Southern Bastards 10 cover Reviews 

Wrapping Wednesday: Micro Reviews for the Week of 7/29/15

By | August 3rd, 2015
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

There is a lot to cover on Wednesdays. We should know, as collectively, we read an insane amount of comics. Even with a large review staff, it’s hard to get to everything. With that in mind, we’re back with Wrapping Wednesday, where we look at some of the books we missed in what was another great week of comics.

Let’s get this party started.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Illustrated by Robert Hack
Reviewed by Kevin McConnell

The dark arts have always been a part of my life. My grandfather prior to his death in 2011 was a practicing magician who was very particular about the “magician’s code.” It is very much like witchcraft in the sense that you have to be born into it in order to understand it fully. In this issue of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, Sabrina Spellman is on the verge of pledging her allegiance to the dark lord Satan.

However, in an unexpected twist the main focus for most of this issue is on Harvey Kinkle. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa paints a very vivid portrait of a young man who has been in a life affirming moment before. The connection made between what is happening in the present and to a past (similar) moment put me right into Harvey’s mind. Aguirre-Sacasa delivers the narration as if you are reading from a prose novel, which is a bold move considering the art is jumping between the past and the present.

To further the novel like approach Robert Hack washes the story out with faded autumn colors to remind us of an old paperback on the shelves. Hack’s style resembles that of a watercolor painting in the sense that all the action is clear to understand but it is hazy to look at. This is by no means a criticism, it fits the dark occultist nature of the story very well. I was reminded of late 1960’s to early 1970’s horror films I remembered watching as a teen. Oddly enough this is the exact timeline of the story.

Once the interlude with Harvey is complete, Hack and Aguirre-Sacasa focus their energies on Sabrina coming into her own as a witch. Wrapped inside of this is an excellent execution of teen angst. Sabrina is a half mortal, half witch caught between her birthright and the changing times of the 1960’s/1970’s. Aguirre-Sacasa taps into that emotion to show how torn Sabrina is about her own destiny. Be it through her cold and brutally honest aunts or through the objective Salem, Sabrina’s harsh realities are made very clear. Hack also does an excellent job of capturing teenage Sabrina’s emotions when she is shown close up. Her reactions are that of a teenage girl, wildly varied and somewhat unpredictable.

Another excellent aspect is how Sabrina hasn’t quite figured out that her real enemy is so very close to her. Cliché as it might sound Sabrina’s naiveties is hardly a stumbling block in the story. As her aunts note she has not reached her true potential yet and when she does all hell could break loose. In a deliciously ironic twist, the variant cover of this issue features an homage to the film “Carrie” to further drive this point home. The idea that Sabrina is learning witchcraft through adolescents add a classic “Archie” feel to a very dark reimaging of the story.

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is the antithesis of Archie Comics. Gone are the cutesy spells and harmless pranks, there are real stakes at play here. There is also a deep mythology using witchcraft and the Salem trials as a strong backdrop to tell this story. My hope is after this arc completes that more of that history is told to show how Sabrina truly fits into the narrative. Either way, I am in for the long haul

Final Verdict: 7.7 – A well-crafted coming of age horror story to please fans of both Archie Comics and horror themed titles.

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God Hates Astronauts #10
Written & Illustrated by Ryan Browne
Reviewed by Alice W. Castle

There’s a strange, incredible beauty to “God Hates Astronauts” and I think it can only be explained with an extended reference to Monty Python. You know how, in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian, underneath all surrealist humour and musical numbers and alien abductions, there’s an honest-to-god story? The film works as a story in and of itself and uses a genuine plot structure to make the comedy, as weird as it is, feel satisfying in a narrative construct. “God Hates Astronauts” is a bit like that.

