical conclusion. Only "Teru Teru Bozi" stumbles, with a second half that ultimately feels like a cop-out. It appears to serve as a distraction for the final panel, which is a set-up for future stories with the return of a villain from the series’ past, but in addition to being meaningless for newer readers it doesn’t balance out the slight and forgettable nature of this rare misstep.

Visually, Usagi Yojimbo: A Town Called Hell is a treat from start to finish. Sakai’s always been good with action sequences—which is fortunate because there are a lot in the series over the years—but I think at times that his abilities elsewhere are overlooked. He’s got a strong sense on how to stage panel-to-panel progressions; when Usagi and Kato reveal themselves to the men who are supposed to be on the lookout for the duo, the panels on the left hand side of the page have that slow burn of them pulling off their hats, while on the right hand side we see a combination of glee and self-assuredness shift into utter panic. It’s simultaneously a punch line and a building up of the anticipation of the battle that’s to come.

Sakai is also an artist who understands when he should be drawing his beautiful, detailed backgrounds, and when it’s best to just let readers focus solely on the characters in the foreground. When Usagi is suddenly startled by a monstrous flying head, for example, Sakai takes the time to draw the contents of the simple hut that it’s zooming around within. It serves as a contrast here; the ordinary with the fantastic, and that difference helps emphasize the strangeness of the situation as well as Usagi’s surprise. Conversely, in the sequence mentioned earlier, all the focus should be on the people involved rather than the place that they’re standing; you don’t want anything to distract from their facial expressions.

Hopefully we’ll get another Usagi Yojimbo collection or two soon (there are still 13 uncollected issues); it would be great to have the series finally caught up in this format to then lure in new readers when individual issues return. Either way, though, Usagi Yojimbo: A Town Called Hell is one of those real treats that you can’t help but fall in love with. Sakai’s a master of both writing and drawing, and there’s a lot to love here. If you’ve never read Usagi Yojimbo before, this is a perfect place as any to begin.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Gamma One-Shot http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/29/gamma-one-shot/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/29/gamma-one-shot/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2514 Story by Ulises Farinas and Erick FreitasArt by Ulises Farinas32 pages, colorPublished by Dark Horse

Originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents #18-20, the Gamma One-Shot is a strange beast. It serves as both a complete story in its own right, as well as what feels like a pilot for future comics down the line. It [...]]]> Story by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas
Art by Ulises Farinas
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents #18-20, the Gamma One-Shot is a strange beast. It serves as both a complete story in its own right, as well as what feels like a pilot for future comics down the line. It feels like a mixture of Pokemon and Godzilla, but while Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas wear their influences on their sleeves, it goes into places and directions that the originals would never touch. But best of all? There’s no doubt in my mind that the Gamma works better as a collected comic than it did as a serial.

Right from the start, Gamma heads into some dark territory as we meet Dusty, the "coward" who hangs out at the local bar and lets people punch him for $50 a pop. Once the greatest monster trailer ever—capturing and harnessing a series of strange creatures with different abilities to fight other such monsters—he was accused by the media of being a coward who failed the human race when in the great monster wars, he finally abandoned his base as it was being overrun. And then, with no warning, Dusty’s given a shot at redemption on a local scale. But of course, nothing’s quite that easy in Gamma.

If you squint, it’s easy to see where Farinas and Freitas’s story is coming from; in many ways this is a grown-up Ash from Pokemon whose prowess with Pikachu and company has ultimately failed him against creatures the size of buildings. I don’t think the license holders would ever go for a story where Ash lets himself get beaten up for money and then spends it all each evening on whores, though. Farinas and Freitas pull a nice fake-out in Gamma; at first we see Dusty as a guy who’s just down on his luck and not that bad. By the time he’s sobbing uncontrollably and declaring himself a coward, though, there’s no denying that Dusty is at best damaged goods, and at worse someone who’s let himself become what everyone declares him to be. Farinas and Freitas don’t lose sight of giving us a small version of a hero’s journey, though. There’s not a massive redemption at the end—with just 24 pages of story and eight of them being a flashback, that would be impressive—but there doesn’t need to be. Instead the duo merely send Dusty onto a new path than the one he started on. It’s smart, because at this point they can tell us more Gamma stories down the line, or just as easily leave things there with the idea that he’s starting to get his life back together. Either way, it’s just about perfectly paced.

Farinas’s art in Gamma is amazing; all you need to do is look at the cover with the masses of strange and bizarre monsters coming over the hill to understand that. Farinas draws with a thin line, one that reminds me of artists like Brandon Graham. I love that this is a world where Farinas can just go berserk with lots of crazy detail; the signs of Dusty over the bar that he works out of ("Spit on Him," "Beat on a Coward! Stay 4 A Drink!"), the "Whores Whores Whores" painting over the brothel, even the run down porch and battered roof of the house that Dusty and his wife live in. It would be easy to focus exclusively on just the monsters—and they are wonderfully inventive and crazy and fun to look at—but Farinas doesn’t lose sight of the rest of the comic in the process. I also like the small touches that don’t draw attention to themselves; giving all of the flashback panels rounded edges instead of hard 90 degree angles is a good visual shorthand to let the reader know what’s going on, but it’s something that just happens rather than being pushed into the reader’s face.

