The Truth is Out There

 Article by, Matt Gorman


Writer: Kelly Bender
Artist: Nathan Kelly
Colors: Josh Jensen
Letters: Micah Myers

A darkened alleyway, a foggy cemetery, an abandoned mansion, each with a twist of reality, something out of place. These are the workplaces of icons like Kolchack, and agents Mulder and Skully. They helped define a beloved genre of the weird and the unknown. Like them, Snarl’s Detectives Bevil and Sagun find themselves chasing something sinister through the shadows. Written by Kelly Bender (Convoy of Corpses, Starburn) this story reads like a pilot for a sci-fi series, visceral, mysterious, and just cliche enough to be charming. The art, a high-contrast style, was lined by Nathan Kelly and colored by Josh Jensen.


Detective Bevil is a believer; no matter how absurd the conclusions are, Bevil looks the facts in the eye. Bevil knows what it means to be a detective, and how to do it well. Complimenting Bevil is detective Sagun, a skeptic and a realist. She’s sarcastic, calling names and making fun, but when things get rough, so does she. Snarl follows Bevil and Sagun as they work a string homicides and maimings, all with the same wolf prints at each crime scene. The buzz in the paper is on about werewolves, and Bevil is trusted to see the case solved before the incidents garner national attention. His first and best lead is an old Native American legend: the Yee Naaldlooshii, or skin-walker.


The writer and co-creator of Snarl, Kelly Bender must be a fan of sci-fi television, because his storytelling is reminiscent to it in the best way. Screaming to be adapted for the screen, Kelly sets Snarl as a flashback, book-ended by exposition and twist-hanger. The format is attractive, and suits the tone and this particular tale well. There are tropes employed, but only insofar as to cement Snarl in the genre. The characters, almost tropes themselves, are characterized well, but almost don’t need to be. It’s as if the tone, mood, and genre of the work make the reader expect and infer the characters. It’s a case of the characters being who they need to be. Intentional or not, it’s executed well.


Contrast, and heavy-blacks darken the pages of Snarl. Nathan Kelly shows us a unique style of hard, ragged, but defined linework and swaths of shadow. I found that I liked Kelly’s environment illustration in particular, his mind for composition and perspective showing boldly through. Something about the grittiness of his work brings me back to the urban sprawls of Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, though I can’t place it. In conjunction with Kelly’s bold base, Josh Jensen colors Snarl with a palette of nearly pastel blues and greens. However, with such dark framework, they look almost sickly, further defining the macabre mood of Snarl. What bright color is used is used sparingly for moments of sudden action and gore, though even those don’t reach intense saturation.


In all, Snarl does one thing astoundingly well; it places itself firmly within a genre, and that can add a lot of depth to a story through association and expectation. The linework and color collaborate with the storytelling to frame it as a horror-mystery, with supernatural elements unfolding slowly throughout the course of the plot. For a one-off, Snarl is a lot of fun. Snarl was released May 13th, 2015 and is available for only $5 here!


The Speedster Who Can't Catch a Break

Article by, Mariah Senecal

Velocity


Writer: Joe Casey/Ron Marz
Artist: Kevin Maguire/Kenneth Rocafort
Color: Blond/Sunny Gho
Publisher: Top Cow

Carin Taylor, aka “Velocity,” is a character from the comic series Cyberforce created in the early 90s by Marc Silvestri. Her character, after falling off the map for many years, was revived in 2007 when Pilot Season, an annual comic book initiative started by Top Cow Productions, began. Velocity was one of two winners in the 2007 season and despite having won publication, it was canceled due to creative differences. The series was then picked up by a new creative team in 2010. Joe Casey (Uncanny X-Men, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) and Kevin Maguire (Justice League, Superman/Batman) teamed up for the Pilot issue, and later passed the torch to Ron Marz (Silver Surfer, Green Lantern) and Kenneth Rocafort (Superman, Madame Mirage, Red Hood and the Outlaws).


