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The Me You Love In The Dark #1: A Chilling Meditation On Creativity

What is a creative’s worst nightmare? Answers: Stifling creativity. Writer’s block. The inability to put pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or words to music.

When our boundless imaginations suddenly feel inhibited, creatives become desperate for inspiration. Thus, we embark on an enterprise. We search for stimulus, innovation, philosophy; any resource to grease the jammed cogs in our brains and stop ourselves from succumbing to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. Often, a suppressed creative seeks influence from not something, but someone. A muse, of some sorts, is the eloquent (or pretentious) term when discussing a person serving as the inspiring drive for an artist. 

What if that muse takes the form of a nightmare personified? What then, is the worst nightmare of a creative: A lack of inspiration or an inspiring force itself?

The Me You Love in the Dark #1

Dredged up from the harrowing, ingenious minds of Skottie Young and artist Jorge Corona, comes a new five issue horror miniseries published through Image Comics, The Me You Love in the Dark. Colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and letterer Nate Piekos join Young and Corona on this creative endeavor to visibly summon a tale about a burgeoning artist and her spectral bogeyman muse. Pull the covers over your head because you’re about to feel sharpened prickles of dread.

If you partake in any type of creative feat, you can identify with protagonist Ro Meadows. The first issue of The Me You Love in the Dark perfectly distills the frustration, desire for isolation, and self-deprecation all artists endure at one point or another. A tangible threat lingers around the edges of this comic issue, but the real horror stems from feeling the brunt of Ro’s oscillating emotions during her creative block all too viscerally. Ironically, I put off writing this review because of writer’s block. Reading Ro’s story challenged me because I saw myself reflected back at me through Ro. Therein lies the shrouded, textual horror of The Me You Love in the Dark. How do you circumvent feelings of your own frightening inadequacy when you’re witnessing a visible depiction of those feelings? True nightmares lie within these pages — especially for creatives.

Unable to conjure any meaningful art, Ro retreats from the city to a remote mansion. Like any suffocated creative, seclusion and a change of scenery often marks an appropriate course of action to redress the creative thought process. Self-affirmations and repetitive actions become tantamount to Ro’s journey inside this looming house. 

The Me You Love in the Dark #1

Through wide-frame shots angled above and behind Ro, Jorge Corona’s illustrations construct a haunting atmosphere. Panels cut like camera cuts on a film as Ro does simple tasks before sitting down before her unpainted canvas. The scenes linger on Ro, creating a sense of us watching Ro battling sterile imagination in real time. Ro herself believes the house to be haunted by a ghost. Repeatedly, she calls out to the phantom for help. Watching an intimate portrait of Ro’s life, her words float out in silence to no one but us, the distant yet present reader. The visual effects of this art style chilled me, fabricating a singular thought before the comics’ end: Am I the haunting presence Ro is speaking to? 

Lighting, creeping shadows, and colors distinguishing the setting sun bring subtext and meaning to the surface in The Me You Love in the Dark #1. Waning sunlight peers through the slatted window in front of Ro when she works while dark shadows hovering in staircases behind Ro implicate the horror of an undiscovered apparition waiting to make itself known. Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s coloring leans on solid primary hues intermixed with oil-paint reminiscent shading, delineating sources of diaphanous light. Illustratively, the light and dark dichotomy parallels the tonal uneasiness beating underneath Skottie Young’s sparse dialogue. Chiefly, light and dark are intertwined, a marriage between trepidation and curiosity; horror and love. 

The Me You Love in the Dark #1

Anyone who reads my reviews knows about my adoration for SFX. Nate Piekos charges Ro’s general dialogue with an off-kilter, widely-kerned typeface screaming “struggling artist bereft of purpose if she cannot create art.” Similarly, Piekos’s SFX work slingshots those ideals as Ro’s exasperation increases. During charged moments where, to talk about them would spoil the most vertigo-inducing instances in the comic, Piekos’s SFX coalesces with Corona and Beaulieu’s art in an erupting symphony of unbridled terror and emotional ferocity. 

Life is unpredictable. We have days where inspiration caresses our very soul, trickling down from a barely perceptible thought in our cognitive awareness to the restless bones in our fingertips. Other times, we creatives cannot attach an idea to our mind, even with a leech. Muses become vital for some people to the point of obsession. The Me You Love in the Dark piqued my interest because of its meditation on these topics. Will Ro’s muse transfix her to the point of obsession? Will Ro create art, not worthwhile to others, but meaningful to herself? Ro may not feel inspired, but this provocative comic has already inspired my own storytelling and artistic sensibilities.

When your dreams come to fruition, the worst aspects of those dreams can also manifest. Clarity of mind evolves from a need to a requirement to placate these unprecedented events accompanying success. The Me You Love in the Dark #1 is a comic about waiting for artistic lightning to strike. Alternatively, you’ll be the one struck by undulating waves of emotion, cresting until the comics’ final, hair-raising scene.

Don’t get left in the dark: The Me You Love in the Dark is guaranteed to burst into the limelight and leave an indelible mark on the comic scene.

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Review: Echolands #1

Generally, I’m pretty ambivalent about whether I get a physical copy of a comic or a digital one. I like reading on a screen a little better, but physical copies are sometimes larger and can be shared around easier. 

