Trillium (2014) Review

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STORY BY Jeff Lemire

ART BY Jeff Lemire

Once the final page to this incredible arc is flipped, the mind will have to take a moment to soak in the amount of layers and depth Jeff Lemire had just expressed. At first, Trillium begins as a hard Sci-Fi. Lemire crams heavy world building exposition into every tiny panel on his 12 grid layout. There’s a great sentient virus traveling throughout the universe eradicating all trace of humanity. The Trillium flower is our last hope for a cure. Meanwhile, our two protagonist William and Nika are racing against time and space to uncover the deeper meaning of the Trillium flower, the alien race who holds it sacred and the looming black hole.

Like all good Sci-Fi’s Lemire begins his story with a straight forward solve the mystery save the world scenario; however, once the tale finishes it becomes an exercise in existentialism. Lemire breaksdown the conventional linear narrative in order to accurately express his ideas and characters. For example, remember the cramming heavy exposition into those small panels? In addition, Lemire will also force us to flip the book upside down to read the story from the opposite protagonists perspective. There’s an issue where we have to read it from front to back and then back to front. Not only does this approach force the reader to become actively involved, but also this style breaks linear continuity down into a singularity.

Also, Lemire has also went to great lengths to show a communication breakdown. He portrays this rather through people not being able to speak or understand the other, or the perspectives and motivation runs against the protagonist ideology. It’s only solved with patience and a connection through the Trillium flower. A flower which becomes more symbolic for unity as the story progresses. By the way, Lemire even took time out to create an alien alphabet where people willing to spend time can decode and translate the cryptic alien language.

In the background, the architectural designs and details for the Inca temples or the spaceships are highly detailed. Meanwhile the foreground objects such as characters and artifacts often have an impressionist style. With the world building details of technology contrasting with the unusual morphology of the characters and cosmos, it establishes a more classic science fiction tone and style.

Jeff Lemire forces the reader to actively participate in this Sci-Fi adventure, but it isn’t without reward. The amount of work and creativity Lemire put into deconstructing conventional comic book narrative in order to build this epic is staggering and worth applause. Once the final page to this incredible arc has flipped, it will a take moment before we realize Jeff Lemire had cleverly broke down the existential question into one answer. The non linear structure, the shifting perspectives, the use of language and technology it’s all about a message which transcends beyond time and space.

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The Black Beetle : No Way Out (2014) Review

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STORY BY Francesco Francavilla

ART BY Francesco Francavilla

Black Beetle is a tribute to noir style crime fighters. Although the case begins with the protagonist, Black Beetle, trying to take down a crime boss, the unexpected turn of events creates a hard boiled reactionary who-done-it. Because these scenarios are common in the violent and seedy world of pulp, Black Beetle had developed a paranoid sense to always “expect the unexpected”. Therefore, he consistently pulls out a new gadget that fits each unexpected occasion. Regardless, this doesn’t mean he’s the omniscient and impervious type of hero. We actively watch Black Beetle find and follow clues while taking a significant amount of damage, rather from a concussion blast or falling helplessly into a pit of man-eating rats and more bizarre situations which rely on equal amounts of luck and cunning.

When it comes to action, none can pack action into one panel like Francavilla. His mastery over colors and framing creates a superior amount of boiling tension and kinetic energy. For example, at one point he uses a retro style which uses shifting colors and onomatopoeia in the spreads for the Hard Way Fight. There are other points where Francavilla will creatively layer car chases or explosions over panels which also continues the explosive momentum. Towards the end he cleverly put the panels together for a jigsaw spread during the pulpy obligatory revelatory montage. Then, there’s The Beetle’s car. It will only have one illustration per issue, but the car combined with the beautiful use of light beams as motion lines and dust clouds and gravel spitting out of the panel makes its brief appearance a roaring pleasure.

Although the artwork is masterfully crafted and designed, a brief scan of each page clearly depicts this is a loving tribute to the minimalist style of noir comicstrips and pulp magazines. The tri-tone colors bleeding beyond the thick inky lines also retain that pulp magazine tone. In another nod to the classic heroes, Francavilla will use contrasting colors for characterization. Orange and black signifies the Beetle while yellow and black represents Labyrinto. Because there’s a minimal amount of detail in the background, what details he does give draws the eyes in to the frame almost prompting the reader to play detective and look for clues. Despite the minimalist comicstrip style, Francavilla’s art still brings Colt City to life. There’s just enough to give the impression a well placed bomb could make all its brick and mortar crumble into a pile of dust. Then to give Colt City’s night life a little more character he will sometimes illustrate music in the panels gutters. Every detail in every panel is thought-out and put there in order to establish tone and place.

For those who miss the stripped down and straight forward plots of Detective Comics, this is a new series which is worth shining a light on. Although it’s hard to talk about Francessco Francavilla without gushing over his art, the hard boiled plot, protagonist, and villain have just as much layers and details integrated as his art. Once the reader flips that final page, they are sure to go back to the beginning and start retracing every step through every panel.

