Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rant-Reviews: A Smaller Publisher Examination

It Starts
There are other comic publishers besides the, "Big Two," as those of you who read comics a lot
undoubtedly know. However, plenty of folk don't necessarily hear this and assume Marvel or DC put out all the comics in the world. They don't, and I felt like spotlighting such a fact with some comics from other publishers that are of note due to their high-quality or being less-than-good. Let's begin...

The Meat of the Article
Uber #21
Avatar Press has been putting out more and more quality comics since the early 2000's. Kieron Gillen continues to write a stellar comic set in an alternate World War II where the invention of super-powers dramatically altered events. This issue also has Caanan White, the initial artist on the series, penciling this so as to provide some high-quality visuals, drawing the bejeezus out of super-powered people beating each other to a pulp. It's violent, full of dramatic characters, and just thoughtful enough to be more than simple ultra-violence. There's a reason Gillen was my favorite writer of 2014 and quality comics such as these are why.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Supreme: Blue Rose #6
I know Image isn't necessarily a smaller publisher--I mean, they have "The Walking Dead" for goodness' sake--but your general consumer of comics probably is unaware of this publisher by name, and this is my post, so I'm gonna do what I want and review this extremely opaque comic.

I am a huge fan of Warren Ellis; he is one of my favorite writers of comics and fiction books ever, so I 'm sorry to say he has really been annoying me with this title. In this penultimate issue of the mini-series some things are starting to become clear, but everything still is mostly confusing as Hell. I think the idea is that we are witnessing an alternate Universe where characters from other "Supreme" comics have been written out of reality but still exist in another land where they live when their stories aren't taking place.

Throughout the series we have seen some of the residents of this new universe struggling to figure things out, with some of them possibly recalling what happened, and others now existing as characters on a television show, etc., etc. It's actually kind of a Morrison-esque idea, that all the stories we've ever told about particular characters are in essence "true" and just waiting for a chance to return. At least, I think that is what we are getting at after an hour of sitting around and thinking about the series so far. I could be completely wrong, and that's the problem with this series making so little sense (other reviews mention confusion too, so it ain't just me).

The saving grace of this series has been the incredible artwork by Tula Lotay which is absolutely, incredibly, undeniably, gorgeous. Unless this final issue delivers some answers this will have basically been just seven issues of amazing visuals and a story that made practically zero sense. For now though, I would be tempted to give this just a below-average score, but that artwork raises this up to at least being fair enough I'll read the last issue in the hope things get cleared-up. If not, at least it'll look purty.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Lady Killer #1
Another publisher that isn't necessarily that small (Dark Horse), but still a brand most civilians (e.g. non-comic readers) would be unfamiliar with. This comic is the most bizarre mixture of ideas, with a happy-go-lucky housewife in the 1960's also being a bad-ass assassin.  It's a strange juxtaposition between Joelle Jone's art looking perky and silver-agey and then getting really gruesome, but it works quite well.

There is something interesting in seeing how despite being a dangerous killer the protagonist also wants a happy home-life and has to put up with sexism in her own job of spy-work. This first issue establishes a good "feel" for the story and introduces a variety of characters, but for now it is still a little too early to tell if this is going to be great series, or a one-note idea that wears out its welcome quickly. We shall see, but regardless of what future issues hold this debut was promising.
3 out of 5 stars.

Holy F*ck #1
When I heard about this I really thought it would be better than it is, and that's disappointing. A comic inspired by the grindhouse films of the 1970's and 80's full of over the top violence, sex, and featuring a religious twist. The basic idea is that Jesus is back on Earth and is recruited by a Nun to stop other deities from wrecking the world and causing people to worship them. It's a clever idea, but the comic seems more interested in saying, "Look how controversial I am," instead of being good.

The art is cartoony, which works for the comic, but is also extremely simplistic and lacks much of any detail, which doesn't work well at all. You can only get so much mileage about of pure shock value, and while Jesus smoking drugs and kissing Satan at the end of the comic is surprising, a fun story it does not make. There are plenty of excellent comics that use religion as a springboard for controversial stories (just look at "Preacher"), but this one reads more like a half-baked idea with quarter-baked presentation. It's a shame, as publisher Action Lab does have some good stuff coming out. At least this has a few jokes that save it from being awful.
1.5 out of 5 stars.

Terminal Hero #5
One more issue after this and "Terminal Hero" will be done with its unique and quite strange story. I've discussed in the past how this comic seemed to moving at too-fast a speed, and I'm glad that in these later issues things have slowed down a bit to develop Rory's character and his motivations. I've enjoyed this series so far and as long as it manages to, "Stick the landing," it will be a good example of what the publisher, Dynamite, is capable of with their Creator's Unleashed brand.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #90
Throughout the history of "Tarot: With of the Black Rose" Jim Balent has been the writer and artist, with Holly Golightly providing the color-work. Also, Golightly has done a webcomic with print collections titled, "School Bites," which is a manga-esque creation. Each title has been done by the husband or wife of this famous duo, but other than Golightly providing the colors on "Tarot" there has not been any cross-over. That changes with this 90th issue, in which the teenaged vampires of School Bites find themselves in the "Tarot" Universe. I've always enjoyed "Tarot" despite some dismissing it as sheer cheesecake, instead often finding stories that are generally clever and enjoyably, "different," one could say.

Switching up the usual routine, both Holly and Jim co-write and illustrate this issue, with the art-style switching off between Jim's art and Holly's manga-look at various points where either style is better representative of the action in the story. The plot for the characters meeting-up is a bit simplistic (a time machine malfunctions and instead changes realities), but in the case of 99% of cross-overs the reason for various realities meeting-up is silly so I'll let that slide--after all, the reason we really read cross-overs is to see what happens when different characters are put together.

So, we are reading this to see different world collide, and this issue serves as a good introduction to the school of vampires that teaches them to drink blood responsibly, but if I were to have a complaint about the book it would be how Tarot and her sister, Raven Hex, actually appear in the book for less than half of the issue. As someone unfamiliar with "School Bites" I did appreciate the lengthy introduction to the cast, but would have loved to see more of them interacting with "Tarot" and crew (it would have been especially fun for Jon AKA Skeleton Man to show-up drawn in Holly's style, but one can't get greedy with cross-overs).

Between the usual strong art from Jim and injection of extra-cuteness from Holly we get another solid issue of "Tarot" which also will probably help raise awareness of "School Bites". A successfully entertaining issue that takes advantage of being an independent comic by being its usual awesomely strange self.
4 out of 5 stars.

In Closing
You may be "In the know," about how there are more comics than by Marvel and DC out there, but many people are unaware. As these reviews illustrate, there is a lot of stuff out there beyond what the biggest names put out, and there is plenty of it to pursue...and honestly, avoid. Anyways, I hope you enjoy what I recommend (and skip what I don't). Should you know of any good indie comic I've never mentioned on the blog do please mention it too as I'm always on the look-out for quality reads.

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