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*

PLB Comics Halloween Special ’19

Our friends over at PLB Comics have put out a Halloween Special for this 2019 horror season. This time of year is usually one that creators either absolutely love, or dread. Themed work can bring out both the best and worst from individuals. PLB has put together a nice entry to the Halloween reading list with their special this year. For the most part, I love anthologies. Personally I feel that horror lends directly to this format and works very well when done in this manner. Let’s take a spoiler free glimpse at what you’ll find inside of this year’s PLB Halloween Special. The anthology has seven different stories to choose from and has a feature that has a nice cameo for fans of PLB’s other works! It’s a smart little cameo and helps build the world around some of the established PLB characters. There’s also a tale that is wholly centered around a PLB character.

First up is DAWN OF THE HAYMAN! (Story/Art by Frank Dawson Jr – Letters by James Dufendach).
Being a child of the 80s I’ve many a horror/slasher movie to recall from my growing up. A couple in particular did the job for me as a kiddo because my grandparents had a farm down in South Texas. Corn and cotton fields surrounded the house and barn. I can state matter of factly that a proper scarecrow is just that, scary. When I opened up the pages and was immediately greeted by a story featuring these bad boys I had to grin. It’s really hard not to be creeped out by scarecrows and the story we’re given to kick things off doesn’t do any work to remedy the issue of scarecrows being freaky. It’s centered around a construction crew that’s not meeting deadlines and are having to clean up … A LOT … of scarecrows. Why, how, what? Yeah the story has a suspenseful edge and ends a bit disturbingly. Fitting for a scarecrow story.

Following up is FOR I HAVE SINNED. (Story by David Spicer – Art by Brandon Spicer – Letters by James Dufendach).
Much of what makes horror great is that it is perfect for harsh realities, being very real in its portrayal, or just down right being blunt. Playing on the very real fear of having a child kidnapped. Being a father that fear is honestly the biggest one I have, that of something happening to my children. This noir-esque entry borrows bits from a few other genres to twist into a very dark and blunt tale. A cult has taken the child in their hopes of summoning a demon. Trying to save the child is a masked vigilante type of hero. All in all the story shocks a bit as it unfolds and keeps a very dark overlay. In the end you’ll enjoy the closure of things while also being taken back a bit.

Next up is BOUND. (Story by Gabe Frumuth – Art by Jeff Tolliver – Letters by James Defendach).
Less of a horror story and more of a look in the mirror using a fantasy setting. We see two sorcerers that are entangled in a battle of ideals. As we struggle with and conflict against others in our lives with issues such as love and strength (the many definitions of each) these sorcerers struggle against each other. There’s also the magic element at play. A short exposé that delves into problems and differences that most can relate to, Bound also plays at the ties that bind us all. I feel there’s more to this one.

THE CAVE bats cleanup. (Story by Josh Shockley – Art by Kurt Krol – Letters by James Dufendach).
It’s hard to imagine having two very crippling real world fears joined together into one really shitty situation. Arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) and claustrophobia (the fear of closed spaces) are bundled for your enjoyment in this entry. As we watch the two men trapped in a cave and, of course, separated by a heap of rocks we’re thrown another curveball. It isn’t just a creepy story grabbing us and keeping us as confined as the two unfortunate souls in the cave. No no, we’ve got friggin poisonous spiders inhabiting the cave too. Wait, sorry, that’s HUGE poisonous spiders inhabiting the cave. It’ll make you anxious for sure.

The five hole is occupied by BLACK BUTTERFLY. (Story/Art by Josh Shockley – Letters by James Dufendach).
PLB gives their fans a little treat in this one as favorite characters John the Swamp Dude and Bobby make an appearance. Why? Well this one is set in the same universe as JtSD! Excellent usage of tools on hand! This tale brings us the ‘things are not what they seem’ entry in the anthology. A good looking widow needs help removing a tree out in the woods. Two poor saps, er, adventurous souls head out to help. Except you know, there’s more at play and the widow has plans for her would be helpers. Great little expansion on the universe that inhabits PLBs most popular folks!

LIGHT UP THE NIGHT is the penultimate tale in the anthology. (Story by Josh Shockley – Art by Russ Walton – Letters by James Dufendach).
Arguably the best part of Halloween is seeing the kiddos and their free spirits running wild. The tradition of going Trick or Treating-ing is something that many love and cherish. There’s a cuddly innocence and view of things was folks get costumed up, have fun, and drop all the pretense. Well sometimes the Jack’o’Lanterns have a mind of their own full of ideas for Halloween. This tale brings us just such an occasion. You’ll be immersed in the Halloween Spirit as the sentient squash plays on the child’s imagination.