After two pages of reading my review copy of Echolands, I was certain that I had to get the physical version, because I now had a primal need to experience this story in the biggest goddamn format possible. With lengthy double-page panoramic shots across wide landscape-format pages, and dozens of art directions and aesthetics intersecting in fascinating ways, Echolands feels like a story so big that a screen struggles to contain it.

If you’ve ever read a book with art by J. H. Williams III, you know that you’re getting lusciously detailed art arranged in brilliant panel layouts. If you haven’t read a book by this guy, then fuck, here’s a great place to start. Frankly, Echolands would be great if it was in the hands of more conventional storytellers. In the hands of this virtuoso creative team, it’s phenomenal.

And though J. H. Williams III is the superstar name here, when I say “virtuoso,” that includes every member of the team. This book wouldn’t have the spark of life it does — not to mention it would be so intricate as to be difficult to read — without the vibrant heart provided by Dave Stewart’s colors. And speaking of difficult to read, panel layouts this ambitious eat lesser letterers for breakfast, but Todd Klein delivers. Each speech balloon is placed to guide you smoothly through the pages of the comic, which is a feat. On top of that, it delivers extra personality with a beautiful font and a slightly organic texture to the speech bubble itself. 

It would be a fool’s errand to try and guess which parts of the writing belong to J. H. Williams III and which to Hayden Blackman, because their creative partnership is so close that it all melds seamlessly together. They’ve been co-storytellers for years, and friends far longer, which makes for incredible synergy.

But in case you were wondering, Hayden Blackman can write your pants off. During the last big push Star Wars made with its expanded universe, The Force Unleashed, his writing managed to humanize Darth Vader’s “secret apprentice.” He took an unkillable uber-badass out of a parody of a parody of a fanfiction, and gave him the heart of a wounded puppy and a satisfying character arc. To underscore how difficult that is to do in a AAA video game: at any point in time, you can lose a pivotal moment in the story and need to rearrange everything because the ice level it took place on ended up being unplayable. Good video game writers are some of the most talented people on the planet. 

Now, once you get past the majestic lustre of its presentation, is the story of Echolands #1 good? Fuck yes, it is. Learning more about the characters and the world is a delight page after page. Every word and every panel draws you deeper in, until you find yourself at the last page thinking “fuck, now I have to wait for the next one?” 

The setup is a pretty straightforward first act so far, but I would argue that’s a very smart choice. When you’re shoving this much raw creativity in the audience’s face from the get-go, sometimes you need a more traditional story structure for readers to cling to, like a life raft in the middle of the ocean. We don’t need a complex story in the first issue, we just need plot momentum and engaging characters to draw us into this world of dreams and nightmares, and they more than deliver that. 

Hope and Cor are great, their dynamic is fun, and their goals propel the story along nicely. I don’t want to say much more than that, because it’s a treat to experience the rest of it yourself. 

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Fun-Size Roundtable: M.O.M.: Mother of Madness #1

Welcome to this week’s Fun-Sized Roundtable review, this time for an extra-sized book! (40 pages of gorgeous art, to be precise.) M.O.M.: MOTHER OF MADNESS #1 is a psychedelic trip through a richly satirical 2049, narrated by our hero Maya from her perch on top of the fourth wall. 

Writers Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett spin the tale of a single mom and (literal) freak of nature juggling a dozen responsibilities and even more superpowers, and virtuoso artist Leila Leiz renders it with expressive characters and endlessly inventive layouts. Colorist Triona Farrell sells the vivid acid-tinged look of the book, giving it a signature visual identity, and letterer Haley Rose-Lyon makes several standout choices that shape readers’ perception of the dialogue and characters.

But don’t take my word for it, because we’ve put together several insightful panelists to give you their take on the madness.

José Cardenas (@nowayjosecarden)

While it would be fun to make jokes about the likeness between Maya Kuyper, the titular Mother of Madness, and Emilia Clarke, actress and celebrity writer on the project, it would also be inappropriate.

On its own, M.O.M. is a really enjoyable comic, obviously made with passion from all involved and full of recognizable quirks from the individual creators. It is a comic made by women and as a result has a very unique perspective on the world.

Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett build a very exuberant character in Maya, whose disastrous fashion sense ties in with her very unpredictable powers and haphazardly made life. The satire on the female experience male-dominated office culture also brings the laughs. Even the most innocuous of interactions are tinged with a strong dose of cartoonish misogyny. In real-life parallels, a recent lawsuit against Activision Blizzard proves the exaggerations depressingly true to life.

Ashley Durante (@ashleyacts)

M.O.M. was a fucking trip for this feminist mom to read. Women superheroes are routinely drawn for men. Their costumes have been designed for male consumption; their poses perfected to show off assets, adding another heaping of self-loathing to the average female reader.

That’s not to say the genre hasn’t made strides, but M.O.M. absolutely subverts that segment of comic book culture and farts in its face. Literally, did you guys see that panel, too? I want to kiss Emilia Clarke and Marguerite Bennett for birthing Maya into this medium, and for giving her a baggy jumpsuit that can realistically allow her to kick everyone’s ass.

M.O.M. #1 is an origin story at its heart, setting up to become one hell of a feminist manifesto. The all-female team behind M.O.M. shines, but a stand-out is artist Leila Leiz, who treats her panel dividers as an additional part of the story, using every bit of page to bring us further into Maya’s “crazy” world.

