Indie Comic Reviews: WWE #5, Saga #43, Babyteeth #1, and more…

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WWE #5

Writer: Dennis Hopeless, Ross Thibodeaux

Artist: Serg Acuna, Rob Guillory

At first glance, the idea of a WWE comic seems pretty absurd. It is not super surprising it exists as we live in a world where any licensed property is bound to have some version of a comic, but the more you look at this pairing the more it ends up making sense. Professional wrestling and comics have a lot in common with their over the top characters, larger than life storylines, and their ability to be self-aware in a humorous manner. Dennis Hopeless is able to use that common ground and make this comic much better than it has any business being.

In this issue, we get a heavy dose of the Lunatic Fringe Dean Ambrose. Even if you never watched an episode of WWE before you’ll get a solid understanding of who he is as a character. Some may argue Hopeless does a better job than WWE creative at selling Ambrose as a major player.   He is kind of the grown up version of Judd Nelson’s character in Breakfast Club mixed with a modern day Fonzie. He has an edge to him that makes him unpredictable, but for the most part, he is cool, calm, and collective.

Here he is down on his luck as his car is acting up. It’s is no ordinary car mind you, he’s had it for some time and he shares a special bond with it. This leads him on an adventure around the arena where he runs into a number of key wrestling figures including Roman Reigns, Sasha Banks, and the mayor of Suplex City Brock Lesner.

I am amazed at the tone Hopeless is able to establish with this book. It takes place in a world where the events of wrestling are real but never treats them with high-level seriousness. At the same time, it is not extremely wacky, well at least until the backup story with the New Day. Reading these characters interact is similar to reading a group of superheroes like The X-Men or Justice League conversing with one another except instead of them doing battle with the likes of Magneto or Lex Luthor they fight them in a wrestling ring.

This issue is a series of random events, but by the end, it all does tie together quite nicely. Even if you have not read any of the previous issues you can pick them up and find a well told singular adventure. At times the dialog can get hooky and I do not see this appealing to anyone who is not watching or keeping up with the current product. For those that are it does pack in a lot of fun Easter Eggs to better the experience.

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer

Writer: Victor LaValle

Artist: Dietrich Smith

Publisher: Boom! Studios

Basing your comic off a classic literary character takes a good amount of gumption. You are taking a character everyone is well aware of and trying to put your own spin in it, but if your spin too far off you can greatly upset hardcore fans but if you are too close to the original you then construct what feels like a carbon copy. So far Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is one that is able to strike the right balance as he creates his version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Oddly though the character this seemed like more at first was Swamp Thing than Frankenstein or at least a character that holds a high respect and protective sense for nature. The opening we see Frankenstein’s monster sitting on top of an ice thrown in the middle of Antarctica looking like a white walker from Game of Thrones. After whalers kill a humpback right before him he seeks immediate revenge. It does not take long to find out his stance on killing. Clearly, he is okay ripping out major organs when he feels the need.

Based on how people react to first seeing this creation it is clear there is more to his lore than the classic story we all know. It is almost as if some people view him as a mythical creature that should be worshiped or at least the savior for Mother Nature. Although some do fear he is a danger and should be taken out as quickly as possible.

If the purpose of a first issue is to garner interest this issue does that. Victor LaValle is building something compelling here even if what exactly is happening is not fully clear. We see though that the need to conquer death remains with this version of the story. Baker a scientist connected to this monster somehow is apparently using Victor  Frankenstein’s findings to create her own monster as she has lost someone of her own in the past.

There are some bumps along the way. Some of the social messaging came off slightly hamfisted. In one specific sequence, The Monster is getting caught up with all the key events that he has missed chilling in his ice castle. Some of these events make sense like the atomic bomb and images from World War One. Images from a butcher house though did not seem on the same level. Social commentary is a key element in comics and based on LaValle’s ideas for this series it could make this into something special. My hope though is he is a little more tactful with his approach in the future.

Grass Kings #3

Writer: Matt Kindt

Artist: Tyler Jenkins

Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenks are building something special with Grass Kings. This is a book with so much unique character to it. Only three issues in and this world already has a lot of texture due in large part to the opening epilogs of each issue. Outside of the foreshadowing, it also gives a time and place to this unique location. We find out more about this world bit by bit and what it took to get to current status quo.