Closing out the book is THE REAPER. (Story by Scott Markley – Art by Frank Dawson Jr – Letters by James Dufendach).
More inner workings here as The Fall universe sees some action. Specifically the masked vigilante the universe centers around takes center stage. Life, Death, and the balance between is the subject of conversation as The Reaper pays a visit. The grainy approach and dimly lit corner of this universe is used well to present questions and address the scary inevitability of life. Though, is the Reaper there for just a coffee talk or is there more to the visit?

The PLB Comics Halloween Special 2019 is a fun read. Original stories are mixed in with familiar faces from the PLB stable of books in order to provide a welcoming presence for both new and old readers to the publisher. Traditional horror, suspenseful stories, and even some thought provoking terror keep you entertained and the pages flipping. Done in black and white, the book shares the Halloween theme and maintains a form of continuity while presenting the wholly individual tales on their own merit. This is an entry into the seasonal anthology you’ll be glad you checked out.

You can grab the Halloween Special and other great PLB titles NOW! at their webshop:
http://www.plbcomics.com/store.html

These Savage Shores #5

W: Ram VA: Sumit KumarC: Vittorio AstoneL: Aditya Bidikar

I’m crushed, in awe, and in love. Those were my immediate feelings upon closing out this magnificent book. The lines drawn in this epic saga and the journeys we’ve traveled are nothing short of brilliant. The overtones and bigger pictures that played the nuance during the start of the series have given way to the very up close and personal theme of choice. The whittling away of the larger scopes to reveal the singular driving force behind it all has been masterful. Who we are … what we are, is all about choice. Regardless of what influence or power that may be held over our heads, ultimately, what we do is our choice and our choice alone. As I’ve stated before, this book visually invokes the beauty of tragedy. The paleness of the somehow still vibrant colors mirror the acceptance of the realization that one way or another we will always be what we are despite what we may want. The harsh but fine lines remind us that even the most beautiful things are capable of being the most deadly. All throughout the design choices display the wonder and hope that we all feel and so desperately want to have shine through and win the day. Combined with the harsh reality of the narrative these elements have created one of the best pieces of art that has been produced in the last five years.

One of the most magical elements of These Savage Shores is the continued reveal of pieces of the cast that enhance the story that much more. Even as the creative team is bringing home this epic tale of fantasy and history, we get even more to digest. We’re given more meaning to the cast which in turn provides yet another layer of meaning to the tragedy of it all. Bishan especially has his masks (both literally and figuratively) peeled away. Every choice made sews an outcome. Choice and the fruit it bares reveals change that cannot be undone here in this final issue. Even for love there are some choices that cannot be overcome. People will argue fate or inevitability when they read over this tale. That though will be their choice to disregard the fact that this creative team hasn’t given us their tale of woe. These Savage Shores gives us our own choice. We can choose to see the beauty in tragedy or the horror in reality. We can choose to accept the consequences of our actions or choose to ask why the condemnation from others for choices made when the outcome was already known. Or, we can choose to accept it all and realize a tale that is beautiful, horrific, fulfilling, gut wrenching, and everything in between. The one piece we don’t have a choice in is the truth that monsters reside everywhere. However, the takeaway from that is our choice. That is perhaps the enduring beauty in truth that These Savage Shores will have. Monsters DO reside everywhere both real and imagined. Their purposes and designations are as varied as their real and imagined states.

The expert blending of historical and and fantastical elements has allowed the creative team to present a world that in itself blends the real and imaginary. In the literal form in the book we have two legendary monsters of myth charging headfirst towards a personal war that boils right out of history. They are representative of two different worlds that, due to the choices made by other monsters (men), have been set on a collision course. Using the history of the two civilizations the creative team propped up a backdrop of real world drama that played out in order to speak to the horrors of that time that we still feel today. Serving as the battlefield of ideology once again, the East/West clash of civilization is sifted down to the most raw of its elements. The monsters that sit at the heart of both are given the spotlight in which to dance.

You will be hard pressed to find a piece of art that is perfectly executed across as many levels as this book is. The marriage of history and myth is flawless. The literal and figurative representation is expertly done. The tale itself is horrifically beautiful and tragically elegant. Even though it rips your heart out you can’t help but love it. You’ll feel compassion while detesting the hate you can’t help but have. Even the character that is cruelest and most devoid of redeeming qualities will pull out understanding from you. Reflecting upon the totality of the circumstances will only deepen the heartbreak while sparking new flames of disgust for those you felt sympathy for.

While monsters are everywhere and heartache lies at the end of everything … choice is always ours, even when it isn’t. These Savage Shores is brilliant. I’m enriched and better for having chosen to trust this creative team.

OUT THIS NCBD OCT 9th!!!