As origin stories go Velocity has a pretty lengthy one, but she is a character deserving of this level of depth. The plot varies between the pilot issue and issue #1, but they stick to the same backstory. Carin Taylor was cybernetically enhanced as a child by Cyberdata, which resulted in her super speed and rapid healing. Throughout issue #1 she mentions her past and how it has shaped her life. She was always destined to become a superhero, and she exhibits internal strength and wit that I find admirable. In the pilot issue we are introduced to a woman who runs across the country to deliver a live organ to a trauma unit. Taylor is driven, funny and a genuinely good person. It is interesting to watch as she struggles to lead a somewhat normal life in addition to being a superhero. All heroes have villainous counterparts, and it seems like Velocity, despite her speed, can never catch a break.


Although the two series were written by different people, Velocity’s sharp tongue remains the same. Joe Casey, the Pilot Season writer, perfectly portrays the woman we expect Velocity to be. She keeps us on our toes and chuckling with her internal dialogue, and it is very clear that she isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Casey sticks to the original origin story by tossing Cyberdata in as the go-to villain, but he doesn’t reveal much of Carin’s past in the Pilot issue, which is exactly what Ron Marz does in issue #1. What I like most about issue #1 is that the majority of the dialogue is internal, which makes a lot of sense considering Velocity is almost always running. She breaks the fourth wall through her internal dialogue, addressing us directly as readers by promising to explain her current situation. Her wit and sarcasm remain consistent between the two issues, and Marz perfectly writes the appropriately lengthy mad scientist monologue where his evil plot is revealed. Clearly both issues were well written because despite the shift in writers you can still hear Carin Taylor’s voice bursting from the pages. 


The art varies drastically between the Pilot issue and issue #1, and I’m not solely referring to Velocity’s costume change. Kevin Maguire was the artist during the Pilot Season and his style is definitely different from that of Kenneth Rocafort. There’s very little shading, lots of solid lines, and oodles of fantastic facial expressions. My favorite part about Maguire’s art is the fact that Velocity is not always attractive, which is nice because it makes her a more realistic character. Trust me, I am not attractive after running a mile, and Velocity certainly wasn’t attractive after running fast enough to create a global sonic boom. Rocafort’s rendition of Velocity is a striking one. She is beautiful, flirtatious, and expressive with her face and body. The art in this issue is quite a lot darker, which perfectly matches the tone of the story. I found that despite my qualms with her costume makeover, I much preferred Rocafort’s art. If you look (not even closely, just look!) at the differences between the pilot issue and the mini series you’ll notice that a lot of Velocity’s costume has gone missing, particularly near her chest. I feel that this is wildly unnecessary, but it doesn’t detract from the story or enjoyable action.


Personally, I preffered the series written by Ron Marz to the Pilot Season, which was initially shocking for me because of how strongly I felt about the costume differences. They’re both good, but I enjoyed the pacing of Marz’s writing and it leaves enough of a cliffhanger that you’ll really want to purchase the second issue. Both books and both teams produced some strong stories involving a very likable character. The real beauty of writing about older comics is that they’re almost always available somewhere online! If you’re interested in this comic you can read the first issue for free right here! If you prefer your comics to be physical, than you're in luck! The trade collecting the pilot season and mini series comes out this April.






MCC #30! Enormous & Buddy Scalera!

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

Find this podcast on iTunes OR PodOmatic!

Enormous
   


Writer: Tim Daniel
Artist: Mehdi Cheggour
Letterer: Matthew Meylikhov

(Starts at 4m 00s) Enormous is the story of a world under siege by giant, monstrous forms of animals such as bats, crocodiles sloths, and more. As these creatures mysteriously show up and start destroying the major cities of the planet, we see the way it effects people on the ground. Particularly, a woman named Ellen trying to find her girlfriend and a family attempting survival within a bunker. With deadly behemoths wandering around and another force that may be propelling them, will anyone survive?! Listen and find out!


