Review: More Mythos, Mystery and Death with Pretty Deadly #4

Picking up after issue #3’s unsettling revelation of Sissy’s birth, Pretty Deadly #4 immediately kicks into gear as the rogues and not-quite-heroes of this haunting western tale unite to save Sissy.  Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick delivers another air-tight script with this issue, brought to the page by artist Emily Rios and her beautiful sense of energy and space. Jordie Bellaire returns to round out this impressive creative team with her subtle color palettes, lending depth and softness to Rios’ otherworldly locales and delicate, fine-featured characters.

Opening the issue with Bones Bunny and Butterfly, Johnny and Molly arrive at the river’s edge to pull Sissy from the water. In a scene that continues to play with the idea of animal forms, switching back and forth between Molly and Johnny’s respective namesakes, he explains (in part) the story behind Death’s binder. As they set off, we see Alice return to the underworld in her butterfly form, finding Death none too pleased with her. She promises to ally herself with Ginny to deliver Sissy, the Ascendant, to him, and he warns her not to disappoint him again as he restores her body. Alone again, Ginny’s mother, Fox’s wife and Death’s prisoner in the underworld, appeals to him for her release. Too in love to let her go, he promises he will free the both of them instead once he has Sissy.

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Washing up after the flood, Fox wakes to find Ginny waiting for him, Sarah at her side. Ginny prepares to kill Fox, still seeking to avenge her mother, but Fox won’t die until he tells her of Death’s plans for Sissy. Accepting his fate at the end of her sword, he appeals to her to protect Sissy from her father. This emotional confrontation comes to brutal blows but Ginny agrees to Fox’s final request, and in the ends spares his life for Sissy’s sake. As the issue closes, Johnny and Molly deliver Sissy to them. Fox and Sissy are reunited as the cast bands together to stop Death, with Alice appearing on the horizon for her final showdown with Ginny.

With another strong issue under its belt, Pretty Deadly continues to be my favorite book on the shelf. The slow development of the last three issues pays off here as we approach the conclusion of the first arc, with tensions coming to a head in dramatic confrontations and bittersweet reunions. If you’ve been a little lost with the structure of the last three issues, rest assured the pacing and structure of the book has settled into something a little more linear, even as DeConnick still maintains that initial sense of magic and sorrow throughout the series. With the mythology of Ginny, Sissy and Death firmly rooted in this ghostly western world, this book continues to gain forward momentum toward the inevitable confrontation with Death himself. It’s all headed for a showdown, but we have to wait and see how it all shakes out for this surprising cast of characters.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Books You Should Be Reading: Black Widow

It’s not often that I find myself unashamedly praising a mainstream superhero comic book, at least not outside of the safe and comfy perimeters of a superhero comic book blog. In a sea of creator-owned titles and indie comics more than worth the cover price, superhero books are mostly comfort food. While many titles out there are challenging genre convention, narrative structure, and the limitations of commercial art, superheroes, by and large, mostly stay the same. That’s okay: they’re supposed to stick with the standards, because that’s their function. The pages of the average cape book spill over with modern hero mythology, archetypes of classical fiction and folklore dusted off and repurposed every few years to have one more go around.

But sometimes you get a superhero book that does a little more, goes just a little bit further, and pulls off something great. Black Widow from Marvel Comics, helmed by writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Phil Noto, is one of those books. Fresh from the publisher’s successes with solo titles such as Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, Marvel’s applying a similar formula to this book. While Captain Marvel is a traditional hero book with a strong emotional center, about air force pilot turned crime fighter Carol Danvers, the offbeat Hawkeye, following the oft-depressing daily exploits of Avenger Clint Barton, is a little more genre-bending. Black Widow, to its advantage, follows the core principles of these titles with great effectiveness. It’s a superhero book, yes, but in name only, as this title firmly grounds itself in action, espionage, and one woman’s quest for atonement in the face of a blood and tragic past.

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Noto and his stellar artwork and his soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts.

The title follows Natasha Romanov, known to even the most casual fans as Black Widow, a ruthless ex-KGB assassin, an efficient SHIELD agent, and a cool-as-ice Avenger. She is currently on a meteoric rise into the upper echelon of well-known Marvel properties, thanks to Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and the upcoming Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. Natasha can also be found in numerous Marvel animated shows and films, and makes notable appearances in recent video games as well. While this book could have tried to play off of the character’s recent mainstream exposure, instead Edmondson and Noto craft a tighter, more personal narrative, focusing on Natasha and her very small circle of associates. If you’re looking for a star-studded supporting cast of Avengers alum, you’re not likely to find it anytime soon. This is actually one of the best parts about the book, as it is small and self-contained, and is carried by the strong partnership between Edmondson and Noto to some visually pleasing results.