Katie Liggera (@kataloupee)

M.O.M. is a frenetic, feminist, fantastic comic. The comic medium gives Emilia Clarke autonomy over a female character! Assisted by Marguerite Bennett, Clarke pens a story about a woman deemed “crazy” (sound familiar?) by the male masses. Enticingly, Mother of Madness herself, Maya Kuyper, gains powers and flips the script on the “mad woman”  trope. Clarke writes M.O.M. as a love letter to women who feel demonized, ridiculed, or stripped of control due to sexist stereotypes. Along with illustrator Leila Leiz’s gorgeous panel layouts and rendering of raw emotion, M.O.M. exudes power.

Besides the density, my main qualm is personal: The hyper-realistic misogyny is exaggerated, but still triggering. Misogynistic behavior is real and (personally) hard to read when I am reminded of disturbing parallels to my own experiences. Nevertheless, I want to thank this woman-created comic for existing — and including essential hotlines on M.O.M.’s final page.

Jordan Edwards (@IamJordanZoned)

Okay I’m gonna preface this by saying that voice is irrelevant, I’m a straight white dude and this isn’t meant to resonate with me in the same way it does for some of my fellow GateCrashers. Unfortunately I didn’t gel with it as much. Stylistically it’s incredibly fluid, vibrant and energetic. Perfectly suits the tone of the story and Laila Leiz and Haley Rose-Lyon have put forth an incredibly impressive piece of work. 

But for me I just didn’t connect with this character or story. I think part of that is just how frantic this was. There’s a point where it moves back in time and then back forward again only to go back again and I had to keep turning back the page to keep track.

It felt like it had so much to get through but had very little time to breathe and by the end I learned a lot about this character but not as much about her goals, her aspirations or why she does what she does. But first issues need to grab your attention and it certainly got that, with a colourful charm and a much needed story. 

Adam Henderson (@krakoa_customs)

Mother of Madness starts with a very set-up heavy first issue, that struggles to balance a lot of background information for our protagonist, Maya Kuyper and the near future world she inhabits with the story itself.  The future setting of the story feels like an afterthought, and meshes strangely with the more present day pop-culture references throughout. 

Its strong, feminist vibe shines through though, and the book is something very unique and interesting when its focus is on that.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous book thanks to the incredible work of Leila Leiz and Triona Farrell, whose dynamic layouts and stunning colours are the book’s real strength.  The duo do an outstanding job of representing Maya’s emotions, especially in the flashbacks.  Overall, it was an interesting start that could potentially turn into something really special if future issues gain a clearer focus.

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Shadecraft #5 Exudes Emotion and Concludes A Momentous Story Arc

After enduring a life living in the shadows of her brother, family trauma, and wavering self-regard, Zadie Lu wrests mental and tangible control back from the shadows. Shadecraft received an unprecedented reader response over the past few months. Still, most comic readers I personally interact with seemed unaware Shadecraft existed. With issue #5 acting as a first arc ending point and sending the series on a brief hiatus, new readers can discover Shadecraft and read a completed storyline. Shadecraft #5 is written by Joe Henderson, illustrated by Lee Garbett, colored by Antonio Fabela, and letttered by Simon Bowland.

Shadecraft #5 brings all the threads and unresolved plot points full circle in the conclusion of arc one. Each issue blended relatability with gravitas naturally, and this issue magnifies reader resonance with aplomb. Garbett and Fabela’s grand illustrations delineating the fantasy horror genre fuse together poignantly with intimate scenes dissecting Henderson’s family drama thematic dialogue throughout the series. Shadecraft #5 climaxes with flying colors, fusing the elements that strengthened this comic series together in persuasive symbiosis. Finally, readers feel the full effect of Zadie’s emotion as she battles for her brother’s life alongside her mother.

Henderson writes organic dialogue in Shadecraft conveying the inner turmoil of the comics’ teenaged protagonist particularly well. Even during a final issue expansive battle, Zadie retains her wit and sarcasm-laced speech. In Shadecraft #5, Zadie still speaks like a teenager, teetering on the precipice of not fully understanding the confusing emotions encapsulated in the adolescent experience.

Shadecraft #5

Yet, Henderson doubles down on showcasing Zadie’s morphing characteristics in this issue. Shaped by the tension and trauma from her brother’s accident, Zadie undergoes exponential character growth. She flourishes, initially cast in the dim light of an entropic state of existence to finally reversing her fate. Henderson portrays Zadie relatably. Here, readers breathe a sigh of relief as Zadie learns to purge the overshadowing self-deprecation and lack of confidence she displayed during the series’ opening issues.

Shadecraft’s art taps into the solidifying roots of Henderson’s script. Garbett draws characters with a stylized look, leaning on dense inks and expressive demeanors. Shadecraft #5 peels back the clouded layers congesting the characters’ guarded emotions. There’s weight in a subtle raise of the eyebrows or demure smile that carries sentiment between mother and daughter in this issue. 

Shadecraft binds readers up in magic and shadows, bolstered by Fabela’s color work. The comic combines a darkly vibrant pastel color palette with a kind of leaking watercolor appearance. Whenever Zadie commands the shadows through Shadecraft, the tendrils and ghostly, oil-hued shapes discharge a moody aesthetic. Issue #5 crosses the threshold of reigning in the shadows, letting Garbett and Fabela fill entire splash pages to emphasize Shadecraft’s potential for destruction.

