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!!!

Mistakes

W – Brentt Harshman
A – Emilio Utrera
C – A.H.G.
L – LetterSquids

Mistakes, one-shot, cover, self-published, Harshman/Utrera

Another “short” comic (12 pages from cover to close) installment from writer Brentt Harshman, Mistakes takes on the crime genre by virtue of inner conflict. Mick, a criminal, wants to do right by his daughter. That’s a bit problematic for a guy that’s known nothing but a life of crime. I mean it’s kind of tough to try and be responsible when you’re literally sitting in a McDonald’s plotting a crime (which is how we open). It’s a bit hard to describe someone as “good” when they’re a criminal but Mick has that “itch” that only the conscience can bring about. As he’s readying for the next job his morality takes over and he pens a letter to his daughter.

The letter is the heart of the story. It exposes Mick for what he is … a man that knows he has to become someone he’s not, but also has to be true about the person he’s been as well as find a way out of being if he’s to make the change. It is made very clear that Mick wants to be who he should be and that his true inner self hopes nothing more than to find a way to be who he should. It isn’t just a fluff filled hope piece though. The truth of Mick, where he is (and why) is there. The 12 pages short when you hit the end as you want more to this little tale of internal torment. They’re long when you sit back and realize just how much the team was able to put in and how complete the story is (while also managing to leave enough for more). Mistakes isn’t just written extremely well. The pages look every bit the part of a book that you’d see on the shelves any given Wednesday. The closeness of the story is conveyed perfectly while also emphasizing the danger and action of the crime laden life Mick lives. The usage of panel structure, colors, and scaling of the mood of the page all come together to present a striking visual half of the narrative.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Harshman and the creative teams he rallies to put out his stories. Mistakes is another short comic that has left me wanting more. There’s depth to the premise but plenty to make this a stand alone entry. I can go back and flip through just to take in the visuals as well as re-read and pick up subtleties (such as Mick’s letter being captioned on notepaper) that render even more relatability from Mick.

This is one I hope is being pitched.

STORY – ****
ART – ****
COLORS – **** 1/2
LETTERS – ****
OVERALL – 4.25*

RED WINTER #1-3

W – Michael Gordon
A – Francisco Munoz
C – Roland Kalnins
L – Nikki Sherman

You ever ask yourself how things could possibly get worse? Well, you know that saying, be careful what you wish for? Red Winter kind of marries those concepts and brings about a very dark and gritty landscape that tends to pile the shit deeper for our main character. Lovely yeah? Well when you’re an ex-NYC detective that somehow winds up in the guts of Russia’s criminal underworld there’s not a whole bunch of sunshine you can expect to shine on you. Just how one ends up with that as their tag line is likely not an all ages tale. Funny story, that’s just the half of it.

The one thing that Eli Winter (our main man) does have going for him is his gut feeling. Unfortunately for him the one feeling that just might be more powerful than that of the gut is hope. In his situation hope is the worst possible thing that can manifest. Why? Well this is where the meat and taters of the book land on the plate. As is apt to happen in the crime world there’s a hit on a manufacturing source (one for the overlord that Winter works for). The ex-cop is then tasked to do what he used to do best. He’s to be the detective and investigate the hit on his boss’ warehouse. His gut yanks at him and it was dead on. As Winter digs he finds that one of the culprits is … NO SPOILERS … but let’s just say that’s where the hope comes in and promises to make it all go to shit. And all go to shit it does. That driving force of hope really has Winter in a pickle. For all of his good intentions and hope of making things right he’s managed to jump headfirst into that downward spiral. As it stands he’s on the precipice of his entire world collapsing into ruin.

The presentation is fitting of the emotional and moral state the residents of the book find themselves in. Devoid of pretty much everything except the harsh facts of how things are, Red Winter is given the appropriate visual treatment. My main nitpick is that it is perhaps overdone. The tropes are there and the story itself lends to the environment. Sometimes panels and characters look like an unnecessary doubling down of efforts to sell the bleakness. That said, there are plenty of areas in which it pays off and adds to the overall production (especially as issue three unfolds). As it should the book reads quickly. That’s not a slight on the substance, but rather a compliment to the intrigue provided. You keep flipping the pages wanting to see just how the hell it’s all going to tie that bow in the end.

Heading into the finale in Issue #4 (due Oct 30) just how will this mess clean up?

Issue #3 OUT TODAY NCBD SEP 25th!!

