Revenge, the Noir Way

An article by, Aaron Burton

Though it is often used for ironic or nostalgic purposes, noir-style media is a popular choice amongst artists and producers. A lot of us may remember the fictitious noir movie Filthy Souls seen within the movie Home Alone. We often see episodes of our favorite cartoons where the characters temporarily don the apparel of the old-school detective. It is hard to forget the femme fatale known as Jessica Rabbit.

Noir was a style of movies that were predominantly made in the 1940s and 50s. Noir filmmakers used German Expressionist cinematography when making noir films. German Expressionist art is typically known for its use of piercing angles and deep shadows. A classic example of this can be seen in the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter. Noir films are typically crime dramas. Think of the iconic image of the gumshoe sitting in his dark office as a beautiful woman walks in with a new case.

Comics books are no stranger to the noir way of doing things. The 1970s and 80s was a turning point in comic books. The once-campy heroes were now showing their darker and more serious side. When I think of noir comics my mind instantly goes to Alan Moore’s run of Batman and Frank Miller’s run of Daredevil.  The latter was so iconic that influenced a noir-parody featuring four adolescent terrapins.

Old Wounds is a noir crime mystery written by Russell Lissau. The artwork is done by John Bivens with lettering by Josh Southall and Steve Wallace. The book is published by Pop! Goes the Icon. There are currently four issues of the comic book. They can be purchased individually or in a single trade paperback. The book premiered in April of 2015.

Lissau spins a familiar tale of people bringing up the past to enact vengeance. Michael Lane used to be a masked vigilante but has since retired. He is forced to revisit his past after his ex-wife, who also fought crime, was murdered. The story spirals as more and more of Lane’s former accomplices are murdered. While teaming up with a local detective, Lane is sent on an adventure to find out who is enacting revenge on his friends and loved ones.

Bivens’ art is amazing to say the least. There are many aspects to the artwork in Old Wounds that are both creative and innovative. The book is completely black and white, but finds itself holding many different layers of style. The artwork can be abstract at times and often uses many different forms of shading in a seemingly chaotic manner.

The first thing that caught my eye was the creative use of Ben-Day dots. There are panels where Ben-Day dots are overlapping traditional shading. The dots even seem to appear on top of the art, sometimes blocking some of the details from view. This was an interesting departure from the classic pop-art style Ben-Day dots are most known for.

The depth and range of Bivens’ art style lends itself to Old Wounds’ gritty pulp style. Black and white comics pair well with noir-style stories as they are reminiscent of black and white noir movies. Bivens seems to take this a step further by finding creative ways to draw shadows and darkness.

I thought Old Wounds was an entertaining detective story. As the list of suspects began to narrow I began to get more and more excited to find out who the culprit was. I found myself spending a lot of time studying the panels. Each panel seemed to take on its own personality and style. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of gumshoe detective stories and interesting art styles.

Old Wounds is available for digital download on Comixology. It can also be purchased though Pop! Goes the Icon’s website at

The Undefeated Villain

An article by, Aaron Burton

The mark of a hero is their ability to overcome adversity with impressive feats of strength and intellect. This is typically accomplished by, you guessed it, defeating the bad guys. This story is as old as writing itself dating back to ancient stories such as The Odyssey and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Humans have always loved stories of triumph.

The hero needs to come out on top in order to validate their journey. Batman's history would not pack as much of a punch if the Joker consistently got the best of him. Peter Parker's radioactive spider abilities would not be as meaningful if he were constantly put down by The Green Goblin. What happens when the villain goes undefeated?

Bastard's Waltz is a comic book written by Mark Bertolini, author of books such as Broken and Old Ghost. Giovanni Guida provides the artwork for the book. There are currently two issues of Bastard's Waltz. The first issue was released August 14th of 2017. The first volume of the trade paperback is scheduled to be released on September 27th of 2017. The book was released on Darby Pop Publishing.

John the Bastard may be the most prolific villain in comic book history. He has been able to avoid capture by the police. He has defeated every hero that has had the nerve to challenge him. Everything is going fine for John until a new villain named Nero gives him a run for his money.

Fearing defeat and backed into a corner, John the Bastard turns himself into police custody for protection. This is when he meets Ezekiel Sweet, the Secret Service agent tasked with protecting his life. If gangster movies have taught us anything it is that working with the police is an unforgivable sin. This puts John and Ezekiel in the cross hairs of every criminal force in their city.