Shadecraft #5

Simon Bowland’s lettering further cleaves the light and dark theme in Shadecraft #5. The white speech bubbles accommodating crisp, descending words deeply contrast the shoved together letters of Zadie’s brother against a black background. A slight difference in kerning proves seminal in channeling the tone of trapped fear Zadie’s brother suffers as a renegade shadow. 

As usual, Shadecraft #5 sustains its effort to impact readers with shock. A detailed plot summary would have given away these surprises, both broad and small-scale. Keeping major story beats shockwaves undisclosed will pay off for readers who find themselves curious about Shadecraft after reading this review. If the first issue feels minorly predictable, readers will assuredly never anticipate those last page cliffhangers that left me slack-jawed every month. 

This fifth issue wraps up loose ends well while seeding in hints of later storylines, patiently biding their time in the shadows. Although no major cliffhanger awaits at Shadecraft #5’s conclusion, revelations about Zadie’s mom enkindle emotional potency, and worrisome questions arise concerning the physical and mental toll using Shadecraft abilities produces. The epic battle is fought, and tensions between Zadie and her exploitative enemies come to a head. Yet, Henderson and the creative team evidence that Zadie’s skirmishes encompassed in her Shadecraft power are far from over. Shadecraft humorously teaches lessons about family and forgiveness in an intoxicating supernatural narrative that will leave you side-eyeing your own shadow.


Home Sick Pilots #7 Review

Thinking back on some of the concerts I’ve been to, the ones I remember the most clearly and fondly aren’t my favorite bands. I mean, they’re bands I really love, but not at the top of that list, y’know? 

The concerts I remember the best are the ones where in between songs, while grabbing a sip of water or something, the frontman would tell us a story or crack a joke. Keeping a crowd of hundreds attentive while you do that is no small feat, and requires a ton of charisma, but it makes the experience much more personal and memorable. 

This comic is pulling that off and making it look effortless. If the second arc of Home Sick Pilots has proved anything so far, it’s that the creative team doesn’t need to be playing power chords to keep our eyes glued to the stage. 

The very first panel of #7 makes you feel the clear and crisp mountain air of the pacific northwest, the color palette and lighting immediately establishing a different feel for this scene than any other part of the series thus far. We’ve seen plenty of blue before, but this is the warm blue of a new day’s sky. Everything tells us that we’re farther than the ghosts than we’ve ever been.

And yet Ami still carries part of them with her. 

Caspar Wijngaard’s phenomenal art maintains a sense of continuity even as we immediately jump back to the previous arc’s climax, reinforcing warm daylight shades of blue as the natural world and the unnatural pink glow as a ghostly violation of that world’s order. 

We also see some of our first real splashes of bright orange in our protagonists’ outfits, as if they’re adopting the colors of the day to ward off the terrors of the night. Ami’s orange beanie even covers up her Danny Phantom hair when it goes ghost (so of course it immediately gets lost right before she uses her powers). 

This issue also includes the first scene where the colors go fully natural, and it feels very deliberately like no other scene in the comic. Watters tees the scene up with richly three-dimensional characters and a great eye for choice of scene, and Wijngaard knocks it out of the park with outstanding character acting.

Seriously, I could talk about the storytelling and symbolism in Wijngaard’s color choices for the rest of this review, but I’ll spare you because I figure you get the point by now. It’s really fucking good.

Like in issue #6, excellent character development and worldbuilding keep the reader invested through the downtime. Of the two, this one’s heavier on the character development. The developments in the status quo for our protagonists feel natural and earned. The time skip was a fantastic idea, because it forced the characters to adapt to new circumstances and reexamine their priorities in the wake of what happened in California. Everyone from Ami to Meg to the Old James House itself has a strong new goal driving them forward, which gives the story momentum and really engaging stakes. 

Where the first arc was about surviving trauma, this arc seems to be about living with it. The ghosts-as-PTSD metaphor has an incredible amount of potential, and Dan Watters is doing great work bringing it to the fore. 

Any Home Sick Pilots review would be incomplete without mentioning Aditya Bidikar’s lettering. The borderless speech bubbles don’t get enough credit for how they help define the look of the comic, and a familiar jagged speech bubble’s return takes an incredibly eerie page over the top.

Every time I write a review for this series, I find myself wondering if I’m going overboard with my praise — but the thing is, they’re never content with repeating past hits. Every issue has been another step forward, evolving their sound further by doing something you didn’t think a punk/ghost/mech story would attempt and nailing it. I’m just impressed.


Syphon #1 Emphasizes The Value Of Empathy

Empathy and humility should not be mutually exclusive. Instead, a humble mindset broadens one’s capacity to understand another, if your intentions are rooted in compassion. Syphon #1 from Image’s Top Cow imprint introduces a protagonist, Sylas, who already demonstrates both empathy and humility in his everyday life. An urban fantasy miniseries roping in some noir aesthetic flair, Syphon #1 is the first of three issues about an empowered empath. Syphon was conceived by comic book documentarian Patrick Meaney, co-written by Mohsen Ashraf, illustrated by Jeff Edwards, and colored by John Kalisz.

Syphon protagonist Sylas is a New York City EMT in his 20s, saving lives and easing pain-riddled victims through calming words of affirmation. He is an everyday hero, exhibiting heroic characteristics right from the story’s start. Due to the nature of his day job as a first responder, Sylas possesses natural empathy and sensitivity concerning peoples’ well being. A patient frantic over the loss of his finger in the back of the ambulance offers to repay Sylas’s alleviating conversation after the trip, but Sylas never demands nor expects repayment to come to fruition. Critically, Syphon #1 presents Sylas as genuine in his empathy. It’s this kind of humility that deems Sylas worthy of transcending his emphatic personality trait. Thus, Sylas’s transformation into a supernatural empath feels like a logical event. 

