Finger Guns

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VAULT COMICS
Justin Richards – Val Halvorson – Rebecca Nalty – Taylor Esposito

Remember when you were anticipating pretty much every new series that IMAGE was putting out because they’d hit such a hot streak of quality (or Vertigo/Valiant’s relaunch for that matter)? Well this is where we stand with Vault Comics. While not every title they’ve released will appeal to everyone by virtue of subject matter there is an undeniable aspect to every Vault book. The quality is astounding. Next up for the publisher is Finger Guns and, just as all of its brothers and sisters in the Vault library have done, it brings quality comic booking to us readers.

The direction of Finger Guns follows suit with Vault’s approach of unabashedly forcing the comic medium to better in all fronts. Publishers, creators, and readers alike all need to be able to tackle true to life issues without being preachy, or afraid to address reality. This is what we’ve got with FG. The opening of the book does just this and does so with hardly a single line of dialogue. The ego (or lack of) of the teen ages is perfectly summized here. It’s actually a very nice juxtaposition with the more mature take that the book has as a whole. Emotional complexity is an inherent aspect of life. Our demeanor and actions carry the weight of this complexity. They also affect those around us. Simply put, this is the context of Finger Guns. What I love about the presentation of the idea is the childish (in both age and maturity meanings) symbolism of the finger gun itself. Harmless games and fun times by children generation after generation include some version of a finger gun. The ignorance of age (not stupidity) may not be better represented than with the finger gun motion/act. There is a wonderful innocence when the true implication of something simply isn’t known. Unfortunately time, age, and knowledge end up corrupting the pure being we all start out as. We see that in Wes. One of the two main characters, Wes doesn’t come from a good place. Emotionally deprived and generally neglected overall he finds that his finger gun has a bad side effect. What has to be from projection, the targets of his aim end up with an unexplainable rage for a truncated time. Point – Click – Pissed. Just like that. I say projection because he literally walks about town firing off his newfound piss people off bullets. Of course the complexity of human emotion wouldn’t let things be this easy for Wes. An outlet for his emotional trauma it may be his weapon of anger and frustration won’t be unchecked. Instead he encounters Sade. At least on the onset it’s a Yin – Yang situation. Like Wes she’s got fingers that fire. With her though people are subdued and washed over with calm.

Themes aplenty run through this book. Emotional manipulation, how we cope with emotional trauma, the inter and intrapersonal choices we make, and how we view the world through our emotional spectrum are just a few themes that jump off the page. The commonality Wes and Sade have can either endear themselves to one another or drive an unscalable wall between them. It’s that emotional complexity thing again. Wes’ situation has caused him to internalize everything and lash out. Sade has chosen to seek out what she can’t get with her situation. As this series develops I wouldn’t be surprised to see new levels of anger, jealousy, spitefulness and a few other emotions rear their heads.

Visually Finger Guns accentuates the premise it is fielding. Not literally black and white, the heavily two toned approach more than gets across the intent. It came off to me as a representation of Wes and Sade’s respective auras and the interaction between them and their interaction with the world. The lettering flows with the art and constructs as it needs to in a very flattering manner. As with all Vault titles this book is very well put together structurally. I’m looking forward to how the ever more complex nature of the relationships and understanding are played out and visually portrayed.

This is an absolute SOLID debut issue.
IN STORES THIS NCBD FEB 26th!

TKO Wave 2

After a highly successful launch with their wave one books, TKO is back with their second batch of titles. As with the first go ’round the second ride around the block features their innovative approach to releasing their titles. Recognizing the mixed readership and the layered approach to both reading and collecting TKO decided to address and engage comic fans by giving them options in their purchases. Are you an old school collector or like to digest your stories a chapter at a time (or when you can)? Too easy, they’ve got a nifty box that houses the entirety of a title in single issue format. Do you just want the goods? Cool, nab the oversized trade and get it all at once. Are you a bit of both or a completist? Nab them both! If you’re worried about the creative teams you can rest assured that these books have some of the best creators working in comics today. Garth Ennis, Joshua Dysart, Dan Mcdaid, and Artyom Trakhanov are just some of the names that worked on the first wave of books. This second wave features creatives such as Ming Doyle, Jeff Lemire, Natalie Chaidez, Nik Virella, and Jordie Bellaire. There’s no shortage of “name” talent if you’re worried about looking into a new publisher and who is pumping out their stories. Worry not. If you’re paying attention as you read the books you’ll notice something VERY distinct about the lead/main characters. This isn’t a typical set of books getting released together/all at once. I’m not sure if it just happened to turn out this way or if it was on purpose. Either way it was refreshing to have TKO’s 2nd Wave of books all feature female leads. So let’s dive in …