There is no shortage of action and adventure in this series, in the same vein as The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible, with slick and exciting fight sequences, daring escapes, and plenty of spy gadgets. This is the main draw, but I find Edmondson is most successful in that he still keeps the story grounded in Natasha’s personal quest. A former killer with a checkered past, Natasha spends her off-time making up for it, one job at a time. In the first issue she makes a point of telling her manager/accountant Isaiah that she’s not doing contract work for the money, insisting that he transfers her compensation to her network of trusts. Natasha never compromises her ideals in the pursuit of her cause, and is never portrayed as anything but a compelling and capable spy, remaining a very relatable and human character throughout.

As I’ve stated in my reviews of the first two issues, the real star of this book is Noto and his stellar artwork. His soft, painterly colors create a beautiful balance with the energy and dynamism of his page layouts. Moody palettes and lighting techniques establish locales with an effectiveness I don’t often see, creating a distinctive visual tone for the series. The softened filter that Noto applies throughout gives a delicate, gauzy emphasis to key panels, contrasting the brutal efficiency of the character with her inherent femininity. Black Widow is as beautiful as she is deadly, and Noto explores that through graphic narrative without coming off as patronizing or obvious, a feat I rarely see done effectively.

While it’s still early days for this title, Black Widow is a cool book that packs a punch. It’s visually pleasing and fun to read, successfully blending genre conventions to satisfying ends. If you’re not already following this book, I highly recommend that you start.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

The Return of a Marvel: Miracleman #1

One of the most transformative characters in comic book history makes his return to the page in Miracleman #1. Conceived in 1956 by writer-artist Mick Anglo, the previously-titled Marvelman was the United Kingdom’s substitute for DC’s Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel’s various Captains Marvel) and was published by L. Miller & Son. Powered by atomic energy, young reporter Mickey Moran utters the magic word “Kimota” to become the blue-and-red-clad superhero Marvelman. Published until 1963, the original Marvelman series had a healthy run and was reprinted for sale in Italy, Australia and Brazil. Due to copyright issues, legal disputes and struggling sales of reprints, the character eventually disappeared from store shelves entirely.

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As the decades passed, both Marvelman and his family of kid sidekicks faded away until 1982, when they were revived by Alan Moore, Gary Leach and Alan Davis. Appearing in the monthly British anthology Warrior, Marvelman became Miracleman, a dark deconstructionist work of superhero fiction. This new and different take on the character featured a very adult Michael Moran, plagued by migraines, domestic struggles and feverish dreams of flight, taking genre conventions of 50s and 60s superhero comics head-on. This book would later be taken over by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham, who took the story even further. However, falling again into legal limbo in the 1990s, Miracleman changed hands several times before being secured by Marvel Comics in 2009. As of 2010, Marvel has been reprinting various collected editions of Miracleman’s numerous iterations, and in January 2014 he returned to store shelves in Miracleman #1: A Dream of Flying.

This oversized issue features collected reprints, restored classic Marvelman comics, concept art, and an interview with Anglo. The artwork has been beautifully restored by Michael Kelleher and Gary Leach, with lush digital color work by Steve Oliff. Digicore’s crisp restoration of the classic comics will please nostalgic readers looking to revisit the hero’s early days. #1 opens up with Prologue: 1956 by Angelo and artist Don Lawrence from 1985’s Miracleman #1. On face value, this half-tone piece of 50s action comic nostalgia reads as a kitschy throwback for unfamiliar fans, but ends on a haunting note that paves the way for the stories of Moore and Gaiman. The final page, an unsettling and ever-advancing close-up of Miracleman’s face captioned by a quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, is one of the eeriest and most satisfying pages I have ever seen in a comic.

Rounding out the issue is the first two collected stories by Moore and Leach from Warrior #1 and #2, Miracleman1featuring the rebirth of Miracleman as we know him today. …A Dream of Flying and its follow-up are dark and uncompromising, exploring Miracleman’s origins, his mysterious fall, and his eventual return from struggling journalist Michael Moran to the hero of his youth. These stories examine the strange and innocent world of 50s superheroes through the lens of modern cynicism and nuclear paranoia of the Cold War-era West. Whereas Anglo’s shiny gleam of scientific inquiry and magical fantasy painted Miracleman’s powers in broad and optimistic strokes, Moore’s vision of the nuclear-powered hero is far more jaded. Similar themes are strong elements in Moore’s later work such as Watchmen, and it is interesting to see how these ideas have developed in different books. In these issues, readers see their first glimpse of the corrupting sway these powers can have over heroes, as Johnny Bates, the original Kid Marvelman, survives into adulthood with his abilities but is rendered a sociopath.