Syphon #1

Flashbacks reveal how Sylas is not without flaws, because he is still human, after all. Through a horrifying sequence of panels rotating to emulate a car flipping upside down and the fiery aftermath of a car crash, readers learn of Sylas’s involvement in the accident. Subtle uses of dialogue evidence a former drinking problem Sylas works hard to curb. Unassuming dialogue interspersed within the story exposition chiefly allow readers to assume an interconnectedness between the two crises. Rescue from a good Samaritan during the crash turns out to be an inciting incident for Sylas. Because someone saved him out of empathy, he dedicated his life to helping others survive accidents by becoming an EMT. The story is touching and formative of Sylas’s character. Additionally, this brief page provides a vital example of how human flaws can provoke immolation, but out of destruction comes an impetus for change and rebirth. 

Sylas eventually receives power to not only sense other’s pain but also siphon pain from these suffering individuals. A paranormal encounter with a woman spirit introduced in Syphon #1’s opening pages grants Sylas a sight to visibly witness pain, extract the burden from a person, and thrust the weight on himself instead. Therefore, Sylas’s life takes yet another direction leveraged by his core propensity for empathy. Balance then behooves his actions. Syphon #1 posits a question extremely relevant to our current society: How do you carry another’s pain and heal their adversity without succumbing to the intense agony of that pain yourself? 

Syphon #1

All the themes in Syphon #1, visceral empathy, engaging with others’ viewpoints devoid of a personal agenda, and mitigating another’s’ misery without letting their burdens induce a schism inside your own psyche are splendidly displayed. Co-writers Patrick Meaney and Mohsen Ashraf pack Syphon with a gripping showcase of the human experience and a unique supernatural aspect. The beginning pages revealing ancient origins and multiple users collectively involved in the “siphoning” power come across somewhat nebulously on a first read through. However, the supernatural circumstances are interspersed through the narrative coherently, elaborating sporadically instead of opening with a mountain of exposition.

Syphon #1

Beyond the veritable fantasy, Meaney and Mohsen write a sublime character I could read an entire novel about. Quick pacing is inevitable in a three issue miniseries. Their ability to make me care deeply about Sylas and proffer enough backstory for a full-scale analysis in one issue is astounding. 

Let’s talk about the phenomenal art in Syphon #1. Whenever magic and siphoning powers takes centerstage, readers are blessed with vibrantly cinematic illustrations, illuminating light sparkling in popping technicolor on the pages. Illustrator Jeff Edwards and colorist John Kalisz create a synthesis of electrifying imagery. Adorned by Kalisz’s kaleidoscope of vivid violet and vermillion hues, Edwards’ experimental renderings of siphoning power usage lash out over panel gutters or explode over double splash pages. 

Additionally, colors and shapes within speech bubbles supplement the supernatural atmosphere Syphon. Speech bubbles in the magic realm take on a loose congealing form against an orange tinted background. The imagery swells with a phosphorus glow, reinforcing the theme of pain and the magic-adjacent red color palette.

Syphon #1

Novelist Mohsin Hamid says that “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Perceptible through Syphon #1’s narrative, branches of this theme are exemplified by the comics’ artistry. Characters in Syphon are drawn with correct anatomy and proportions, but Edwards distorts true reality. Combining a semi-realistic art style with flairs of impressionism reflects echoes of realism. Moreover, we can identify with the characters’ resemblance to ourselves, easily empathizing with those echoing parallels of pain they endure. 

Lately, empathy appears to manifest less and less. People adopt numbness or indifference toward overwhelming tragedy occurring daily, as opposed to responding empathetically. Largely, this emotional barrier is due to the simple fact that the human mind is incapable of processing the amount of information contained in a single day news cycle. Syphon #1 empowers an already empathetic protagonist with an empathy-driven skill. This beautifully-drawn first issue is elevated by topical thematic material. Syphon portends an ambivalent future for Sylas, but I am eager to see how learning balance will tectonically shape his destiny. Balance, empathy, and humility should function as touchstones of our own lives as well.


Fun-Size Roundtable: Ordinary Gods #1

Welcome back to this week’s installment of The Fun-Size Round Table. I’m your host, Ashley, and today we’ll be diving in to Ordinary Gods #1 from writer Kyle Higgins, artist Felipe Watanabe, colorist Frank William, and letterer Clayton Cowles. 

Ordinary Gods starts out with a bang, right in the middle of the action in late 90’s Japan. As a reader, we’re not entirely sure what’s happening, but when things go south, we’re transported off-world and rewarded with some intriguing lore recounting the past of the One King and 13 immortal Gods.

As a lover of well-told stories, Ordinary God’s non-linear story structure shines. Often a fantasy series can be dogged by the “info-dump,” that age-old method of overwhelming readers with world-building and back story right at the onset. But Higgins has woven together the past and the present with finesse, always providing just enough to propel the next few pages forward with meaning and context. 

Our present-day hero is Christopher, an ordinary 22-year-old guy unhappy with the mediocrity and direction his life has taken. Christopher wants more. He’s tired of feeling weak. Well, Christopher soon gets what he asked for, but will he finally be happy when destiny meets him right at his kitchen table? Ordinary Gods is a story of reincarnation, otherworldly Gods, and alternate-Earth history. It grips you from the first page, and leaves you craving the next issue.