Pound for Pound is up first. The team of Natalie Chaidez, Andy Belanger, Daniela Miwa, and Serge Lapointe deliver an aggressive and in your face revenge story. Boasting a very Tarantino-esque film vibe Pound for Pound sits firmly in the “Drive In” movie category for comics. There’s tons of action, over the top situations, and unapologetic violence that manages to tell a story along the way. As with the “grindhouse” type of flicks, this comic tosses quite a bit at readers and does so with the gas pedal to the floorboard the whole time. Were’ talking MMA fighting, cults, a drug infused orgy, cultural mythology, and of course the sweet car shots. It’s everything you’d expect from a USA “Up All Night” action movie. I do feel that the series would have been better served with a few more issues though. That cultural mythology I mentioned would have been much better served and much more effective had it not been an element tossed in like many of the others. A good chunk (if not the majority of) readers likely won’t get anything out of it other than what’s given in the dialogue of the book. With the setting and characters being where the mythology resides in real life, a real depth could have been given to the book here. That aside I don’t have any major gripes with Pound for Pound. I love that the lead is female but everything else about the story and style is just as it would be with a male lead. Very effective character building (for the style/approach chosen) and utilization leads the book to being more than just a page turning punch fest. As the story is closed out you get a very satisfying reveal that drives home the story that this book is telling underneath the eye catching action. That said, in the best ways the art does make you want to flip pages to see what’s next. What’s more is the art and overall look of things fits what this is very well. Given the setting and themes the color work is excellent. The lettering helps to accentuate narrative bits as well as lends to the action with some great SFX.

Pound for Pound entertains and delivers on both the action and storyline fronts. Overall 3.75*

The Banks from Roxane Gay, Ming Doyle, Jordie Bellaire, Ariana Maher, and Sebastian Girner is a multi-generational heist story that doesn’t follow traditional crime tropes. Yes, there’s some of what you’re used to but the veins running through and pumping the life into this family drama aren’t a paint by number recipe you find in way to many books in this genre. We’re given family drama and the kind of situations that (yes, a bit “comic’d” up) drive very real and divisive lines between us. Centered around a trio of African-American women (grandmother, mother, and daughter) The Banks plays out like a 1970s film in all the right ways. From the get go it is clear that the thieving livelihood is just the surface water of a much deeper well. Both the thick of the current day and the past that set it up are given equal due as things unfold into what is truly the heist of a lifetime. All grown up, successful, and powerful in her own right Celia (the daughter), ironically and completely lost on her, has wound up doing something that can do so much more damage than the thieving her grandmother and mother have done for their profession. Sitting atop an investment banking firm she’s a bit lost on reality and hypocritically alienates her family. As with all good crime tales though it all comes out in the wash. The family tragedy isn’t exactly what Celia has believed it to be and the truth sends her on a mission of revenge and reconciliation with her past. Facing the truth of just how much she’s like the women she’s from, Celia learns the hard lessons of understanding just how much of the same fabric runs through her despite how different her experiences have been. While the interaction between Celia and her mother steal the show in an overwhelmingly positive way I can’t help but feel grandma being pushed aside. Not only is there so much more to her but there’s so much more to both Celia and her mother that resides in the matriarch of the Banks family. It’s a minor nag due to the fact that The Banks delivers on the family drama and the criminal level. Getting a family/crime drama isn’t something new but The Banks has found a way to carve out its own place and firmly set itself apart from the rest of the genre. You’ll be in love with each flip of the page thanks to the gorgeous art and color work.