This is an exciting book for fans of comics and comics history, reviving one of the most important characters of the last thirty years. Whether you’re new Miracleman, or you’ve been a longtime reader since his earlier iterations, this book is absolutely worth picking up. It’s an essential work that has informed comics creators for years.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: More Mystery and Magic with Pretty Deadly #3

After two issues of enduring mystery, Pretty Deadly #3 finally offers some of the genesis behind this supernatural western fable. The dynamic creative team of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emily Rios continue to tease out their ethereal world of revenge and death, magic and symbolism with great success, shedding some much-needed light on Fox and Sissy. With little to go on in the first two issues, as readers we’ve been ambling along against the haunting backdrops of empty desert and fields populated by undead animal avatars, hoping for resolution. However, with great scripting from DeConnick and sumptuous artwork by Rios, brought to visceral fruition by Jordie Bellaire’s unearthly color palettes, readers get their first real tastes of the larger mythical world in this peculiar origin story.

Once again we’re joined by Bones Bunny and Butterfly, who open the story to pose playful and foreshadowing questions about the ephemeral nature of life and death. From there we meet Molly, the crow who serves as Johnny Coyote’s moral compass, and warns him about the consequences of Sissy destroying his stolen binder. The rest of the issue unfolds in an intriguing exchange between Ginny and Sarah that further plays with the title’s use of animals of representatives of characters. This tense exchange adds to the growing mythology of the series, and alludes to true nature of the frictions between Ginny and the rest of the cast.

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It’s this confrontation that sets up the final act, culminating in Sissy’s true origin story and the truth of her quiet and tragic relationship with Fox. This is an unsettling and poignant sequence, and likely the most enduring of the series so far, tying up the questions surrounding Fox, Ginny and Sissy’s relations to one another. It beautifully utilizes the full breadth of the title’s unearthly visual language to establish Sissy’s place in the world and the larger mythology, closing on a flood that endangers the principle cast in a sorrowful cliffhanger.

Despite a somewhat cautious opening section of the arc, the story really feels to be kicking into another gear in this issue. The crux of the issue, the development of the Fox and Sissy backstory, was wonderfully executed and a successful use of the book’s inherently eerie tone. This telling underscores the tragedy of their lives as traveling storytellers and keepers of Ginny’s tale, and creates some much-needed context for their relationship to continue to unfold. All of this comes from the strength of DeConnick’s tense and understated scripting, carried out by Rios’ innovative page design and dramatic panel composition. Every fluid stroke feels meaningful, whether in the delicate character details or the uncanny world in which they inhabit, maintaining a haunting aesthetic that makes this book visually unique and emotionally resonant.

I find myself increasingly enjoying the use of animal symbolism in the book’s exploration of death. The introduction of the crow Molly as Johnny’s ethical guide is an interesting one, playing with the established reoccurring imagery of the rabbit, butterfly and the vulture. We are left to presume that Sissy’s symbol of the vulture is tied to her origin story, a bringer of death (in a very biblical sense) to balance Ginny’s role as an avenging spirit. Combined with Alice’s apparent death manifested in columns of butterflies and Ginny killing Bones Bunny in the first issue, these recurring visual allegories make for a more fascinating read. It accentuates the fairy tale-like quality of the world and invokes the aesthetic motifs of shamanistic lore, further grounding its unearthly ambiance.

This is another successful installment of a gorgeous and complicated story. It’s not for everyone, but hopefully people will stick with it to see where it goes from here. Pretty Deadly takes the conventions of supernatural and spaghetti western storytelling and reinvigorates them in new and intriguing ways. Definitely one of my favorite books on the shelves right now.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: The Avengers Take to the Stars in Hickman’s Infinity Saga

Helmed by writer Jonathan Hickman, Infinity is the expansive event from Marvel Comics that saw the return of Thanos, the Mad Titan, to Earth. This six-issue series, penciled by rotating artists Jerome Opena, Dustin Weaver and Jim Cheung, is the culmination of three plotlines spanning several titles. The first plotline is the arrival of the Builders, which is the focus of Hickman’s Avengers, a highly-evolved species destroying every life-sustaining planet in their march toward Earth. The second is the wave of mysterious illnesses plaguing the galaxy, as teased in New Avengers and Nova. The third is the political ramifications of these events on the intergalactic community, which Guardians of the Galaxy deals with directly. Alternate perspectives of the event could also be seen in the pages of Avengers Assemble, Thunderbolts, and numerous other tie-ins.

All of these seemingly separate threads come together in Infinity, in an event that promised to forever change the status quo of the Marvel Universe. While the Avengers are off-planet fighting alongside interstellar coalition forces, Thanos comes to Earth to murder his last known living son, Thane, rumored to be living among the Inhumans. The ensuing attack devastates the planet as the superhero community, already scattered across the galaxy, struggles to defend against the Mad Titan’s pirate army of rogues and psychopaths. In the midst of the chaos, Black Bolt, the Inhuman king, destroys the floating citadel Attilan in an attempt to stop Thanos. Unknown to the royal family, he unleashes his Terrigenesis bomb on Earth, causing a violent chain reaction that immediately activates dormant Inhuman genes in the human population. Overnight thousands of people become Inhuman, manifesting strange powers and changing their lives forever, in an act that will lead directly into Marvel’s Inhumanity event.