To weigh in on Christopher’s destiny, we’ve put together an incredible team. So read on and uncover our panel’s thoughts on Ordinary Gods #1, available today!

Rook Geary (@rookgeary)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Well, that blew my expectations out of the water. I had heard good things about some of Higgins’ work, enjoyed the first couple of issues of Radiant Black and some of his Nightwing a few years back, but this hits hard out of the gate with vivid, engaging, bold storytelling choices.

I wasn’t even sure this premise was a great idea going in, but the setup with the gods has a huger-than-huge scope that sweeps you up, and a relationship with our “real world” that’s startlingly relatable. If they can do justice to half of the themes brought up in this comic (particularly the therapy session), this book is going to be really special.

And this is all without mentioning Watanabe’s brilliant direction of action and character, the saturated bursts of violence and clever manipulation of tone from Williams, and the effortlessly classic lettering from Cowles. This book had me from the start and didn’t let go.

Katie Liggera (@kataloupee)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Most likely, I’ll show my age from this comment — but I can’t help drawing parallels between this expansive ‘immortal gods’ narrative and the beloved Percy Jackson book series from my childhood. Therefore, my Rick Riordian indoctrination in middle school makes Ordinary Gods #1 a perfect jump into indulging in a fantasy comic as an adult. Kyle Higgins demonstrates a remarkable propensity for storytelling structure. I wasn’t expecting an alternating narrative that both juxtaposed and echoed one another. However, Higgins engineers the dual storylines with alacrity. I found myself enraptured; astonished at how well the comic shifted between depicting immortal beings’ grandiose battles and relatability of young adult normalcy in the present.

Spectacularly, Felipe Watanabe’s illustrations, colored thoughtfully by Frank Williams, intensify the stakes. Intimate, close-frame panels expose Christopher’s struggles with depression, while sprawling splash pages enforce the ramifications of the gods’ conflicts. Clayton Cowles letters dialogue in the god-inhabited realms to stylistically appear as if we are reading an ancient manuscript. Visuals heighten every moment where I stopped reading often to let the images settle into my head. Ordinary Gods approaches its tale exactly like Percy Jackson. The fantasy concept proves more than palatable in the comic by treating a war of the realms and an everyman’s human experience with equal measure. Ordinary Gods whisks me back in time — in more ways than one! I am definitely adding this comic to my pull list.

Matt Brimfield (@the_brimmy)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Ordinary Gods has a compelling way with its approach to its storytelling. While not being a reader of traditional comics, I found myself intrigued and curious over the lore that was trickling through the panels of this issue. Though “Gods among People” is a common trope used in storytelling, Higgins has found a way to circumvent the cliche with the delivery of the lore given to us. Higgins gives us little breadcrumbs to an overarching plot of a war among gods. 

The art between Watanabe and WIlliams is also punchy and vibrant; Giving life to Higgins’s story. You can go from a vivid depiction between the battle between gods to a seemingly average day at the mall with the protagonist, Christopher, and his sister. The over-the-top, gorey violence is icing on the cake.

Between the storytelling and the art, Ordinary Gods will definitely be a series that I will keep an eye on as it has captured my attention and drawn me into its vast world.

 Jordan Edwards (@IamJordanZoned)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Higgins does an excellent job kicking off another series at Image. Ordinary Gods has an engaging premise and immediately interesting world. My only gripe was that it wasn’t explored enough. The issue does a great job of getting us a peek of the setting, but pinballs between different times and peoples a bit too quickly, I felt. The story alternates between sections with our young protagonist and expository scenes explaining the nature of the conflict. I felt that these expository bits went by a little fast, especially compared to the appropriately slow mundane scenes. I’m sure this issue will be resolved as the story continues, however.

Watanabe and Williams’s art does a lot of the work to sell this book’s two halves, as a whole. It could be easy for the extreme contrast to be overwhelming, but the art team paints with a careful brush, enticing us into a new and exciting world.

Ordinary Gods is absolutely a book to keep your eye on. It sets up an engaging premise with a relatable and human core. This could be something really special and I’m excited to see it kick off even further.

Jimmy Gaspero (@jimmygaspero)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

There’s a lot I enjoyed about Ordinary Gods #1. Felipe Watanabe excels at both chaotic action sequences and intense, close-up character moments, with excellent coloring by Frank William, the comic was visually appealing, further enhanced by Clayton Cowles’s smart lettering choices, from tightly controlling the pace of the dialogue to letting loose with gunshot SFX. The story is also laid out in an interesting fashion. As the focus switches from another world inhabited by immortal gods to our own world and the protagonist Christopher, the panels bridging the gap are often visually connected as well as connected through dialogue or narration. There are clues seeded here early on regarding Christopher’s true identity, which I especially appreciated reading through this issue a second time. Kyle Higgins’ dialogue through the panels of Christopher and his therapist as well as Christopher and his family at the dinner table was straightforward, honest, and believable. It’s one of the reasons the end of the issue feels especially brutal.          

I think it’s inevitable now when dealing with stories of gods on Earth to make The Wicked + The Divine comparisons, and I found this first issue more accessible, but that’s not necessarily a positive. I was certainly left with questions regarding Christopher’s sister, what Christopher’s true identity means for him and his future, and if it somehow affects his depression/mental health, but there wasn’t enough here for me to connect with or to differentiate itself from things that have come before it to add this to my pull list.   