The tenth issue of “God Hates Astronauts” is the final in the ‘Cosmic Apocalypse’ storyline and it shows that, underneath all the goofy references and off-the-wall humour, there was an actual story here and it all comes to head with startling results. The tension Ryan Browne has ramped up in the story is astonishing considering the majority of this issue’s plot is a reference to 80s video game consoles. But for as weird as the humour is, it’s layered on top of a well-structured narrative that allows Browne to create substantial payoff to story beats that creates a satisfying conclusion while setting up for more stories to come.

Ryan Browne’s artwork has only gotten better in his time doing “God Hates Astronauts” and his work here is stellar. There’s always been a strange quality to Browne’s art and here he combines a very detailed style with grotesque and absurd visuals that makes for a visual feast of just awful, awful things. It’s a feeling unlike any other comic you will ever read and it makes “God Hates Astronauts” feel entirely unique.

Overall, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, this was a genuinely satisfying conclusion to this story arc. As the story comes a head, Ryan Browne reminds us all that “God Hates Astronauts” is more than just goofy references to 80s pop culture and absurdest amalgamations of LeBron James and Charles Bronson. There was an actually story happening underneath all that and this issue wraps a lot of that story up in a very satisfying way while setting the stage for more adventures to come in this world and I can’t wait to read them.

Final Verdict: 8.8 – Yeah, boyie!!

Help Us! Great Warrior #6
Written and Illustrated by Madeline Flores
Reviewed by Matthew Garcia

Things are looking fairly dire after Great Warrior’s mother, the Demon King, managed to switch places with her, and trapping her behind the dimensional door. Her two best friends, Leo and Hadiyah, are desperately fighting the Demon King, but who knows how long they can stand off before Great Warrior figures out what to do next.

Madeline Flores’s book has been nothing but enduring. For the climactic battle of the series, Flores delivers plenty of funny and strong energetic action. We don’t get to see much of her super-cool and clever creature designs in this issue, but there’s still some cool stuff going on in the demon world. Even while juggling all the peril, Flores manages to throw in plenty of jokes and situational gags (I’m still laughing at her naming scene), and the book never loses sight of its heart. It helps make this a satisfying and adorable conclusion.

The issue with the book, though, maybe lies more with Boom!, and how they chose to format the book “Help Us! Great Warrior” is a very fast-paced series, with big images and expression driven artwork. It’s like those action-packed manga collections, where you’re literally flipping through a page a second — except instead of having a couple hundred pages to play with, Flores has to fit everything into 24. (Probably less, since Boom! took it down from eight issues to six.) I think the monthly comic format was detrimental to a lot of the payoff of this series, and the whole thing might have been much stronger if they decided to go for an OGN or something.

Regardless, Madeline Flores turned in an enduring and wonderful book, with great humor, cool monsters, and just an overall charming vibe.

Final Verdict: 8.3 – A good, if fast conclusion to a good, if fast, series.

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Jem and The Holograms #5
Written by Kelly Thompson
Illustrated by Sophie Campbell and M. Victoria Robado
Reviewed by Jess Camacho

“Jem and The Holograms” is a series I didn’t expect to stay with as long. As a 90’s kid, “Jem” was a little after my time but I have seen the animated series and I do like it. Updating something like “Jem” for a modern audience can be very, very tricky but at this point, Campbell and Thompson have successfully accomplished doing this. “Jem and The Holograms” #5 picks up with the stage sabotage orchestrated by Clash. Aja ends up injured after protecting Jem from the falling equipment and after recovering, they and The Misfits go back to preparing for the upcoming battle of the bands. During this time, love is in the air for Kimber and Stormer and for Jerrica and Rio. Rio doesn’t have an idea yet that Jerrica is Jem but Jem’s perceived personality is starting to cause a little friction in this still new couple. “Jem and The Holograms” #5 is a completely adorable and likable comic book. The Kimber/Stormer pairing is very quickly becoming one of the most compelling couples in comic books because they’re relatable and for an all ages book, establishing a same sex couple in such a big way is important. You “normalize” these couples for kids who may have never seen them and it helps comic books be more important than simple entertainment. The writing is very modern without using too much slang and even The Misfits come off super likable.