The strengths of this event lie with Hickman’s detailed plotting. He laid the groundwork for this event in both Avengers and New Avengers, giving him ample time to develop the Builders as a legitimate threat, and to set the stage for the twists and turns that followed. We see the Avengers off-planet fighting alongside the galactic coalition, as Iron Man, Black Panther and the rest of the Illuminati hold the line against Thanos. In the midst of this is the Inhuman drama of Black Bolt and Maximus destroying Attilan and unleashing their secret bomb, trying to keep Thane’s location a secret and perpetuate their species in the face of genocide at Thanos’ hand. Hickman delivers a great deal of tension through solid scripting and pacing, both in the tight interweaving of his plotlines and in exploring the full scope of the story through rotating character perspectives. From the shocking destruction of Attilan to Thor’s brutal reclamation of Builder-occupied Hala, there are many notable moments that make for an exciting and satisfying read.

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The real burden of this event, however, is shouldered by its artists, Cheung, Opena and Weaver. To their individual credits, all of them rise to the occasion. Cheung, whose pencils bookend the series with issues #1 and #6, carries his portion of the series across planets and solar systems with great success. His panel compositions are highly engaging throughout, his page layouts making the most of the action and narrative tension. Opena and Weaver, who rotate out on the rest of the issues, work together well. Their styles mesh impeccably from segment to segment, solidifying the overall sense of clarity and continuity through eye-catching settings and thoughtful page design. The art maintains a careful balance of action and intrigue, drama and adventure through dynamic panel-to-panel tension and a unifying undercurrent of anticipation. Unified by the color palettes of Justin Ponsor, the artwork maintains a visual cohesion that never feels jarring or inconsistent from artist to artist.

This is an event that makes a lot of promises, living up to most. Even with the strength of Hickman’s detailed plotting and a dynamic creative team to bring his scripts to the page, however, Infinity is defined by its highs as well as its lows. Just like Avengers, which has been criticized for sacrificing character development for the sake of moving the plot, Infinity suffers from similar problems of scope. It does address the stories of key players like Captain America, Iron Man and Black Bolt, and features Captain Marvel and Thor in strong supporting roles, but frequently leaves the rest of the sprawling supporting cast in the dark. Tie-ins and supplementary issues do offer alternative points of view on the event, some more effectively than others, but the men and women on the ground are relegated to the status of prop much of the time. When you have such heavy-hitters as Smasher and Hyperion, and strategically essential characters like Manifold and Captain Universe, drawn out of the main storyline, it feels like a bit of a waste.

As for the execution of the overall plot itself, there are some holes and soft spots. A somewhat convoluted narrative, the respective Builder and Thanos plotlines don’t quite entwine in any fluid or meaningful way. Instead they read as simple coincidences, random events that happened to overlap as Thanos arrived to find the planet defender’s away from home. Moreover, the need for a complete and final conclusion of these plots is ultimately left unfulfilled. By the fact that this event serves to set up the next, an extended preamble for Inhumanity, the story lack any real sense of final resolution. Its conclusion fails to answer many of the title’s own core questions as the heroes simply turn their attentions to the next problem. Yes, it does change the status quo, but it doesn’t give the reader a moment to even enjoy the finale, and leaves one to wonder what, if anything, was really gained.

As a series, Infinity has an exciting storyline and many unforgettable moments, carried by Hickman’s strong scripts and the stellar work of its artists. However, as an event, it does leave an uncomfortable amount of questions unanswered. The lack of satisfying resolution is frustrating, as is the lack of overall character development. If taken in the context of one chapter leading to another, in a larger and more expansive story, this series is much easier to digest and enjoy. It isn’t perfect, but it does what it set out to do. While not completely satisfying for many readers, who want to see more closure in this storyline, it leaves us eager for more, making us come back to see what happens next in Inhumanity. At the end of the day, that’s what Marvel wanted all along.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Retro Comics: Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown #2

Picking up after Alex’s kidnapping at the hands of General Meltdown and Doctor Neutron, Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown continues in its second issue. A Cold War era action-adventure story with aspirations of being a 80s buddy cop movie, this four-part miniseries from Walter and Louise Simonson and artist team Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams offers plenty of charm. A fun romp that further folds noir aesthetics into its dramatic world of spies and exotic locales, this chapter is still a treat for readers looking for some quality X-Men nostalgia.

Logan is out for blood in a small Mexican town, tearing through the local criminal underbelly to find Alex after discovering the decoy piñata in his grave. Meanwhile, waking up from his violent run-in with Scarlett McKenzie, the younger Summers brother is being held in a bogus hospital by General Meltdown and his cohorts, where he is told Logan is dead. Scarlett, the woman in black we met in the last issue, is actually the spy and mercenary Quark. Through emotional manipulation and subliminal messaging, Quark pretends to be a nurse charged with Alex’s care, positioning herself as an asset amid the lying doctors and rogue CIA agents that appear to undermine Alex’s belief that Logan is still alive. With Quark leading Alex in line with Meltdown and Neutron’s plans, Logan follows the crumbs of evidence to close in on their trail.

