Zombies are so much fun. Of course, they can be threatening in a constantly tense setting, but there are so many other ways to portray them. While always maintaining some kind of danger, as the lasting impact of a failed encounter with them is still terrifying, you can discover the excitement in the chaos they set off. The first time I realized that was while I watched Dawn of the Dead by George Romero. A movie with a lot of stakes, but that lets you enjoy those little bits of peace inside an 80s mall. The second time I felt that was while reading Zombie Date Night.
From the very first page with our protagonist and his grandmother, you know the creative team created something great. There are few times I laughed out loud so much as I did with Steve Urena’s writing for the grandma. The comic is filled to the brim with colorful and instantly recognizable characters, like a paranoid conspiracy theorist with a chainsaw for leg, put into crazy and over-the-top situations. Fortunately, to accompany such fun characters, we have great art and colors Sergi Doménech and Joshua Jensen respectively. It’s an art style that works very well with the 80s aesthetic the comic is going for, feeling stripped out of a B movie from the same decade.
Another great achievement comes from the lettering by Anthony Rella, who manages to perfectly capture every extravagant and exaggerated action we see. In a story with so much slashing and crashing and biting, the lettering helps make every violent encounter even more distinct and even reminiscent of old pulp comics.
But it’s not all excessive action here. Although it does fill a lot of it. I think it’s very clever how Urena presents the history of this world and the origin of the zombie breakout, leaving some clues in the characters’ dialogue but never giving a concrete answer yet, making the reader as clueless and lost as the people in the story, left only to theorize what might have caused everything. The romance teased by the title is well developed, showing the growing bond between two people that go from being on a date to surviving in a zombie apocalypse, making you wonder how will it be affected by everything else. It doesn’t feel rushed or out of place between all the dismembering. Even when you find the romance aspect of the comic in the most unexpected places possible, it feels like a great idea.
Zombie Date Night understands the fun there is to have in horror and promises to spread it like a disease. If you like the sound of that, I cannot recommend you enough to pick up and support this great comic.
Soul Plumber, the second comic published under DC’s horror imprint DC Horror, is the comics debut of co-writers Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski, both best known for their podcast Last Podcast on the Left. Soul Plumber is the story of Edgar Wiggins, a failed seminary student turned gas station attendant who is taken in by the Soul Plumbers, a group who, through hotel conference room seminars are spreading the good news of the Spirit Plunger, a device that, for a fee, could very well be the key to saving the world from the clutches of the devil.
There’s obviously a heavy critique of Christianity contained within the pages of Soul Plumber, particularly the brand of Christianity that has become the bread and butter of televangelists and adherents to the prosperity gospel, a doctrine that argues that wealth is a sign that God loves you and that the best way to increase God’s love for you is by donating to Christian charities, especially those run by them. There’s a particular line that stuck out to me in that way, at one point when Edgar is unable to afford the fee for the Spirit Plunger the salesman, Harvey Positano says, “man cannot live on bread alone! That’s from the bible kid, look it up. This ain’t a charity.” Positano is a man who, like many of the aforementioned adherents to ideologies like the prosperity gospel (looking at you Joel Osteen), dresses himself in the trappings of a man of God only to show the truth of his intentions when push comes to shove. Positano goes so far in fact that he wears a suit covered in crosses and drives a van with a giant light-up cross and a statue of Jesus.
Positano is a showman and, like the televangelists and con men who no doubt inspired him, is successful. After seeing a demonstration of the Spirit Plunger in action (complete with the supposedly possessed man yelling “your mother sucks cocks in hell”), the crowd goes wild and clamours to get their own Spirit Plungers so that they too can save souls like Positano did. Except he didn’t. As a later scene reveals, Positano has hired an actor to play the possessed man so he can swindle crowds of people with his fake machine. As he himself admits, he hasn’t even turned it on.
Which leads to the ending of this issue. Edgar has stolen the blueprints for the Spirit Plunger and has created his own version out of scrap from a junkyard, a version which he has turned on and used. Which is how the first issue ends, with a cliffhanger taking place immediately after Edgar has used the Spirit Plunger on another person. While I overall liked this issue, the ending felt rushed, cut short just shy of what would have been a more satisfying cliffhanger. The ending as it is feels somewhat jarring even if it did leave me wanting to find out what happens next and soon.
As for the art, John McCrea creates a world that feels gross in the same way that movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel gross (though admittedly Soul Plumber is, at least with this first issue, closer in tone to the sequel). There’s a sense of it being covered in dirt and grime that just works. McCrea was a fantastic choice to work on this book, kudos to whoever made the decision to bring him on board.
