Bleed Them Dry #1-2

I dote on Vault Comics all the time. You might say I gush. That’s fair and I ain’t apologizing because the books they put on the shelves continue to redefine the conventions of an already unconventional medium. Essentially they are the perfect encapsulation of why comics are the greatest creative outlet there is. Enter Bleed Them Dry from Hiroshi Koizumi, Eliot Rahal, Dike Ruan, Miquel Muerto, and AndWorldDesign. They have taken Vault’s tag line, “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Comics,” and created their own superfood for all of us to mainline. In a BladeRunner-esque world a monster straight out of medieval lore has been completely remade in a neo-punk tale that feels right at home in our present day. Also there’s ninja aspects and extraterrestrial shenanigans. Oh, and it has a nice pulpy/noir detective wrapping. What? Yes you read all of that correctly and it sounds as insane as you think it does. Also, it’s fucking perfect.

Immediately the book sinks its teeth into you and draws you right down into the thick of its pages. The proverbial shit has already hit the fan. Borrowing from his excellent family-mafia style Hot Lunch Special, Rahal invokes that old school grit to engulf several of the book’s elements in the first few pages of issue one. The approach is smart because as the book gets moving we find out that as much as there’s upheaval and an unprecedented occurrence going down, the world that exists is long established. There’s a rank, file, and order with society and its inhabitants. As much as has changed it remains the same. This in particular is a neat trick given everything that has been tossed into this hot pot of a comic. It is in that, that Ruan and Muerto’s work truly shines a light on this marriage of elements.

Ruan and Muerto do a fantastic job of creating the impossible mash up of elements that Bleed Them Dry pulls from to create the appropriate imaginative setting the book demands. Making the story feel familiar despite its unprecedented amalgamation of elements is just them showing off how insanely good they are.

The demand from the creative team that Bleed Them Dry invokes, as a story, is impossible to fathom. This is an ambitious book. Given the publisher and writer I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this point. In fact, this will be a book that both (along with the rest of the creative team) will be able to point to as proof positive that mining the far reaches of creativity is beyond a worth while effort. Wrangling the concepts and presenting them is incredibly difficult but it is masterfully done in Bleed Them Dry. To top it off AndWorldDesign ties an expert bow around things with the lettering. From captions that house a character’s writing, different thought captions, and the tone/expression in the dialogue itself the structural pieces of the book are second to none. It all immerses you wholly into this expansive and innovative world. Nothing about it takes away from anything else. Again it’s fucking perfect. Back to the story itself. Good old-fashioned police work is the probe through which this ‘bigger than’ story is being explored. Much of the genius in Bleed Them Dry resides in the fact that the lore is already built in. Readers are dropped into an established and pre-built world. As pages turn and events unfold certain realities of how things are get revealed. Toss in a few catch up bits and we’re given what we need to know despite it being very obvious that there’s plenty more to be uncovered. One of the things that helps bridge it all is the attention given to each part singularly so that it may do what it needs for the whole of the book. The efforts of the police have the proper pulpy tones, the vampires look and feel every bit the part, and the cityscape itself lends to the overbearing structure of it all. But, just what in the fresh hell is going on?

It isn’t a simple answer as the first two issues have been paced wonderfully to reveal just enough to invest you in several plot points going forward. At the heart of Bleed Them Dry is a murder mystery. The Immortals are being killed. What the shit? Starting off the story is a big game event and already every character introduced is intrinsically woven into the fabric of the mystery either directly or through the events that the first two issues see play out. Thanks to the brilliant mixture (and juxtaposition) of the futuristic vampire infused world with the history and lore of the ninja element of the puzzle being alive and well we get a ridiculously balanced cast. That permeates to the story itself as well. The previously mentioned catch up bits ensure that some of what people may have found hard to buy alongside some other things fall right into place. By the end of the second issue however there’s a whole host of shit about to go down. Personally I can’t wait for it.

Neofuture cyberpunk ninja fucking cosmic vampire murder mystery noir …. Yes, it is literally everything you could want.