Gamma is strange and fun, and while I know that Farinas is busy on Catalyst Comix (also for Dark Horse, written by Joe Casey) at the moment, I hope we get a sequel before too long. There’s a lot of potential just begging to be explored; so much of it is just dropped in little hints and sidenotes, and with any luck they’ll get followed by down the line. Even if it’s just Dusty getting beaten up again, though, there’s so much energy and excitement in the art that I’d read a comic with just that, too. I’m glad that Dark Horse Presents offers creators a chance to dream up stories like this, but considering how well it flows when combined into a single comic, I’m even more happy about Dark Horse stopping to collect these DHP stories from time to time. It’s not too late to jump on board and tell everyone in five years time, "Yeah, I was reading Farinas’s comics years ago." Check it out.

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Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/24/lobster-johnson-a-scent-of-lotus-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/07/24/lobster-johnson-a-scent-of-lotus-1/#comments Wed, 24 Jul 2013 13:00:54 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2505 Written by Mike Mignola and John ArcudiArt by Sebastian Fiumara32 pages, colorPublished by Dark Horse

Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 is the latest comic starring Mike Mignola’s character who straddles the pulp crime and horror genres. In an ever-expanding universe of titles spun-off from Hellboy, it’s easy for some of the comics to [...]]]> Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Sebastian Fiumara
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 is the latest comic starring Mike Mignola’s character who straddles the pulp crime and horror genres. In an ever-expanding universe of titles spun-off from Hellboy, it’s easy for some of the comics to fade into the background more than others. But reading Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1, I appreciate that Mignola, John Arcudi, and Sebastian Fiumara do their best to keep this comic memorable thanks to some particularly strong images that they’ve conjured up.

In many ways, Lobster Johnson reminds me of the pulp character of the Shadow, with several operatives that keep him informed while he explores a series of mysterious deaths. This time the deaths involve couriers for the Chinese organized crime group known as the Tong. But even as Lobster Johnson is exploring the killings—ones that the Tong themselves are failing to retaliate against—the police are trying to track down Lobster Johnson himself. And of course, the best way do to that is through his own people…

What’s nice about this latest Lobster Johnson comic is that it both builds on what’s been established up until now, but also works well as an issue #1 for new readers. When Cindy shows up, for example, you’re able to instantly pick up that she’s an investigative reporter who also has a connection to Lobster Johnson. Mignola and Arcudi do this not through exposition, but just through natural sounding dialogue and the basic structure of the scene. In a sea of comics that regularly have a new #1, it’s refreshing to have creators who understand that if there’s a #1 on the cover, the comic’s structure should be welcoming to new readers.

The plotting in Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1 is also worth noting as being strong. The story itself forms almost a sort of bell curve; it opens and closes with Lobster Johnson in action, bounding across rooftops and smashing into buildings. In the center, though, Lobster Johnson fades into the background and we get to see everything else swirling around and coming together. Lobster Johnson is in many ways a bookend, kicking things off and then coming back once all of the other plot elements are firmly cemented and have displayed themselves to the reader.

Fiumara’s art on the first three issues of Abe Sapien this year was simply amazing, and rest assured that he’s still just as good. The first three pages alone could be used in sequential art classes explaining how to tell a story. On the first page, Fiumara handles the slow theatrical zoom-in on Lobster Johnson perfectly; starting as a silhouette, then slowly pulling in closer, letting Lobster Johnson start running directly towards us as the "camera" tightens on his face. As he leaps to another building, Fiumara pulls off something especially impressive on the second and third pages. The second page is almost entirely one splash of what’s happening down in Chinatown, with a dragon parade crashing through the streets even as Lobster Johnson himself is just a tiny dot up at the top. At the same time, he gives us a small inset panel that shows Lobster Johnson plunging down… and when you turn the page, there’s a perfect drawing of his body connecting with the new roof. With the way that his body compacts doing so, you can almost feel the impact; there’s actually no need for the "whump" sound effect, really, because Fiumara’s drawn it so perfectly that you mentally insert the sound yourself.

It’s the end of the book where the art really starts cooking, though. Shooting someone in an alleyway and jumping through a burning mansion, the action is even faster moving and more energetic than those first three pages. Fiumara’s collaboration here with colorist Dave Stewart is especially impressive; the flames almost lick your hands from the page, with a soft texture and glow that comes from the duo working well together. And then, when you get to the last page, Fiumara brings Mignola and Arcudi’s creepy idea to life in a way that makes you jump. Both the contented smile of the central figure, and the disturbing creatures running around it as the fire continues to burn… well, this is a way to have all of the creators of a comic work well together to present a strong cliffhanger to make sure readers return next month.

