Small Press Round-Up (Part 2)

Rachel Rising #1 (Abstract Studio): Not sure why this pic says #3 on the cover, since that’s the cover I have on my #1, maybe a Comic-Con exclusive or something? In any case, Terry Moore really caught my attention by having Fabio Moon do the back cover, yet I was worried that this might be another zombie cash-in. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Moore uses a familiar template by opening the issue with a quote, and then we see an (undead?) woman rise from a river bed and wander the woods silently for a few pages. I wonder who’s watching her. Like Echo before it, Rachel Rising seems to avoid all semblance of exposition as Rachel is (assumably) in some form of limbo, and must now investigate her own murder, information relayed courtesy of some well played flashbacks. Rachel Rising is a basic mystery story, with strong supernatural elements laced throughout. The character of Ray is a particularly memorable second stringer. As usual, Moore’s panel to panel storytelling is really unparalleled. Here, we see him using more ink, more night shots, and a generally darker atmospheric. Despite the whole undead rising bit, I felt a little like there wasn’t much of a “hook” for the first issue. I certainly trust Moore and will check the series out, but I wonder how someone coming in cold might react to this initial installment. I’m starting to feel like Terry Moore has become the indie comics equivalent of Joss Whedon, delivering strong women who are forced to navigate unfamiliar worlds, while entertaining every demographic in the process. Grade A.

The Sorry Entertainer (Things In Panels): The Bristol-based duo of Simon Moreton and Nick Soucek join the newsprint revivalist movement, and I’ll say that I was immediately sold when I read that the contributors included Noah Van Sciver and Lauren Barnett. They are two of my favorite mini-comics creators working in the industry today. Noah’s done-in-one crime story is an effective storytelling tutorial about concise functionality. Paddy Lynch’s piece was full of inky emotion, Thom Ferrier examines our knee-jerk inclination to document everything we see in the New Media Era, and we get a big full page of Rock N’ Roll ‘Restling from David Ziggy Greene. It’s a thing of rare beauty, full of influences from people like Sammy Harkham, Brandon Graham, and Paul Pope. Chris Fairless dazzles with ink washes, and Sam Spina playfully addresses audience expectations, while Richard Worth and Jordan Cullver display a beautiful turn of the century aesthetic, which is a tad hard to read due to the scale. There’s actually a lot more, but those are my favorites. Simply put, this is the way to do an anthology. It doesn’t matter that there really isn’t a unifying theme, and it doesn’t matter that some of the creators are more popular or bigger names than some of the others. They key is that you find really good pieces, you put them in a unique format, and suddenly you’ve accomplished that rare feat, an anthology with few, if any, weak links. I hope we can look forward to future installments of this venture. Grade A.

Spontaneous #1 (Oni Press): This is a relatively new book from Joe Harris and Brett Weldele, which I’m enjoying. I think the first thing I noticed was how Weldele’s pencils have evolved over the last 10 years or so. They appear to have a less sketchy quality, with a more consistent and stylized appearance, now on par with someone like Ben Templesmith, or even Mike Huddleston. Harris clearly is capable of producing clever turns of phrase. “We are, almost by definition, fireproof” is one of those ominous lines that sets the right tone early on. From the concept of spontaneous combustion, to CCTV troubles, it all rings with an air of authenticity. For me, this book started at first to feel like what would happen if you took a single issue from Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s early Demo work and extended it into a whole series. It’s sort of an “X-Men done today,” but in the indie world approach. By the end though, it changes course again and gets a heaping dose of the Chloe Sullivan character from Smallville thrown in for good measure. As it becomes a more straightforward investigative affair, I realized that Emily Durshmiller is surely one of the greatest new characters I’ve seen in a long time. I’m curious to see where the larger pattern of unexplained deaths goes, and while it’s a pretty slow moving set up, once rolling I think I’ll really enjoy this book. Grade A-.

Spontaneous #2 (Oni Press): Harris increases the complexity of the scripting at the right time, moving more players onto the board, including a fun cop/daughter combo. The commonality of these seemingly unrelated cases now seems to be Grumm Industries, and nothing sets a work of fiction into contemporary times like a nefarious corporation! The acronym for Spontaneous Human Combustion, SHC, is thrown around, but I’m not sure it’s ever overtly defined within the walls of the book. That’s either a slight mis-step, or just a nice way not to insult the reader’s intelligence, I’m not sure which. I enjoyed the self-aware bits like the infusion of Star Trek’s Prime Directive of non-interference, so it appears I’m definitely in for the remainder of this series. Grade A.

The Adventures of Major Maddox: The Milk Run (Self-Published): Jason Chalker and Brian Baker give us a retro Fear Agent style of story that mines 50’s era sci-fi in the tradition of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Initially, I thought the characterization was way too over the top, but then it becomes clear that the creative team is swinging for a self-satire of the genre in a manner reminiscent of what TV’s Archer on FX does to the spy genre. Archer is one of my favorite shows. Major Maddox isn’t quite as funny, but there’s an earnest attempt to replicate that brand of humor. Each individual panel of art is beautiful, with a nice widescreen format that sells the expansive genre, but occasionally the panel layouts can be a little jerky. Fun overall. Grade B+.


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