RJ Durante (@ArghRJ) 

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

From a Yakuza shootout opening to a life-altering closing for our young protagonist Christopher, Ordinary Gods does not fuck around. Heads are blown off, families are torn apart, and uprisings are quelled, and that’s just the first issue. The tight narrative stylings of Kyle Higgins gives readers a release that’s less of an info-dump and more of a hand-holding guide into a world similar to ours. 13 gods lead 13 lands, with one overzealous ruler, appropriately named the One King, to oversee them all. Sauron be damned, there is no ‘one ring’ in this realm, but we can forgive this transgression as these gods bring new life to an old construct. The most relatable experience is to our aimless and depressed leading character Christopher. I’m all for ‘greatness thrust upon’ trope, especially when it comes from a family-ending bloodbath, I mean, look at The Punisher.

The real heavy lifting goes to artist Felipe Watannabe and colorist Frank William for creating visuals that seize your attention frame by frame, not letting go from beginning to end. Even though I laugh every time I see a gun fired and the words BLAM! are spread across the page, but they weren’t much of a distraction here as the artistry had me mesmerized. The look of the Gods themselves had a strange familiarity to them, which definitely made it easier to try and guess who was who without a label on their chest. Being a fan of violent comics, but specifically, violence with purpose because anything else is excess, Ordinary Gods fits the bill. I will definitely be looking forward to the next issue as this was a strong hook into this not so ordinary world.


The Department of Truth #10 Review

Truth is a funny thing, it has many forms, and people relate to it in vastly different ways. Truth can change a person… it can destroy them. So what happens when someone lets the truth consume them? and what happens when fiction starts walking around like wild beasts? 

This issue of James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ The Department of Truth the team goes hunting for Bigfoot and discusses the existence of cryptids (or lack thereof). In between the main story the issue also has the diary of a Bigfoot hunter, telling the story of his father’s relation to the Bigfoot hunt.

While this issue continues the fantastic world building the creative team has pushed forward with past issues, this time going into what are the creatures they call wild fictions and how they work, the real strength of the issue is on the diary pages and the story they tell. 

In the past Tynion and Simmonds have explored the themes of truth and beliefs through the lens of conspiracy theories, so far this exploration has occupied itself with the epistemological side of the dilemma, asking questions like: Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? How do beliefs spread? How do organizations can make people’s perceptions of the truth change? This issue (the diary entries in particular) goes over the personal side of things. 

In the story of the bigfoot hunter and his father, we see what the truth can make to a person, how it changes and consumes them. Like I said before, truth is a funny thing, while from a far the truth seems to be this cold scientific instrument that is frozen in time and space, but the way I see it the truth is more complicated, more wild, like a living creature. The father of the writer of the diary stumbles onto a truth that changes him, the existence of Bigfoot. In this truth he sees something bigger than himself, something that gives his own existence purpose. Once that truth was presented to him, his world changed, because that’s what truths do, they become the center of our lives and change and evolve as we do the same. 

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the diary entries where included in the same issue the members of the department discuss the creatures known as wild fiction, creatures that are not quite alive, creatures that make you feel sick when you are around them, creatures that can not be captured with any device on Earth. I think this issue takes a leap previous issues couldn’t take, in this issue the truth and beliefs are no longer talked about like they are information, they are talked about like they are living creatures that wrap the reality around those who surround them. 

This has been my favorite issue of the series because it changes the discussion. Tynion and Simmonds are no longer talking about mere stories and theories, they are now talking about the changing pillars on which we build our lives. I think this series has been so popular not only because its art is spectacular and the dialogue is amazing, but because it understands that we have finally realized that the relation we have with truth is a lot more complicated that what we once thought. 

I really liked this issue and I’ve been loving the series so far, and I’m really excited to see where the hunt for Bigfoot (and the truth) takes us next. 


Fun-Size Roundtable: Crossover #7

It is June 16, 2015. Reality has begun to collapse. Something once believed to be too ridiculous to ever actually happen has. A man who built an empire by sacrificing his name to a dark and foreboding tower has just announced a con to become President of the United States. Everything that has occurred before or since is but a faint echo of this moment in time. Things will only get more fantastical from here.

It is August 20, 2014. Five days ago, a pathetic little man with pathetic little ideas started a harassment campaign against his ex-girlfriend. From the wreckage of this relationship, the collapse of reality would be fostered and calcified until its entropic ends were met. Today, a scotsman begins a Dear John letter to a multiverse they still, in spite of themselves, love. They plead for the multiverse to embrace diversity over regurgitating old stories and old heroes.

It is April 1, 2015. A small group of men, faced with the potential of something new, opt to plead for a return to the past. Fittingly, one of them is a nazi. In this moment, a Convergence of reality will act as a mystical ritual to reject the alternative of a diverse multiverse in favor of a Rebirth of the old.

It’s October 30, 2013. Our dreams have begun to die.

It’s May 6, 2015. The Marvel Universe is dead. The ruins are being kept together by an egomaniac, needy game-player. A so-called Great Man of History who sees his place as a Great Man as the most important thing in the world. The past must remain existent. The future, he claims, would be death.