With so many comics in the "Mignolaverse," it would be easy to let some pass by and to pick and choose among which of the Mignola-helmed comics you choose to read. With books like Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus #1, Mignola, Arcudi, Fiumara, and Stewart make it hard to decide to skip it. This is an excellent comic, and one that fulfils a niche that few other comics explore. Good stuff.

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Abe Sapien #1-3 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2013/06/28/abe-sapien-1-3/ Fri, 28 Jun 2013 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2484 Written by Mike Mignola and Scott AllieArt by Sebastian Fiumara32 pages each, colorPublished by Dark Horse

Back in the day, Mike Mignola’s signature creation Hellboy begat a spin-off series, B.P.R.D., which started as a series of mini-series but eventually became an ongoing title. With over 100 B.P.R.D. comics now published and the book still going [...]]]> Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Sebastian Fiumara
32 pages each, color
Published by Dark Horse

Back in the day, Mike Mignola’s signature creation Hellboy begat a spin-off series, B.P.R.D., which started as a series of mini-series but eventually became an ongoing title. With over 100 B.P.R.D. comics now published and the book still going strong, it’s a healthy title with no signs of faltering. And now, added to the mix is a a spin-off from B.P.R.D., an ongoing Abe Sapien comic. (Yes, Sapien was created in Hellboy, but that’s not where his story has been for quite some time.) But in reading the first three issues of the series, I must admit that one question is jumping out at me more than others, and it’s not one that I think the creators would want. Namely… why?

Back in the pages of B.P.R.D. (which these days is titled B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth), Abe Sapien was shot and put into a coma. Now he’s awake once more, and on the run from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. But with the world crawling with monsters that transform and/or destroy humanity with their presence, it’s hardly safe for a humanoid amphibian that looks suspiciously like a form of the frog creatures that have already done far too much damage. The end result is a series where the main character is on the run from both those who want to save him and those who want to kill him.

At this point, the world of these titles is hardly one that you can jump into easily. It’s got a huge internal mythology, all sorts of doom and destruction, to say nothing of literally hundreds of comics that all feed into one another. So with that in mind, is there really a market for a separate Abe Sapien comic that isn’t already reading B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth? I’m not convinced. That’s not to say that Mignola and Scott Allie’s story isn’t entertaining. It’s a take on that old story format where the protagonist is on a hero’s journey even as the world views him as a monster. But three issues in, it’s hard to not see the pattern forming: Abe shows up, awful things happen, both sides try to grab Abe, and then Abe escapes. (Usually amidst destruction and/or carnage.) It’s not bad but there’s nothing new or special that we weren’t already getting in the parent title. Considering that B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth isn’t afraid to have each storyline focus on a different character (and even run an additional mini-series simultaneously, like B.P.R.D. Vampire), I’m not entirely sure what warrants this character as being so special that he needs his own title above all the other characters.

The one thing that is special about Abe Sapien, though, is artist Sebastian Fiumara. Wow, is this a beautiful comic. The monsters here have a soft edge to them that might sound like it would make them less dangerous, but in fact the opposite is true. These are truly terrifying creatures, even as Fiumara draws them in a delicate, careful manner. That same touch also applies to the human characters here, too. When Henry is being hung, the struggle on his face is heartbreaking even as it’s deadly. A simple boardroom meeting at the B.P.R.D. is drawn with people that I can’t stop staring at, because they’re drawn in such a compelling manner. And when monsters start to rampage down the streets and then encounter the normal people? Well, look out. The contrast between the two is both beautiful and nasty, all wrapped up in a single package. And you know what? That’s how it should look. I’ve got no complaints whatsoever about Fiumara’s art, here, except perhaps wishing that we could clone him so he could draw twice as many comics at once.

Abe Sapien #1-3 is ultimately a title that isn’t bad, but also doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose. Perhaps that will change with time, and we’ll get a better understanding of why Abe needed his own title instead of showing up in his own stories within B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth. For now, though, this isn’t a new series that someone could jump into blindly and completely follow. I say that this is for completists only, but that’s not an insult; it’s really just a sister title to another, and in the end I feel you’ll need to read either both or neither.

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Mind MGMT #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/30/mind-mgmt-1/ Wed, 30 May 2012 13:00:49 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2292 By Matt Kindt24 pages, colorPublished by Dark Horse

I’ve been a fan of Matt Kindt’s comics ever since his big debut with the graphic novel Pistolwhip, so the lure of a new ongoing series written and drawn by Kindt was an instant must-read for me. With just one issue, it’s often hard to get a [...]]]> By Matt Kindt
24 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

I’ve been a fan of Matt Kindt’s comics ever since his big debut with the graphic novel Pistolwhip, so the lure of a new ongoing series written and drawn by Kindt was an instant must-read for me. With just one issue, it’s often hard to get a good grasp on just how a comic series is going to be; that said, Mind MGMT #1 made such an instant impression to me as a reader that I feel safe to say that I know I’ll be reading it for quite some time to come.