The Banks is an excellent book that serves familiar tropes with a welcomed fresh take. Overall 4.25*

Eve of Extinction from Sal Simeone, Steve Simeone, Nik Virella, Isaac Goodheart, Nik Virella, Ruth Redmond, Ariana Maher, and Maria Nguyen is third in line and for me and winds up as the weakest of the bunch. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of good and some unique/lightly used elements that create the framework for something much better than what was delivered. That’s the issue here. The execution of it all was just underwhelming. What could have been a huge deal for representation was simply ignored. The reason it gets me as much as it does is because this has already been played out in the world of comics and pretty visibly to boot. On the surface it is innocent enough. A plague/virus rains down and affects men. There is zero mention and zero attempt to deal with transgendered men (or women for that matter). It simply isn’t addressed and presumably doesn’t exist in the world of Eve of Extinction. Making it worse is that you’ve got a scene taking place in a zoo (where we get a transformed animal) as well as some theorizing about it being the testosterone in men as the reason for them being targeted. Even with alarm bells signaling the creative team in their very own work they don’t do what needs to be done. That’s just not doable in today’s society. I hate that this is the case because outside of this sits a very nice, and for once realistic in its break neck pace, survival story. Stepping outside of things you’ll find a modge podge of different survival elements and safe tropes that are actually put together pretty well. The art is fantastic and really displays the “Thing” vibe of the monsters. There’s some anime inspiration with some of the action and depiction of the monsters too. Most of all it isn’t just a zombie redux but an actual transformation into a monster that takes place. Usage of the elements and SFX really help the atmosphere and help drive the mood in several places. There are times throughout where the art takes over (positively) and drives things. It’s almost enough to make you forget the big miss. Almost. I’m not going to ride the overbearing tone and act like there’s nothing in Eve of Extinction worth checking out. There is.

It’s too bad this book fails to grab hold of the promise that its premise has. There’s a pretty good survival/horror comic underneath the missed opportunity. Overall 2.75*

Sentient by Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Walta, Steve Wands, and Sebastian Girner closes out Wave 2 for TKO and it is the absolute class of the second set of books. This is a fantastic damn book. Sentient wads up a few of the time tested sci-fi tropes and fires a fastball right down the pipe for a perfect strike to kick off the series. Climate change making Earth uninhabitable? Check. Huge colonization spacecraft as a setting? Check. Tragedy due to radical? Check. Dire situation and the most vulnerable of us left alone? Check. Cut off from any and all help? Check. Only hope of survival from the least expected place? Check. It’s all there and yet we still get a completely new take on things. By the time the first issue ends we’re left with a “crew” of children 13 and under, all of the adults dead, a spacecraft in the Black Zone (zone in space with communication cut off from Earth and new home), and the ship’s AI left to care for everyone left onboard. Woven into this sci-fi tale is the story of family; where we find it and how we define it are at the core of Sentient. Left to themselves (and Mother, the ship’s AI) to survive the book focuses on three characters. We get wonderful character growth as the children all have to learn hard lessons about how tragedy and the actions of others shape us and those around us. It is a gripping look at both the intra and interpersonal perspective we all have to learn as people. I do feel that this could have been bolstered by giving more about the radical group behind the event that left the children space drifting on their own. Other than that there isn’t much more that this book could have put in. Visually it is very fitting of a Lemire written tale. It is aptly sci-fi and futuristic but is more tuned to depict the human story that unfolds. The entirety of the book is just so well done. It’s hard to find a new way to illustrate problems we face in real time. Sentient is an absolute new take on the irreverence through which generational action/inaction sets up the next set of problems for society and tosses the young into the deep end before the swimming lesson.

Masterful work of human struggle crafted with the tools of sci-fi. Overall 4.75*

And here’s the thing folks, you don’t have to take my word for it. TKO is proudly standing behind their work and offering you FREE FIRST ISSUES: https://tkopresents.com/pages/free-first-issue … yup! Click the link and you can get the first issue of EVERY TKO series FOR FREE so you can see for yourself just what I’ve been talking about. Treat yo’self and find your new favorite book.

Over The Ropes #1

A young high-flyer named Jason Lynn goes off-script in a match to win the world title and sets the southern territory on fire as the face-painted wrestler, Phoenix. Jason’s battles between the ropes are only outperformed by his struggles outside the ring. First dates. Crooked promoters. Cage matches. Factions and families. No matter what problems smack him with a steel chair, Jason lives by his catchphrase: I. Will. Rise.