Sophie Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous and each issue she does something a little different with the hair styling and clothing. There’s almost something sci fi like to the characters’ fashion choices and it creates this very cool effect. Campbell creates some great character moments with a wide range of expressive emotional responses. The scene between Kimber and Stormer is so cute thanks to the way Campbell captures the sweetness of being in a new relationship. Robado’s colors are like candy and this is one of those series that would fizzle out fast if the colors weren’t this good. The sweeping pinks and blues during the “musical” scenes are stunning and the mixes of neon colors within the clothing and hair is perfect.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – “Jem and The Holograms” #5 is a well crafted and extremely fun comic book.

Manhattan Projects: Sun Beyond The Stars #2
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Nick Pitarra
Reviewed by James Johnston

I don’t think “off the rails” is a proper way to describe “The Manhattan Projects” anymore. After the comic about the continuing efforts of history’s greatest and cruelest scientists took a hiatus, it came back and focused on Yuri Gagarin’s search for his beloved dog, leaving the other scientists to do… something. You could argue it’s a strength that “Manhattan Projects” as veered so far from its central premise, there’s a richness to its characters that supports a world outside its initial atomic premise, but to me makes the book feel watered down. Personally, Yuri Gagarin was never a favorite of mine, and the extended spotlight on him isn’t doing the book much favors.

All that said, “Sun Beyond The Stars” is still alive with the violence and zaniness that encapsulates what “The Manhattan Projects” are all about. As Yuri and Laika travel through space, they’re joined by a couple of aliens with a morality system completely removed from ours. A specific stand-out is the judge, who will do anything in order to pass a sentence on someone, even if that means helping them perform their crime in the first place. That type of insanity is only made stronger by Pitarra’s art, which perfectly captures the wildness in all its characters. Ugly, gory, but with vibrant colors from Michael Garland, the world of “The Manhattan Projects” is one with fun around every corner, as well as a couple dozen extraterrestrial murders.

Final Verdict: 7.9 – Even though I’m not so hot on Yuri Gagarin stealing the spotlight away from the Einsteins, “Sun Beyond The Stars” #2 is still an incredibly fun heist of a comic that revels in the hypocrisy of all its characters.

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“Rasputin” #7

Written by Alex Grecian

Art by Riley Rossmo

Reviewed by Stephenson Ardern-Sodje

The first arc of Rasputin was one of my favourite new comics of recent years. Grecian’s reimagined Rasputin was sympathetic and multifaceted, but the story was focussed and simple. Rossmo’s execution of the stark landscapes of snow-blasted Russia was nothing short of masterful.

After the initial story arc wrapped, Grecian and Rossmo took a break to ensure that, when they returned to the story, it was with fresh eyes and a strong new story. So, jumped forward about forty years and across the pond, issues six finds a reinvigorated Rasputin making a new life for himself in America.

This change of scenery comes at quite a change of pace for ‘Rasputin’ too. While the initial arc spelt out its relatively simple aims in the first few pages, issue six offered a much less defined end goal for the mad monk’s sophomore outing. Grecian initially limited himself to a very finite storyline, that Rasputin was aware of the time and machinations of his own death, and then worked towards it at a glacial pace, confident in the knowledge that the audience wanted the scenic route to a foregone conclusion.

This latest arc definitely has a lot more in terms of story going on, and issue seven doesn’t let up either. Grecian both offers a relatively final end to the Russian element of Rasputin’s life and opens his American chapter with a huge bang. This issue feels more rushed than most of its predecessors, with a pace akin to a lot more standard mystery books out there than the initial, more introspective speed that this series started out with. Grecian’s Rasputin is definitely charismatic enough to pull off the soviet sleuth motif, but this issue certainly feels like a departure from the storytelling style he previously set up, and I’m still not entirely sold on the new format.

