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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: The Last Book You’ll Ever Read

            “A reality is just what we tell each other it is.” This line from John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness underscores the central premise of The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, which opens with the line, “Civilization is a lie.” So, if the reality of our civilization is just what we tell each other it is, and what we’ve been telling each other is a lie, what happens when someone starts telling the truth? According to Cullen Bunn and Leila Leiz, nothing good. 

            Bunn is clearly influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, and this has served him well in the past with series like The Unsound and The Empty Man, but this is Lovecraft by way of John Carpenter (hence In the Mouth of Madness, itself a reference to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness), filtered through Bunn’s unique way of presenting ordinary but compelling characters and then watching how they react as terrible things happen around them or to them. In this case, writer Olivia Kade has written Satyr, which is very popular and purports to tell the truth about our reality but is possibly causing people to act out their basest instinct and become feral. I say “possibly” because the beauty and mystery of the first issue is that it doesn’t make clear Kade’s intentions. Peppered throughout the scenes of Kade’s book signing are scenes of the carnage that is related to people that have read the book as well as two radio hosts engaging in an interesting debate as to whether Satyr merely chronicles the decline of humanity or is somehow inciting it. The entire issue is well paced to maximize the horror of the situation. 

            Leiz’s artwork and character design are well suited here. To paraphrase a line from the issue, each character is both predator and prey and they look both parts. There are intense close-ups that then pull back to a panel just off to the side of the main action that allows the SFX to create suspense. The use of off-kilter panel layouts with characters drawn beyond the borders make the action scenes feel immersive and fluid. One page in particular that uses flowing blood as the panel borders is a particular standout and teases the horror to come. 

            Giada Marchisio colors the issue beautifully with a wonderful ability to use red sparingly so that it really stands out as scenes and characters are drenched in it. Jim Campbell provides the lettering and there’s a natural flow to the dialogue that is effortless; it never gets in the way of the action. I’m not sure there’s any other letterer that can so effectively convey the quiet SFX for someone choking on their own blood. I want to note that there are several variant covers for this and every single one is exceptional, but the Chris Shehan cover produced for Little Shop of Comics (great name!) in Cuba, Missouri is my favorite. 

            The mystery and horror of Olivia Kade and Satyr is one I am now invested in and I’m excited by the idea that I’m not sure in which direction this is going. Is Kade a prophet of more depravity to come or a simple chronicler of the here and now? Regardless, this is the beginning of something terrible. 

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Film

Disney’s Jungle Cruise: A Spoiler Free Review

There is almost nothing I look forward to more when I’m in Disney World than hopping aboard one of the beloved Jungle Cruise boats. For ten minutes you escape into a new adventure, with a wise-cracking skipper to navigate your passage through the winding river. From my very first Disney trip all the way into adulthood, the Jungle Cruise ride has always held a special place in my mouse-shaped heart. I had very high expectations when I heard Disney was developing a film based on my favorite ride. When one looks to the success and quality of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, you know Disney can get it right. Thankfully, Jungle Cruise starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson delivered.  

True to the nature of its source material, director Jaume Collet-Serra’s film retains the humor found in the ride, while introducing new lore and history that will be appreciated by Disney lovers young and old. Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall play siblings who require the navigational skills of a boat skipper portrayed by Dwayne Johnson. Blunt, last seen on Disney screens as Mary Poppins, is Lily Houghton; a determined, revolutionary woman. Blunt is effortlessly cool as she channels Indiana Jones, and volleys hilarious quips back and forth with Johnson. These two embody the spirit of Bogart and Hepburn in the African Queen, a film Jungle Cruise gently tips its hat to. Johnson, as the fearless skipper Frank Wolff, is charming and full of surprises. Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton, makes good use of his “posh boy” stand-up routine, but don’t expect this portrayal to be one-note. Whitehall infuses warmth and depth to the persona he’s cultivated over the years to delight viewers. Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Edgar Ramírez, and Veronica Falcón round out this marvelous cast with wonderful performances of their own. 

Something mysterious is hidden deep in the whiles of the amazon, and this trio is determined to find it. If I say anymore, it will ruin the pun-filled ride, just know the plot twists and turns are worth the adventure. Jungle Cruise is reminiscent of films like Romancing the Stone and The Mummy, with well-executed action scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. Cinematography by Flavio Martínez Labiano is sweeping and grand, while a score from James Newton Howard perfectly complements the action.