Solicitation for OTT #1

STORY – Jay Sandlin
ART – Antonello Cosentino
COLORS – Francesco Segala
LETTERS – Justin Birch

Full disclosure: I’m a wrestle-head. I grew up on 6:05pm EST on TBS watching World Championship Wrestling. The NWA and later WCW featured megastars like Sting, Flair, The Horsemen, Road Warriors, The Russians, The Rock N Roll Express, Dusty Rhodes and so many more. I was a kiddo during the heyday of the 80’s wrestling boom and then was the perfect age for the 90’s explosion. I was ecstatic upon hearing the announcement of this book.

Sure, there have been several comics featuring pro wrestling and there are ones currently on the shelves. This one though, is different. Over the Ropes from Mad Cave is written by Jay Sandlin. I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten to know him a bit through social media over the last 18 months or so. In this time we’ve had several conversations about pro wrestling. Jay is a fan. This is huge in regard to the fact that he’s writing this comic about pro wrestling. He understands what makes pro wrestling entertaining … and what makes it magical. In the press release through Newsarama Jay stated “The characters grew out of my desire to write the kind of wrestling story I gravitated to the most; where the predetermined nature of in-ring action and backstage drama blends with shades of reality until the two are indistinguishable.” The main story line of OTT follows Jason Lynn (a play on a highly popular 90s wrestler) who is a curtain jerking jobber (guy that opens shows and loses to the big names). The in ring and real life persons start to merge as the chosen one of the promotion Lynn works for gets himself beaten out of the title picture, literally.

In a perfect marriage of Kayfabe (the portrayal of both real and staged events as being real) and real life, our underdog hero gets the opportunity of a life time. There’s a big issue though. See, the owner of the promotion is the reigning champion and he’s been grooming his son as the hotshot boiling over to challenge and eventually take him down. The whole plot line borrows from real instances that played out during the 80s and 90s pro wrestling scene. For wrestling fans it is an absolute treat. Comic fans will appreciate the person behind the persona story line. Jason is the low man on the totem pole and doesn’t gain from the nepotism coursing through his biggest personal (but not professional) rival. As the persona becomes too much for Billy Raddison (the champ’s son and next in line) to handle outside of the confines of the wrestling ring he finds himself on the end of a real life ass kicking. This tosses a huge wrench in the plans. Jason Lynn finds himself being given the silver platter but with a huge catch.

Being told that you’re going to be the champion is undoubtedly the pinnacle of a pro wrestler’s career. Everything you’ve done has been noticed and the promotion feels that not only have you earned the chance, but that the business will be better with you as the face. It’s got to be just as big of a gut punch though if you’re told you’ll be champion … but not as you. This is exactly what happens to Jason. See, our hero isn’t the only one with a huge opportunity. The SFW (the wrestling promotion in Over the Ropes) is sitting on the cusp of a huge deal with a major TV Network. Just as Jason’s opportunity comes with a catch, so does the SFW’s. The network wants a new face as champion. It’s a situation that has to be acted on for the promotion to step into the limelight. With this knowledge the plan is hatched and Jason looks to make his move. Going off-script he jumps on the opportunity and takes flight.

With the inner workings of pro wrestling serving as the backdrop for this book to draw from I can’t wait to see just which dusty road we go down. Both Jason and the promotion are set up and in precarious positions. The entirety of the situation is tenuous at best and danger is now lurking around every corner. Hidden behind the references and nods to pro wrestling tradition (such as a Luchadore that wears his mask at all times) is a carefully curated personal story. As a wrestle-head I am well served with this book and get plenty of feel good moments/bits. What I do feel though, is that the casual, merely familiar, or not hip at all to wrestling comic reader won’t be able to connect as much to this book. There is a decent amount of nuance that they’ll blank on because they simply don’t know. The perfect example of this is Jason’s outfit on his date. This book is done well and the real life subject matter it borrows from is wonderfully infused and alluded too. However, there’s going to be a good chunk of folks that simply miss out on that and don’t know how well this is done. The effectiveness and execution of this title simply won’t be recognized by many comic readers, and that’s a shame.

