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We Don’t Kill Spiders #1 Review

It’s a viking murder mystery. That’s it, that’s the hook.

Credit: Joseph Schmalke/DC Hopkins (Scout Comics)

Look, there were a few ways I thought to start this review. At first, I was going to discuss how the Detective as a character is the perfect audience surrogate; how their penchant for discovery and their traditional role as outsider allows for natural explanation of plot and setting. If the audience needs to know something, so does the Detective. In a good mystery, all the information is shared – only the Detective’s insights are kept from the audience. Then, I decided to invoke Umberto Eco’s seminal novel The Name of the Rose, perhaps the most famous example of nontraditional detective fiction. I don’t think that you get We Don’t Kill Spiders without Eco’s story of friar-turned-investigator and its popularization of the detective outside of the modern and Victorian trappings the genre traditionally traffics in. After all, there’s no reason a detective couldn’t exist in the Middle Ages, or Viking-era Scandinavia. Neither of those really sat right with me, though – because the truth is both simpler and infinitely more interesting.

We Don’t Kill Spiders #1 is a damn good-looking viking murder mystery, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Joseph Schmalke (whose work I previously adored on Count Draco Knuckleduster #1) handles both the writing and the entirety of the art duties on We Don’t Kill Spiders, while DC Hopkins letters. This gives the book a very singular feel, and despite some occasionally clunky dialogue, I appreciated the unified vision.

The colors in particular are simply extraordinary. The Scandinavian environment gives Schmalke the opportunity to play with tone and temperature in truly beautiful ways, blending the book’s naturalism and mysticism incredibly well. The pink colors used to denote the book’s magic feels truly otherworldly next to the traditionally warm orange and cold blue environments the characters dwell in. 

Credit: Joseph Schmalke/DC Hopkins (Scout Comics)

Of course, none of this matters if the mystery is not interesting – in this case, however, it absolutely is. As We Don’t Kill Spiders begins, a serial killer is haunting a Viking community, slaughtering entire families, taking their heads, and covering their homes in runes. The local Jarl (the term for the chieftain of a territory in Viking history), Ulf, calls upon a well-known Viking detective of sorts named Bjorn to track down the killer and bring them to justice. Ulf has his own idea of who the murderer is – a witch named Revna, seeking revenge for her mother and grandmother’s deaths at the hands of the Jarl years prior, after their magic was blamed for the deaths of a number of livestock. Revna herself was a young girl, and banished from the community.

While Ulf insists she must be the killer, Bjorn decides to conduct a proper investigation. And when he meets Revna, it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems in this small community. Since this is only the first issue, there’s no way to truly tell if We Don’t Kill Spiders will stick the landing, but it does an excellent job at setting up a compelling mystery. While it may use the setup of a fairly standard detective story, the Viking setting and mysterious magic gives We Don’t Kill Spiders a great hook. I can’t recommend the book enough. 

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Count Draco Knuckleduster: Is It Accessible?

When you first watched Star Wars, did it matter to you how a lightsaber worked? Did you need to know what the “Clone Wars” were when Ben Kenobi mentioned them?

I doubt it.

The beauty of the original Star Wars trilogy is that it recontextualized familiar tropes in the setting of a space opera. As long as the viewer understood the basics of the world, a sword made of light didn’t need to be explained. It simply was.

And now, almost half a century later, those Star Wars inventions have become tropes themselves, and Count Draco Knuckleduster revels in them.

Credit: Peter Goral/Joseph Schmalke/DC Hopkins/Rich Woodall (Scout Comics)

Well, to say that it simply utilizes the tropes is perhaps disingenuous. Peter Goral (of Killer Bootlegs, as the credits page and copyright information proudly proclaim) and Joseph Schmalke are less wearing their influences on their sleeve and more screaming them from the rooftops.

What this means is that while I haven’t read Phantom Starkiller #1, the first in the “Curse of the Cryptocrystalline Stone” series, I understand what I need to in order to enjoy the book. It really doesn’t matter what a cryptocrystalline stone is – I know that the titular Knuckleduster is Darth Vader, who is fighting a former apprentice named Starkiller who looks like Skeletor and is protecting a child with exceptional power and a mysterious destiny. The rest falls into place around it.

Credit: Peter Goral/Joseph Schmalke/DC Hopkins/Rich Woodall (Scout Comics)

Count Draco Knuckleduster #1 presumably picks up where Phantom Starkiller left off. As Starkiller approaches Knuckleduster’s ship with the aforementioned child, Acele, and the cryptocrystalline stone in tow, Knuckleduster comes to a sudden realization, and orders an underling to bring the Codex of Cadavere to the Altar of Algal. There, Knuckleduster draws on the lifeforce of two beings in order to read the Codex – and here we see how the magic of Knuckleduster and the Force of Star Wars differ.