Soul Plumber #1 is not as scary as some of the other horror comics that are currently being published and honestly, that benefits it. Rather than competing as a straight horror book amongst other horror books, Soul Plumber instead exists as a horror-comedy book, something that sets it apart in a segment of comics that is in danger of very soon becoming oversaturated, that is, if it hasn’t already.
After Jon Kent took flight in Son of Kal-El #1, there was a huge grin on my face but a question on my mind. Could issue #2 stick the landing?
Yes, but with a bit of a stumble. I’m gonna preface this by saying the good definitely outweighs the bad, but the mercifully-brief fumbles are notable enough they need to be talked about.
The book opens with Jon sacrificing his alter ego to save his college class from a school shooter, which is a worthwhile idea with a dodgy execution. While the majority of issue #2 is very successful, etching “thoughts & prayers” onto the bullets feels like trying to tack a semi-clever twitter slam dunk onto a scene that got tangibly close to tragedy. It’s the kind of writing that would work with a supervillain attack, but falls flat next to the daily dread students and teachers have to go through in this country.
I feel it’s important to note that despite these missteps, I thought about the highs much more often than the lows. Tom Taylor has done an excellent job defining Jon’s voice as a young man, which is a goddamn feat considering he had to believably evolve him while staying true to the childhood version of the character and Bendis’s take in the Legion of Superheroes. The additions to Jon’s supporting cast are promising, and the dilemmas he faces are thoughtful and feel worthy of a new chapter. Imperfections aside, this still shows every sign of becoming an all-time classic.
And my god, how have I gone this long without mentioning the art team? Because they are nailing a dynamic and thoroughly modern streamlining of eighty years of legacy, and making it look effortless. Jon Timms continues to impress, nailing subtle character expressions, instantly classic new designs, and bold layouts that perfectly frame each moment.
Colorist Gabe Eltaeb had his work cut out for him: the stature of this series demands something that executes the platonic ideal of classic superhero comics, while pushing forward. That’s a tall order, but he’s handling it with grace and style. And while the aesthetic of the series doesn’t give letterer Dave Sharpe frequent opportunities to flex, his attention to detail anchors the book and keeps everything gliding along smoothly.
The verdict: it definitely is far from perfect, but it’s trying so damn hard and succeeding at 90% of its goals. Son of Kal-El remains absolutely worth a read.
Action Comics #1034 – “Warworld Rising: Part 5”
Reviewed by Rook Geary
On the very first page, we’re greeted with incredibly vibrant and well-chosen colors courtesy of Adriano Lucas as Lois Lane and Thao-La face down a trio of warworlder in the heart of the Fortress of Solitude. I wish the coolness of the standoff wasn’t undermined a little by “this bit-villain is evil and old school, so we’re going to establish that quickly with medieval sexism.” It’s a minor point in an otherwise excellent issue, but I mention it because it was a little more jarring every time I read the book.
One of the most interesting ideas this arc has put forward is the Kryptonian-adjacent Thao-La: someone with a good heart who has survived in the very worst circumstances, without the fortune Clark had to land near the Kents. Superman has faced difficult decisions for a long time, but he always had a place of safety in his memories to anchor him. Thao-La doesn’t, and even though I feel like I’ve got her character arc more-or-less figured out by now, that contrast is a crucial ingredient in making her an interesting and well-rounded addition to the thematic tapestry Phillip Kennedy Johnson is weaving.
And goddamn, it’s a hell of a tapestry. Everything from the truth of the Phantom Zone to war between Atlantis and the US is on the table here, and Johnson plays them all off of each other in a way that keeps the audience constantly engaged with the plot, characters, and the broad ideas he’s exploring.
That’s so effective thanks to an immediate sense of immersion, which would be impossible without Christian Duce. While he’s been put in the extremely unforgiving position of having to follow Daniel Sampere (in the middle of an arc!) Duce is excellent at adapting to the visual storytelling language Sampere was using, and keeping it consistent, while putting his own spin on the material.
It’d be easy to focus on Sampere’s departure, because he did incredible work. That would overlook the fact that Duce just pulled off the equivalent of stepping onto someone else’s skateboard mid-jump, finishing their trick while juggling, and landed it. That’s astounding, and I look forward to reading much more of his work.
This is just a good damn comic. Go read it.
Superman and The Authority #2
Reviewed by Rook Geary
The first issue of this miniseries had a sense of elegance and restraint in its storytelling. It was about setting up the status quo with Superman, contrasting the stark and washed-out present with the four-color punch-ups of the past, and giving Manchester Black a compelling reason to change his tune and work with a sworn enemy for a finer world. That approach worked damn well.
