Read, Listen, Enjoy

An article by, Aaron Burton

When listening to music I always try to base my opinion on the album as a whole. The way the artist chooses and orders the songs has an important effect on the listening experience. Much like a story, an album of songs takes the listener on a ride of ups and downs. A great song can have a greater level of impact when the audience knows where it fits into the artist's catalog.

This is one reason why I have always loved concept albums. My favorites include Protest the Hero's Kezia, Masta Ace's A Long Hot Summer, and anything by Coheed and Cambria. I love being able to put on an album at the beginning and listen to it all the way through. Personally, the songs feel more powerful when serve a specific purpose in regard to storytelling and concept discussion.

Skin and Earth is a combination comic book series/music album created by a multi-talented artist known as LIGHTS. The first issue was released in July of 2017 with the final issue coming out in December of 2017. The album was released in September of 2017. A trade paperback of the six issue series should be available this April. The book is published by Dynamite Entertainment. Skin and Earth is an adventure story that combines elements of  both science fiction and fantasy. You can listen to the album here or buy the comics here.

Enaia is part of the red population. These people make up the lower class of her society. They live in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by pollution. The pink population makes up the ruling class of the society and is responsible for the destruction of the land. Enaia is given a strange tattoo by a lover shortly before their breakup. This begins Enaia on a fantastic and surreal journey to find the truth about her society and herself.

Skin and Earth provides a bleak setting for its story to take place. The writing and art combine to create a world that feels truly helpless. Enaia tries to find the beauty in little things. For example, she enjoys how the horizon shimmers like diamonds. In reality, the landscape is glistening due to its reduction to nothing but sand. Enaia's focus on beauty and love sets her apart from a world that destroys everything in its path.

The accompanying album is filled with catchy electronic pop tunes. Though the songs are fun to listen to they also serve to enhance the darkness of the story at hand. LIGHTS' powerful voice and lyrics make it easy to become immersed in the comic book. The tracks line up perfectly with the story both in sound and content.

Each issue covers two songs on the album with the last issue taking on three songs. The series does include a chart which lines up the songs with the correct issue. That said, it is not difficult to follow along without it. The song titles and lyrical content align with the sections of story. Many of the chapters are named after songs on the album. The songs themselves contain main nods to what is happening in the comic.

There are music videos for the singles on Skin and Earth. These videos play out the corresponding scenes from the comic book. I was very excited to watch my favorite scene from the book come to life. Issue four is not only my favorite part of the series but also lines up with my two favorite songs on the album. The music video for "We Were Here" portrays this part of the story with stunning accuracy. The video looks and feels like it was shot in the story's universe. Many of the shots directly line up with panels.

 I have never heard of LIGHTS before picking up this comic book, but I enjoyed the comic so much I am now a fan. I really hope there is a sequel to Skin and Earth. Though the storytelling wraps up the main plot I feel that there are still a lot of interesting concepts to be explored in this universe. Skin and Earth does a great job of blending science-fiction, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic storytelling. The concepts of the story vary from romance  and relationships to philosophy to religion. Skin and Earth has a little bit of something for everyone. You can buy the album and comic here.

FTLI #56- Fire Gods, Our Origin, Metal Rabbits

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Written by, Amy Shand & Pat Shand
Illustated by, Erica D'Urso
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Written & drawn by, Katie O'Neill
Published by, Oni Press

Written & drawn by, Daniel Locke & David Blandy
Published by, Nobrow Press

 Written & drawn by, Johnnie Christmas
Published by, Image Comics
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Written by, Jeff Lemire
Published by, Image Comics

Written& drawn by,
Anuj Shrestha, Ben Marra, Aya Kakeda, Chadwick Whithead,C.M.Butzer, Kripa Joshi, S.Y.Choi, Mike Reddy, Tao Nyeu, Charles Fetherolf, Neil Numberman, Matt Rota, Fay Ryu, Edwin Vasquez, Sal Amendola, Marshall Arisman, Paul Hoppe, Wendi Koontz, Sakura Maku,John Green, Andres Vera Martinez, Angbot Dazbog, Marion Vitus, Ben Sea,Ben Trinh,and Reuben Negron
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Written by, Ivy Noelle Weir
Drawn by, Steenz
Published by, Oni Press

Written & drawn by, Michael Sweater
Published by, Silver Sprocket
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Comic releases on March 14th, 2018

Fighting Through the Sins of Man

An article by, Aaron Burton

As many of us know, International Women's Day occurred last week. This was a great day to appreciate all of the strong and powerful women that have made a difference in our world, as well as the women we love and care about. It was also the perfect opportunity to read new comics centered around some awesome ladies.

Mayhem! is written and drawn by Cait Zellers. The title is published by Miss Mayhem Studios. The comic premiered in March of last year. The second part of the story came out on February 28th 2018. Mayhem! is an action/adventure story with a strong cast of female characters.