Explosions, intrigue and brawls abound in this second issue, which abandons some of the lightheartedness of the opening chapter to evoke a more suspenseful, noir-esque tone. Quark slinking around in the classic white nurse’s uniform, with her red hair and lipstick, looks every bit the 1940/50s femme fatale, a nice counterpart to Alex’s faux James Dean. She’s a cool and in-control villain, a steady grounding force amid the stereotypically Russian drama of Meltdown and Neutron, and appeals to Alex’s heroic impulses to play him. Alex, of course, as eager to love her as he is to save the day, falls into her trap. It’s a cliché, but it works.

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While Alex’s story is all intrigue, Logan’s is all action. At this point in his canon Logan is still very much the rogue most of us remember from the 80s and 90s, a tough guy who’s never afraid to get his hands dirty. After reading Logan’s gentler, more contemplative storylines over the last few years, especially in the wake of the numerous schisms within the X-family, it’s fun to return to Wolverine’s roots as a fierce and formidable anti-hero. This section of the arc follows Logan as he interrogates people for information and tracks the clues to find Alex in Quark’s clutches, bringing him into several violent encounters as well as an explosion that burns his clothes and much of his skin off. Williams, who illustrated Logan’s scenes, does a stellar job with these brutal sequences, depicting violence through bursts of motion and the fluid strength of line.

To their credit, the Simonsons offer a solid script with great pacing and action, relying on genre clichés in fun and enjoyable ways. While in the first issue I was a little put-off by some of the very dated storytelling, it’s really grown on me. That said, some of the dialogue can get really hackneyed, which makes it a bit irksome to get through, but the visual payoff of Muth and William’s fluid collaboration is worth it. The watercolor panels make the most of the inherent violence of the story, with rich fields of bold color, gauzy contrasting whites, and visceral splatters that enhance the fluidity of the action. Logan’s animalistic fury in the back-end of the book is just lovely, as is Alex’s use of his powers to escape with Quark. There’s just something about beautiful violence that can sell an action story, and this book has plenty of that.

If nothing else, this series is just fun. The strength of Muth and William’s artwork carries the Simonsons’ script, full of enjoyable twists and turns. A great flashback for fans looking for some 80s Marvel nostalgia.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Indie Creators: Jon Towers

In my quest to find independent comic book creators for this segment, I was introduced to Jon Towers. A friend of a friend, of a lot of friends, we both have ties to the indie horror and comics community, me as a writer and him an artist. In certain corners of the internet, Jon is known as a jack-of-all-trades: A comic artist, a wrestler, and the host of his own podcast, Red Horse Radio (http://redhorseradio.com/). With his larger-than-life characters and genre-bending storylines, originally based on his own experiences during his time in the army, Jon is known for his distinctive series of self-published and indie press comics. It’s safe to say that not many out there know of his work, but it’s definitely hard to forget once you do.

Currently working on his latest graphic novel, coming from Post Mortem Press (http://www.postmortem-press.com/) in 2015, I recently got the chance to catch up with Jon about his projects.

WZWAS04.pdfQ. Your comics feature a pretty unique mix of genres and themes, from horror and action to sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve not really seen books quite like this in a while, since my days roaming for indie/self-pub comics in the late 90s. Can you tell us a bit about your world and your characters?

A: I can see how it might appear a little schizophrenic. Every story or chunk of narrative is all stomping towards the story of the end of the world. There is this unseen tyrannical God who acts by using these Old Testament Archangels. There are these different secret societies of zealots and magic users, and in the middle is this group of quirky heroes called The Nonstandard Assembly. You know, one guy is a World War II era war-bot, there is a Kabbalistically-animated stone golem, a serial killer, a bad-ass female detective, and the list sort of goes on.

Q. What are some of your influences when it comes to comics? Do your stories come from outside sources, or do you draw a lot of inspiration from personal experience?

A: Well, My big art influences are Edward Gory, Walt Simpson, Kevin Eastman, and Kevin O’Neill. As far as the stories, there are some personal experience in there. I feel like the things that are intrinsic to my stories are; myth, religion, history and as much action I can pack in there. The older stories were very personal, then as the universe opened up it got a little less personal I guess.

Q. When did you first decide to get into comics? Was that the first logical step for storytelling, or did you have other ideas for how to get your work out there?

A: I have always done comics. Last year I found a comic adaptation of Melville’s Moby Dick I drew when I was 7. In 2003 I started posting work as a web comic. My big plan was then to get everything together and self-publish a graphic novel. Which I did! My big print debut was like this 300 page graphic novel! I then shifted to self-publishing more standard sized issues. And I trudged along that way for a long time. Today I am happy to be working with Post Mortem Press who is going to publish my graphic novel, The Djinn Jihad, in 2015. There are so many great new media options and way to combine media to tell these stories. I have tinkered around with writing pros and even screenplays. It is all fair game, but comics seem to be for me.