Kindt is deliberately vague on what, exactly, Mind MGMT is about. After all, the first issue primarily involves an investigative novelist named Meru trying to discover the secret between a flight that two years earlier had all but one passenger lose their memory, and a second passenger inexplicably vanish from the flight entirely. The thing is, though, this first issue already has so much more going on at the same time that it feels like this incident—which has enough story potential to fuel its own ongoing series for quite some time—is only the tip of the iceberg for something far greater. There’s some sort of mind control going on (and not just from the title, but also a surreal four-page opening sequence that for now hasn’t intersected with the rest of the story), secret agencies, and even hidden messages peppered throughout the comic. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Kindt has some sort of master flow chart mapping out years of stories, based on just what we’re seeing here.

But even judged solely on what we see here, Mind MGMT #1 is a strong, solid debut. Kindt does a nice job of introducing Meru; you can feel her desperation to get a new book published (or at least money flowing in) even as she’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, and it’s hard to not feel a little bad for her. It’s fun to see her latch onto the special of the mystery of the airline flight, even as her editor instantly calls her out on where her inspiration has come from. More importantly, Kindt never keeps things pat for very long. Before the end of the first issue, even as we’re learning about the mystery of the amnesia flight, we start discovering about strange happenings in St. Teresa, Mexico, and suddenly the circle of influence has expanded a bit. That’s exactly the sort of thing that a mysterious-events story needs to do to avoid losing the readers, and it feels like Kindt has paced it in just the right manner so that it’s neither too quick nor too slow.

If you aren’t familiar with Kindt’s art, it’s great; a sketchy, loose-lined style with what I’m assuming are watercolors on top of the art. The colors are bright and vibrant in places—especially little details like the yellow on Meru’s shirt—but at other moments are (deliberately) washed out and faded. It’s a great overall look, able to handle busy city streets and jam-packed bookstores, but then also open up to wide expanses like the mountains in the background of the small Mexican town. The opening struggle is a clear sign that Kindt can handle action sequences, too; it’s four pages of perfectly choreographed violence that never gets too graphic, but you can follow it easily from one moment to the next.

Mind MGMT #1 closes out with a two-page story about someone with psychic abilities that, at first, seems to have no connection to what we’ve seen so far. But of course, there is a connection that’s hinted at, one that gives us another glimpse into the bigger picture of Mind MGMT. Here’s the thing, though; if we had nothing but two-pagers like the close of the comic (or the one told on the inside front and back covers about the death of the Archduke of Serbia), I’d still be in, 100%. This is a great debut comic, and everything about it—the stories, the art, the promises of hidden bonus material in each issue, the "Mind MGMT Field Guide" notes on the side of every page—makes me want to see more. If you haven’t picked up Mind MGMT #1, do so now. Your only excuse will be if your memory gets wiped, too. Check it out.

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Dark Horse Presents #12 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/25/dark-horse-presents-12/ Fri, 25 May 2012 13:00:35 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2288 Written by John Layman, John Arcudi, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Tim Seeley, Francesco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Mike Baron, Harlan Ellison, and Mike RussellArt by Sam Kieth, Jonathan Case, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Victor Drujiniu, Francesco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Steve Rude, Richard Corben, and Mike Russell80 pages, colorPublished by Dark [...]]]> Written by John Layman, John Arcudi, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Tim Seeley, Francesco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Mike Baron, Harlan Ellison, and Mike Russell
Art by Sam Kieth, Jonathan Case, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Victor Drujiniu, Francesco Francavilla, Dean Motter, Steve Rude, Richard Corben, and Mike Russell
80 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Dark Horse Presents is a title that I perpetually feel should be a blockbuster seller in today’s comics industry. It offers up so much of what readers say they want; an anthology of different types of stories, with a mixture of old and new creators bringing their A-game to the page. With this latest issue, I think it’s as good a sign as any on how well the series has settled into its format, and finding just the right material for everyone to enjoy something.

The new issue opens with an Aliens story by John Layman and Sam Kieth. It’s hard to not find myself flashing back to the early ’90s when Keith drew the third Aliens mini-series for Mark Verheiden (originally titled Aliens: Earth War, since renamed Aliens: Female War) and the comic property was one of the hottest things on the market. It’s good timing for the return of the nasty creatures, with the quasi-prequel Prometheus on the horizon. Layman is just getting things rolling here; a cold opening with our protagonist in a bad situation, then shifting to a quieter time where we learn that Ms. Dupaul is more than initially meets the eye. It’s not a bad beginning but it is a little slow, and makes me wish for a boost on the normal 8-page allocation for a first chapter. Kieth’s art looks good, though; his rendition of the aliens are creepy as their jaws unhinge in an unnatural way, and you can tell Kieth’s having fun with all of those teeth.