Miss Mayhem's Underground Fighting Ring boasts the best fights from a series of costumed characters. This culture is similar to what us readers would call "professional wrestling". One night the show ends abruptly when the very odd Ambrosious Von Periwinkle, along with his army of glitter ninjas, kidnaps an important member of Miss Mayhem's crew. It is now up to the fighters to break into Von Periwinkle's fortress and rescue their friend.

There is a lot of symbolism to be found in Mayhem! The main characters are all strong women, and the plot reflects this. The neon sign outside of Miss Mayhem's is reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter. Thus far, Ambrosious and his minions are the only characters to be referred as male. Ambrosious is also openly misogynist. This makes their evil fortress, the aptly named Dante's Manferno, even more more entertaining. The layers of the base are named after the Seven Deadly Sins. The group must fight their way through each sin-themed layer in order to save the day. This is a creative way to set up a villain for female-centric storytelling. All of these symbols put together makes the story feel more allegorical than many other action/adventure books I have read recently.

Gauntlet-style story lines often offer a great foundation in which to build the plot. This setup also allows the characters to tack different issues one piece at a time. we have seen this format in many comics, including Loeb's The Long Halloween. The characters can move at a pace that fits comfortably in a single issue while still allowing freedom to discuss a variety of topics.

The second issue really ramps up the action. This is where we see the fighters battle their way through the first floor of Dante's Manferno. Seeing Miss Mayhem's crew fight together for the first time gives us a good idea of the team's strengths and weaknesses. This will come into play as they further explore the tower. Though each character has their specialty they do not feel like archetypes. This gives the characters room to grow as the story progresses.

My favorite part of Mayhem! is the character design. Every  hero and villain has their own distinct style. Miss Mayhem has an eye patch and a feather-lined cape, whereas Woodchuck dons a cutoff punk rock vest.  Each character feels original which pairs perfectly with their distinct personalities. I would have to say my favorite characters on Miss Mayhem's crew are the pair of stoic twin acrobats.

I have always loved the idea of professional wrestlers being the same heroes outside of their job in entertainment. While this is not the exact plot of Mayhem! the book still seems to embody the spirit of strong wrestling personas. With the theme being centered around the Seven Deadly Sins, we can assume that there will be at least six more issues of this book. It will be exciting to see how the group approaches each of the floor's themes as they make their way to fight Ambrosious Von Periwinkle. I hope to see a lot more  Mayhem! in my life very soon. You can buy it for yourself here!

FTLI #55- Young Love, Freaky Aliens, Funny Sexy Stuff

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Written by, Vera Greentea
Drawn by, Miyuli
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Written & Drawn by, Tillie Walden
Published, Avery Hill

Written & drawn by, Sophia Foster-Dimino
Published by, Koyama Press

Written & drawn, Gg
Published by, Koyama Press

Written & drawn by, Sloane Leong
Published by, Image Comics
Check out the soundtrack!

Comic releases on March 6th, 2018

Hunting the Nightmare

An article by, Aaron Burton

I'll be honest. I have never beaten a Souls game. However, I feel that I am not alone. This series offers some of the hardest challenges while remaining entertaining  and immersive. I have spent many hours dying with the best of them. This week the world of Bloodborne has expanded into the comic book realm.

For those unfamiliar with the Souls series, they are a set of horror role playing games. The games revolve around one major mechanic. The player progresses through the game until they die. They then upgrade their character and start all over again. This is similar to the game play style of roguelikes, but without the random generation. Souls games offer a very dark and ominous atmosphere. Most of the games have a medieval theme while Bloodborne has more of a Victorian setting.

Bloodborne is written by Ales Kot. The art is done by Piotr Kowalski with coloring by Brad Simpson. The series currently has one issue which premiered on February 21st 2018. The book is produced by Titan comics. Bloodborne is an action-horror based in the same universe as From Software's video game of the same name.

The Hunter is living in a never ending nightmare. Equipped with an ax and an rifle they must navigate the city of Old Yharnam in search of pale blood. This is no easy task as the area is filled with infected creatures, werewolves, and bloodthirsty townsfolk. The Hunter must hack and slash their way through a world of misery in order to break the cycle.

My favorite aspect of this issue was the way the story incorporated the core game play mechanics. We see our hero waking up with no memory, but a hunch that they have been there before. If the hero were to die, they would be sent back to town in order to start all over. This is a very creative storytelling method. We get to see the protagonist learn from their mistakes in order to progress the adventure.

While Bloodborne makes many nods to its counterpart, it is not necessary to play the games before reading. This issue clearly explains the plot and does enough world-building to bring any reader up to speed. There is a good balance of new mystery and references for the fans.

The artwork in Bloodborne does an excellent job building the atmosphere for this story. The coloring uses mostly grays and browns for the setting and characters. This helps add to the bleak and hopeless feelings of this universe. This is broken up by the use of red and orange in action scenes. The violence is fast and brutal. The artwork is intricate and detailed. It is easy to become immersed in the book's world.

If this issue is any indication of how the rest of the story will play out then we are in store for an awesome new series. Everyone involved in this project did a great job of replicating the Bloodborne vibe.  The artwork and writing come together to make a truly dark experience. Reading Bloodborne #1 is the complete opposite of the miserable setting it portrays. You can buy Bloodborne (the comic) here!

