Powers: The Bureau Vol 1 (2014) Review

Powers

STORY BY Brian Michael Bendis

ART BY Michael Avon Oeming

COLORS BY Nick Filardi

LETTERS BY Chris Eliopoulos

It’s part welcome back partner part crime involving kidnapping women. We are quickly reintroduced to Power’s veterans Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker before Bendis throws us into batshit crazy hijinks that makeup the Power’s world. Bendis seems to always shine the most when he is able to cleverly take familiar and ridiculous themes from popculture or other lore and twist them into a different direction. This story arc is no different. We discover that someone is knocking up women, and sometimes men too, with power super sperm which forces them to incubate a kryptonite infused xenomorph which births like one can imagine. Yep, if you’re thinking WTF?, you are a normal human being. However, that’s part of the writing style Power’s readers love about this series.

Powers is a great companion to the super hero world because Bendis builds its foundation and humor off of asking what it would be like to live in a world of superheros. However, this isn’t a nihilistic Moorian take. Instead Bendis will ask questions like,”Would Superhero Groupies buy Power’s Sperm off the Black Market so they can have Power babies?”, or “Can undercover cops exist in a world with psychics?”.

Furthermore, the readers couldn’t ask for better characters to guide us through this world. Each panel gushes with humor because of the Agent Pilgrim’s foul mouthed quips and Agent Walker’s stonefront sarcastic retorts. Their banter combined with Pilgrim’s neurotic personality and Agent Walker’s sordid Power’s backstory fleshes out their dynamic personalities, and it’s a consistent pleasure to see how the agents will handle each new situation.

Because Oeming’s minimalist art style has flourishes like deep shadows and sharp and defined lines which creates a noir tonality, it perfectly compliments the crime procedural theme. The style could be compared to Batman: TAS with the coloring opting for gold rather than blue tones. Also, Oeming’s artwork is also just as over the top as the plot. Each fight scene is godly and brutal, each power ability is eery and luminescent.

There’s never a dull moment in this series. Each twist or new plot point will make any comic book lover smile and soak in the gritty behind the scenes take on living in a powers world. If the reader isn’t laughing at the human element, they are mesmerized by the incredible action from the Powers.

 

Grade: A+

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The Black Beetle : No Way Out (2014) Review

TheBlackBeetle_NoWayOut_01_preview

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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The Courtyard (2003) Review

courtyard

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows

Like many Lovecraft stories, Moore’s Lovecraftian Courtyard focuses on a racist paranoid who begins to experience reality shift away. The story’s protagonist is a federal agent who is an anomaly theorist, which is being able to find a pattern in anomalies. This ability has our agent tying together clues between a string of cases which involve unrelated serial killers cutting their victims into meaty tulips. Hey, what else would one expect from Alan Moore re-imagining Lovecraft for the modern-day?

From the start Moore laces the story with a lot of Lovecraftian nods. The long jawed, dark-haired, pale skinned agent looks like a hard-boiled H.P. Lovecraft doppelgänger. If that doesn’t convince the reader, then his heavy and superfluous internal monologues will. Since this is a short read it’s hard to mention much more of the references without spoiling the pleasure of reading this tale of madness. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that Moore also ties in other literature to expand upon the themes, like the Yellow King in Carcosa. Unlike many other writers of Lovecraftian literature who merely name drop, what Moore does well is craft a story which has the overall feel and tone of Lovecraft. Moore’s name dropping merely establishes the world; whereas, his paranoid and violent characterizations, the lengthy and macabre poetic narrative, as well as the mind-mending and reality breaking themes are what really make this a Lovecraftian homage. Jacen Burrows really nails down the rest of the look and feel of a Lovecraft story. Rather it be the black and white noir style, or the split panel framing which is reminiscent of reading the story out the old Weird Tales prints to the ending’s time and reality warping madness. For example, what do you see in the top right window panel in the second scene? With Courtyard, Moore and Burrows resurrected the madness us cultist mourn for.