No One’s Rose

Emily Horn, Zac Thompson, Alberto Jimenez-Alburquerque, Raul Angulo, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

It isn’t too often that something in the comic book world presents you with a place or situation that you’ve never seen or experienced before. Finding a truly unique place or take either resides within a niche that only a few will explore or is so far out there it’s just “comic booky.” To have a book that doesn’t just rewrite the rules or simply have a neat twist to the well known, but instead defies conventions and creates a completely new way of thinking about current societal and global issues would be an absolute gem. Welcome to No One’s Rose. The description (from Zac Thompson) immediately sets the tone for this book (and even then you’re still not quite ready for the world that you’re immersed in upon reading). “Solar Punk” is the given name to the approach taken by No One’s Rose. The simple pitch is “V for Vendetta meets Avatar.” That’s actually an excellent quick descriptor that helps welcome you to the world created and outlook explored throughout the pages. The overt themes of those two works (such as fighting oppression, ignorance of group-think, and harm of ignoring nature) are a great jumping off point in regards to No One’s Rose.

The issues tackled are globally relevant and presented in both as beautiful and dire truths as they reside in our current society.

The lens of optimism might be as perfect of a double edge sword as can exist. The hope, potential, and inspiration that can be found through it are capable of providing an inner power beyond what one could imagine. The blindness, irrational belief, and clouded judgement that can be found through it are capable of providing a danger beyond what one could ever see. Part of the mastery in No One’s Rose is that the book sees very clearly through this lens. The entire approach involves acknowledging, accounting for, and taking stock of the present day environmental concerns and still looking forward with hope. It isn’t blind or dismissive. Rather it uses all of the possibly cataclysmic dangers of today and uses them to polish that optimistic lens. The proof in the pudding here is the visual execution of the book. They stylistic choices, color pops, design, and equal detail given to everything from background landscaping to the domes green zone that encapsulates the lives of the characters. As with the message of the book the art delivers with purpose. Just as multiple elements have brought about the problems we face the artwork within these pages executes multiple approaches to deliver the message being transmitted. That message though, may not be exactly what people are thinking when they read the solicit or tag lines for this book. I mean, it is about that, but what that entails is likely going to catch people napping. Vault is very good at seeking out stories that do this and the creative team behind this book ramps this up to eleven. From the opening:

In the past, our relationship with nature was rooted in a lie. We said caring for the environment was an act of altruism. But having empathy for the planet was about all of us.

Yes it’s about all of us. It always has been, is now, and will forever be. One of the greatest plagues that humans suffer is that of projection. All that is broken, sour, deluded, and wrong about what sits in us is thrown up all over everyone and everything else. Whether it be on a personal level, group think, or as species we cannot help ourselves. The finger is pointed outward. Our pursuits of better either create an equal worse or are somehow tied to an equally negative outcome. No One’s Rose doesn’t only take all of this into account but uses it as fuel for the cautious optimism with which it handles a brave new outlook on how we can be what our best intentions strive to be. An entire reconstruction of a familiar, and oft distorted, concept is on display. Due to this issue one of No One’s Rose does an insane amount of heavy lifting and it does so in impressive fashion. Take out the new Solar Punk concept and you have an amazing first edition of a grand scheme science fiction saga. Remove yourself from the message being conveyed and you’ve got beautifully crafted panels that urge you to turn page after page. Don’t however, do either of those things. Don’t rob yourself of the mastery of this book.

Following in the new set tradition of Vault titles, No One’s Rose is so much more than the paper or digital pages that compose its make up. Kind of ironically the two ways to consume the book (old fashioned print and digital medium) are representative of the merging of present day and our future. The symmetry in that is just one more way that the intelligence poured into creating the message and world of No One’s Rose. The science involved in the story is based in the actual science of ecology. The narrative is expertly crafted in both the comic and real to life aspects it resides in. The visual journey strengthens the dialogue and amplifies the concepts it represents ten fold.

With the current state of our global society No One’s Rose shines a real time light on the plagues we suffer, the way forward, and the method by which we get there. Solidarity. This book doesn’t just rewrite the rules or simply have a neat twist to the well known, but instead defies conventions and creates a completely new way of thinking about current societal and global issues.