Sword & Sorcery & Everything In Between

An article by, Kelly Irelan

We live in an age where the popular thing is to challenge the established status quo. More often than not, creatives are finding success in attempting to rewrite the narrative, which I believe is incredibly healthy for minds in an evolving society. As a community, we should always be striving to look at people in a new and interesting light, whether they be fictional or based in reality. Stagnancy is the enemy of imagination. I am a self-proclaimed D&D enthusiast, so when I found out “Songs for the Dead” from Vault Comics would be showcasing a necromancer protagonist, I was beyond thrilled.

Bethany is our plucky, optimistic hero, and she’s simply trying to do some good in the world. She is openly travelling as a minstrel, but secretly uses her necromancer abilities for noble causes. When she decides to check out the notice board in the town of Alavesh, she finds a flyer that brings a missing boy to her attention. The flyer states the boy may have been set upon by nefarious bandits in Newlyn Forest. Quickly, she takes on the mission to discover the whereabouts of young Emory Van Craggan. After some tracking into the woods, she sullenly locates his lifeless corpse. This is where we first witness her fantastic abilities as a necromancer. Emory returns to life and is able to inform Bethany of what brought him to the doors of his unlucky demise. They find the fort where Emory claims the bandits are hiding, but both members of the duo are swiftly subdued by an ambush attack. Lord Rolland, the leader of the bandits, intends to use Bethany’s abilities for his own selfish gains. Bethany, who is clearly a courageous hero on the rise, promptly refuses his demands. The lord’s bodyguard, Elissar, suggests they have their prisoner starve out the night in a cell in the hopes she will become more compliant by the morning.

Rolland reluctantly agrees and Bethany is returned to her cell, but she finds Emory is missing. Unbeknownst to her, he escaped through the cell window with the goal of exacting vengeance on his attacker. He fails in his pursuit of justice, but the man who murdered Emory believes Bethany to be the mastermind behind the assassination attempt. He prepares his sword for a killing blow, but is speedily felled by none other than Elissar. They fight their way out of the fort, accruing a small army of the undead along the way in their quest for freedom. Bethany commands them to deliver Rolland back to Alavesh to face the law for his crimes. The unlikely pair has the option of parting ways by the end of the issue, but Bethany asks Elissar to reconsider, thinking she might be able to accomplish even more good with this mysterious outlaw by her side. They set off in search of more information concerning The Covenant, a rumored guild of necromancers where Bethany’s kind can find safe haven and understanding.

I can already tell that Andrea Fort and Michael Christopher Heron have written something immensely special. Any fan of the “Sword & Sorcery” genre is going to completely adore this project. It’s told in an unconventional way because, despite the setting, it uses modern, accessible dialogue. As readers, we thrive on imagining ourselves in these roles, so the language choice definitely helps us identify with these character creations. As a woman, I must say seeing quality female representation in comics brightens my day, and Bethany has added a sizable amount of light. I see her positive influence only growing as the series moves forward. Not only does she fill the shoes of “powerful female protagonist” well, but she is also breathing new life into a once wicked and dangerous role: the necromancer. Historically, nearly every necromancer in fiction has always been the “bad guy.” They were the villains and the opposition to all virtuous efforts, but here we have Bethany who has bewitched a dead squirrel into becoming an undead animal companion during her travels. She offers to seek out Emory for no pay and provides him with emotional comfort even though his fate is already sealed. This young woman has taken to a life on the road to prove necromancers can be the heroes of the story. She is, quite frankly, a gift. Additionally, I can’t wait to unearth more about Elissar’s past. What little we know already has me intrigued! From every vantage point, the story so far has me sincerely eager for what’s to come.

Sam Beck is expertly changing the game for necromancers with a few subtle adjustments and it’s unflinchingly enchanting. Her vision for this book is perfect for the tone set by Fort and Heron. When Bethany rouses Emory from the eternal sleep for the first time, my first thoughts were, This is oddly sweet. It’s like he was bonked on the head, but now he’s totally fine. Just look at him! He’s freakin’ magical! WHY WAS NECROMANCY NOT ALWAYS THIS WAY? Original takes on old templates make my heart jubilant, but what that initial illustration conveys is a simple truth for this universe we’re journeying through… necromancy is not inherently evil. Of course, it can be used in powerful ways as displayed further on in the book, but the bearer of the magic determines its intent, and Bethany is so very good. It takes both a writer and an artist to construct a world where we feel for these characters, and every panel tells me Bethany’s adventure is a tale I care about. This is only my first exposure to Sam Beck’s work, but you can be quite sure I’ll be seeking out more of it.

I feel so unabashedly great about “Songs for the Dead.” In all honesty, I want it to be a television series right now because these are characters I’m invested in. They’re weaving new stories with the help of Fort, Heron, and Beck. After only one issue, this is a team I believe in. Read it the first chance you get. If you believe people can be so much more than first appearances, this could very well be the book for you. You can buy Songs for the Dead here!