STORY – ****
ART – ***
COLORS – ****
LETTERS – ***
OVERALL – 3.5*

Gutter Magic

W – Rich Douek
A – Brett Barkley
C – Jules Rivera
L – Nic Shaw

*Disclaimer here first. Source Point is re-releasing the original Gutter Magic books before heading off into new territory*

It’s a magic infused steampunk ride of a good time that Gutter Magic embarks on. Sure, Cinder Byrnes is a criminal. Yeah, he steals from all sorts (libraries, book shops, even wizards). The odd part though, is that he’s looking for a particular spell … that he can’t cast even if found. Cinder though isn’t merely a common criminal. He should be the inheritor of a rather powerful magic dynasty. His stealing is in direct regard to his searching, researching, and attempts to find a specific spell that can help cure whatever is wrong with his magic (or lack there of).

The world of Gutter Magic, while clearly made to allow for the premise, has been created with savvy touches and expert details that fully immerse the reader in the story. New York is the setting but it isn’t quite the concrete jungle where dreams are made of that most are familiar with. Cinder’s trying to make his dream come true though and that’s right where we jump in. Immediately our main protagonist (along with the details and savvy touches) grabs ahold of us and firmly plants us in the reality of Gutter Magic. This is done by way of Cinder essentially being a ‘normal’ jamoke in a world full of magic and wonder. The fusion of magic and steampunk elements drive home the normalcy of Cinder even more so. The world isn’t so gone into fantasy that the regular human element is but a detail (this is roughly 100 years after World War II). What we know isn’t replaced, but rather it exists alongside the magical and steampunk world in a smorgasbord of readily relatable and far out. Surrounding Cinder are some of those touches and details I was mentioning.

Blacktooth is the sidekick we all need. A goblin that’ll damn near kill a wizard for you? Yes please. From the get go it is clear that Blacktooth is in on this quest to find (and do what is necessary to obtain) the spell that Cinder is looking for. Knowing that the journey and subsequent actions taken will earn plenty of enemies as well as a target on the noggin doesn’t deter the partner one bit. As pie in the sky hopeful as Cinder is, Blacktooth is equally grounded and pragmatic. The pairing and relationship is damn near perfect. Other players in the story are touched upon and given the depth needed to matter going forward. Morgue is certainly not one trifle with, Shiver is clearly muscle, and Rat-Catcher along with his spies are either not what they seem or something uniquely their own. While there are a few hitches and a little cliché running around, they’re minor enough they don’t bog down the over arching goodness.

Going back to the touches and details brings me to the coloring. The book fuses several things into coexistence and nothing looks out of place on the pages. It’s the touches though that really embellish the tale. Cinder’s revolver is clearly a bit more than just a gun. It’s blue hued barrel (and discharge) hint at more however it is clear that it isn’t the same thing as the ‘actual’ magic that is presented. The words ‘gutter magic’ are uttered in reference to Cinder as well which sets up something that is sure to come, but also enhances the touches that the artwork puts across. Both the mundane and fantastical are given equal treatment and bounce off the panels as they should. I believe the magic when I see it and I also feel the architectural mix of the worlds that have been brought together.

Gutter Magic has introduced a unique fantasy stamp and I can’t wait for the second issue …

OUT THIS NCBD OCT 2nd!!!!!

THE DCN GRADE FOR THE DEBUT ISSUE OF GUTTER MAGIC: 9.6

There’s quite a bit to both set up and relay at the onset of Gutter Magic. The script is well done and manages the heavy lifting of not only debuting the story but delving into the expansive world needed to pull it off. The creative team has done a wonderful job of relating and showing the different aspects that make up the world of Gutter Magic. It both looks and reads beautifully.

STORY: ****
ART: ****
COLORS: *****
LETTERS: ****

OVERALL: 4.25*

The Plot

W – Michael Moreci/Tim Daniel
A – Joshua Hixson
C – Jordan Boyd
L – Jim Campbell

First issues already have quite the burden to carry. It has to be catchy enough to get people to pay attention while providing enough substance to show that it isn’t just an attention whore. The issue has to show enough of the potential for the book/creative team/premise while also being but a glimpse of what is to come. Characters and plot lines have to be established, concepts introduced, and there has to be something that unfolds that puts the “I’ll be back for more of this” cherry on the top for readers. All in all a first issue is already up against it and has plenty of challenges to over come. So what happens when you also thrust the pressure of being the Premier Title for a Publisher’s new imprint into the mix? In the case of The Plot Vault has gotten the perfect horror theme celebratory experience that they aim for with the Nightfall line. This is easily a title that can not just carry the weight of being “the flagship” but hold it aloft stronger than He-Man held his mighty sword.