Tim Daniel has created a tense situation that never lets up on the action and caries with it a sense of foreboding for anything in these creatures' paths. There is ground work laid in this volume for more rich stories in this world, and it's all vibrantly illustrated by Medhi Cheggour. Every single monster is derived from a real life animal, except demented beyond belief and ready to pounce. On the human level, everyone looks stunning. Even as chaos envelopes everything around them, the individuals look incredible and have very realistic gestures, poses, and actions. Listen in for a ton more info on this great team AND check out the first issue of this series for free here

A Chat w/Buddy Scalera

(Starts at 19m 30s) Man... talk about a man for all seasons! Buddy Scalera has seen comic books as a fan, journalist, writer, and educator, and in this episode I pick his brain a bit about his experiences as well as his series of comic reference books, the Comic Book School. We touch on all sorts of subjects including Deadpool, future projects, working in the industry, conventions, and much more. I can't suggest listening in on this strongly enough, some great words are said and Buddy is just an all around cool dude!


(Starts at 53m 15s) Hey! I introduced a fun new segment! It's called Nostalgia Corner. In this segment I discuss comic adaptations of old series (mostly cartoons) or old movie adaptations of comics, video games, etc. This week I discussed the... cross breeding series known as:


Thanks for listeneing everyone! If you like what you heard, please leave me a positive review on iTunes. Reviews help this podcast get found which help these creators get found and YOU will discover some cool reads in the process. That's a win win win! If you would like to contact me, shoot an email to musiccitycomics@gmail.com or Tweet to JustDrewVG! Thanks again! 


 


Where Animals Rule

Article by, Drew Van Genderen
Vacancy



Artist/Writer: Jen Lee

NoBrow Press is known for 3 things, original comics, children's books, and incredible customer service. On the comics front they release multiple one shots, each compelling and of a high production value, Vacancy being no exception. On this particular marvel, Jen Lee has joined the fold. You may have seen her illustrative work on the covers of Regular Show: Skips or Teen Dog. She has also created an animated webcomic known as Thunderpaw (thunderpaw.co/comic/) that is well worth a look. That's a tale for another time though, let's discuss Vacancy.


The world has been destroyed. Well perhaps not destroyed so much as... disheveled. The humans that were once around? All gone. Simon, a loyal dog, doesn't wish to believe that. He spends his days in his dog house with a fence separating him from the rest of existence, hoping his owner's will return. One day, as he is wandering his small space, he notices a raccoon named Cliff and a deer named Reynard on the other side of the fence. Before he knows it, his world becomes much bigger, and he finds himself questioning whether or not he truly has a place in it.


Jen Lee presents a story of comradery and coming of age (though only for a brief period) told through a post apocalyptic lens. As the characters interact with this planet that nature once again rules, they run into other creatures. Whether the speaking character is a deer, raccoon, dog, or anything else, Lee has provided voices perfectly associated with each species. Everyone has appropriately given into their basic urges/animal instincts, and that results in the characters that are understandable to the reader. As Simon traverses the woods outside of his owner's home, the situations he finds himself in displays the strengths of both domesticated and wild animals. More than that, these 3 unlikely characters become fast friends, and in the dangerous woods you find yourself constantly worried yet hopeful that they will survive the experience.


The writing in this story is great, the story is easy to understand but nonetheless engaging. That being said, the art in this book is almost more of a draw. Every panel is absolutely flawless. All of the animals walk through the shadows of human civilization, using decrepit architecture and old trash as food and shelter, escaping threats by ducking through old neighborhoods. The woods are sprawling, and seemingly endless, adding to Simon's feelings of unease. Each character is more anthropomorphic than simply animalistic. They all walk primarily on two legs, and have distinctive outfits each very detailed and indicative of current fashions. What does that mean for the reader? Some truly incredible action sequences and models, as well as more relatable characters. Setting tone in this story, almost moreso than the shattered world, is the color scheme. With sepia tones pronouncing the day and vibrant oranges during the twilight, this visual, atmospheric masterpiece is tied together.


Vacancy is a one shot tale, with a resolution that is worth the journey and striking imagery to match. The webcomic I mentioned earlier, Thunderpaw, has a very similar feel and with Jen Lee at the helm as well, it's worth a look. If you are a fan of illustration, post apocalyptic tales, or entirely out of the box adventures, then this is absolutely for you. Plus, it's only $5.95.