For a third issue, it is impressive how well so many of these characters are established. Kindt has dedicated the majority of these first issues to conversations. Whether it’s people talking about their desire to watch real cinema or what happened to their missing child a lot of exposition has been spouted in a rather organic way.

With this issue, we get some major developments and a clear picture of what our first major conflict will be. Big Dan has snuck onto the Grasslands to cause trouble but may find more than he was planning, and we also discover who the identity of the woman Robert pulled out of the lake. It is a discovering that will have major ramifications for sure.

Tyler Jenkins’s art is  beautiful and does a lot to construct the character of this book.  As stated he is working with a lot of dialogue focused scenes and makes it work through his character designs and animation. Much of the personality of these characters is a direct result of his designs, which is similar to the atmosphere of this story. His lighting techniques are effective at giving each scene a distinct time and place.

Matt Kindt has had quite the year for himself with his work on this book as well as his work for Valiant. Grass Kings is not a title I hear enough people talking about and that is quite a shame. It may be a slower paced story but it is one that has a much bigger audience than it is currently getting. Those who read past Jeff Lemire titles like Essex County will find much to enjoy with this series.

The Unsound #1

Writer: Cullen Bunn

Artist: Jack Cole

Current comics are filled with a lot of quality horror books. Cullen Bunn’s own Harrow County may be the very best. Nearly all of them are from indie titles as most of the big two attempts have not quite hit the mark. Cullen Bunn recently attempted to unleash monsters earlier this year but the series felt like it was weighed down by editorial decisions. That becomes even more evident when Bunn gets a series like The Unsound that allows him to flex his horror story muscle.

One of the common complaints with horror is that it can often be formulaic. The Unsound does not disprove that theory. A story set it a possibly haunted mental institution is not going to get any points for an original location. As the groundwork for this series is getting placed it is not difficult to see where this story is going, but despite being predictable the execution is quite strong.

The story centers on Ashli and her first day at Wiermont Psychiatric Hospital. On her first day, she does something super horrific by showing up late. As her day goes on she seems to see stranger and stranger things that have her questioning her own sanity. The hospital itself has its own storied history. Previously shut down for lack of funding it is now making a comeback, but the cost of its return may be more dire than intended.

It all starts with the proper pacing of this issue. Bunn gives us the gradual build that makes you forget you are reading a horror book at first. Bit by bit it is evident something is not quite right. That gradual pace is quickly escalated with the last few panels as we come face to face with how truly insane this medical institution. Bunn is like the pitcher who is just on a role. Locating his pitches exactly where he wants them so he has us expecting a curveball but instead, we get a fastball straight down the middle that leaves us standing still.

Faith #12

Writer: Jody Houser

Artist: Joe Eisma

Faith has been gaining notoriety both outside and inside of her book so it was only a matter of time before she would be facing off against her first evil superhero team. Faithless, a group put together by Chris Chriswell, has come together over their shared hatred of Faith and desire to finally defeat her. Over the last few issues, they have successfully worked together to frame Faith for murder and take her captor. The only thing standing in their way of victory is themselves.

It does seem premature for this story arc. Most of these villains have not fully established themselves yet, and someone like Darkstar was just recently introduced in the previous story arc. Usually, it takes a number of failures before supervillains give up and try to go the team route. Since its inception Faith has been about commenting on common superhero tropes so it would get to this storyline eventually, but a little more patience may have let this story have a much larger impact.

Jody Houser has done a lot to progress the character of Faith. Having her overcome some major failures, learn how to better handle her secret identity, and lastly show that she is much more than her superpowers. At times her greatest weapons have been her wit and ability to empathize with others especially those who wish to do her harm. That ability is used once again through her interactions with Danger Mouse, who becomes the standout character of this arc.

Houser adds in a lot of her trademark humor though it is not as sharp as usual. Seeing Darkstar tipsy was as first rather humourous. I mean what is not funny about a drunk cat? The issue is it feels very out of character and somewhat cheap. Houser does not typically force humor like this so that is partially what caused it to stand out.

Overall Faithless has had its moments but was not up to the same level as the previous arcs for this series. Part of the problem is how incomplete Chris Chriswell feels as a character. Faith comments that he is her Lex Luther to her Superman but he has not earned that moniker as of yet. There is no doubt how well the Faith character has been developing since her first mini last year. For this series to take the next step better or more complete villains need to be created so she can have proper foils to face off against.