Guida's art is raw and biting. This is a perfect fit for a violent and abrasive story. The art utilizes shades of pale yellow for much of the panel's backgrounds and lighting. Flashbacks are colored with a palette of pale blues. This sets a choice backdrop for other colors to be used as emphasis. Important characters pop off the page with the colors used in their outfits. The most notable use of this are the reds used in background objects, action text, and of course the bloodshed.

The character of John the Bastard embodies the spirit of a worn and seasoned villain. His attention to detail and sheer courage truly shows how he has been able to remain successful in his criminal career. He always seems to make the right move, even when those around him are fearing for his life. Underneath John's hard exterior we see an old man who is tired. Nothing lasts forever, and John seems to be cognizant of this sentiment. His cooperation with the Secret Service shows his vulnerability, but he is not quite ready to throw in the towel.

I found Bastard's Waltz to be gripping. It is interesting to see the story from the villain's perspective. With thousands of books showing hero defeating their villains, it was refreshing to read a comic where all bets are off. As the panels went on I caught myself cheering on John the Bastard as winds down his criminal career. Guida's art is rough in the best way possible. I found his style to be reminiscent of artists such as Jeff Lemire. If you are a fan of gritty crime dramas, or just rooting for the heel, then Bastard's Waltz is for you.

The first trade paperback can be pre-ordered through Darby Pop's store ( The issues are also available on Comixology.

Cognitive Dissonance in Shrinkage

An article by, Aaron Burton

When attempting to prove a point one of the most valuable qualities to have is consistency. An inconsistent argument will fall apart faster than a Nature Valley granola bar. Americans are currently living in a hyper-politicized time where every cause and trend is vying for national attention. Add this onto the left/right split of American’s electoral system and we can begin to see the problem. The issues presented in the modern political realm are often more complex than picking a side.  Assigning opinions to one party or the other is often a messy process. It is nearly impossible to align yourself with one of the two main political parties while still having an internally consistent set of views. America is just too complex at this point.

Cognitive dissonance is the psychological term for the stress felt when holding inconsistent beliefs and values. Since the advent of the internet American politics seems to be generating a lot of this stress. We want to package our beliefs into a neat and tidy box. Sadly, this a too idealistic goal to accomplish. We see pro-lifers who also favor the death penalty. We see folks who want both inclusiveness and cultural retention. The pious are often the strongest advocates for war.

The attempts to bifurcate multi-faceted issues and ideals is nothing more than a testament to the human condition. We often want simplicity where there is complexity, and order where there is chaos. The difference between the two is often the cause of strife, especially in highly-politicized country. A lot of us are constantly at odd with each other while simultaneously at odds with our own brains.

Shrinkage is a book written by five-time Emmy Award winning Rob Kutner. Kutner was previously a writer for television late-night shows such as The Daily Show and Conan. The artwork is done by John Lucas of Marvel fame. The book is published on Farrago Comics and has four issues at the time of this article. Shrinkage was crowd-funded through both Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Kutner describes the book as “a comedic sci-fi action tale about how the most unknowable battleground we face is the one within our own craniums.”

Shrinkage tells the story of the events surrounding President Dullard, the leader of the United States. After a peculiar brain tumor causes the President to act erratically, the government enlists the help of two strong yet very different characters. Dr. Percy is a spinster neuroscientist trying to make a name for herself. General McCrain is an angry hard-headed soldier who is constantly looking for a battle to be won. Together, the two get shrunk down and go on a journey through President Dullard’s mind to eradicate the force acting upon his brain.

Dr. Percy and General McCrain are inside President Dullard’s mind, both literally and figuratively. It seems that both characters are representing two very different viewpoints acting upon President Dullards mind. Kutner and Lucas have a very interesting way of presenting this allegory to the readers. As Percy and McCrain make their way through President Dullard’s brain they are constantly arguing. The arguments cause the team to slip and make some wrong moves. The effects of these mishaps are directly reflected in President Dullard’s behavior. One bump into the wrong neuron sends the leader of the nation into a nonsensical flurry of words and ideas.

The plot of Shrinkage seems to serve as a literary telling of cognitive dissonance. The President is victim to two struggling ideologies which exist within his own mind. On one side, you have a character which represents females, science, and a lack of confidence/stability. On the other side, you have a character which represents males, military and over-confident brute force. Both characters work as satirical caricatures of differing opinions. At the same time, they serve as prime examples of a person holding two contradicting opinions in their head.

