In the pages of the two Luther Strode miniseries, artist Tradd Moore established himself as one of the best action choreographers working in comic books, combining the raw, exaggerated dynamism of Jack Kirby with the meticulous detail of Geof Darrow to create fight sequences that were as brutal as they were beautiful. With his work on last year’s Zero #2, Moore revealed a talent for more subtle emotional storytelling and creating specific atmospheres for different settings, making him a total-package artist in need of that one big break to elevate him to the comics A-list. That break has arrived in All-New Ghost Rider #1 (Marvel), a rousing debut from Moore and writer Felipe Smith that puts all of the artist’s myriad talents to use as it introduces the latest character to house the Marvel Universe’s resident Spirit Of Vengeance.
Over the last two years, Marvel has put more emphasis on production design for its titles, and the opening pages of All-New Ghost Rider feature slick design work by Manny Mederos that is reminiscent of a menu screen for a racing video game. The logo is especially inventive, using chunky, angular, interconnected letters that make the text look like a bird’s eye view of racetrack. That design reflects the book’s shift in focus from previous Ghost Rider series, moving away from the character’s traditional motorcycle and giving him a muscle car for transportation. It’s a new vehicle for a new Ghost Rider, and this first issue tells the origin story of Robbie Reyes, a Latino teen from East Los Angeles who works at an auto shop to support his disabled brother.
Smith does great work establishing Robbie’s environment, a hostile setting where gang members steal his brother’s wheelchair for fun and violence is omnipresent, and understanding Robbie’s difficult circumstances amps up the tension in the issue’s final moments. To pay for his brother’s new wheelchair, Robbie borrows a ’69 Dodge Charger from his work and enters a drag race, but things don’t go as planned when a helicopter appears and chases him down. Smith makes excellent use of the car by having the trunk’s contents be the catalyst for the action, and while the ending is too shocking to spoil here, it’s a brutal conclusion that piques excitement for the next issue.
This first issue delivers one hell of a hook, but Moore’s art is the star of the show. The opening panels do phenomenal work establishing a sense of location, and there’s a staggering amount of detail in Moore’s environments. From the tools and machinery of the auto shop to the architecture of houses and the graffiti on the side of buildings (including a nice bit of foreshadowing with a spray-painted skull surrounded by the words “repentance” and “pay”), Moore pulls the reader deeper and deeper into East Los Angeles with each page. Nelson Daniel and Val Staples’ subdued colors emphasize the mundane nature of Robbie’s life before he gets into the cursed Dodge Charger, but once the racing action begins, the palette incorporates all the colors of the rainbow in bright neon shades to capture the thrill Robbie feels behind the wheel.
Drawing cars is already difficult, but drawing cars moving at highly accelerated speeds is a massive challenge. In this issue, Moore makes it all look effortless, laying out his pages to achieve maximum motion and using visual elements like bold streaks of headlights and smoking wheels to create velocity within the individual panels. One particularly swift page replaces panel gutters with thin diagonal strips that show Robbie inside his car, while the larger shots show different exterior angles, and the zigzag pattern of those slim panels is a brilliant way of heightening the movement on the page.
When Robbie finds himself in a more dangerous situation later in the race, Moore takes a different approach to amplify the suspense, showing a map of Robbie’s path as he tries to escape his pursuer, a trail that becomes increasingly complex to show the breadth of Robbie’s driving skill in three graphic images. The racing looks spectacular, but Moore is equally talented with the more grotesque horror elements that appear in the final pages of the story, confirming that he’s the perfect artist to bring this all-new Ghost Rider to life… [OS]
While Dynamite’s Gold Key revival is gaining attention for pulling heroes like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Magnus: Robot Hunter out of comic limbo, it’s most remarkable for expanding the diversity of art in Dynamite’s titles, which have largely stuck to a ’90s-influenced house style for the past decade. The realism and detail of Mirko Colak’s artwork grounds Greg Pak’s story in Turok, but for the return of sci-fi superhero Magnus, an artist with a more animated, imaginative vision is brought on board. Magnus: Robot Hunter #1 (Dynamite) teams artist Cory Smith with writer Fred Van Lente to realize a futuristic Earth where robots are the dominant race, and this first issue succeeds by throwing the reader in a dense, active environment.
It begins in the idyllic fantasy world of Maury’s Peak, an illusion of a world where humans and machines peacefully coexist. In this rural mountain town, Russ Magnus is happily married and has a job teaching children both biological and mechanical, but it’s all an illusion that Magnus is ripped from without warning. He wakes up in a brightly colored metropolis populated by robots that have taken on the appearance of humans, with no guidance except for a message from his “father” telling him that the world of Maury’s Peak can still become a reality. Van Lente sets up a lot of mysteries in this opening chapter, but beginning the issue in Maury’s Peak helps ease the readers into the story, making them feel the same comfort as Magnus in those opening pages. Establishing that relaxed mood early makes the abrupt change in setting especially jarring, and that drastic shift gives the book’s second half a breakneck pace that never dips.