It’s May 27, 2015. A second reality is scheming to overlap and consume the reality we know. It is a reality dreamed up by reactionary figures who see the “lesser races” as in need of extermination. The fascist ideals of old racists forced down upon a reality of diverse alternatives. A Single Vision brought about by Cthulhus Sleep.

It’s January 11, 2017. In nine days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. The collapse of reality has concluded with the invasion of a superheroic reality upon a non-superheroic one. The consequences are devastating.

This is not a dream. This is not a dream. This is not a dream.

Donny Cates Proudly Presents…

Crossover #7

Written by Chip Zdarsky

Art by Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Colors by Dee Cunniffe

Letters by John J Hill

Brason T. (@UltimateBrason)

Crossover #7. Credit: Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Chip Zdarsky, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill.

As someone only vaguely familiar with Crossover from friends who have read it, and someone who has read a couple of Zdarsky’s Marvel runs, this issue really works. I struggle with self-doubt and my place in this world, and that is exactly what this boils down to for me. Fun, lighthearted coloring from Dee Cunniffe combined with grimmer dialogue and scenarios that compliment each other as well, showing that these characters are more complex than some conversations surrounding comics give them credit for. 

The overall idea of these characters coming to life sounds sillier when they really dig into it, which I’m not sure if that works in the context of the larger series. Trying to bridge that Twitter meme-culture built around Cates & Stegman with their works in Western comics is certainly a neat idea I trust Zdarsky with, but not really something I need to see again. Luckily the frequent references to other writers actually doesn’t get tiring here. Final verdict: definitely check this out if you get the chance.

Gabrielle Cazeaux (@gabrielle_doo)

Crossover #7. Credit: Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Chip Zdarsky, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill.

I didn’t know what Crossover was about, but I heard it was good. I didn’t imagine it was this good. I know going meta has been over-used during the last few years, and for some people that will be enough to decide to avoid the book. It can get pretty annoying for me too when the joke is just that it’s something meta, so I’m glad that is not the case at all with this. It’s used to not only create a fun and intriguing story but as a metaphor to explore the feelings of the protagonist, who in this case, is also the creator of the story. It can be very on-the-nose, but I sincerely have no problem with that, and sequences like the one where his persona hugs him and supports him are just very endearing and plain cool to me, and I never even read something from Zdarsky! I don’t know if the rest of Crossover is as good as this issue, but, most probably, I’ll at least check it out.

Christa Mactíre (@christawolf94)

Crossover #7. Credit: Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Chip Zdarsky, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill.

When Sean asked me to review this comic, I admit I didn’t know what to expect. I was going in completely blind with no expectation of what I was about to read, no preconceived notions, nothing. All I knew was that he needed my help, and like a good friend, I said yes.

So, Crossover #7. The story is that someone is killing comic creators, and the characters they made are coming to life. This issue follows Steve Murray (aka Chip Zdarsky) and his attempts to flee from the mysterious killer, only to cross paths with his comic book version of himself. I won’t say more beyond that, but I will say that as someone who A) adores metafiction and B) continually puts fictionalized versions of herself in her own work, I loved seeing someone take that same mechanic and use it in a way to subvert our expectations of what the encounter would be like, and build something better in its place. If nothing else, I’m definitely interested in catching up with the rest of the story. If you like metafiction and the storytelling possibilities it offers, this is an excellent starting point!

Alfie Taylor (@AGeekForFun)

Crossover #7. Credit: Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Chip Zdarsky, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill.

I came into this issue knowing two things: “I like Chip Zdarsky,” and “everything I’ve heard about Crossover makes me doubt I’d enjoy it.” I left with a certainty in the former, but did not gain an inclination to delve into the rest of the series. 

Crossover #7 shows Zdarsky’s knack for efficient plotting. He seamlessly weaves together a nakedly personal tale that a newcomer can pick up and enjoy. The trio of Hester’s pencils, Park’s inks, and Cunniffe’s colors were sublime. The inherent balancing act of illustrating a comic about comic characters invading reality shouldn’t be underestimated. Regardless, Hester and Park make it look effortless with their pairing of fantastic character acting and heavy uses of black, keeping the inherent fun of the premise drenched in contemplative shadow. Cunniffe turns it up another notch – never over-rendering, always letting the inks speak – but being skilled enough to know when to employ a little extra glow on a car’s headlights to guide your eye. As someone whose own life has created an online character, If we hacks must go meta and birth an invincible imp to protect us, then the least we can do is love them back.

David Mann (@davidmann95)

Crossover #7. Credit: Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Chip Zdarsky, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill.

To my own shock I’m quite familiar with Crossover since I pick it up for my dad (glad he enjoys it!). While there are moments where it collapses in on itself entertainingly, mostly its ‘what if us nerds got sent to concentration camps with all our favorite characters’ premise is so profoundly dopey as to transcend the visceral offense it deserves, and the high concept doesn’t extend far past trying to overwhelm you with references. At heart it’s little more than a pretty curio overly enamored with its banal excesses.

But then there’s Crossover #7. The guest art team alongside Cunniffe and Hill manage to mimic Geoff Shaw’s knack for blending the mundane and mad that does so much to sell a reality in the idea of reality breaking down. Zdarsky however does more than fit: the exploration of fact and fiction blending moves way past shiny cameos here in ways that serve to expose the lack of ambition of the rest of Crossover as much as anything else. A brief rumination on the narratives we offer up about ourselves, why, and what comes of them, this is clever, raw, startlingly personal storytelling that’s infuriatingly better than this series deserves.