There is no shortage of trials when traversing the Amazon, and Skipper Frank has a dad-joke prepared to meet them all. Johnson and Blunt are a dynamic duo, making this 2 hour and 36-minute run time feel like no work at all. Jungle Cruise will sail in to theaters and Disney+ Premier Access Friday July 30th. For those who think they should skip this one, well, you’re in De-Nile!

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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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Comics

Rotten, or: Gorehound’s Retrospective and Seeking Violence

Barbatus’ autobiographical comic ROTTEN or: gorehound’s retrospective is a look into the ways in which the violence that we seek out affects us.

Like I Breathed A Body, ROTTEN is one of those stories that resonated deeply with me as it forced me to reevaluate my past with gore and the images I exposed myself to as a teenager, the very images that have burned themselves into my brain, returning to me when I least expect them to.

Barbatus tells the story of a time in his life where he was seeking out gore in order to conquer his fear of death in a limited pallet, using only shades of red and black that increase in intensity as the imagery Barbatus is seeking out does. It isn’t so much what he shows that was the first thing that struck me about the comic as it is the way in which he doesn’t show the worst of it; take for example the image below, the previous panel is a close-up shot of someone having their head stepped on by a boot. In the image below, Barbatus is showing the reader just enough that we get the idea without showing us the full picture.

Page from ROTTEN by Barbatus

A quick look through the replies on twitter is enough to prove that Barbatus’ experiences are familiar to more people than one might think; in fact, those experiences are familiar to me.

During the early half of my teen years, I would use my unrestricted internet access to find horrific images of people who had died or been killed in increasingly terrifying ways. There are some images that I saw as a fifteen year old that I will never forget, no matter how much I want to.

There’s things that I don’t even react to anymore because I’ve seen it before or I’ve seen worse; I remember in grade ten history being horrified when my teacher showed us a picture of a gangrene-infected foot. Now, if I were to pull up that same image I would barely react to it. I’ve seen worse, I have worse burned into my brain and flashing across my eyelids when I try to sleep.

The time I spent seeking out gore isn’t a time I talk about often because, to be entirely honest, I’m ashamed of the fact that I would seek out real violence in the way I did without questioning what I was really doing and how those images came to be. They were people, they had lived and died and there I was, sitting up on my phone late at night looking at their corpses without even a glimmer of shame at the fact that I was sating my curiosity with the end of their lives.

Because when it comes down to it, that’s why I sought out those images. I was curious; I wanted to see the worst, most brutal things I could find because I was possessed by a need to know everything. Over time, it shifted from mere curiosity to a challenge to myself. I wanted not only to know the worst, but to be able to withstand it.

Page from ROTTEN by Barbatus

Barbatus talks about this, about how there’s a competitive aspect to it all, a need to be tougher than all of the others who are seeking out the same content that you are. It’s a dangerous game to play; no one wins unless you count traumatizing yourself as winning. Because that’s what was really happening, it was never going to make any of us less fearful, it was just going to give us more nightmares.

I feel shame for what I was doing now that I’m able to understand what it was that I was really doing, what it was that I was truly looking at. They were people, they had lives that they lived before they died and were turned into a spectacle for strangers on the internet. Strangers who didn’t care about who those people were so much as they cared about what they looked like in death. I haven’t gone to any of my old haunts in years yet, haven’t even been tempted to really. After all, why would I need to see more when what I’ve already seen has been keeping me up at night for years.

Barbatus ends ROTTEN with a plea to the reader not to seek out “the real thing” because it isn’t worth it. He’s right, it isn’t and if you think you could benefit in some way from seeking it out, you won’t. There’s no benefit that comes from seeing it and it’s something you’ll never be able to erase from your memory.

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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.

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Comics

Lunar Ladies #1: a Love Letter To Classic Sci-Fi

Lunar Ladies #1 from Scout Comics is a galactic ride from the Moon to prehistoric Earth. Written by Omar Morales, this story will strike a chord in any sci-fi loving heart. Readers are transported to the Moon, where inside its hollow core, lives a futuristic society composed entirely of women. This utopia is led by the beloved Queen Velouria, who is threatened by the evil machinations of jealous geneticist Docteur Venus Verga. Venus is determined to steal a powerful talisman from Queen Velouria, as well as execute her plans to create a perfect army of test-tube soldiers to overthrow leadership on the Moon. To make matters worse, Venus’s entire army is made of…MEN

DUH DUH DUNNNNN

Credit: Omar Morales/Joel Cotejar/Paula Goulart/Jaymes Reed (Scout Comics)

Venus is certain this legion of warriors will ensure her domination over the Moon. But after a scientist on her team is pushed too far, she sabotages Venus’s original characteristic code for the soldiers; ensuring the men will be created with some future passionate consequences. The characteristic changes in the army’s code are sure to be a featured plot point of future issues. I’m hesitant to say more and spoil the fun, but I can’t imagine the changes made to them will produce anything but infatuated results. How will that work in a society made up entirely of women who love other women? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly waiting for the next issue to find out. 