Beyond Sandlin’s scripting, Cosetino delivers fantastic visuals. The artwork is excellent and captures the look and feel of what the title is portraying. Segala’s coloring matches the lines. Only thing I’d have liked more would have been a little more dynamic approach to the wrestling personas and scenes. Part of the appeal of pro wrestling is that it is larger than life. I’m not digging on the colors from Segala mind you. I just feel that there is a missed opportunity to enhance the book here. The same goes for the lettering. Birch is very good. You don’t get in the Ringo convo and letter books for literally more than a handful of publishers if you aren’t. As with the colors though, I feel there was some missed opportunity given the subject matter. Bottom line is that this is a very good debut that does more than a little justice to its source matter. There is a solid premise set up and I’m eagerly awaiting what this series brings. I just wish that everyone picking it up would “get it” as much as I have.

IN SHOPS NCBD DEC 4th!

Driving Creators grade for Over the Ropes #1: 9.2

The heart and soul of pro wrestling is evident in this book. Jay knows what makes it tick and what makes it relatable. Being a fan of the sport gives Jay the ability to create things within the comic that other writers couldn’t but it is also a slight alienating factor as well. The book’s effectiveness does rely on a certain level of interest/understanding of the reader. While slightly limiting, if it is the biggest thing working against the title then this will be a great series.

STORY: ***
ART: ****
COLORS: ***
LETTERS: ****
OVERALL: 3.5*

GOD PUNCHER

Lane Lloyd is a creator you need to be getting hip too, full stop. Early on in my comic book twitterdom I was fortunate to have come across Lane as God Puncher was getting ready to debut. Now, with three issues out, this fantastical explosion of imagination is a book that deserves your diving head first into. This self-published comic is as raw as they come in the best possible way. Lane’s unbridled joy for the medium shines through in the work he produces. Self described as “if Dr. Seuss dropped acid before drawing,” the train of thought is pretty spot on for describing Lane’s art. It is unconventional, cartoony, mesmerizing, off-kilter, and an absolute breath of fresh air to take in. Chances are you’ve not come across anything that’s very close to what you’ll see in the pages of God Puncher. A truly unique approach to comics and storytelling sit within the ballad of Tim Finnly.

One of the best parts of this story is the simplicity through which a very broad and complex world is filtered. Lane has taken a very basic and primal thought (who we are in life and what our placement in it is) and thrust it directly into the confrontation that man, as a species, begs for. The very title, GOD PUNCHER, elicits this confrontation and the action we’d likely take were we to meet our creator(s). Despite being prideful and having an indescribable urge to understand our belief systems are predicated on that which we can’t and weren’t meant to understand. In God Puncher we get a point blank exploration of the gifts (in this case Tim Finnly’s ability to fight) that the Gods have bestowed to mortals. Within that gift we see the hubris of both man and God. Finnly has become a legend and grown to have a God-like status himself. One of the Gods seeks to erase the false claims and put ‘man’ right back where he belongs. As both entities suffer the consequences of their actions the story of Tim Finnly truly sets off on a wild and fantastical journey.

The confrontation of Man VS God is but the start of this tale. Focused and with new purpose Finnly charts a course for redemption. The chase, showdown, and comeuppance of both Finnly and the God is an entire saga in of itself. The fact that it is just the opening salvo to the God Puncher story speaks volumes to the ground work Lane has put down and the ambition with which he is creating this story. Issue two gives us a rather grand introduction and we get a glimpse at just how big of an area Tim (and we) are playing in. There are other deities and powerful beings that would have their wills imparted. The tale is grand but Lane is more than up to the task of telling it. The rampant imagination explodes from every page. While slapstick in approach there is a sharp edge to things that keeps the humor in check. Truly unique in its presentation, you cannot help but be drawn to Lane’s art. With this series we actually get to see just how much and how quickly that Lane has grown and improved in just four issues (a zero issue and #1-3) of work. Seeing how he’s played with color usage and the advantages that his zany style provides is an added treat to the books themselves. You can still jump into God Puncher with ease. The story moves quick and the pages flow. You’ll find yourelf going back and forth to fully take in the art. In going back you’ll find an added layer to the book. I did when I re-read after getting issue three. The big scale world and big time issue that Lane tackles with God Puncher is perfectly juxtaposed by his art. One of the many (and most successful) ways people deal with overbearing situations is humor. Seeing the God figures with a slapstick edge to their look helps endear Tim and his endeavor to the readers. It allows for the connections to be made and the heartstrings to be tied.