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Saga #43

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Saga is easily the most decorated book currently going today and will probably go down as the greatest book of this current generation. Still, even with that I would argue it is can be under appreciated. It is a victim of its own success so when it puts out a great comic it is looked at as commonplace, or worse if it is simply good people are ready to shout it is not as good as it once was.

Due to some heavy-handed commentary, this is a good issue with some great moments. When Brian K. Vaughan opens up an issue with an owl dawning a large cowboy hat standing next to a large “Abortion Town” sign he is clearly not attempting to be subtle. After the shocking events of the last issue, Alana and Prince Robot have traveled to a new planet to find a medical solution to Alana’s miscarriage.

The abortion topic is not one that is talked about much in media let alone comics so I give Vaughn and Staples credit for approaching the issue. Where the commentary gets murky is when you are dealing with a miscarriage situation. No matter if I agree or disagree with what message they are sending it felt dishonest to not include that piece in the opening conversation they had with the before mentioned owl. Especially when compared to the ending of this issue that approaches a similar topic with much more tact and impact.

If abortion is a topic rarely touched upon with media miscarriages are never talked about period. Since its early beginnings Saga has been about touching upon that taboo so it makes sense it would approach topics of this nature, and the final moments in this issue are chilling. For anyone who has ever experience a similar situation, it is especially touching.

Forty-three issues in and I get the sense Saga is just getting started. I know some have grown tired with the slow progression of some of the major story elements and feel the narrative should be further than it is currently. Why I think it works is because when major events do happen they always feel earned. Each character has been built to a point where you can have an issue like this one that touches on a number of social issues, some of which I have not mentioned, and does not feel overstuffed or too preachy. Saga is that gift that keeps on giving.

Reborn #6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion

Looking at the creative team and concept of Reborn it had the ability to be a great series but it never reached the height of its potential. While reading this series I can see the wheels spinning in Miller’s head with all the different concepts he is coming up with.  Where the issue lies is how some of those ideas get lost in the shuffle and not fully developed.

It starts with the basic concept of the series. How life after death is this crazy fantasy world where your past deeds impact the type of person you develop into. There has been such an inconsistency with that idea it is difficult to determine if there is some sort of mystery that will better explain everything or it is just sloppy writing. To Miller’s credit, the emotional crux of his narrative has been well developed and hit home especially with this issue.

Here Bonnie looks to final fulfill her destiny and rescue her husband by defeating the Dark Messiah. Last issue we learned the identity of the Dark Messiah and his connection with Bonnie. It was not what I was expecting and it does bring the entire narrative full circle. However, the way Bonnie discovers the truth is rather anticlimactic as it is a throwaway line in the middle of the chaotic final battle.

On a pure entertainment level, this final issue succeeds immensely. Great fantasy adventure and action is so rare today when it does happen it should be celebrated. Anyone who is a fan of stories like the Lord of the Rings has a new tale in Reborn that they will surely enjoy. Luckily Millar revealed more Reborn is coming as there are a lot of questions left unanswered and this world still feels like it could be explored much more.

Millar tends to be looked at as a crass writer due to his work on books like Wanted, Kick-Ass, and The Ultimates. Lately, though we have seen a much more tender side of his work. Something like Huck had a sweetness to it that made you forget you were reading a Millar series. Reborn has some of that juvenile humor at times, but it also has some truly touching moments and what it has to say about accepting our own mortality had a lot of profound qualities.

Unquestionably the best reason to pick up this series is the work done by Greg Capullo. Arguably his art on this title already surpasses what he did with Batman. A big reason is the sheer amount of absurdity he gets to depict. If you ever need someone to draw a giant woman fighting a dragon with a head of a lion he is the man to call. Similar to Millar he can make the more emotional scenes work just as well as the fantastical adventure. Seeing the embrace between Bonnie and her husband had the impact some of the narrative elements were lacking.

Reborn may have been as amazing it could have been, but that does not mean it was a disappointment. Millar and Capullo got the opportunity to try something very different for them and they found a lot of success. Now that they have a familiarity with what they want this book to be my hope is future volumes will build on the positives of what they created.

Youngblood #2

Writer: Chad Bowers

Artist: Jim Towe

Youngblood #2 is an improvement from the first issue but still suffers from many of the same demoralizing issues. Two issues in the narrative is still impenetrable for anyone who is still not well versed in the lore of Youngblood. Creating some compelling characters would be a welcome assist for overcoming that problem, but so far this comes off as a series that is being too precious with its past.