Lucas does a great job of using his art style to enhance Kutner’s humorous writing. The character’s faces are often twisted and misshapen in a way which plays to their unique personalities. There are also many subtle jokes put into the artwork. The inside of President Dullard’s brain and neural network is painted in bright colors. This is very aesthetically pleasing as bright colors and intricate patterns seem to go hand in hand.

When I saw that Rob Guillory of Chew drew the first cover I knew that I had to give this book a go. Shrinkage was a fun read. I have always been a fan of both social and political satire. The book does a great job of balancing humor with social commentary. It makes you laugh as much as it makes you think. Shrinkage is a light-hearted and silly tale which is refreshing in a time where political views are squaring off on a daily basis. I hope to see more issues of this comic book in the future as well as the future works of Kutner and Lucas.

For the Love of Indie #35- Audubon, Moonstruck, My Pretty Vampire

Download this episode here or on iTunes!

Artist: Mark dos Santos
Buy Lark's Killer here

Writer/Artist: Katie Skelly
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Buy more of Katie Skelly's books here
Buy My Pretty Vampire here

Writer: Grace Ellis
Artist: Shae Beagle
Publisher: Image Comics
Buy Moonstruck here

Writer/Artist: Natasha Alterici
Letters: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Vault Comics
Buy Heathen vol. 1 here

Writer: Ben Kahn
Artist: Bruno Hidalgo
Publisher: Scout Comics
Buy Heavenly Blue here

Writer: Tevis Thompson
Artist: David Hellman
What is a Second Quest?
Read Tevis Thompson's Saving Zelda
Buy Second Quest here

Writer/Artist: Carey Pietsch
Buy other Carey Pietsch titles here
Buy Connection Lost here

Artist: Jeremie Royer
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Who is James Audubon?
Check out Audubon's Birds of America
Buy Audubon here

Comic Releases for August 30th, 2017

Conspiracies in Currency: The Black Monday Murders

Article by, Aaron Burton

Occult-based conspiracy theories have often surrounded the highest levels of American business and government. The are many people who are willing to believe there is a spiritual component to our country’s upper crust. The wealthy are willing to do anything to keep their power. These tactics may even include the utilization of other worldly forces. Many theorists believe that signs of these paranormal dealings can be seen in the art and architecture of government and financial institutions. Whether it be the Freemasons, the Illuminati, or just plain old devil worshippers, the powers that be hide their symbols in plain sight.

One of the most commonly discussed symbols is the Eye of Providence found on America’s currency. This symbol shows an eye surrounded by a triangle. The origin of this symbol seems to date back to the Renaissance. It was often used as a symbol of God’s Trinity in the Catholic Faith. Since then, the Freemason’s have taken the symbol on as their own. Even though they deny any deeper meaning there are still many conspiracy theorists that believe the Eye of Providence is the all-seeing-eye of a totalitarian shadow government.

What separates conspiracy theories from regular scholars is the use of assumptions and leaps of faith in their logic. If you look at the lines of logic in a conspiracy theory, there is usually one (or multiple) assumptions made that will cause the argument to fall short. This does not even include the common use of the straw man logical fallacy seen in many theories. One of the most common flaws found in conspiracy theories is the idea that large groups of people can perfectly control the flow of information and keep secrets. This has been shown to not be true time and time again, especially since the advent of the internet. That said, wouldn’t it be interesting to live in a world where “old money” was created through the use of paranormal meddling?

The Black Monday Murders is a comic book written by Jonathan Hickman of East of West fame. The art is done by Tomm Coker. The book is released under Image comics. The first issue came out on August 10th 2016. At the time of this article there are currently six issues of the comic released, with the first four issues released as a trade paperback. There are currently two more issues available for preorder, with the second volume of the trade paperback coming this November. The book has been described as a “crypto-noir” which combines cryptological and film-noir elements. This is a fitting description as the story revolves around a gumshoe attempting to decipher the codes and rituals of the wealthy.

Theodore Dumas is a detective trying to solve a very bizarre murder. The case begins to unravel as Dumas continues to find clues linking the murder to Caina-Kankrin, one of America’s oldest financial institutions. This proves to be the most dangerous and interesting case in Dumas’ career as he finds himself thrown into the world of occult-linked bankers and brokers. Will Theodore be able to piece together the story of what makes the world’s aristocrats so wealthy and powerful?