The Scout Shout

Scout Comics has stepped up to the plate in a big way with their reader and “comic press” interaction. Recently we received information and review copies of their titles set for June. There is a slew of new #1’s as well as North Bend #2 and White Ash #4. These books are all scheduled to come out in June.  There is a chance however, with Diamond slowly ramping distribution back up, that some of these will end up hitting shelves in July. We looked through the upcoming titles and are going to highlight, or SHOUT about what has us excited:

Metal Shark Bro 2 #1

We kick off with the heavy metal return of the already cult favorite Metal Shark Bro. Now normally swimming off into the sunset would be a happy way to set sail on your story … but there’s nothing normal about the MSB story. In fact, it’s a zany and over the top romp and the second volume picks right up where the first left off. They’ve dialed the weird, gory and gross up to eleven and I love it. The best part about the kick off to VOL 2 is that the magic of the original iteration has been captured yet again. This is a seamless transition to the next part of the story for MSB.

For me that was the integral piece to this debut issue. Would it still be MSB? It is absolutely exactly that. Picking up after our lovable Bro had been returned to true form, we find that offing Beelzebra may have kicked off more trouble than the jackass was worth. All his grungy fanboys/girls/demons/etc have their panties in a bunch over what MSB did. To deal with the absurdity of MSB himself there had to be an equally over the top baddie. The last few pages of the debut to VOL 2 don’t disappoint. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out … in true MetalShark Bro fashion.

Don’t miss the kickoff to the next round of zaniness from BOB FRANTS, KEVIN CUFFE, WALTER OSTLIE, and CHAS! PANGBURN

It Eats What Feeds It

A truly eerie horror tale kicks off in June. Before being absorbed by the story I was immediately struck by scenes in this book. The art/style is as truly unique as the blending of horror and romance that sits inside of It Eats What Feeds It. The haze of the Louisiana swamp permeates and helps drag you deeper in a metaphorically synergistic reading experience. It is a perfect setting for the dream type allure that falls over the hapless and hopeless teenager that finds a too perfect situation to be much more of a bite than he can chew.

Aside from the overwhelming allure (and willingness) of the stunningly beautiful middle-aged woman that has employed him, the teenage Kenny must contend with his thoughts about the blood drenched kitchen spilling over with raw meat. Oh, and there’s that steel plated and bolt locked attic door that he doesn’t have access to as well. Being deep in the mystic and mysterious bayou, surely everything is fine right? I’m rather intrigued as to where this will go. Themes of exploration, awakening, urges, control (and lack of), and so much more are wrapped in this haunting yet inviting package. You’d swear you’re retracing places you know but realize with each turn of the page that this is somewhere you’ve never been. Risk begets danger begets the ultimate terrifying reveal.

I’m hooked by this excellent and unique opening chapter from Max Hoven, Aaron Crow, and Gabriel Iumazark. (I was able to read the entire 3 issue mini and it is a fantastic horror tale)

North Bend #2

Taking from reality is always a good way to put genuine spook into your story. North Bend does just that as it borrows the Cold War approach and sets the MK ULTRA Project just a few moments into the future. We’re at war with Russia and ourselves. Political revolution and economic ruin are imminent and the CIA is instituting last ditch efforts to regain control. Naturally the answer lies in experimental drugs and mind control methods. We end up with the struggle of personal beliefs facing off against the security of the nation. Taking the honest to goodness fear, grief, and bleakness of a world that is not far off from our own, North Bend creates a suspenseful setting that feels a bit too real.

The biggest draw with this title is that it immediately builds the tension and uneasiness needed to fully immerse the reader into believing the stakes are as high as they are. With the danger real and lurking everywhere the entire effort is almost over before it begins. As the wheels are set in motion the roads lead down paths that are in danger of asking the ultimate price for travel.

The follow up gets things moving well. I’m definitely along for the ride from Ryan Ellsworth, Robert Carey, Ellie Wright, and Thomas Mauer.

White Ash #4

This installment of White Ash introduces Glarian. Slicing and dicing her way onto the scene in bloody fashion she’s not the only thing happening this issue though. Readers get some more of the town’s lore revealed as the Longest Night is glimpsed.