Two other long-running properties also debut this month. Dean Motter brings Mister X to Dark Horse Presents starting this month, and while it’s a character I know primarily through reputation (I’ve read one or two stories over the years, but not much or often), I felt that Motter draws new readers in quickly, here. It helps that Mister X here is primarily a detective story, and his iconic, slightly angular art style looks fantastic. This is a comic that I’d cheerfully read just for the visuals, but the plot works well enough (despite a little bit of heavy exposition in places) that it’s a good package all around. Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus, on the other hand, feels like it’s lacking a bit of energy. I read a lot of the Nexus comics and collections from Dark Horse back in the day, but this is a little slower than I remember. The idea of a new moon appearing over Ylum and driving people crazy is interesting, and the start of Nexus being on said moon works well. But there’s no real introduction to the character given, and the art seems a little uncharacteristically sloppy in places. I’d expected much better for Nexus‘s return to Dark Horse.

Also a returning property from an earlier time is John Arcudi’s The Creep, with Jonathan Case drawing this latest story. What I found myself enjoying about this story was not only the plot itself (as Oxel begins to investigate a teenage death), but how even though it’s a part 2, I feel that you could jump in here and still enjoy it. Arcudi’s been in the industry long enough to understand how to tell a serialized story so you can step in at a later point and not be lost, and as an added bonus his writing is as strong and inviting as ever. Case is a good pair for Arcudi here, too; he’s able to draw Oxel’s misshapen features well, and his understanding of how to pace a story panel by panel across the page is good.

Meanwhile, Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder: Third World is all the way on its tenth chapter, but I’m impressed that because of the recent shift in scenery, it’s another story that you could jump in on and get the basic gist of what’s happening. This chapter in particular has a lot of what has always attracted me to McNeil’s Finder series; it digs into the make-up of the world in general, giving us a social primer as Jaeger discovers just what the "third world" that he’s landed in really is, and how (if at all) he fits into its set-up. It ends up being a fascinating discussion, and it makes the world of Finder that much richer, even as it also helps establish just how far away from Anvard Jaeger’s landed. I’m also loving seeing Finder in full-color; McNeil’s ragged main character of Jaeger looks great as always, but the different cultures and slices of humanity are all bursting to life here, and seeing little details like the groupings of dying vats each being a different color, or the way the smoke fades into the background as the scholar puffs on his cigarette looks fantastic.

Tim Seeley and Victor Drujiniu’s second chapter of The Occultist is much stronger than the first; I feel like it’s got a more active plot now, and any story that uses the phrase "it’s like High School Musical from Hell in there" is already heading down the right direction. Drujiniu’s art was the stronger part of the collaboration last time, and here it’s just as good; I like the flow and general form of his art to begin with, but the panels where we see the old-era drawings of demons while the Occultist flips through the books are an especially nice touch, giving a visual change-up.

There aren’t any bad stories in Dark Horse Presents #12 (a difficult feat for any 80-page anthology!), but a few stories don’t quite click. Criminal Macabre by Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten is failing to grab me, despite having enjoyed a lot of work from both creators in the past. The story just feels a little plodding, and Mitten’s art in color doesn’t have the same texture and depth that I’ve enjoyed on books like Wasteland. Evan Dorkin serves up another helping from House of Fun; most this time is taken up by The Eltingville Club, his group of hardcore geeks that are ostensibly friends but spend most of their time bickering with one another. This installment has them going to a zombie march; if you’re into zombies their discussion/argument about different types of zombies will be a riot, but for those of us who are burnt out on the genre, it’s missing the zip normally present from the Eltingville geeks. It does close out with a one-page Milk & Cheese strip, though, and who knew that the two taking off their gloves could be so creepy?

Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle is probably the most frustrating of the three stories that don’t quite come together, because I feel that it’s so close. Francavilla’s plotting is fine, and the art is unsurprisingly drop-dead gorgeous. His two pages of the history of the Hollow Lizard amulet are amazing, with elements bleeding into one another, and reminding me of artists like Timothy Truman with his thick, textured ink line that works so well with the color palette. I just wish that Francavilla worked with another writer on the script; it’s better than the first issue, but it still sounds a little stilted in places, very dry and with some uneven exposition. The fact that it has improved here gives me a lot of hope that we’ll see it get a little better still in the concluding chapter, but a slight helping hand could have knocked this story to the top of the chart for this issue.