(This is my Moby Dick comic for your viewing pleasure: http://stigmataverse.blogspot.com/2012/03/moby-dick-comic-adaptation.html)

Q. Did you ever want to get into mainstream comics, or do your allegiances lie squarely with indie comics?JONTOWERS2

A: When I was young ALL I wanted was to work in mainstream comics, not saying that if I had the opportunity to I wouldn’t do it today. However I feel like the stories I am telling today and the style I am using to tell them are totally 100% indie. My final answer is; I ride or die Indie.

Q. Besides your comics, you’re a wrestler, an illustrator, a designer, and you have your own podcast. It’s fair to say you’ve got a lot going on. How do you balance all of your pursuits?

A: It’s all time and asset management! Ha-ha-ha! No seriously something had to give so I recently gave up Indie Pro-Wrestling. My last event was pretty cool one of the promotions I worked for Mega Championship Wrestling inducted me into their hall of fame. Luckily Red Horse Radio doesn’t take up too much of my time. I am pretty focused on the comics right now.

Q. You’re a pretty busy guy. Do you have any projects on the back-burner? Any new stuff in the works?

A: The Djnnn Jihad graphic novel from Post Mortem Press, I have really been spending all my time on it. The idea is, if a group of terrorists sneak in a magic lamp instead of a suit case nuke and let a genie loose in a city. So here there is plenty of myth, religion, a little history, some current-ish events, and lots of action.  And there is going to be tons of web based exclusive content to expand the story as wide as any normal person can take. I am really excited about the project all together. I also have a full-page comic in every issue of the magazine Jamais Vu – Journal of Strange among the Familiar. My comic is called The Whiskey Rebellion and it has been a lot of fun to do.

Thanks to Jon for taking the time to talk about his work. If you’re looking for more on Jon, you can find his earlier comics here at his website jonnyaxx.com.

Magen Cubed –  http://www.eonism.net

Death Rides Again in Pretty Deadly #2

After a successful debut, Image Comics’ supernatural western Pretty Deadly returns for its second issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emily Rios. Here we see the strange world of Deathface Ginny continue to unfold, seen through the eyes of Sissy as she and Fox ride to escape Big Alice. As their friends suffer at the hands of Alice and her men, Sissy must deal with the consequences of stealing from Johnny Coyote as Ginny arrives to balance the scales. Working together seamlessly, DeConnick and Rios further develop their spellbinding world of revenge and spirits through the strength of their collaborative efforts, making for a unique and engaging read.

Bones Bunny and Butterfly return as our narrators, the eerie keepers of this tale, to open the issue to catch up with Johnny Coyote. The scoundrel is where we last left him, healing from his last run-in with Alice as the prostitute Lily tends to his wounds. During this sensuous encounter, Lily asks why Johnny let Sissy pickpocket the stolen binder, letting “her” (presumably Ginny, or another character yet to be introduced) loose to burn the world. Uncertain, Johnny admits he wasn’t sure why he let Sissy take it, but says he doesn’t care what happens.

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Meanwhile, Alice and her men arrive at Sarah’s doorstep, looking for Sissy and the binder. Far away, two sentries watch: The Night Maid, who sits by the campfire with her weapon at her side, and the Day Maid, a shriveled cloaked woman hiding in a cliff-side structure. At Sarah’s, Alice watches as men burn down the house, beating and torturing the family. Crying, Sarah’s son Cyrus begins to sing the song that Sissy taught him, calling on Deathface Ginny. Soon Ginny arrives with her gun and sword at the ready, quickly disposing of Alice’s men and rescuing the family.

Turning her attentions to Alice, the two of them square off. Here we learn that Alice is a bounty hunter sent by Death to retrieve his wayward daughter, and that Ginny has no desire to return. After a lengthy struggle, Ginny takes Alice’s sword and decapitates her, and Alice’s body transforms into a column of butterflies. Riding away from the massacre at Sarah’s, Sissy worries about Sarah and Fox tells her not to look back. She goes on to tell Fox of her encounter with whom we assume to be Ginny, whether in a dream or a memory, where Ginny gave her a key. Asking Fox what these memories mean, he tells her to sleep, and that she’ll soon have the answers she’s looking for.

Beautifully scripted with a strong command of language and imagery, DeConnick’s writing lives up to the standards she’s set for herself with this series. Without giving away any of its secrets, this issue skillfully builds upon the foundations of the first and contributes to the development of this title’s mythology. Who is Alice, and why is she represented by butterflies in death? If Ginny killed the now-skeletal Bunny in the first issue, are Butterfly and Bunny meant to represent Alice and Ginny? Questions like these leave the reader wondering. The introduction of new characters, such as the Day and Night Maids, and hinting at Sissy’s connection to Ginny, add to the growing sense of supernatural intrigue that envelops this book. This is a book that hinges on emotional subtly, and DeConnick’s natural talent for dialogue and character dynamics really flourishes here, serving as an essential counterpoint to the violence and bloodshed inherent to the story.