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Rat Queens: Campaign 1 (2014) Review

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STORY BY Kurtis J. Wiebe

ART BY Roc Upchurch

For those old, new and current gamers of dice throwing Role Playing Games of any sort, Rat Queens is your mistress. The campaign has the cliché underlying mystery with a few small battles which build up to one major all epic of epicness battle sure to top every battle until the end of the next story arc.

However, this isn’t what makes Rat Queen’s so special. It’s the fact that every loud mouth character is a perfect iteration of the people we use to chuck dice and level grind with. Betty is the social and provocative butterfly who always brings the candy and drinks. Jerk know-it-all Hannah endlessly pulls spells out of her ass to save the day while effortlessly pissing everyone off. Meanwhile, Violet would rather rely on her armor class and attacks rather than her intelligence checks to solve any problem. Then there’s the quiet and mysterious Dee who spends an obnoxious amount of time juggling her backstory and healing the Rat Queens. Finally there’s Sawyer who takes on the role of being the passive game master who just wants to try and push these vulgar degenerates into the direction of some sort of quest.

Unlike other takes on the RPG genre, this series doesn’t get bogged down with the quests or backstories. Instead, it relies on quips and quick jabs at each other to move the pacing along. Even when there are brutal fights with explosive guts and brain matter, chances are the readers are still laughing from the Rat Queen’s hijinks. The Rat Queen’s also make sure to wink or stumble towards the fourth wall cleverly letting us in on the joke.

The Rat Queen’s as well as all the other guild’s are adorned with garb which is part fantasy and part contemporary. This is a nice touch and it’s easy to imagine people dressed similarly at the next Live Action Role Playing gathering or Renaissance Festival. At first glance the lines seem jagged and the characters are abstract caricatures. However, with closer examination the amount of exhausting depth and detail pops out to a photorealistic quality. Rather it be from the physical traits such as eyes, ears, hands, or the backgrounds contrasting with the foregrounds through the use of shading, focus, and textures, or the simple and small tears in the fabric and flesh, each panel is a feast for the eyes. For an indie release, it’s amazing Roc Upchurch is able to pull off the coloring, inking, drawing with just his own two hands.

Although this might seem like a niche release, it’s ridiculously enjoyable for even the level one readers. Even if one misses a few issues, Kurtis J Wiebe writes a way where any issue can be a jumping on point. Once again, this series doesn’t get bogged down with an epic overarching story where if you missed the castoff you better wait until the next arc begins. Instead, just like a great campaign ran by a great storyteller, each issue is a great opportunity to join in for a great laugh. Rat Queens is just that great.

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Brother Lono (2014) Review

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STORY BY Brian Azzarello

ART BY Eduardo Risso

COLORS BY Patricia Mulvihill

LETTERS BY Clem Robins

After many years, we’re finally thrown back into the high risk ultra violence of 100 bullets. Brother Lono has been M.I.A. for a stretch of time and has taken shelter at a Mexican Catholic Orphanage run by Father Manny and a suspiciously sexy Sister June. Of course, what’s a Mexican crime story without a drug cartels, drug mules, bloodlust philosophers, and scantly clad maybe-not-under-aged hookers?

Just like any hard boiled story about reformed killers, it paces back and forth on the line between redemption and damnation. However, Azzarello’s writing doesn’t come off as forced or preachy. Instead, the diatribes flow more like deathrow poetry which stitch their way through the hyper violence. By the end of the series, Azzarrello and Risso madon for creative brutality made beheading’s look like mercy kills. Although the amount of suffering and death trivializes life and hope, it’s counterbalanced by the moral dilemmas; therefore, bringing the theme and nature of 100 Bullets back to life.

Although the story focuses on Lono and his redemption, his redemption is actually the burden of Father Manny. In the earlier series, a briefcase of 100 bullets was given to a protagonist to bring balance back to their lives, but it was always with a profound cost. Father Manny’s 100 Bullets is Lono himself. He’s given the dilemma between using Lono to defend the orphanage from the cartels or to save Lono from himself. In an act of weakness and fear, Father Manny lights the fuse and as the good book says, “Hell followed with him”.

The art style has matured a little over the years. The lines are a little more clean and the colors a little more polished. The beautiful contrast between the inky darks and the golden tans gave more depth and focus between the characters and their landscapes. Once again, the torture and blood shed was creatively sadistic. The women’s curvacious bodies all dripped with dangerous sex appeal. It was also graceful how Risso would ink iconic Hispanic street or prison art into the landscapes or bodies of the villains.

Not only is this a good tale for beginners to get a taste of the classic series, but also for old fans it felt like a fresh take on what had come before and is definitely worth picking up. What may sound like a classic anti hero tale actually slowly burned into a story about how desperation can cause irredeemable acts. In the world of 100 Bullets, there’s never a short supply of either; however, this struggle against giving into the fight is what makes these stories tick timelessly. It’s never a question of can you but will you.