There’s no secret with Moreci and Daniel’s writing. They unabashedly show their love for the genres they tackle but don’t simply retread tropes and go for the “cheap pop” thrills. While they use familiar pieces in their puzzles the work they put out is wholly their own. Plot illustrates this perfectly. In the pages of the first issue you’ll get an unsettling environment, characters that clearly aren’t what they seem, and a taste of the literal horror at play. The Plot is the terror that sit around the corner, the horror that resides in the shadows that stalk us and the dread that looms over us hidden in plain sight. Having read Moreci and Daniel prior to this I know “what” is coming. Obviously not exactly, but as the chapters unfold I’m aware that I’ll be wrong on half or more of what I thought as well as both terrified and entranced in the tale. My emotions will take a ride and with each layer they peel back I’ll both love and hate them. The aura surrounding this first chapter gives me those familiar goosebumps in nervousness and excitement. I couldn’t help but feel I was watching an opening episode as opposed to reading a first chapter. That’s what this book invokes. It draws us in and embraces us because it knows what it’s going to do to us. The subtle lines and drowning blacks on the page both ease and engulf with each turn of the page.

Related image

Enough gushing. To the goods.

Secrets are deadly. They do, in fact, kill. While the easiest thing in the world to have they’re the hardest thing to hold on to. Defined: kept from knowledge or view; hidden. Keeping the definition in mind will open up The Plot on whole new levels and cement just how deep the meaning behind this book really goes. We, the readers are aware there are secrets in the Blaine family. The Blaine family is certainly aware of this on individual levels. Using the veil of what secrets are and mean though, The Plot shrouds the unknown traditionally but also in a masterful storytelling way. Those within the book aren’t privy to all that we the readers are. Chase Blaine is now the guardian of his niece and nephew. The reason why and the catalyst for what’s to come is the absolutely brutal murder of his brother and sister-in-law. However, only we the readers can “see” the entirety of the horror. This is but one element that has set up a foreboding mood for The Plot. The design and look of each turned page reinforces the looming threat that the family secrets pose. It isn’t just that there are secrets hiding everywhere. The secrets themselves are hiding something too.

This is where the blend of the familiar horror tropes and the individual nuance and contributions from the creative team shine. The book is dark and bleak. In reading through you’ll get nothing but dread as the tone and feel on the pages engulfs you. From the lurking shadows you can see as well as the ones that seemingly reach off the page you can’t help but feel the tingle go up your spine and your hairs stand on end. Those goosebumps are telling you that you don’t want to find out more but you can’t help but keep peering around the next corner to see what’s revealed. Piling on even more so, there’s so much more that isn’t given to you while also making you fully aware that you simply have no idea just how deep of a rabbit hole this family falls. Just as importantly as the characters and aura surrounding them, the environment is just as important to the family’s tale. Just as the Blaine’s broken familial doings are evident, the Cape Augusta ancestral home and land also wears the story of underlying truth. The home itself reflects the affluence and, at least on the surface, ‘going against the grain’ strength and goodness that resides in Chase. It also has broken, run down areas that are currently being reconstructed. The overlook is of a black, all consuming bog because there’s nothing dreadful about that.

Could the fact that Chase is a contractor trying to renovate the Cape Augusta be a guise or an effort to paint the true form of this family member? On the surface he appears to be the stark contrast to what the entirety of this first issue is telling us about the family. We know he was estranged from his brother and lived on the opposite side of the country from the family. Yet, upon the untimely (and as we know, quite horrific) death of his brother and sister-in-law we find him open his heart to his niece, nephew, and the family home. Part of that is surely a direct tie to the fact that family is at least one chamber of this book’s heart. It is an all-encompassing premise and absolutely dives as deep as anything else. Marrying that theme to horror/terror is a common and extremely effective route when executed properly. This first issue is everything is great about the terror driven horror and family marriage. I question everything presented in this introduction to The Plot. The family itself, the ancestral plot itself, Chase, the brother and sister-in-law, the niece and nephew, and even the secrets themselves. THAT is the mastery of this creative team. They show love to and give you everything you’re familiar with in regards to horror stories. Then, they carve their own unique trail through the woods and uncover so much more you had no idea. It’s one thing to be told there are secrets everywhere and quite another to feel them lurking and watching you from everywhere as they lay waiting to strike.

I both do and don’t want to know how this all goes. I’m nervous, excited, and terrified of what each installment will bring. I question just how far they’ll go and how deep they can dig and stay true to the scene they’ve set.

I am sitting on pins and needles and I absolutely love it …

OUT THIS NCBD SEPT 25th!!!!!!

THE DCN GRADE FOR THE DEBUT ISSUE OF THE PLOT: 10

The premier title for the new Nightfall line does exactly what it is supposed to do, needed to do, and wanted to do. The visceral feel and emotionally driven dread have charted a bold course for the new imprint. Taking the charge of headlining, the creative team has delivered a perfect introduction for this deeply personal tale as well as the opening salvo for what will surely come to be a yearly delivering of beautifully terrifying books.

STORY: *****
ART: *****
COLORS: *****
LETTERS: *****