However, this book is nothing without its artwork. Again Rios rises to the occasion through stunning visual language and an expert sense of storytelling. She crafts a dreamy landscape populated by butterflies and dead rabbits, and ghostly figures like Alice and Ginny. Her characters are delicately rendered, their barely-there forms crafted in wispy lines and a profound sense of dynamic motion. The sense of movement throughout this book is stellar, capturing the wind-swept desert, the arching of flames, the breeze blowing through fine strands of hair, all adding to the ethereal nature of this title.

Overall, this is a solid and intriguing second issue to a compelling if somewhat offbeat series. If you’re not sold on Pretty Deadly yet, hopefully this issue will change your mind. A unique read from cover to cover, this is a visually stunning western fairytale with great writing and artwork to back up its premise.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Captain Marvel #17: Superheroes, Classic Adventure, and a Return to Order

Addressing the fallout of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s five-part Enemy Within storyline, issue #17 of Captain Marvel sees the conclusion of Carol Danvers’ role in the Infinity event. Returning home to New York City after the massive crossover affair, Carol is still grappling with catastrophic memory loss, result of the trauma she suffered while saving the city from the Kree villain Magnitron. She’s lost her apartment in this storyline and soon Carol finds herself without a home, surrounded by the faces of friends and loved ones she no longer recognizes. With nothing to grab onto, she’s struggling to find her place in a strange world. What results is a stellar issue from writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, artist Philipe Andrade, and colorist Jordie Bellaire, serving as a successful launching point for new readers and showing the poignant side of the superhero genre with a reverence for classic action/adventure storytelling.

CAPTAINMARVEL1Kit, the young daughter of one of Carol’s neighbors, immediately emerges as a key figure in this issue. As Carol’s self-appointed sidekick, seen in previous issues as a kind of fangirl in-training, we see Kit and the neighborhood children reenacting the heroic exploits of their favorite Avengers. When a skirmish with some other children leaves Kit and her friends a bit disheartened, Carol arrives to comfort them, applauding the suit-making efforts of Kit’s friend Gilbert in his attempts to emulate Iron Man. This scene establishes Carol’s role in the neighborhood, as well as her relationship with the children, in a way readers don’t often see in comics anymore. While many heroes are far removed from the communities they protect, Carol is in her element among the common people. Walking the streets in her Captain Marvel uniform, Carol is a representative of the superhero community, in direct engagement with the regular people in her neighborhood. She protects them, but she also interacts with them in everyday social circumstances, serving as a pertinent and relatable role model to the children who admire her.

However, this scene also rings quite poignantly, as we discover that Carol is simply trying to comfort the children. She doesn’t remember much of her life before Enemy Within, and what she does remember is vague, fragmented and uncertain. Telling Gilbert that his suit was just as good as Tony Stark’s Mark I Iron Man armor is a lie, having only seen photos of it now that she no longer remembers this part of her life. Even as some of Carol’s dearest friends arrive at her apartment to help her move, she doesn’t remember them, just going through the motions. When she does reach out to Frank, urged by her romantic feelings toward him, this innate vulnerability compounds Carol’s frustration, even as Frank returns the sentiment. Carol’s struggle with identity and memory, while a reoccurring theme throughout much of her history, is made very real and intimate.

The villain subplot deals with the larger unintended social implications of Carol’s public visibility as Captain Marvel. Scorned businesswoman Grace Valentine loses an important feature in Beat Magazine to a piece on Captain Marvel, setting her down on a violent path as she lashes out at New Yorkers. Despising their naiveté for placing all their hopes in the hero, Grace orchestrates a plan to undermine and assassinate Captain Marvel during a public ceremony. While Grace’s plot is straightforward and unremarkable, as revenge is a go-to trope in superhero fiction, it serves to propel Carol back into the spotlight as Grace commandeers all the screens in Times Square to expound her plan. Even with hijacked military attack drones trained on Captain Marvel, the crowd of New Yorkers rallies behind her, refusing to back down in the face of violence, and bolstered by this support Carol puts an end to Grace’s theatrics.

The closing scene sees Carol and Kit in Carol’s new apartment in the crown of the Statue of Liberty (as it was rented to her by the city). There Carols tries to apologize to Kit for being unable to teach her how to be Captain Marvel, only to be met with Kit’s real role as her sidekick. Kit shows Carol the comic book that she made documenting Carol’s history as Captain Marvel, who she is and why she’s so important, to teach Carol everything she needs to know. As Kit sits down with Carol to read it to her, the focus shifts to Jersey City to the bedroom of Kamala Khan. A sixteen-year-old girl who, like Kit, looks up to Captain Marvel, Kamala offers the readers a hopeful glimpse of the future as Carol’s successor, taking up her old title as Ms. Marvel.