The second issue, however, has to introduce the majority of the ensemble team, pulling from several very distinct corners of the DCU. That has fundamentally different storytelling needs, and Morrison smartly leans into this. The problems each superhero faces inform the audience’s understanding of where the characters come from, both in terms of backstory and their emotional point of view on The Authority’s mission. Some of the naturalism of the dialogue is lost in certain segments, such as basically every line from the scene Steel faces down matter-hacking nanites. In exchange, we get some classic Morrison back-and-forths that feel like improvisational jazz, with sci-fi high concepts instead of saxophone or piano. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s extremely well executed nonetheless.
Midnighter and Apollo have a new but fun take on their dynamic that goes a long way towards integrating them with the larger DCU. Their section of the issue functions like a scene from a non-existent run of The Authority. That makes it an excellent buffer between Steel’s more freeform DC sci-fi, and the following journey into the depths of the Enchantress’s personal hell.
Her segment delves into how June Moone blames herself for her alter-ego’s actions while, at the same time, holding her at arm’s length as a completely separate person. Meanwhile, her magic pulls the rest of the cast into desperate, dangerous, unfamiliar territory, though you never lose faith that these people (and particularly this Superman) are up to the task.
All in all, I expect this issue will lose a few people unfamiliar with its particular brand of crazy, but if you accept and welcome the variety of places and stories in the DCU, it’s one hell of a sampler platter. And it keeps up a compelling ongoing narrative, on top of that.
Superman Red & Blue #6
Reviewed by Sean Dillon
As with any anthology (especially one with a theme as vague as “Ain’t Superman Great?”), it is perhaps best to judge the issue not in terms of the package as a whole, but as individual parts. As such, what follows are some brief thoughts regarding each of the five stories.
Hissy Fit: A silent narrative about the difficulties of getting a cat into a box. Quite charming, though not as playful with the format as Sophie Campbell’s contribution to Batman Black & White. There are some neat tricks done with color to highlight emotion, but it feels like it could have used another page or two to truly let the story sing.
The Scoop: Matt Wagner does a Golden Age Superman story about how much people prefer the aesthetics of the Silver Age. About the bitterness Clark feels about the spectacle of Superman being preferred to the hard hitting reporting he does. It never gets to the point of obnoxiousness of Peter Milligan and Agustin Padilla’s Adventures of Superman story, but it doesn’t really make Clark’s bitterness sing.
The Special: Tom King and Paolo Rivera do a comic about a woman working at a diner in Smallville. It’s very much a story told through the subtext that utilizes the conceit of “this is a comic in Red and Blue” to a striking degree. It highlights the small moments of mundanity that were always the best parts of King’s work and Rivera’s pencils are truly gorgeous. There could have been just a twinge of clarity regarding the final page, but not much.
Son of Farmers: In this short by Darcie Little Badger and Steve Pugh, Superman reflects on how growing up on a farm helped him become the man he is today. The metaphor is touching and Pugh’s art is gorgeous, with an air of watercolor added by his colors. In many ways, it encapsulates the feel of the Superman: Red & Blue series as a whole. A series that focuses on aspects of the character through color, emotion, and implication.
Ally: Rex Ogle and Mike Norton use the character of Superman to explore the anxieties of a closeted gay kid. Where previous stories in the series (and, indeed, this issue) used the color restrictions to highlight mood or tone, here they are used as restrictions of a closeted world that preclude a full color one. Out of all the stories within this collection, this one feels like it would most benefit from a graphic novel utilizing this format. It’s still good, but I’d be curious to see what an extended take on the narrative would be like.
5) The Scoop
3) Son of Farmers
2) Hissy Fit
1) The Special
Reviewed by David Mann Breaking with the nominal conceit in our very second review round-up! Worth it though for a comic this closely related to our usual topics: Orlando, Piazzalunga, Lopez, and Mauer’s Aftershock book Project Patron ended its (first?) run this month, a Superman-meets-mecha title where a United Nations team operates the superpowered ‘reploid’ that secretly replaced Earth’s greatest hero Patron after he fell in his ultimate battle. Trading their health to pilot the world’s savior, the story quickly reveals itself as a sci-fi murder mystery before morphing into a battle royale, and while it’s arguably overstuffed with concept in seeming confidence of a follow-up giving it room to breathe the results are still satisfying as hell. A shockingly workable in-between of Orlando’s skill at big-idea, big-action superheroics and the quieter, sharper tendencies on display in the likes of Nameless and Kill A Man – a balance critically maintained by Piazzalunga, Lopez, and Mauer – it ends up in its own distinct way tapping into the same vein as Son of Superman of small, uncertain humanity forced to step into the shoes of a savior and not only stand tall but succeed where their predecessor couldn’t. Certainly one of Orlando’s best of the past few years and hopefully with time, especially if it gets the sequels it seems to be banking on, this will find itself in the same category of hidden-gem riffs on the Superman archetype such as Age of the Sentry or Love and Capes for devotees.