The issue closes with a prose piece and two short one-pagers. First is a reprint of Harlan Ellison’s short story "Sensible City," with two spot illustrations by Richard Corben. It’s a story that’s just as entertaining as I remember reading it almost 20 years ago, and while I’m a little puzzled on why it’s here, it’s enough fun (playing on the notion of what happens in movies and how smart people don’t do those sorts of things) that I don’t mind it. The two illustrations by Corben don’t add anything to the story, though, and in some ways feel like more of an after-thought. Mike Russell takes the final two pages with two Sabretooth Vampire stories. They’re little trifles and not memorable, but they are awfully funny. I laughed thanks to both the overall look as well as what happens to the pathetic little vampire, and it’s a good a note as any to end the issue with.

Dark Horse Presents #12 is, unsurprisingly, another good issue. With shelf space a premium these days, it takes a certain level of quality to end up staying here instead of either being given to a friend or donated to the library. I’ve now got twelve issues of Dark Horse Presents lined up nicely on the shelf next to my computer, and I look forward to watching that row of issues grow and grow. If you aren’t reading this anthology series, we’re at as good a place as any to give it a whirl.

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Brody’s Ghost Vol. 3 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/16/brodys-ghost-vol-3/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/05/16/brodys-ghost-vol-3/#comments Wed, 16 May 2012 13:00:47 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2275 By Mark Crilley96 pages, black and whitePublished by Dark Horse

It’s been a little over a year since the first two volumes of Brody’s Ghost, Mark Crilley’s new series for Dark Horse. It would be easy to have forgotten about the series by then, or at the very least feel slightly lost with this new [...]]]> By Mark Crilley
96 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

It’s been a little over a year since the first two volumes of Brody’s Ghost, Mark Crilley’s new series for Dark Horse. It would be easy to have forgotten about the series by then, or at the very least feel slightly lost with this new installment. But if anything, I think the reverse is true here. Crilley picks up where he’d left off with the previous volume, but does so in a way that keeps readers instantly informed, and if anything picks up steam at a rapid pace. I’d go so far as to say that readers who jumped in with this new installment would do just fine.

It helps a great deal that after most of Brody’s Ghost Vol. 2 involved Brody being trained to use his new-found powers, this new volume quickly moves Brody onto being on the trail of the dreaded Penny Killer. It’s a moment that needed to happen, and it feels like Crilley’s timing is perfect. Brody’s grown up a great deal in the first two volumes, and he’s mentally ready to move forward in a way that he wasn’t at the start of the series. What I found myself appreciating is that the route that Brody goes down this volume is a group effort; Brody’s responsible for a lot of it, but it’s his friendships that have just as much of a boost down the road to finding the Penny Killer. You can see, looking back, how Crilley laid the groundwork in the earlier volumes to make him able to able to get through this portion of the overall storyline.

Crilley’s also found a nice balance here in other parts of the story. Brody’s telling his story to his closest friends has just the right mixture of skepticism and belief, for instance, and for every right move that Brody makes in telling lies to get closer to the Penny Killer, he also makes mistakes. (Fortunately for him, none of them are critical mistakes, but it’s a nice reminder that he’s new at this sort of thing.) It keeps Brody from being infallible, and those little slips make him a much more interesting and relatable character as a result. And in many ways, that’s one of the biggest strengths of Brody’s Ghost; Brody’s become so likable that I want him to succeed no matter what. The fact that he’s hunting a serial killer is of course a good reason to want him to do well, but it wouldn’t matter what his mission was at this point, and that’s a good protagonist.

The art in Brody’s Ghost is as nice as ever; Crilley’s art is in a manga-inspired style, using clean lines and expressive faces as the cornerstone for the pages. There’s a lot of storytelling chops on display here too; he’s able to use panel size and progression to carefully move the reader through the page in a way that exhibits strict control over your reactions. When Brody has his visions, for instance, coming back to reality starts with two small panels showing a tight focus on his eyes, from being squinched shut to opening back up. It’s then that Crilley pulls back and shows the rest of Brody; the distressed look on his face, the outstretched arm and hand holding the object, and refocusing us in the real world.

Brody’s Ghost Vol. 3 is just as good as the first two volumes, and was well worth the wait. My only complaint is now we’ve got to wait for the next chapter, and this is a series that’s good enough that I’m always feeling a little greedy in wanting more. If you haven’t read anything by Crilley up until now—or like Crilley’s comics but were just waiting on enough material to be released—this is a great time to jump and see it all for yourself. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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Alabaster: Wolves #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/04/13/alabaster-wolves-1/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/04/13/alabaster-wolves-1/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2012 13:00:59 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2265 Written by Caitlin R. KiernanArt by Steve Lieber32 pages, colorPublished by Dark Horse

Alabaster: Wolves is a comic I’ve looked forward to ever since its announcement. It’s written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, who had a long run on The Dreaming and made the title her own, but who’s had a much bigger career as a [...]]]> Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Art by Steve Lieber
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse

Alabaster: Wolves is a comic I’ve looked forward to ever since its announcement. It’s written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, who had a long run on The Dreaming and made the title her own, but who’s had a much bigger career as a writer of prose. It’s drawn by Steve Lieber, whose work on Whiteout made him a star in my eyes and who has produced numerous strong comics since then, too. And the idea of rebooting a character from Kiernan’s books and short stories, and taking her down a different road for a series of comics? Well, it sounded like a blast to me. And with this first issue, I feel like Alabaster: Wolves is already on a good path.

