Halloween may have come and gone but Women Write About Comics isn’t ready to let the season die (see what I did there?). Featuring tales to make you cringe and a second opinion of Pretty Deadly #1, welcome to the latest Short and Sweet (or Sour). Let’s dive in head first into the madness, shall we?
Amy Reeder and Bryan Montclare
I have tremendous respect for Amy Reeder and Bryan Montclare, who have a great podcast, and another cool comic out right now, Rocket Girl. I was also very excited to read Halloween Eve–I’ve been saving it. It’s a good comic… but it’s not everything I dreamed of and more. I’m not NOT recommending the book, but I do think that a standalone should pack more punch than this one does; it felt like a first issue, not a story complete unto itself. So maybe that’s a way of saying that I wouldn’t mind more of Halloween Eve. Well.
But let’s talk art. As usual, Amy Reeder’s work is both beautiful and expressive. She isn’t one to prize pretty over movement, or to sacrifice efficient storytelling for the sake of a kicky splash panel. Our lead, Eve, is very much her own woman, a character with a distinct face, body, and personality. Secondary characters are more quickly drawn, perhaps a little too much of sitcom character types here. (Reeder and Montclare capitalize on that later in the issue, so perhaps the thinness is deliberate.) The Halloween Land shop, too, has a lot of character, enough to feel “real,” like costume shops I’ve visited in the past, complete with unique interior. Gimmicky furniture and piles of overstock in a Victorian(?) two level–details matter. Reeder’s art tends to be the star of any project she’s involved in (“but how are the pencilsss?”), but it’s strangely muted here. I expected the dial to be turned up just a notch or two higher: costumes a little bit funkier, interiors a little bit more engaging, colours a little bit more take-me-now. But this is solid work from Reeder. It’s readable, slick and engaging.
The story is simple: Eve, who works in a costume shop, hates Halloween. She learns the true meaning of Halloween and works out a couple of personal issues, through a late-night, punishment-shift in the store, and a revelatory dream that’s a bit Oz, a bit Wonderland, and a bit Halloween Town (Land in this case). It’s a cute mashup and an easy read. But I have lingering doubts–where is the rest of it? Shouldn’t Eve be forced to learn the true meaning of Christmas next?
Chris Mangun, Swifty Lang, Michael Lapinski
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Feeding Ground. The covers are arresting (bright and graphic), absolutely attention getting, and the free preview of the first issue offered on Comixology didn’t hurt either. It was enough for me, because I quickly bought the rest of the issues and sped through them. It’s a damn fine comic, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
A coyote ferries wannabe immigrants up the Devil’s Highway, from Mexico into America. The ragtag group soldiers on through the killing heat of the desert. The promise of a new life is motivation enough to keep them moving, even knowing there’s no guarantee of making it to the end of this journey. A woman struggles with her kids, laundry, the daily life of a have not, waiting for her husband the coyote to come home. The local boss pays her a visit. Her daughter sneaks out and finds something terrible in the fields. Something’s happening in this small, impoverished town, and she’s stuck waiting, waiting…
That’s the setup. And what’s the payoff? Well, I’m not spoiling anything with this revelation, so: werewolves. Feeding Ground is about two things: werewolves, and the terrible consequences of American immigration policy. It’s through the werewolves, of course, that the comic explores the monstrosity of the corporate, cartel, and state interests being served by Fortress America. But it’s not didactic, and it doesn’t sacrifice action, horror, or sheer coolness, for education. This is, in addition to being a great story about immigration and the American Dream, a great story about werewolves. And these are strictly old school werewolves: man-eating, Lon Chaney Jr. snouts and sideburns, with a heaping side of maiming and killing.
In addition to politics and gore, Feeding Ground is very interested in the mythology. There’s a heavy dose of desert mysticism; the transformational power of the journey through it; it’s function as cultural crucible, devourer of souls weak and unlucky alike. At times it becomes opaque, and all the themes! and images! hang over the page like a writerly miasma. At it’s best, though, Feeding Ground seamlessly fuses the primal fear of various others (places, people, creatures) with the unrelenting violence of the minutemen, the werewolves, and the desert. Literally, a feeding ground; everything is consumed and very little makes it through. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it becomes clear very early on that getting attached to the characters can only end in tears.
Finally, let’s talk art. The covers are delicious. The interiors are lovely, and great fun to pour over. Its loveliness is marred by sometimes inconsistent character designs that resulted in a few double takes. I regret reading this book digitally–I wanted to touch it. If you acquire your copy from Comixology, be warned that the colouring is so goddamn boss that you’ll be tempted to lick your screen.
Michael Morecci, Steve Seeley, Axel Medellin, Jim Ringuet, Emilio Laiso, Jim Campbell
Mothman by Jeremy Tinder
Release Date: December 5, 2012
I did not expect to like Hoax Hunters that much.
Full disclosure: I don’t buy any comics these days. Not shiny ones, anyway, not expensive ones from famous publishers. I borrow everything I read from my aforementioned buddy Stephen, who earns more money than me. Luckily we have similar taste. “I want something spooky, for Halloween,” I said, and this is what he delivered; I’d heard a little about it here and there, I’d heard that one character is a spacesuit full of crows and I’d heard it’s gonna be TV for real instead of “a comic about TV.” Y’know, “fine.” It sounded fine. It sounded like a more self-conscious BPRD.