The most prominent change in this issue comes with the inclusion of a relatively two-dimensional, plucky investigative journalist. This initial antagonist makes for a slightly more expositional feeling than his previous, more poetic conversations offered, but the new Mystery element of the narrative is gripping enough to balance it out. What’s more, we start to see even more internal conflict within the increasingly crowded psyche of our protagonist, and the challenge of understanding Rasputin’s mind gets another welcome wrinkle added, showing that Grecian has clearly mapped out the inner workings of Rasputin’s abilities more closely than was hinted at in the first arc.

With the increased focus on conversation, Rossmo has less to work with in terms of the sweeping, full page panels that characterised his work on the first arc. However, through confident and experimental panel positioning and thanks to his hugely expressive facial closeups, the many conversations in this issue are portrayed with a nuance and grace that elevates them far beyond the standard informational dump cookie cutter faces that sometimes occur when artists find themselves with an abundance of dialogue.

Most of the middle section of this issue is a flashback that takes place back in Russia, and it really demonstrates Rossmo’s flare when it comes to unique period settings. While the decision to transplant Rasputin does open up a lot of different avenues as far as story is concerned, I’ll definitely be sad to see him leave the gorgeously Gothic backdrop of his homeland for the more mundane architectural shores of mid fifties USA. That being said, Rossmo’s attention to detail and Plascencia’s rich, warm colour palette may lend themselves nicely to a deeply nostalgic slice of Americana with a subtly Russian twist.

With such a sublimely slowburning first arc, issue seven feels like its jolting a little as it shifts gears. But once the more clunky set up is out of the way, I’m still confident this book will be at the top of my pull list.

Final Verdict: 6.9 Here’s hoping that lightning strikes twice for the Mad Monk.

Resident Alien: The Sam Haim Mystery #3
Written by Peter Hogan
Illustrated by Steve Parkhouse
Reviewed by Walt Richardson

Hogan and Parkhouse’s sci-fi mystery series continues to be one of the best kept secrets from Dark Horse comics — which is unfortunate, seeing as it’s a great read. This issue is the final issue of the third arc, and it is an interesting read in terms of structure as the climax essentially happened last issue. Whole issues of falling action and/or conclusion certainly happen in comics, but usually as the finale in a larger series, rather than as the conclusion to a single arc. Nevertheless, the issue is structured well, never feeling like a drawn out conclusion (thanks partially to a sort of mini-climax toward the end). Things aren’t merely wrapping up for twenty-some pages — Hogan uses his time to give more definition to our titular resident, facing him with an interesting moral quandry.

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Even more fleshed out, though, is one of the newer additions to the cast, Rebecca. Within a couple of issues she has become a fully realized character, and it would be a shame if she doesn’t make another appearance or two in future mysteries. As has become a trend in the series of minis, the final issue also adds more to the larger, overarching narrative, with one particular twist (granted, one spoiled in a way by the cover) ensuring readers will be interested in coming back for more.

The issue is largely a back-and-forth of dialogue, but Hogan and Parkhouse avoid page after page of talking heads, opting instead to portray bits and pieces of Rebecca’s history with dialogue overlain in captions. Parkhouse effectively captures the hardships of her past with his usual knack for acting. There’s a pleasantness to Parkhouse’s art that gives the series a lot of its character, capturing that small town feel very well, but he can wield his pen equally well with emotional heft when necessary. His use of blues for flashback panels gives the issue a visual continuity that might otherwise be confusing, with the back-and-forth transition from present to past. At the same time, he doesn’t just wash everything in a single color — most flashback panels have a few items accented with different colors, to give the panel life. Parkhouse has an eye for detail and composition that doesn’t always make itself known in the wacky layouts that have become trendy, but a careful glance can uncover touches like this that give the comic life.

“Resident Alien: The Sam Hain Mystery” didn’t end with a bang, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t end well. There’s a charm to Hogan and Parkhouse’s series that remains even when the story is at its darkest. I’d pick up the next mini, “The Man With No Name,” just to spend more time with the inhabitants of Patience — but I have a hunch I’ll also get another great mystery.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – Another great issue from a book you might not be picking up; look for the trades if you haven’t.