Back In The Saddle Again

Article by, Matt Gorman
The Deadbeat


Written & Created by Jeremy Massie

This is old-school cool. Created by Jeremy Massie (All my Ghosts, Bee Sting,) The Deadbeat tells a compelling, yet simple tale. Through an art style reminiscent of the now-vintage comics that paved the way for the industry back during the 1950’s, The Deadbeat is nostalgic, but original. The Deadbeat is a story about family, abuse, and dealing with one’s demons. Strikingly, and easily, Massie weaves a plot of how human the superhuman can be.


The Deadbeat shows us that complexity isn’t required to tell a compelling story. In its simplicity, it shows us an estranged father and how his daughter, presumed dead, re-enters his life. [MEANWHILE ] an old nemesis returns, and the Deadbeat is reluctantly forced to action. An older man, the Deadbeat spends most of his days at a bar, drowning his past in yoo-hoo (the only drink that affects him,) despite the abilities of flight and invulnerability. Unable to escape his past, it takes the arrival of Vera to make him fly again. Battling alien creatures from out of a lost dimension and dealing with repercussions of childhood trauma, the fantasy elements of the superhero genre play second to the interpersonal drama that unfolds. 


Told concisely and without restraint, the Deadbeat sets a precedent for what is needed to tell a story. Both in plot as well as in character development, there is no fluff. Everything fits into place, with very little extra, each piece of the puzzle snugly fitting with each other. There’s an occasion where it seems like Massie is just having fun with superpowers, with no real connection to the plot, but he uses it, instead, as an opportunity to segue into a flashback. Massie does a tremendous job of building a story with a solid foundation, and showing us the top, slowly feeding us more and more until the reader can see it in whole. The character development employed is strategic and minimalist, and yet, executed perfectly; you know who these people are, what they’ve done, who they were, and what they become. 


Lined in vintage style, the Deadbeat’s focused storytelling is facilitated by heavy, beautiful lines. As if pulled from an old issue of Action Comics, Massie establishes a retro feel. I especially like his use of the old staples: BAP! BIFF! and POK! Seeding our expectations, the art cues us in that this isn’t a tale of intrigue or glory, and that it isn’t a winding path, but rather a straightforward one, and all the better for it.


This one surprised me. Reading it, I was delighted at each connection that was made in the story. I wanted to know what was going to happen, and that’s what a compelling plot means. Open and literal, the story doesn’t go where it doesn’t need to, and doesn’t try to confuse or shroud aspects in mystery. The characters are surprisingly deep, but only as deep as they need to be. The Deadbeat illustrates and celebrates how powerful a storytelling platform graphic novels are, through simplicity and execution. The Deadbeat was released as a graphic novel in 2009 and can be bought digitally and in print for $3.99.



MCC Podcast #29- Love Me Nice & Mara Wood

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

Give this podcast a listen on iTunes or PodOmatic!
Love Me Nice
 
  
Story/Art: Amanda Lafrenais

(Starts at 3m40s) Love Me Nice gives a behind the scenes look at cartoons and the character that star in them. Showing a world where humans and toons coexist, we see an up close and personal look on the struggles of multiple characters in the entertainment industry. More specifically, Mac the Monkey, and his girlfriend/manager, Claire, both of which have to deal with their own problem while experiencing the wacky shenanigans of the rest of the cast. A little reminiscent of Cool World, a little reminiscent Roger Rabbit, but 100% original and heartwarming, this is a hell of a story. Listen in to find out a lot more about it!



Amanda Lafrenais has such an incredible knack for cartooning. From character design to dialogue, every beat hits at the right moment and feels organic, despite the fact that they are living cartoons. That being said, we also get to see what being a cartoon character is all about and how the characters must deal with a constantly changing industry. Lafrenais mixes the real with the surreal and the result is an enjoyable, emotional, strong melodrama that explodes with fun. Check out and pick up this story as well as Amanda's work on Slipshine at amandalafrenais.com/


Manga Talk w/Mara Wood 
  
 
(Starts at 17m15s) This episode I got to have an enjoyable chat with Dr. Mara Wood! Co-host of THREE podcasts! I'll link to them in a moment. We have a talk about manga fans and comic fans and why their is a divide between them. Besides getting a ton of great recommendations, you can hear our opinion on regarding some writers and stories that are good entry point to either medium. Plus, some general comic talk of course! Here are links to her quality shows:
You can also hit her up on Twitter at MegaMaraMon (bonus points for a Digimon reference)!