The two different locations give Smith the opportunity to show off his versatility as an artist, creating a lush, open natural environment in Maury’s Peak that is a dramatic contrast to the chaotic mechanical world of future New York City. That difference is further distinguished by Maurîcio Wallace’s coloring, which uses drab sepia tones for Maury’s Peak before switching into a Technicolor palette for the New York City scenes. Smith’s artwork balances the clean lines of artists like Mike Norton and Marcus To (like Smith, another alumni of Aspen Comics) with textured inking reminiscent of Moon Knight’s Declan Shalvey, adding impressive depth to the polished visuals. The design work for the characters and settings is varied and full of personality, and his fight sequences have a wonderful energy, showing Magnus’ proficiency in combat with choreography and framing that increases the speed and impact of each hit. If the rest of Dynamite’s Gold Key titles can rise to Smith’s level of excellence, then it’s going to be a landmark 10th anniversary year for the publisher… [OS]
Considering the book’s interstellar plot, rich sci-fi visuals, and ass-kicking robot monkey, Aama: 1. The Smell Of Warm Dust (Self Made Hero) is a surprisingly personal, relatable story about one man’s struggle to mend his broken life. Named Best Series at the 2013 Angouléme International Comics Festival, Frederik Peeter’s Aama, translated by Edward Gauvin, uses the world of science fiction to explore the mental state of a character that has hit rock bottom, creating a narrative that is full of humanity despite the alien setting. Readers are introduced to protagonist Verloc in a haunting opening sequence showing the character weeping while lying on a charred, smoking rock formation, an evocative visual that captures the character’s isolation while posing a wealth of questions about how he got there, why he’s crying, and why he’s alone.
Like the reader, the amnesiac Verloc doesn’t know the answers, and this first volume begins to trace the character’s path to this moment as he reads his memoirs, provided to him by the aforementioned robot monkey. His writing details an adventure that reunites Verloc with his estranged younger brother as they journey to another planet to retrieve the titular substance: a soup of networked pico-robots that can reproduce and manipulate/transform matter on a subatomic level. Over the course of the flashback, Verloc’s fractured relationship with his wife and daughter is exposed, as well as his drug dependence and status as a purogene, a person that has willingly removed the technological implants that have become commonplace in this world. That focus on interpersonal relationships, the destructive ways people escape their problems, and humankind’s relationship with technology makes this an incredibly substantial piece of sci-fi, telling a story that is deeply intimate and psychological while still delivering plenty of the spectacle associated with the genre.
Peeters names Moebius, Hergé, and Katsuhiro Otomo as the guiding influences in his artwork, and his style combines elements of those three visionaries to create visuals that are fresh and unique. The sprawling environments of Moebius and animated character expression of Hergé meet the kinetic action and painstaking technological design of Otomo in Peeter’s linework, but his expressive inking and bold color palette give the art its own distinct look. There’s a delicacy to his character work that allows him to fully delve into the emotional life of his cast, but he also understands how to stage a dynamic fight sequence, adding more variety to his panel layouts when there’s a surge of action. The first volume of Aama succeeds on a number of levels, and with the third installment already released overseas, hopefully the wait isn’t too long for volume two… [OS]
Censorship is the bane of any artistic individual, and the anthology collection Liberty (Image Comics) provides aid to censored creators by donating all its proceeds to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The book contains Liberty Annual 2008-2012, along with some all-new work. The bylines alone are enough to catch attention, because this title has a strong list of impressive, influential names in the comics world: Neil Gaiman, Jim Lee, Robert Kirkman, Garth Ennis, Geoff Johns, Jeff Smith, Gail Simone, and Steve Niles, to name a few (and that’s barely scratching the surface).
At a little over 200 pages, Liberty is a delightful sampler. A number of shorts involve censorship and the importance of free speech, but others are just entertaining, including plots about books that kill people and spoofs of sexy comics. Most of the stories have an irreverent humor, so that even if they are talking about the Founding Fathers, they’ll cover it in a way that will bring about a chuckle. Other stories give readers insight on specifically why a legal defense fund is necessary for comics.
While the stories largely stick to humor and laughs, some cover more serious material. An especially mesmerizing example is Gaiman’s haunting story about death, which features beautiful drawings from Jim Lee. Simone’s story shows the importance of women’s rights, and several stories take on the issue of gay rights. For people who only know Steve Niles for his horror works, his story on LGBTQ equality shows a different, more endearing side of his writing, and Craig Thompson does his usual gorgeous artwork for a story by Kazim Ali about growing up as a gay Muslim man. Dara Naraghi of Persia Blues brings a personal perspective on the importance of freedom by talking about his own experience growing up in a country where freedoms were highly curtailed.