Southern Bastards #10
Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Jason Latour
Reviewed by Keith Dooley

The second part of the “Homecoming” arc in “Southern Bastards” #10 is aptly titled “The Gospel According to Esaw Goings”. Writer Jason Aaron along with artist and colorist Jason Latour give us a day in the life of one of Coach Boss’ most vile goons. The opening splash page is a preview of what we should expect from the rest of the issue as it graphically portrays Esaw copulating with a woman. The issue doesn’t let up after that page, with the depiction of violence, coarse language, and general wickedness deliciously put on display by both writer and artist.

Aaron excels at shocking us with the actions, words, and thoughts of the twisted Esaw and entertaining us with a character who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. His treatment of a man who is spreading the word of the Lord is particularly heinous while also inspiring laughter because of the pure monstrosity that is Esaw. The aforementioned opening splash is one example of how Aaron gets inside the mind of a simpleton who thinks being a “demon” is cool. In this same scene, Esaw imagines things that turn him off so that he can last longer with one of his female conquests.

Latour’s art and colors mirror the evil deeds present in the script. The art is more concerned with implying violence instead of actually showing it (although Latour is skilled at depicting barbarity as well). Esaw’s face is pure roguishness, with even his smile promising impending doom. Anger and aggression pumps through every page of “Southern Bastards” #10. Latour’s colors are distinct as well, with the color red only used for scenes of violence or just plain devilry. A container of hot sauce (or “Hot Shit”, as the label reads) is used in a particularly demeaning and comical way.

The two Jasons continue to build a world that conceals dirty secrets in all its crevices. “Southern Bastards” #10 just happens to focus on one citizen of Craw County. Both story and art bring this monster to life in ways that mix horror and hilarity.

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Final Verdict: 8.9 – Esaw Goings is one evil bastard. Judging by this issue, he’s going to bring a heaping amount of trouble to Craw County in the near future.

Star Wars #7
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Simone Bianchi
Review by Ken Godberson III

Obi-Wan Kenobi is the best character in all six of the “Star Wars” movies. He’s the one who deserves to have a spin-off movie over Han Solo and Boba Fett. And Jason Aaron, Simone Bianchi and colorist Justin Ponsor prove it.

I appreciate this being a one-and-done issue telling a tale of Ben Kenobi, fresh in his self-imposed exile on Tatooine. In and of itself, the plot is very simple. Mysterious stranger comes to a town (planet) rife with danger and dangerous people. But it is the absolute peak character work that Aaron works with Kenobi that made this issue so enjoyable. This is a many trying to make good after all his screw ups. Someone that knows he has to keep himself secret, even when all his senses are screaming at him to right wrongs. I also do appreciate the further world building Aaron implements on Tatooine, like the ‘Water Tax’ Jabba would totally put on people during a drought.

I have to be honest: I was somewhat hesitant when I learned Simone Bianchi was going to be the guest artist for this issue. Not because I think he’s a bad artist, just thought it was an improper fit for “Star Wars”. I was a bit wrong on that. Bianchi’s softer, more wispy pencil style does adapt well to the tone of the tale, although there were some action scenes that happen at night that make it hard to tell what’s going on.

Justin Ponsor joins the team as colorist, taking over for Laura Martin. I have been a fan of his work with the likes of Cheung, McNiven and Marquez and he continues to impress. I’ve always been a fan of how vibrant his palate is. In an age where colorists would dull their colors, Ponsor doesn’t. It’s evident in every field of stars or Ben’s lightsaber.

If there’s a drawback to this is that it’s only a one-shot with Kenobi. The concept of “Star Wars Western” has been visited before in the novel… err… Kenobi and this story is cut from the same cloth.

Final Verdict: 8.8- A small, but enjoyable look at Ben Kenobi’s life, making the reader want more.

//TAGS | Wrapping Wednesday

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