Fans of Jonathan Hickman are already aware of how commanding and captivating his writing style can be. The Black Monday Murders is no exception. Hickman provides readers with powerful drama and gripping mystery. The characters speak in a level of eloquence typically reserved for playwrights. That said, what is a comic book but a play told through pictures? The book is filled with twists and turns that is sure to keep you turning the pages.

The presentation of the book is astounding. The story is told through a combination of classic comic book panels, forum posts, memos and documents. This keeps the story compelling as the readers are allowed to see the story from many angles. One of the most interesting aspects of The Black Monday Murders is the documents. Most of the documents in the book are redacted. Having certain lines of the documents blacked out adds to the mystery of the story. Hickman and Coker play with this concept by using the non-redacted words to their advantage. For example, a whole paragraph will be redacted except for five words from completely different sentences. These words will then form their own sentence which gives insight into the story.

Coker’s art style for The Black Monday Murders is very dark and shadowy. He definitely took the noir style of the story to heart. Many of the pages look like they were printed using old copier technology. The pages are littered with dark splotches, streaks and even the occasional piece of hair. The page style is reminiscent of teachers using the overhead projector in grade school. This adds a layer of depth to the story as the readers are often looking at old documents. The page blemishes also add additional darkness which adds to the noir tone of the story.

Hickman and Coker come together to make a powerhouse of a comic book. I found myself reading the pages so frantically that I had to force myself to slow down and savor every panel. The first trade paperback comes in at about two hundred and fifty pages, and every last one of them kept me mesmerized. People say it is hard to wait a week for a new episode of a television show. The Black Monday Murders is an exercise in how hard it can be to wait an entire month for a new issue of a comic book.

Monsters On The Underground Railroad

An article by, Aaron Burton

Most of us should be familiar with story of the famous abolitionist known as Harriet Tubman. For those who may need some refreshing, she was one of the most prolific activists in 1800s America. She helped numerous slaves escape to freedom through the use of anti-slave sanctuary and assistance from fellow activists. This network of freedom fighters ultimately became known as The Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman helped fuel the movement that put America on seemingly never-ending path to treat all Americans as equals.

Imagine there was a paranormal element to the colonial slave trade. Slave masters and traders have enlisted the services of vampires and other mythological creatures in order to maintain the status quo. The monstrosity of slavery is no longer figurative. The rulers are literally monsters.  In a world such as this, there is only one person that can help the oppressed find their way to freedom. This person comes in the form of a katana-wielding, smart-mouthed assassin known as Harriet Tubman.

Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer is written by David Crownson with art and lettering by Courtland L. Ellis. The book is published by Victory Comics and was funded through Kickstarter. It is self-described as "Django Unchained meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Mad Max: Fury Road". For the unfamiliar this can be translated into "abolitionist antihero meets monster fighter meets apocalyptic Darwinism". There is one issue currently released at the time of this article.

I was expecting Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer to be a more dark and serious story. The plot is a retelling of one of the most shameful aspects of early America. I figured that colonial slavery paired with monsters would naturally create a more dramatic atmosphere. I found myself with the proverbial 'egg on my face' as I read through a witty and humorous introduction to this new series. Crownson found a way to take a serious historical subject and turn its on its head to create a very exciting and entertaining issue.

Ellis' art style is refreshing to say the least. The characters are drawn in a cartoon style which reminded me of modern Disney animated films. The color palette used is mostly made up of shades of brown and grey with other colors being muted. The prominently featured color is a bright red. The color is used to bring emphasis to certain aspects of the book, such as Harriet's bandanna or the vampire's eyes. This is an incredibly clever use of coloring. Human blood seems to be red, whereas vampire blood is a dull grey. The saturated red helps bring an exciting pop to the comic's visual representation that also provides meaning and context to the story.

I cannot wait to continue following the story in this book. The first issue was an amazingly fun and exciting read. This was an exciting departure from the high-tension and serious racial discussions that have been in the spotlight of America's political arena. Crownson shows that it is possible to have a story that provides social commentary without sacrificing humor. The first issue ends in a cliffhanger that leaves readers wanting more. The quick-witted personality of Harriet Tubman provides readers with an alluring main character. Only time will tell where these new series will take us.