Well, that's about it. Great show! By the way, I'm seeking a co-host. If anyone is interested, shoot an email to or just shout your interest and resume to the heavens (no resume is actually required). You can also contact me on Twitter at JustDrewVG just to chat OR to enter my giveaway that runs until the end of the month. Thank you so much for listening! If you like what you heard, please leave me a nice review on iTunes. Good reviews help this podcast get found which helps these books/creators get found AND you'll learn about some good reads in the process. That's a win-win-win! Thanks again for listening!


Death's Left Hand

Article by, Drew Van Genderen

The Black Hand

 

Writer: Erica J. Heflin
Art: Fares Maese (Issue #1, 2, 4) Edson Alves (Issue #3)

Alterna Comics has been around for a while. In it's time it has published webcomic epics with Kill All Monsters to instant cult classics in The Chair to the space with Adam Wreck. Essentially, it has done a little bit of every genre. That is why it baffles me sometimes that more folks aren't talking about it. Lately I have been reading up on many titles from the publisher and have found nothing but quality. Want to check them out for yourself? Then let me introduce you to The Black Hand, a fantasy story that I particularly enjoy. This series is written by Erica J. Heflin, of Vicious Circus, Dark Shaman, and Wonderland fame. Art is primarily done by Fares Maese (portfolio) who has done color work on the horror series Anathema. Issue 3 has art duties being performed by Edson Alves (portfolio) who has worked on a few very independent titles.


Victoria Addair has felt the icy sting of death and come back from it with no lasting marks but her black hand. After this event, she joined the First Church of the Black Hand, an order of knights who have gone through similar situations and now fight back the undead and monstrous forces of the frigid world. Victoria is tasked with a trip to the kingdom of Amnestall, where the young Fadil is being tempted by a ghost to travel into the freezing wastes, and presumably to his death. Upon arrival, Victoria quickly learns that there is more at play then just a luring spirit, and as a cold front that immediately freezes everything in it's path is sweeping the land, she discovers she doesn't have long to figure out what's going on. The deadly wind leaves frozen corpses in it's wake, with nothing left but the echo of a voice asking, "Where is my boy?"


Erica J. Heflin has written a frozen world that is rife with danger and isolation. Her solution? Writing a group of badass knights to combat everything that's thrown at the unsuspecting people. All of the world seems to be terrified of their environment, and make it very clear that even more dangerous then the creatures hiding in the snow is the cold itself. It is implied that an innumerable amount of people have died thanks to the frigid conditions, and nothing seems to be able to stop the death toll from rising. The sense of foreboding Erica writes into this story is apparent on every page, and very well felt. Between the evil outside of the kingdoms and the questionable/judgmental personalities within, nothing every truly feels safe, particularly for our protagonist. Victoria is the very portrait of a strong female lead, with an unfaltering sense of bravery and a knowledge that she must always do what is right, not necessarily with the permission of her superiors. She is smart and knowledgeable of the enemies lurking in the tundra, while also showing a good amount of care for the kingdom she is trying to protect and Fadil in particular. Many of the other characters, such as Fadil's father, Matim, attempt to become foibles to Victoria's character, however as the story progresses everyone realizes that this death defying knight is an absolute necessity to solve this deadly problem.


Fares Maese is a name I haven't heard of before, but now I'll make sure to keep an eye out. The specialty here is texturing. Whether looking at the wind shifting the frozen tundra or the sheen of the Black Hands' smooth steel armor, Maese has clear intention for every object. In moments of action, the movement feels swift and uses visual effects to further protray the characters in motion. Speaking of the characters, the models are a ton of fun. The main guard protecting Fadil and Matim is an intimidating, hulking caricature of a brawler, while the leader of the Church of the Black Hand is as decrepit as the black hand would suggest. Victoria, on the other hand, stands out amongst her bleak surroundings with glistening armor and long blond hair, all of which move perfectly in the action scenes for some wonderful picturesque panels. The monsters are numerous and demented, making the reader question their origins but more than that, providing a viable threat to the knights. Edson Alves fill in on issue 3 picked up with a similar style to Maese's, providing a cohesive read in an extremely pivotal issue to the series as well as a different emphasis on the facial contours of the characters.