Go support Lane and grab yourself the God Puncher series at: https://gumroad.com/lanedoescomics

After you’ve caught up be sure to nab issue #4 NCBD NOV 27!

OGRES #1

STORY: Bob Salley
ART/LETTERS: Shawn Daley

After the runaway success of OGRE (VOL 1 review here), Bob Salley and Shawn Daley have returned to the universe that brought us the surprise hit. A wholesome, heartfelt treat awaited us within those pages and now we’re getting an expansion on the mythos from which it came. I’m here for this. I know I wasn’t the only one caught off guard (in a good way) with OGRE. This time around I came in expecting more than what the solicitation was telling me. I got it. While you don’t have to have read OGRE (though I suggest it simply because it is great) in order to understand what’s going on here, it lends to appreciating it more. With an experience with this world to draw from before hand this opening issue works much more effectively and reads more poignantly. That said there is no need to do so. Salley does an excellent job of giving us everything we need to get what’s going on. Based on what we do know from the earlier series this could be a prequel, but maybe it isn’t. (more in this in just a sec). Thrust straight into conflict and with the world on fire Bob immediately causes you to feel. You aren’t MADE to feel with a deliberate point for reaction bit mind you, but the opening scenes bring the emotion out of you.

I’m not sure if this is a prequel because it is also possible that this takes place during, or is the very start of, the story we get in OGRE. It’s at the start of man’s intrusion on this world but exactly when that is in relation to the original book isn’t clear and isn’t addressed. What I did clearly take from the pages is that the message about war that sat within OGRE has been expanded upon. The concept of war and what it brings loomed before. Now we’re getting the personal level of the effects of war and what individuals can be forced to do … or more aptly, what they FEEL they are forced to do. Going from the macro of the effects of war to the micro is a fantastic juxtaposition with the books themselves going from a micro tale of a singular ogre to the macro of the races involved. Whatever this book ends up being in relation to the first (prequel, within the same time, or something else) the expertise in laying out the messages they tell is evident. That there is connection to the first book is clear but the individualism of this title is unmistakable.

The outlook is bleak from the get go. The world has essentially been destroyed and the plague of man is marching across the land. Though other races of beings face the same doom scenario they cannot see past the very human issue of conflict in the wake of dwindling resources. Using these other outlets to relate the human condition and all that is wrong with it is yet another beautiful device employed by Salley and Daley. Taking cues from the script, Daley’s art pulls an incredible double duty. Presenting the fantasy of the land and characters this tale employs takes a very specific aesthetic. I don’t know that there’s a better fit for it than Shawn. How something can be simultaneously beautiful and evoke feelings of such hopelessness is beyond me. The fact that both the wonder of the fairy tale land and the harsh reality of the human plague exist in the same pictures in such an effortless way takes this story to another level.

The only thing dragging on me is not being able place the story in its proper context chronologically in regards to the original book. In the timeline of the overall events of this universe we’ve got a solid line on when this takes place. Nuance is the secret ingredient of this tale though and not having the proper placement keeps some of the connection from fully forming. I feel like there is some inner weaving and think that I see some strings tying the original to this tale. As this book develops more the fleshing out of how this follow up relates to the original tale will surely happen. Having to wonder about what I think I’m seeing keeps the debut from knocking it out of the park. However, when the biggest thing holding a book back is an uncertainty of just how well it has been woven into the existing tapestry … well you’re looking at a great book. As OGRES unfolds we’ll undoubtedly find the parallels.

IN SHOPS NCBD NOV 27th!

DrivingCreators grade for OGRES #1: 9.4

Expanding on the cult hit universe of OGRE was always going to be risky. Sometimes you strike gold and a book just works. That doesn’t mean it’ll work beyond the original. No worry here. OGRES feels exactly like it should and is right at home in the universe in which it resides.

STORY: ****
ART: ****
COLORS: ****
LETTERS: ****
OVERALL: 4.0*