Yes, we live in a world where the idea of a reboot is overdone, and Youngblood has failed to reboot in the past so there is base for that apprehension. The key though is those past series failed due to lack of interest. For this to work you will need new readers. You may get some first for simply curiosity purposes but as someone who has an interest in the property my own desire to keep reading this is weaning.

In this issue, we do find out more regarding this superhero app and how there may be more malevolent intentions behind it. Previously it came off as a desperate way to seem relevant now it seems like it will have some major story implications. So there those initial impressions may have been incorrect.

In all honesty, if some major changes and improvements are not made I do not see this new addition to Youngblood lasting longer than the first arc. I am unsure if it a byproduct of improper crafting or simply the ingredients have long passed their expiration date so no one would be able to make this book work.

Eternal Empire #2

Writer: Sarah Vaughn, Jonathan Luna

Artist: Jonathan Luna

Eternal Empire is a enjoyable yet frustrating read. There is strong evidence this will be a good series…eventually. These first two issues have been light on story and heavy on mystery. Issue two starts very similar to the first issue as the identity of the hooded figure from the closing of last issue is revealed. Similar to the character from issue one he is also compelled by visions to travel outside his confined land.

The who, the what, and the why are still unknown at this point. Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Lunae are clearly playing the long game. Any chance I get to see Jonathan Luna’s art I will take it, but this narrative needs something more soon to hook you into the story they are trying to tell. Having characters you do not really know propelled by a force they themselves do not understand makes getting invested a challenge.

Comics are a challenging medium as you have two different types of storytelling going on at the same time. On one hand you are trying to craft monthly chapters that feel complete on their while still feeling part of a larger whole. Eternal Empire right now is not striking that balance. Reading it in trade may be the way to go as two issues in the narrative so far is rather hallow.


Extremity #4

Writer: Daniel Warren Johnson

Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson

Daniel Warren Johnson has made quite the book with Extremity. He has been able to create this vast creative world full of its own distinctive history. That world building has not taken away from any of the entertainment as the battles he constructs are brutally compelling, and through effective character work those battles actually mean something.

Here he adds another thematic layer as this issue deals with how the loss of loved ones effects our purpose. The issue opens with Thea along with her father visiting the grave of her mother. From the start we see the crux dilemma of this issue and that is how they along with Rollo differ in their reaction to her death. Jerome’s ownership of her death has laid upon him a level of guilt that has transformed into anger and purpose. A purpose so strong he is incapable of feeling anything outside his need for revenge. Here he gets his chance as he comes face to face with the person that killed her.

It is the age old dilemma of what occurs after you seek your revenge, or perhaps the better question is if there is ever an after. Showing the emptiness revenge brings is not groundbreaking, but being groundbreaking is not a requirement for good storytelling. This is great storytelling because it is high drama with complete characters. For every victory that is an equal level tragedy and we see how this family is becoming torn apart by the issue that should be bringing them together.

Daniel Warren Johnson has also given this series its own unique style. His pencils look somewhat old school, like a updated version of Heavy Metal. He can also depict both force and speed very well. You can feel the bones breaking as bodies get distorted and feel a slight breeze as these characters move at inhuman like speeds. Mike Spencer’s coloring is also quite strong. His color pallet makes all that action pop and at times is key to telling many of these characters apart. It is the smallest nit to pick but at times due to their design I find it challenging telling who is who during the hectic action.

Extremity has grown into quite the comic in these first few issues. At first it seemed like another Science Fiction/Fantasy mash up that would be full of joyous adventure and larger than life characters. With this issue it has developed beyond that and is actually trying to say something important. Looking at the best new series of this year this is certainly on the list.

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Night Owl Society #3

Writer: James Venhaus

Artist: Pius Bak

Oh what could have been? One of the most shocking elements of the final issue of this series is that is the final issue. The first two issues were great building to something really impressive. Then with this final issue a marathon is suddenly shifted into a sprint and the story is propelled forward to get the desired conclusion. If this was given two or possibly just one more issue it would have made for a much stronger series.

The interaction between David and his father is the best example of this. Their relationship was just reveled in the final panel of last issue and now it is already reaching its conclusion. James Venhaus does provide some back story and what is there is well done. We see how David had to grow up with this cruel father who only cared about making him into a man.. The issue is when the only thing shown is their combative side the dissemination of their relationship is not nearly as impacting. They never appeared to care about each other so seeing them get to the point where they are willing to kill each other is not nearly as surprising as it should be.