Magic in Knuckleduster is occult, runic, and dark. It feeds on life and grants boons to those willing to speak the ancient tongue. Knuckleduster keeps people around essentially as blood bags to draw his magic from. And in using this magic to read the Codex, he realizes a connection between Acele and the cryptocrystalline stone – one that ties into his own history, which I’ll leave you to discover on your own. 

Credit: Peter Goral/Joseph Schmalke/DC Hopkins/Rich Woodall (Scout Comics)

And discover it you should, as even if the story sounds derivative, Schmalke and Goral’s art and coloring respectively is worth the experience. They draw on the stylings of retro comics with a modern sensibility – Ben Day dots are used liberally for shading and emphasis. The dull, newsprint quality of the colors is used to excellently highlight certain scenes, causing the runes of Knuckleduster’s magic and the pastel colors of the main characters to standout from the background. It’s a fantastic looking book. From a certain angle, it could almost be the licensed Star Wars book that Marvel published in the wake of A New Hope’s release.

I will definitely be going back to read Phantom Starkiller #1 now. If you haven’t read it, you could easily just jump in with Knuckleduster, but based on the quality of the creative team’s work here, why would you when you can also start from the beginning? At worst, you might just get the itch to watch Star Wars – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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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

Tales Told in Techni-Horror: A Fun Read Despite Flaws

I love anthologies.

Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or in this week’s case, a comic book, I think the anthology format can be fun and accessible, with the opportunity to display an incredible amount of variation within the different entries. Horror as a genre is particularly suited to the format, and the dozens of anthology TV shows and movies prove it. Conceptually, it makes sense: in movies, each short story can focus on just delivering a few good scares without worrying too much about the details of the plot or the development of the characters. And the movie comparison is apt as Tales Told in Techni-Horror #1 intentionally uses the horror anthology format found in movies, with its summary page echoing a movie theater’s different billboards, each one advertising one of the five frightful tales. 

Credit: Kiyarn Taghan/Christian Dibari/Simon Gough (Scout Comics)

With regards to the setting, Techni-Horror has a lot to offer. Without getting into the specific details so as to avoid spoilers, the different “movie flavors” it uses are solid. Following the movie theater format, each story seems to be themed around a different horror movie staple. As opposed to, say, Trick ‘r Treat, which is a horror anthology movie about different scary events occurring during Halloween, the theming in Techni-Horror is broader, and allows for very distinct elements in each story. This variety is welcome, but the stories may feel more scattered as a result. Classic story elements such as space, nature, bugs, and the deep sea, are featured. The art and colors by Christian Dibari and Simon Gough make the different beasts, demons, and creatures look as menacing and spooky as they should. 

Credit: Kiyarn Taghan/Christian Dibari/Simon Gough (Scout Comics)

There are no connections between the stories; the book is billed as five unrelated horror movies at a theater. A particularly nice touch is that each of the stories begins with a poster, advertising the scares to come. It’s a fairly diverse array of environments to set the stories in, though structurally some of the stories are pretty similar. I think it’s important to note that these stories are, at least for the most part, very heavy on narration. It is an understandable creative choice, considering that a lot of the stories are centred on just one character, and it is also an attempt to insert the narrative weight you need to express the character’s internal struggle, but it is something that could feel like a waste of time for some readers. Kiyarn Taghan’s writing is cheesy and fun in a classic horror movie way, so it wasn’t a problem for me, but I think it’s worth pointing that out.

I enjoyed all the segments, though a couple of them to me felt a bit underdeveloped for all that they were doing. As mentioned earlier, the protagonists generally have to do the heavy lifting with the narration, but they’re all fairly simple tales, running at about five pages each. In one instance, you get a page with twelve narration boxes, but the events are straightforward. This can make it feel like the tales are simultaneously crammed with story, yet sparse in events. It’s a tricky line to walk, and I don’t think Techni-Horror fully nails it right out of the gate. The lettering, also done by Kiyarn Taghan, was serviceable, though there were a couple of moments that stood out in not the best way. In an action scene where a monster is chasing the protagonist, the last thing you want is to get distracted by the strange placement and orientation of the dialogue bubbles, but unfortunately, that’s what happened here. Ultimately, there isn’t a lot of substance to any of the segments, but that doesn’t deprive them of the raw thrill that comes with seeing scary monsters on the page.

Credit: Kiyarn Taghan/Christian Dibari/Simon Gough (Scout Comics)

Overall, I think the book would’ve been better served by having fewer stories in it, thus making it less reliant on narration boxes that explain to the audience why they should care about the character in question or the events surrounding them. Additionally, I think that with future issues, perhaps less information could be given to the audience. After all, less can be more.

I can’t say that I’d recommend Tales Told in Techni-Horror #1 right now unless you’re a horror anthology fan in general, but it is a title that I can see having a marked improvement over time with ease.