The mystery and plot thicken as with revelation comes more questions. It is clear that death follows this town as there is more than one that plagues this issue. It isn’t all about passing on as a the new player in the game rears his head at the end of the issue. Things are heating up in White Ash and things are just beginning to boil. Aleck is being pulled by his passed but pushed away by the present of his town. With the tragedy of one of the deaths as a powerful reason to bolt he’s given every incentive to take off. Will it be enough to see him off or will he continue to dig into the mystery of White Ash as well as who he is?

I can’t say enough about this fantasy epic from Charlie Stickney, Conor Hughes, and Fin Cramb.

Disconnect – REVIEW

Written by Dan Hill, Art by Gav Heryng

Kelly is a single mother with a child to raise, bills to pay and a persistent deadbeat ex. She’s also a military drone operator, traumatised by a recent botched operation. Her two lives have begun to seep into one another, and her mind has begun to fray.

In Disconnect, Hill and Heryng have crafted a laudably unflinching portrait of PTSD. The real-world psychological effects of drone operators’ remote, morally questionable work have been well-reported, and to its credit Disconnect feels as much an investigative, biographical piece as a work of fiction. It is a meticulously researched and sharply told examination into a real-world claustrophobic nightmare, worthy of standing alongside any such interrogative piece of art.

That’s something you need to know going in, that this is art, and needs to be approached as such – the characters and narrative are necessarily straightforward and it’s not a pleasant read, but it is worthwhile and artistically important.

Heryng’s artwork makes the most of the medium’s strengths, with several clever art and lettering techniques helping deftly interweave Kelly’s fears and guilt as her home life, the botched operation, and the resultant cover story begin to blend together. Likewise, Hill has plotted his sparse elements expertly to clash against one another, and Disconnect never talks down to its reader by walking us through what the team have so carefully constructed or the moral intricacies of Kelly’s situation; we’re expected to pay attention and consider these issues for ourselves.

That said, an even lighter touch may’ve been wise in certain places. Especially in the first few pages, the dense narration could afford to ease off slightly and allow Heryng’s art to breathe, thereby switching up the pace of the comic. However, the unrelenting narration does effectively communicate the pressure Kelly is under and the ‘always on’ nature of modern life, something Hill and Heryng looked to investigate, so perhaps it’s a worthwhile trade-off.

Disconnect is a hard comic, but an unwavering and impressive portrait of a modern trauma, and an example of comics’ maturity as an artform. It’s uncomfortable art, which may be the most worthwhile form of art there is.

$2.99 for 24 pages of content. 15+ rating

Reviewed by Tom Woodman (@TomMayoWoodman)

Letters from Midia (Graphic Novel) – REVIEW

Art and script by Boluwatife Oriowo, edited by Abiola Oriowo, Olanrewaju Oriowo, and Babatunde Oriowo.

This is the story of a lone knight, Jason, in search of his beloved Princess Midia, who has been kidnapped by her wicked uncle and now leaves letters for Jason in her wake.

Letters from Midia is a pitch-perfect mix of fantasy, humour, and light horror, mixing a little Disney, a little Looney Tunes, and something of Jeff Smith’s Bone in with imaginatively choreographed action and expressive artwork. It’s an unabashedly archetype-driven fantasy, yet unfailingly fresh, Bolu using his audience’s familiarity with the knight’s quest setup to get the story underway swiftly and keeping that pace up throughout.

Although the book is 120 pages long, it’s a quest you’ll likely zip through in one joyous sitting, in part due to the mute (although fantastically characterful) protagonists of Jason and his steed, as well as the action-driven narrative, with Midia’s titular letters providing changes of pace between each action set-piece. And though, yes, the basic setup is familiar, this only serves to make each break with expectation more effective and gripping.

Bolu has taken on the art, writing, and lettering of the book, which makes the professionalism on display here even more noteworthy. Admittedly, clarity is lost in a couple of the action scenes and some of the lettering could do with a little polish, but the confidence and character poured into this story, especially in the emotive physicality and expressions, is extremely impressive.

I mentioned earlier that the book is 120 pages long, and I’d heartily recommend it at full price, but it’s currently on sale for only $3.01 for the digital edition. That’s incredible value for a fantastic tale, from a creator I hope we see much more of in the coming years.

Letters From Midia, $3.01 – for 120 pages of content. Recommend T+ rating

Reviewed by Tom Woodman (@TomMayoWoodman)