What is so frustrating about this issue is you can elements being built that could have led to some fantastic comics. It is like watching a clipshow for a television series that never aired. James Venhaus and Pius Bak  have created some great characters and need to do more work together soon. Maybe the plan was always to do three issues but if that is the case this story should have been plotted much better.

People often forget IDW does actually put out books that are not based on licensed prosperities. Perhaps that is why this got lost in the shuffle. Despite its disappointing final issue Night Owl Society is a series I would recommend as it has me excited for whatever James Venhaus and Pius Bak will do next.

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Aliens: Dead Orbit #2

Writer: James Stokoe

Artist: James Stokoe

Dark Horse puts out so many mediocre Aliens series it is natural to ignore whatever new book hits the shelves. I implore you to ignore that impulse as James Stokoe crafts one of the best Alien stories since the first sequel. He brings the story back to its routes realizing when it comes to Alien less is more. This is not a philosophical journey about how the xenomorphs relate to man’s creation, but rather a straightforward and effective tale of horror and suspense.

Having Stokoe both write and draw this series was the right choice. There are many pages when the words are limited to sound effects and computer noises. As someone who adores the first film it brought my back to that experience as Ripley is traversing the ship looking for a way to escape. Some could argue the story here is ultimately a derivative version of that film. One person’s derivative is another person’s effective homage and in this case I fall on the homage side of the argument.

Mainly because if you never heard, watched, or read an Alien film, comic, or book this books still works. Stokoe’s paneling is key to the heighten tension. In one specific sequence there is a zoom in on an eye that is very telling. The horror that is depicted in just that one eye tells you everything you need to know. I have also seen a lot of chest bursting sequences and this is one of the most brutal. It is a sequence you know is coming and have seen time and time again yet it still yields a visceral reaction.

If you have been left cold by the most recent output by the Alien franchise I do not blame you. However, I implore you not to give up on it entirely. Anyone who has been craving a new well made xenomorph story finally has one with Aliens: Dead Orbit.


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Babyteeth #1

Writer: Donny Cates

Artist: Garry Brown

With God Country, Redneck, and now Babyteeth Donny Cates is making a run to be the biggest breakout writer of 2017. Not only have his books sold remarkably well they are also quite good. As a comic fan it is exciting when fresh faces come along in this world so it is hard not to unabashedly root for his success.

After reading Babyteeth #1 I feel my hope is secure. Sure based on the premise of the first issue this story is one we have seen before. Some sort of demonic baby is born into the world and everything then falls apart, but with a first issue you do not need to shock the world to sell your book. That tends to lead to an opening issue that overreaches and does way too much. Here Donny Cates does two major things. He begins developing a strong leading character in Saddie Ritters, and takes a sequences we have seen before and does it with his own sense of style. Cates and Garry Brown have done the impossible and made childbirth ever more scary.

We learn a lot about Saddie and her current life situation based on the way she reacts to her pregnancy as she chooses to hide it from everyone.  The fact she actually successful at doing so despite how far along she is in her pregnancy is evident how the people around her view her. We also see the dynamic  between her and her sister Heather, and the way Heather holds a sense of protection for Saddie. When Saddie does go into labor there is no shock but only action. She obviously knew what Saddie was hiding and let her keep her secret. These are only small tidbits but important at building the overall story.

Garry Brown’s art works well to make the delivery sequence quite effective. Earthquakes are not easy to depict in a comic but with a drastic change of coloring and well designed sound effects the impact of those tremors is felt. Panel wise he tends to stay within the basic nine panel grid framework with a few adjustments here and there. He can also draw one creepy looking cute baby.

This is only the third series I read by Donny Cates and a pattern is already emerging. His first issues are all about building the premise while at the same time introducing major character relationships that will surround that premise. With God Country it was a son attempting to help his dad while still supporting his current family. I sense a similar situation with Babyteeth it seem he is having a premise that may about the ending of the world but in fact its really about how this family interacts and reacts to this situation. Either way we can chalk this up as another major success for comics newest ‘It’ writer Donny Cates.




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Dan Clark

A fan of all things comics, movies, books, and whatever else I can find that pass the time. Twitter: @DXO_Dan Instagram: Comic_concierge

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