What begins as a stock superhero action story takes a step forward to become something so much more meaningful. This issue really serves as the best the genre has to offer: The hero struggling with personal obstacles, her support network coming together to buoy her along, and the community rallying behind her as a symbol of hope. DeConnick deftly balances the intimate microcosm of Carol’s injuries with the macrocosm of her role as an Avenger, and the inadvertent consequences that spring up along the way. While many books have done this throughout the history of the genre, few come to mind as recent examples of this successful kind of composed storytelling, touching on so many different issues at once with both clarity and resonance. Helping to further achieve this balance is the character Kit. In a clever decision on DeConnick’s part, Kit steps in to function in the role of the nostalgic reader, the child who grew up on superheroes and comic books. This use of the character as the self-declared sidekick, helping Carol come to terms with her memory loss, grounds the story in a sense of realism and brings Carol’s story home for the reader.

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Beyond its function in the story, the use of Kit as the sidekick is important in the history of the genre, as Captain Marvel symbolically passes the torch to a young girl. This intergenerational female hero/sidekick relationship is something not often seen in a genre populated by male heroes, who regularly transfer titles and powers to the boys and young men serving as their sidekicks and heirs. While we do see this exchange occurring in books like Hawkeye, as Clint Barton shares his title with protégé Kate Bishop, and between Batman and the numerous Batgirls, it’s rarely seen specifically between women. This is echoed in Kamala’s introduction, who we will see again when her title debuts in February, as the future successor to Carol’s old title as Ms. Marvel. It poignantly sets up a mythology for this title and hero, and invites young women to openly share in this heroic fantasy as they rarely have in the past.

If you’re not reading Captain Marvel, you should be. Issue #17 is an engaging and emotionally satisfying read from start to finish, full of heart as well as good old-fashioned superheroism. A great starting point for new readers, and a wonderful return to order for longtime fans, this title looks to have a bright future ahead of it.

Magen Cubed  – –  http://www.eonism.net

Review: Return to the Scene of the Crime with Sex Criminals #3

With its front cover opening to a quote from George Washington, Sex Criminals from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky returns for its third issue. This cheeky sex comedy/crime caper continues its touching and humorous exploration of love and sex, bringing the reader up to speed on Suzie and John’s robbery-gone-wrong. With air-tight scripting from Fraction and engaging artwork by Zdarsky, this issue more than lives up to the expectations set by the first two issues, and opens the door to many intriguing uses of The Quiet.

The dual plots of the book continue to unfold in this issue, switching back and forth between the past and present. The main plot, told from Suzie’s perspective, continues to follow her unfolding relationship with John and their explorations of The Quiet. Here we see John’s first fumbling college sexual experiences through his eyes. Continuing to develop John and his relationship with The Quiet, he gives a summation of his romantic and sexual encounters against the backdrop of his and Suzie’s ongoing “first date” after meeting at the party. Soon he introduces her to the porn shop he frequented in his awkward youth. Their second date, beginning at the porn shop as they stop time to wreak havoc with the various toys and props, ends in a hilarious musical number (of sorts) at a pool hall in homage to Freddie Mercury. As evidence in this sequence, Fraction’s sense of humor works to the book’s advantage, and Zdarsky brings it to the page through stunning page designs.

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As we discover over the course of Suzie and John’s unconventional courtship, John works at the bank foreclosing the library where Suzie works. A bored (and somewhat disgruntled) underling, prone to using his time-stopping powers for his own amusement, he has no particular fondness for his employers. He first proposes the idea of robbing the bank to save the library where Suzie works and has been working to save. Suzie is unsure at first, content to just use their shared powers for fun, but John wants to help. Assuring her of how simple it would be to get the money, we see that he eventually wins her over.

In keeping with Fraction’s non-linear narrative structure, the subplot catches up with the crime itself at the end of the book. Realizing they’re no longer alone in The Quiet in the previous issue, John and Suzie come face-to-face with the mysterious figures at the bank. These three figures, dressed in white, confront the would-be robbers in a violent altercation that puts their plans to a halt. Seemingly trapped here with the strangers, it quickly becomes clear that Suzie and John have stumbled into something they don’t entirely understand, facing consequences they never anticipated.

Full of wit and charm, this quirky title continues to please. The development of Suzie and John’s relationship, held against their respective romantic pasts, is nice to watch unfold. Their strange attraction and bond is well-grounded in humor and heart, keeping things lighthearted and engaging to read. Zdarsky’s pencils continue to be a strong complement to Fraction’s scripts, carrying each issue to a visually satisfying conclusion in strength of composition and design. Sex Criminals #3 is enjoyable from cover to cover, maintaining this title’s impressive stride. We can only hope Fraction and Zdarsky keep it up in coming issues.

Magen Cubed

http://www.eonism.net/