When Alabaster: Wolves #1 opens, we’re joining protagonist Dancy Flammarion in an adventure already in progress. Kiernan keeps you from being lost, though; there’s enough information in Dancy’s narration to get the general gist of her story. She’s on a journey where a four-faced angel is telling her to kill monsters, even as there’s just the hint of madness surrounding Dancy. This is, after all, a teenaged girl talking to a blackbird that claims to know all about Dancy’s past and the killings that she’s performed up until now. By the time Dancy’s being threatened by a werewolf (who has some of Dancy’s long-lost possessions) and the angel shows up, well, it’s hard to tell what’s in Dancy’s head and what’s in the real world. And that’s just the way it should be.

Kiernan’s provided multiple hooks in Alabaster: Wolves—Dancy’s mental health, the appearance and vanishing of the angel, the werewolf, the hints about what Dancy’s already done to get her to this point—in such a way that it’s hard to not want to know just what happens next. Kiernan and Lieber have created a rich world that you dive into within seconds, and it makes me want to know more about "the awful women in Savannah, the cannibals" or "them poor folks down in Waycross." And when things come to a head in the riddle contest, that’s the clincher. Dancy isn’t your ordinary protagonist, and it feels like Kiernan isn’t playing by the rules here. I like it.

Lieber’s art matches the mood that Kiernan’s script has created. It’s a rough-hewn and run down world, or at least the edges that Dancy lurks in. Reading Alabaster: Wolves, the first thing that jumps to mind is how well Lieber draws his characters’ body language. Watching the werewolf and Dancy first confront one another is a mixture of swagger and quiet confidence, each sizing up the other even as they put their best foot forward. Considering how much of Alabaster: Wolves #1 involves characters talking to one another, it’s a critical element to convey, and Lieber keeps it visually interesting with the slightly ragged edges and worn out feel. Even better, though, is the way that Lieber draws the fantastical elements like Dancy’s angel. With its four heads with differing expressions, or the ripped bat wings, it’s a creature out of nightmares rather than Heaven, and I love it.

Alabaster: Wolves #1 is a strong opening for this first Alabaster mini-series; hopefully it’s not going to the first of many. I’m already tempted to read the Alabaster short story collection that this is based on, but I’m going to hold off for now. I know they’re going down slightly different paths, but this first issue was enough fun that I’d like to have more surprises ahead. Dark fantasy and horror fans, do check this book out.

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Ragemoor #1 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/04/02/ragemoor-1/ Mon, 02 Apr 2012 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2252

Written by Jan StrnadArt by Richard Corben32 pages, black and whitePublished by Dark Horse

When I think of a creepy old mansion with family members who refuse to leave, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher immediately leaps to mind. It certainly feels like the initial spark behind Jan Strnad and [...]]]>

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben
32 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

When I think of a creepy old mansion with family members who refuse to leave, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher immediately leaps to mind. It certainly feels like the initial spark behind Jan Strnad and Richard Corben’s Ragemoor, a new mini-series from Dark Horse Comics. But where The Fall of the House of Usher quickly chronicled the end of the House of Usher (both in terms of the family line as well as the physical structure), Ragemoor is a construction that quickly proves itself to have quite a bit of life left in it.

The early pages of Ragemoor #1 open fairly simply. Herbert explains to his uncle and cousin that they should not have returned to Castle Ragemoor, at first hinting and then outright stating that the Castle drives people (including his father) mad, and that the Castle is somehow alive. And from there, amidst the doubt of Herbert’s relatives, Strnad plunges directly into the horror that is Ragemoor. Considering that this is just the first quarter of the overall story, it’s impressive on how it’s able to shift so rapidly from hints and insinuations into something that’s impossible to ignore. It’s around the halfway point of the first issue, when Herbert starts to describe the creation of Castle Ragemoor, that Ragemoor feels like it’s shaken off the shackles of that initial spark of inspiration and moved into a decidedly different direction, and I like it.

Ragemoor under Strnad’s direction becomes as much Poltergeist as a gothic horror; moments of terror that lunge into the scene with no warning, even as it’s hard to shake a larger feeling of dread hanging over the entire construct. I think that’s ultimately what sold me on Strnad’s writing for the comic; anyone can have things pop into view and scare the audience, but in some ways they almost serve as a deliberate distraction from the big picture that continues to creep up on you as the comic progresses. I’m not sure where Ragemoor will go with three more issues ahead, but Strnad has firmly grabbed my attention.