It's a fantasy series where people who come back from the dead become knights and fight ghosts, zombies, and much more. What's not to like? With a steady flow of action and a compelling yet enjoyable mystery, The Black Hand delivers quite the well structured tale. YOU can pick up The Black Hand individually or as a collection on  ComiXology!






Kickin' Skulls & Takin' Names

 Premiere article by, Matt Gorman
 
 Skullkickers vol. 1: 1,000 Opas & a Dead Body


Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Edwin Huang
Colors: Misty Coats
Covers: Chris Stevens
Publisher: Image Comics

Jim Zub and Edwin Huang rolled 20’s. If you’ve ever sat down to a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons or Paizo’s Pathfinder, then Skullkickers will make you feel right at home, absurdities included. Skullkickers, created and written by Jim Zub (Thunderbolts, Dungeons and Dragons) follows the misadventures and anti-heroism of two unnamed monster hunters. The best and only “names” they’ve been referred to by are the Big Guy (or Baldy) and Shorty. Set in a fantasy realm brimming with monstrosities the protagonists are immediately beset by werewolves, zombie-like abominations, and rogue assassins. Edwin Huang (Streetfighter Unlimited) is able to balance brutality with comedy in a dynamic and endearing style, while Misty Coats’ color work truly snaps every scene into three dimensions. With such excellent art, Jim Zub’s writing is on a solid foundation for expressive and truly entertaining storytelling.



The Big Guy, a towering man by any measure, looks like the sort of adventurer to wield a huge sword sheathed in fire, but in his case looks are very deceiving. Cocking akimbo six-shooter pistols, the Big Guy perforates his foes with savage efficiency before strong-arming them in melee. Shorty, on the other hand, has more personal sensibilities; a dwarf with a beard like Mufasa’s mane, clasped in two huge metal bands, Shorty gets in close with hand-axes and a love of wrestling. After the assassination of a visiting dignitary, the Skullkickers fly to action, the promise of gold spiking their interest. Little do the Big guy and Shorty know, there are much more sinister powers gaining momentum, and the resulting adventures are a rollicking ride of carnage and quips.



Each and every scene, both action and dialogue, are pockmarked with smart jokes and comedic setups. There are so many ingenious and hilarious twists in the plot, challenging the meta of fantasy writing. From human sacrifice gone awry, to a hallucinogenic trip, Zub shows the reader that when things go wrong, adventure happens. Jim Zub’s flair for the ridiculous is only matched by his understanding of scene composition and combat sequences. Reading through, I never got the impression that I was lost, or that I missed something. In conjunction with Huang’s marvellous work, the reader has a hard time losing track of the action.



Bullets, blood, gore, and walking piles of muscle, Edwin Huang casts the Big Guy and Shorty in just the right light. Mirroring Zub’s writing, Huang brings slapstick to the game in a wonderful way through physical comedy. Losing their lunch, taking tremendous leaps, and defining their name as the Skullkickers, Huang uses his lines to exemplify visual comedy, regardless of genre. Finishing the trifecta of talent, Misty Coats colors the Skullkickers brilliantly. Going above and beyond merely painting Huang’s linework, Coats shows a deep understanding of color and light. I was impressed particularly with her treatment of low-light and high-contrast scenes, keeping the color of the characters consistent and believable under different conditions.


Jim Zub’s Skullkickers is a monument, paying homage to the many and widely-adored tropes of the genre. With zany, bloody action, hilarious sequences of successes masked as failures, and a loveable duo of in-it-for-the-gold monster hunters, I still want to read more. The book is gorgeous, inside and out thanks to Huang and Coats, enabling Zub’s style in the best way. Skullkickers does more than tell an entertaining tale, it’s a reminder of what fantasy can be, rather than a statement of what it ought to be. Skullkickers Vol.1 in softcover was published in march 2011 and can be bought both in print and digitally for $7.14.