Liberty is a comic to make people think, to get people to enjoy an array of talents, to get people to laugh, and to showcase the work of some of the biggest names in the business. In the process, it helps support a worthy cause that is helping comic books become a more liberated medium… [DD]
Since introducing Hellboy in March of 1994, Mike Mignola has built a huge comic-book universe around the character on par with what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby accomplished in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Hellboy: The First 20 Years (Dark Horse) is a celebration of the work Mignola and his collaborators have accomplished in the past two decades, spotlighting the creator’s artwork on Hellboy and its various B.P.R.D. spin-offs to reveal all the different facets of the world Mignola has built. There’s not much in the way of commentary beyond two introductory text pieces by Mignola and artist Peter De Sève, but this oversized hardcover package is worth it just to see the Hellboy creator’s evolution over the years. The first thing that stands out is the importance of simplification, which is immediately apparent in the transition from Mignola’s first Hellboy sketch to the character’s finalized appearance. Mignola removes the extra pair of horns, wings, and strange wrestling belt from the original design, throws a trench coat and a giant right hand on the guy, and voila! A classic character is born.
Over the course of the book, Mignola becomes more economical with his linework, relying heavily on shadows and color to create depth and atmosphere. Seeing Mignola’s black-and-white original artwork next to the final colored images shows how integral Dave Stewart’s coloring is to the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. aesthetic, and it’s fascinating to see how Mignola’s style changes when he’s paired with an inker like Kevin Nowlan, whose inks bring the meticulous detail that Mignola has shifted away from over time. Most of these images are covers, and they show just how impeccable Mignola’s page design is, particularly in the B.P.R.D. covers that incorporate smaller panels within a larger image. Each new visual is like a master class in establishing mood, and Mignola’s skill increases as he refines his line, proving that less is more when it comes to his pulp-inspired fantasy horror universe… [OS]
Production design is an element of comic books that is often overlooked, but books like Sovereign #1 (Image) show the value of a strong design aesthetic. Dylan Todd’s work on the title’s logo and inside cover blends with John J. Hill’s chapter breaks to establish a high fantasy look before the story ever begins, giving the book an elegant style that is carried through to the interior contents. Writer Chris Roberson packs a lot of story in this first issue, splitting time between three different plot threads: The first follows three Luminari, societal outcasts that destroy the bodies of the dead before they are reanimated by daemons from the Unreal. The second shows Prince Janramir on a hunt before he discovers his father’s death, and the third spotlights a sea voyage where scholar Pol Ravenstone encounters a giant reanimated, mutated shark.
Artist Paul Maybury gives each chapter a different visual tone, delivering dark, atmospheric artwork for the Luminari sequence before transitioning to a brighter, widescreen look for the later scenes, which feature more action and less claustrophobic environments. Maybury and Jordan Gibson’s colors further solidify the ambiance of each story, shifting from ethereal purples and blues for the Luminari to earth tones for Janramir and vibrant blues and green for Ravenstone’s experience on the open sea. Maybury’s artwork creates a fully realized world, and Roberson provides even more definition with three pages of text at the end of the issue, using the prose skills he’s developed as a novelist to immerse the reader in the history of this setting… [OS]
Shizuku, the star of My Little Monster (Kodansha Comics) is so obsessed with grades that she has no time for anything else in her life, especially relationships. But because life never goes as planned, she starts to find herself involved with a boy, and not just any boy, but the school’s “monster,” Haru. After hearing horrible stories about Haru, Shizuku expects the worst from him, and toward the beginning he comes off as less than stellar. But as they start to hang around more, she notices things, like the fact that he’s good with animals and will go out of his way to care for them. Maybe the stories about him are just stories? Haru says he likes her, but Shizuku can’t take that seriously, especially from a guy who is a little off. Even if the negative stories about him have been grossly exaggerated, he’s still weird enough to strip immediately at the mention of gym class (ever hear of locker rooms?). My Little Monster mixes slice-of-life humor and romance; the manga doesn’t feel as if it fits exactly in any of those categories, but it has enjoyable elements of all of them. The relationship between Haru and Shizuku is explored at a deliberate pace instead of thrusting the two characters together, giving readers a chance to learn the characters’ quirks and foibles and making this a fun, promising start to a new series… [DD]
Classifications of high art and low art are ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and Brecht Vandenbroucke’s debut comic White Cube (Drawn And Quarterly) uses the concepts of high art as a way to spoof modern art and the world in general. In each short gag, two nameless identical pink men approach different pieces of art, including very famous ones like Michelangelo’s David, and do things to them they shouldn’t do. With David, they paint his toenails, knock him in half and steal his penis. They take a single Marilyn Monroe picture from Andy Warhol’s work and put her by a colorful disco ball so that the changing colors make her single picture look like the various images from the original. And whenever they’re happy with something (whether others around them are happy is sometimes a different story), they give each other thumbs up. This comic is done almost entirely without words and relies on Vandenbroucke’s artistic skills and warped sense of humor. The art is colorful, humorous, and at times very lush and vibrant. While a few of the strips are too mean-spirited to be funny, most of them are hilarious, and they can get readers to look at art in an entirely new way. At any rate, visits to an art museum or gallery won’t be the same after reading this. [DD]