As much as I’ve loved Corben’s recent collaborations with colorists like Jose Villarrubia, his black and white work here is exceptional. Corben draws Herbert almost as if he’s carved out of stone in that initial glimpse, a living gargoyle of Castle Ragemoor. As the comic progresses, Herbert gains a little life (and to be honest, occasionally looks more like a Muppet than a person), but every time Herbert draws back in anger and fear to explain to his uncle the danger that is Castle Ragemoor, it’s a beautiful gothic moment; all we’re missing is one of the Bronte sisters to complete the scene. But while Herbert and the servant Bodrick are straight out of those classic pieces of literature, the uncle is drawn in a foppish, cartoonish manner. It’s hard to tell if Corben is trying to signal how out of place the uncle is (even cousin Anoria fits in well enough with her new surroundings), or if he’s simply being played for comedy. Either way, though, the character certainly stands out in an interesting manner, and his presence is certainly bothersome whatever the reason.

Ragemoor #1 is a good opening issue. It establishes the setting of Castle Ragemoor and its few inhabitants well, and both presents a mystery and then immediately moves it into new territory. There are a lot of possibilities for the remaining three issues, and based on what Strnad and Corben have shown us here, it should be a fun ride. Ragemoor is an unexpected little treat of horror and dread. Those who like horror comics should definitely take a gander.

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Usagi Yojimbo #143 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/30/usagi-yojimbo-143/ http://www.readaboutcomics.com/2012/01/30/usagi-yojimbo-143/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 14:00:22 +0000 http://www.readaboutcomics.com/?p=2118 By Stan Sakai24 pages, black and whitePublished by Dark Horse

In the world of monthly comics, there are a handful of creators who really should reign supreme. At the top of the list? Stan Sakai and his long-running title Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi Yojimbo chronicles the adventures of Usagi, a ronin (masterless samurai) who wanders Japan [...]]]> By Stan Sakai
24 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

In the world of monthly comics, there are a handful of creators who really should reign supreme. At the top of the list? Stan Sakai and his long-running title Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi Yojimbo chronicles the adventures of Usagi, a ronin (masterless samurai) who wanders Japan during the early 17th century. In the latest Usagi Yojimbo, we’ve got everything you can want in an issue; action, intrigue, bad guys, and soy sauce recipes. No, really.

One of the things that is so great about Usagi Yojimbo is how well Sakai is able to mix adventure with a bit of a Japanese history lesson (don’t worry, there’s no quiz and it’s interesting to boot). In "Shoyu" Part 1, Usagi gets caught up in the middle of a dispute between the owners of two soy sauce manufacturers in a small town, as a young spoiled heir tries to sabotage the property of the long-established rival. After saving Mitsui’s warehouse, Usagi is taken on a tour of the facilities, and we learn how soy sauce is made. What could have been boring is instead somewhat fascinating; it feels very conversational instead of being lectured at, and it also helps explain why the young Hata’s soy sauce business is faltering. It’s not simply a matter of, "His isn’t good enough" but rather, "He refused to listen to good advice and made poor decisions."

It’s that lack of respect that is an ongoing theme in Usagi Yojimbo, which has always placed a high value on listening to those with wisdom and applying it appropriately. It’s not simply a matter of, "Old is best" but rather, "Use all your resources and then make decisions wisely." But then again, that’s to some extent Usagi Yojimbo in a nutshell. Sure, the protagonist is a rabbit, but at the same time it also looks backward and learns from both great samurai literature as well as the comic book greats. Sakai’s stories mix just the right amounts of influence from its predecessors while still not being afraid to move forward and come up with brand-new, original ideas.

As always, Usagi Yojimbo #143 looks great, too. The backgrounds are always full of detail, with varied building styles creating the town, different designs on people’s clothing, and even making sure to draw all the vats of fermenting soy beans in the processing plant. Usagi himself is quite expressive too; I love how Sakai can shift him from inquisitive to alarmed in the blink of an eye. Usagi’s energy—from flinging a rock on top of a torii arch to helping put out a fire—is always fluid and lively. Sakai handles a lot those details well, like how the rock bouncing across the torii is broken up with panel borders so that we get that extra passage of time as we see it skip and move.

Usagi Yojimbo is consistently one of the great monthly comics being published, and if you aren’t reading it yet, you owe it to yourself to try. Sakai’s always good about making sure each new story is a good introduction, and this one is no exception. Or if you’d rather just buy a collected edition? I can guarantee you’ll find it just as easy to step into. Usagi Yojimbo is always welcoming new readers, and as one of the top monthly books being published, I suspect you’ll like it once you try it.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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