Coffin HIll Vol. 1 (2014) Review

ImageSTORY BY
Caitlin Kittredge
ART BY
Inaki Miranda
COLORS BY
Eva de la Cruz
Coffin Hill is equal parts Southern Gothic and Supernatural Noir wrapped in a Neo Gothic style. The story focuses on Lacey Coffin. Lacey was a gothic and angsty teen who ran away from home to escape the witchcraft heritage of the Coffin family. After starting a successful career in law enforcement, she gets involved with an undercover shooting incident which gets her suspended. With no place else to go, she heads back to her home town to confront her bloody past, demented family, and the cursed lands of Coffin Hill.
First of all, writer Caitlin Kittredge wanted to base Coffin Hill off of real life locations known for their spooky histories, such as Salem. When visiting these places, Kittredge noticed it wasn’t the people who made these haunted places eery; rather, it was the location that created the creepy and malevolent ambiance to these locations. With the disembodied voices, the sacrificed children, the Gothic architecture, and the swampy forest, Coffin Hill is clearly the lurking antagonist of this story. In addition, Kittredge also does a great job of pacing out this slow burn mystery. Kittredge never lets the audience peek behind the curtain, but she still manages to give just enough clues at the end of each chapter to make you want to come back for the bigger reveal. She also applies this method towards each of her characters. Instead of shoving their past and motivation down our throats in the first few pages of the series, Kittredge shows glimpses of past actions or interactions between characters to slowly build up who they are and were. Also, it’s fascinating how Kittredge treats the witchcraft. The supernatural is always done in such a way that by the time it’s finished one starts questioning if any of it really happened.
The other half of this story is the art itself. Inaki Miranda and Eva de la Cruz perfectly express the mood and theme of this witchcraftian mystery. The characters retain the neo gothic look that had become synonymous with gothic movies and music about vampires and witches, even the protagonist has Marilyn Manson’s colorless eye. Miranda’s creative use of paneling is something to be admired. Not only will Miranda do things like letting his characters spill over into the next sequential panel but also he uses the panels to match the mindset and pacing of the story. When the story is in the calm sunlight, the panels will usually be in an 8 grid format. However, once the darkness of the supernatural or violence begins, the panels become more abstract or twisted in order to match the delirium. Cruz’s coloring also punctuates this dichotomy. When the setting is tranquil, the colors are warm and brightly highlighted by rays of golden sunshine. When the setting becomes disturbing, the colors are dark and blanketed with blue moon beams.
Kittredge sums up the protagonist in Lacey’s soliloquy , “When in nightmares you fall from a high place, you fight and struggle to wake up to remember the dream isn’t real, but the only thing that will wake you up… is hitting the ground”. By the time this volume wraps up, we see our haunted protagonist finally wake up into the bright reality, and we’re left wondering where can we go from here?
Overall, this story is fresh and brilliantly put together. For fans of the gothic supernatural or are still grieving over the loss of Hellblazer, Coffin Hill is definitely worth the read.

Clown Fatale (2013) Review

ImageClown Fatale follows the misadventures of four curvaceous circus clowns. After the ladies are witnessed stomping the fun out of some rapey patrons, they are  mistaken for another circus troupe who kill-for-hire on their off time. Each clown feels they have hit rock bottom, and they agree to the contract of kill the local cartel because according to them being a murderer is really only one step above being a circus clown anyways. What follows is a blood soaked version of The Man Who Knew Too Much with some heavy doses of Exploitation. Dinisio’s colors and Rosensweig’s artwork are sexy and explosive. Each character is well defined and never feel like a copy from the last caricature. Every violent collision is over the top and radically different from the last. For example, I couldn’t help but smile with delight watching Chloe light her last cigarette off the blazing hair of a screaming rodeo clown running by. Victor Gischler’s script remained straight as a bullet. He didn’t let exposition clutter up the messy fun. Instead, dubious backstories were only revealed enough to push the plot and characters forward, and they never felt contrived or clichéd. They were sensible reflections that help characterize why people are who they are. Also, because the characters never felt grandiose, it was much easier to relate to them and their motivations. One of the most surprising aspects of this comic was the female empowerment. The ladies start off being objectified, used and abused by the Man’s World. However, by the time the story boils over, not only have the clowns learn to defend themselves, but also the women were able to take control and make their own choices. It became quite poetic when Chloe gave one of the male aggressors a choice. He can rather shoot her with his last bullet but be burnt alive, or he can save himself from the pain and agony and take his own life. Honestly, when I picked this issue up, I Thought  it would get lost and forgotten in the endless depths of cleavage just like Lady Death or Grimm Fairy Tales. Instead, it became Dark Horse’s They Call Her One Eye of 2013.