Throughout my entire life, I have always had an affinity to the oddball and more aggressive characters. Characters who, if not handled properly, can fall into obscurity if the company isn’t careful. When Teen Titans ended, that was my biggest fear for Crush. Crush is a character who I fell in love with the moment I saw her and I have made sure to read every appearance since. She has felt like a character who was waiting for the right team to really highlight her for who she is and more importantly can be. Thankfully, she has that now with Crush & Lobo #1.
Eisner Award Winner Mariko Tamaki finally gives Crush the voice she has needed since her debut. The debut issue is stuffed to the brim with weirdness, action, and most importantly heart. Crush is struggling hardcore after her time with the Titans. Can you blame her? The Main Man Lobo is her dad and she is trying to grapple with all of those teenage emotions. She has never had a strong role model since her adoptive parents were also not the best examples. So emotions are hard for her, and it’s even harder on her relationships. We see it in her interactions with her girlfriend Katie and with her conversation with one of her fellow teen superheroes. Crush feels more developed in this issue than ever before as we see the messy complicated core she has. Tamaki writes Crush as someone who yearns for love but doesn’t know how to accept it yet. I look forward to seeing more interaction between Crush and Lobo since the dialogue in this issue is so strong. It’s so important for these comics to be more than punching but rather have some punch to your heart strings. This debut delivers hard on that.
The art from Amancay Nahuelpan and colors by Tamra Bonvillain are perfect for the story being told in Crush & Lobo. Nahuelpan’s drawing of each character’s facial expressions is evocative of a lot of the emotions each scene is drawing on. The action scenes have a very fluid motion to them thats extremely important for a rough and tumble character like crush. Bonvillain is one of the best colorists in the business, I have to say that outright. The color pallet of this book is bombastic and just outright WONDERFUL in every scene from fighting in an alley to sitting in a dreary apartment, it’s such a beautiful thing to look at with Nahuelpan’s art. Ariana Maher’s lettering and caption box design is out of this world. Her boxes for Crush’s fourth wall breaking inner monologue is so fitting for the character.
I cannot recommend this book enough to someone who is looking to learn more about Crush or is looking for their character in the DC Universe.
When DC introduced the Black Label line, I could not contain my excitement to have books that pushed the limit of what the Big 2 could do. While there have been some great titles, The Nice House on the Lake changes things. Where Last God showed that the line could do non-IP fantasy, The Nice House on the Lake looks you dead in the eye and says that horror is still alive at DC.
The story follows a group of young adults who are gathered at a picturesque lake home by a man they all know named Walter. Nothing is as it seems and the weekend get away may be something that never ends. Beware, minor spoilers ahead.
James Tynion IV has proven himself time and time again to have range in the stories he can pen. From something fun and whimsical like WYND, to his work on Razorblades, and all of his Batman work; it’s clear the range is there. Everything in the debut issue is as sharp as a razors edge; from character introductions, to the dialogue. There is a conversation that runs through the issue between Walter and the main character, Ryan Cane, that is one of the most fascinating running lines in any first issue I have read.
What makes The Nice House on the Lake truly chilling though isn’t the apocalypse that the book seems to be dealing with, but rather the idea of each character being fit into a box. Each member of the main cast is given a title or label that is given to them by Walter. While in most circumstances this could be fun, but Walter seems more like a character whose actions are calculated into a grand design of their making. There is something insidious about the idea of your entire identity being broken down to a simple word like “The Reporter” or ” The Artist” and being given a symbol that correlates. Your entire self being crushed into a title is something that removes your identity in exchange for something someone sees you as. The symbols are also connected to things around the home that are special for each person. Walter has taken control of their lives outright by the finale and all of this makes for something truly terrifying when you realize that these roles are a form of his control.
The art for this series by Álvaro Martínez Bueno and colors by Jordie Bellaire is so evocative of the mood that each scene is meant to display. There is a panel in the first 2-Page spread where Walter and Ryan are discussing the end of the world where a bright bar scene seamlessly transitions into a horrific dark scene of the end of the world that should sell anyone on the issue outright. Without diving into spoilers, the color pallet and the tone of the art itself change in the last few pages to be a more muted and horrifying expression of what the characters are facing. Bueno and Bellaire’s art and colors marry perfectly to drive each expression of fear or shock to the next level. Andworld Design’s lettering is spot on in each scene which features heavy dialogue and the title boxes of each character.
While I understand the complaints of Black Label being so Bat heavy, it’s all in service of books like The Nice House on the Lake being able to see the light of day at a company like DC Comics. I don’t normally do numbered reviews but this is the first comic since The Plot I read 3 times in a single sitting so here you go Comic Book Roundup.