When Venus is thwarted once more, she accelerates her plans for an army and Queen Velouria decides it’s not safe for her daughter, Clare, and the talisman to remain on the Moon. She departs via space shuttle with Clare and her lover, Star, traveling to prehistoric Earth to find a place of safety for them. Just as Queen Velouria returns to the Moon to subdue Venus, all hell breaks loose and readers are left with a cliffhanger that’s guaranteed to have them itching for the next issue.

Credit: Omar Morales/Joel Cotejar/Paula Goulart/Jaymes Reed (Scout Comics)

 Lunar Ladies is certainly a thrilling ride for sci-fi lovers of the vintage comic era. Morales’ story is ripe with the best tropes of the genre, including boastful villains, virtuous leaders, and dialogue that has you recalling the iconic sci-fi B-film era of the 1950s. It’s heavily influenced by these well-loved concepts, from the depiction of their laser guns to the design of their clothing. Readers will marvel at the quintessential domed architecture that every person in the 1950s imagined the future would look like. I found the harmonious combination of design and story to be an obliging nod to the genre it was inspired by. 

Lunar Ladies is drawn by Joel Cotejar, colored by Paula Goulart, with lettering by Jaymes Reed. Their work together is a stunning homage to comics of the past, creating a sepia-toned aesthetic that will leave readers thinking they’re not encountering a new release, but a gem from the past. 

Credit: Omar Morales/Joel Cotejar/Paula Goulart/Jaymes Reed (Scout Comics)

Lunar Ladies celebrates the love between women, science fiction, and remarkably doesn’t take itself too seriously. This reviewer is very interested and excited to see how the army of men will fit into the narrative going forward and what’s in store for the little moon girl, Clare, as she spends time on prehistoric Earth.

Issue #1 of Lunar Ladies is out now from Scout Comics, but look for issues 2 & 3 to drop in October and November to read the concluding chapters of this interstellar mini-series.

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Comics

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.

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Comics

Is Moon Knight #1 New Reader Friendly?

My entire knowledge of Moon Knight is second hand from either friends talking about him or memes. More so, most of my Moon Knight knowledge comes from memes. I’ve built this wild image of the character in my head thanks to those memes. To me, Moon Knight is a violent Dracula hating man with a lot of baggage, dissociative identity disorder, and a proclivity to peel off people’s faces like a fruit roll up.

When I read the announcement that Jed Mackay was launching the character with a new #1 issue, I decided it was finally time to jump on the train to moon town. Jed has a way of balancing violence, humor, and humility in a lot of the comics he writes. I saw a lot of people saying it was an odd choice but as Issue #1 proves, it was the perfect choice.

Even with the limited knowledge of this characters convoluted past, Moon Knight #1 by Jed Mackay, Alessandro Cappuccio, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Cory Petit is a very approachable first issue for new readers wanting to follow the character. I am giving it the full GateCrashers seal of approachability ribbon. I never felt lost or that I was missing major parts of context that discouraged me from reading further. With a character who has appeared in multiple tv shows, games, and now has his own Disney + show coming, this serves as a perfect gateway into Moon Knight for new readers.

Moon Knight, named Marc Spector, is serving as the Fist of Khonshu. While that title may sound far out there, the story gives you as much as you need to follow the story properly without getting too far into the weeds. Moon Knight has set up Midnight Mission which serves to protect the community of those who travel at night. We are also introduced to a new ensemble cast that gives the reader their own sense of community from the jump which is important to not feeling like you need to read 100 back issues to just enjoy a new #1.

The issue’s art is incredible and the use of white for his costume is a distinct parallel of the often dark situations he is in. The lettering is easy to read and guide’s the story along with ease. All of the parts together make for a great debut issue.

My real apprehension for picking up a Moon Knight title was how writers would handle his mental illness. This issue doesn’t dig too far into it but there is a running story of Moon Knight in therapy which serves to inform the reader of his backstory, current life, and a bit about who he is. With Jed’s push for representation in Black Cat, I do think he will handle the subject with care which is highly important.

So is Moon Knight #1 a good jumping on point for the character for new readers such as myself? Absolutely.

Moon Knight #1 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.

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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.