And it basically is, but that’s me being a dickhead, because everything is just like something else, if you allow for differences. There’s a group of variously supernaturally empowered people, one is a woman and four are men (one of the men is crows, but they call him “he”), and they go about finding/hiding magic, and cryptids, and gashes through to different dimensions. They falsify evidence that these real sightings were fake for their television show. That’s the ground floor, really, because this is comics and we want to have spooky fun. Spooky fun is present and correct! Next.
Next is what’s worth talking about: character interactions, apparent relationships, and the establishment of backstory. All three are accounted for, with a bonus of, “I totally think that this dropped thread was left hanging on purpose, because there are obvious links between THAT plot, and THIS plot, and that’s pretty exciting. What could be coming?”.
The main character has a dad who’s missing, and an inherited nemesis who claims to know where the father’s ended up. It’s all very Science! Secrets! Government! But the desire to find his dad seems to be what drives team-leader Jack Lawson (please! Please nobody ever call a protagonist Jack ever again). In flashbacks, before Lawson Sr. vanished, Jack is a child (a cutie) and their bond is obvious. Big heroic action men breaking the rules because “it’s personal” are not unfamiliar, but the vulnerable, plaintive “personal” of a little boy missing his daddy is much fresher than an angry adult stealing classified gadgets because he wasn’t allowed to have his own way, or because his emotional property is
The core of the team–Jack, Ken Cadaver (a zombie?) and Regan Tate (glowy force beams?)–are well used to their job. They’re not shocked at flaming, walking corpses or at huge talking gorilla men. They meet a man, a sheriff, who is quite shocked. He’s also very brave, to the Gryffindor-stupid degree–would you stand still and shoot a gun at zombies-on-fire if all of the experienced, magic people ran away shouting “run away!”? I wouldn’t, but I still like him a lot. It’s good to have people who really don’t know that monsters exist in your story about how monsters secretly do exist: balance out “of course they do” with “are you fucking joking” and you manage fantastic realism that feels like both.
The characters in this book are quite kind. They consider each other, and civilians, and talking gorilla men. They consider their feelings and also their boundaries. It’s important, with horror themes, to have times of mending and moments of care. The backup strip, Mothman, is perfectly chosen for its delicacy/desolation duality.
This first trade has an introduction written by a real life TV hoax hunter who still believes in magic, which is rather endearing. It put me in a good place to read a story where he’s right.
Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, Shari Chankhamma, Paul Allor
I don’t know about you, but being locked in a military compound with murderous teenagers is basically my nightmare. Lucas, the ringleader of a group of doomsday prep teens, organized the mass murder of the group’s parents and ordered that his best friend’s sister be killed along with the other vocal dissenter. He burned up all the cellphones, laptops, and ham radios to cut any communication Safe Haven might have with the outside. Forget that Winter is Coming stuff; the snows are falling hard on this merry band of miscreants and things just keep getting worse.
Everyone in the camp is on edge. The volcano that was due to blow and end the world, according to Lucas’ calculations, is behind schedule and it’s causing doubt to spread among the ranks. Chris, the keeper of the dogs, has discovered the barrel full of burnt equipment but is too afraid (probably rightly so) that Lucas will turn the group against him in retaliation if he comes forward about it. Victoria and Hailey have already been driven into a bunker and he fears the worst. So he asks Hailey’s brother (whose name isn’t mentioned this issue, which feels a little like it’s on purpose somehow) to step in for him.
Alas, poor Chris has chosen allies poorly. Hailey’s brother swiftly throws him under the bus and pleads for Lucas to call off the kids hunting his sister. Lucas makes promises I’m sure he does not intend to keep, and the boys part ways. Hailey’s brother stops a fellow youngster from threatening Hailey and Victoria and Lucas goes to deal with Chris once and for all.
This book is downright creepy. These kids, void of parental supervision and guidance, are like a modern casting of Lord of the Flies. They cling to Lucas’ leadership and quickly devolve into a brutal savagery. The injuries they have inflicted upon each other pop against the dark background and help sell the story of a gang of murderers and survivors preparing to face the end of the world.
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles, Sigrid Ellis
I know you’ve already read a review of Pretty Deadly #1 but I actually liked it and wanted to explain why!
I fell in love with the idea of a fantasy western when I read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That two such vastly different genres could be blended so beautifully with the macabre was something I thought only King could manage. But Pretty Deadly manages to make an incredibly bold attempt that I’d even suggest might be on par with The Gunslinger or The Wolves of Calla. It’s a bit early to say but I have high hopes, given the praise I’ve given Deconnick and Bellaire in the past.
Two mysterious strangers entertain a fringe town in what appears to be the old West with a creepy tale based on the Tarot, an old blind man and a young girl. After their performance, they take donations from the crowd and the girl draws more attention than they’d like. They are attacked as they flee town, the girl shedding feathers as they cross the desert.
Meanwhile, Alice is hunting something and she’ll stop at nothing, not even shooting a man in a prostitute’s bed, to get it.
By the time Fox and Sissy, the performers from earlier, make it to a lonely farmstead where they are first threatened, then welcomed into the home. It’s there that Sissy reveals that she’s stolen something she never should have. Also, is she or her cloak molting? Creepy. And a little gross.
I’m very compelled by this scrawling chase that’s being set up. Sissy is about as innocent a young thief as I’ve ever seen and what Fox has seen that hurts worse than his burning eyes do is mysterious and exciting. I really want to know more about these characters. And is Alice stalking them across the desert or is there an entirely different element not explored yet? I’m so eager to find out more. Sissy’s song at the end is ominous and dark, like a Siren’s song calling me to buy issue #2. I hear you, Sissy. Pretty Deadly is on my pull list.