Welcome to Reviews Roulette, where editors randomly assign comics to our staff writers for review!
This week we assigned The Auteur #4 (Oni Press), Thomas Aslop (BOOM!), and Emily and the Strangers: Breaking the Record (Dark Horse).
Rick Spears (W)
James Callahan (A)
Luigi Anderson (C)
Full disclaimer: I have not read The Auteur #1-3. I went into this issue cold, which was a fun experience. With books I like to know as little as possible about the story before I start reading. Why not try the same thing with comics?
As far as I can tell The Auteur is a series about a semi-unbalanced director named Rex. He’s recently made a very violent film about Presidents Day that the studio loves. But for some unexplained reason Rex is convinced that it needs to be fixed by making it the antithesis of its original form. From violence to rom-com. Nothing weird about that right? This was fun enough on its own but what I really loved was how the filming of the new romantic scenes ran concurrent to Rex’s own failed attempts to woo his love interest. What works perfect for his leading man, backfires in his face in real life. In this case life doesn’t imitate art.
Despite the bizarre nature of this issue I was admittedly charmed by its quirkiness. It’s funny, maybe not laugh out loud funny, but certainly giggle out loud. The characters are interesting and over the top (the screenwriter literally dresses like he’s Shakespeare, right down to the meticulously starched ruff) and the indication that something bigger is happening makes me want to go back and read the issues I missed. There were hints of a murder and cover up and I’m dying to know who was murdered and how Rex was involved. And to top it all off it’s packaged in some very unique art. A+ to Luigi Anderson in particular. From the first page the colours immediately grabbed me and the quality was consistent throughout.
This was pretty much the best case scenario for reading a random issue of a comic. There was enough story here to keep me engaged, but also enough reference to the over-arching plot to make me curious about what I missed.
Chris Miskiewicz (W)
Palle Schmidt (A)
I had no previous knowledge or expectations for this comic. These are my spontaneous reactions while reading it.
The cover has a look similar to a playing card, where a torso is both right-side-up and upside-down, except the two sides belong to different people. The top side looks like a junkie; the bottom side looks like a pissed off Amish minister. This is followed by a page long spread of said junkie naked, in mid-jump, looking shocked. He has huge thighs and cheesy tattoos. The cover drew me in, but this image is a total turn-off. Hopefully there’s no more naked, scared looking men jumping around in this issue.
Okay, the inside cover is doing it for me again. A silhouette with arms outstretched, surrounded by the shadows of a city? Yes. More of this.
The first actual page of the comic places us inside the Hotel Chelsea with the top-half of the torso as our narrator, and he is making it crystal clear that he is indeed a drug connoisseur.
Oh no. Now there is a full page spread of the same naked dude, but this time he’s sullen and wearing galoshes.
A snippet of his backstory reveals that he believes the island of Manhattan speaks to him. I like this. There are religious and cultural beliefs centered on regional deities: a completely underutilized topic in modern-storytelling. This a welcome respite from the usual “god told me to do it” trope. He explains that his status as “Hand of the Island” has been handed down through his family for generations, due to a curse the Mespeatches Indians placed on his great-great grandfather.
An added twist is that one of his supernatural escapades was caught on video and uploaded to YouTube, giving him instant fame and fortune (which has simultaneously cheapened and broadened his life, hence the chemical coping mechanisms).
Page thirteen is a gorgeous interlude where the two generations meet on a psychic plane, and then we seamlessly enter the flipside of the comic where we are introduced to great-great-grandad himself, Richard Alsop.
With this transition, the color scheme shifts from bold and bright to monochromatic and stark. We’re getting to know Richard post-cursing, and he sits to chat with some form of baddy in a church. While they talk, he explains the origin of his abilities: he was outraged at the witch burnings taking place in the 1600’s New York; a shaman observed him defending the accused, then tracked him down in the woods and transferred his power to him. No further explanation is given.
So far, the only depictions of Native Americans have been questionable. It’s possible that their storyline will become more empowering in future issues, but at this point in time they’ve only been included as shadowy figures in the woods and now this, a silent magical shaman. I’ll spare judgment at this point since it is only the first issue, but this needs to shape up fast.
The church scene is followed by the arrival of a slave ship. It’s obviously portrayed as a dark harbinger of doom; it’s so evil that the Hand of the Island is expected to shy from it. But with the problematic depictions of Native Americans juxtaposed with the panels of the suffering Africans, I’m concerned about the future depictions of PoC in this series.
However, it does end with an eloquent blog post from Thomas Alsop.
Chance of Being Awesome: 70%
Emily and the Strangers: Breaking the Record
Rob Reger (W)
Mariah Huehner (A)
Cat Ferris (C)
So, I haven’t read Emily the Strange (I KNOW). Mariah Huehner mentioned on Twitter recently that people who like My Little Pony and Lumberjanes might be a fan of this new comic. Well, one out of two ain’t bad (Lumberjanes 4LYFE), and I did enjoy my read of Emily and the Strangers.
This issue is one of three, and drops us immediately into a psychedelic full-page spread introducing our hero and her bandmates: handy for someone who has no idea who or what she should be expecting. The cast includes two characters of colour (twins). Emily introduces them by name and instrument, then explains our starting point and source of conflict: the ever-dreaded contract.
The ensuing argument about creative freedom and the shackles of “selling out” will be a familiar one to anybody who has ever tried to make it in the arts. Are Emily and the Strangers in it for the music, or the money? The comically long contract (naturally penned by someone named Crawly) spills out across the floor as each band member weighs in, but their argument fizzles out after a two-panel resolution, allowing the story to continue.
Have any of you seen that mid-90’s masterpiece of cinema, Josie and the Pussycats? (I can still sing all the songs.) The middle third of the issue is heavily reminiscent of that silver screen classic — it seems the record company is Not What It Seems and in fact may well be outright evil! Quelle surprise.
While the opening to Emily and the Strangers may not be a bold new path or plot, it’s a distinctly enjoyable read, particularly for a younger age group. Each band member has a personality of their own — my favorite page is the one where they all imagine vastly different uses for their mega-huge advance. The art is the highlight of the issue for me: at times the writing and dialogue dragged (though Crawly’s agent double-speak is pitch-perfect) , and I wished the question of art for art’s sake or for commercial use continued through the story a little more thoroughly. Emily does bring it up with the smiley, Hollywood-orange Mr. Crawly, but by then the band seems to have closed ranks. “We’re about rockin’. Not popularity,” Emily states, and the band doesn’t question her decision. All the tension from earlier seems to have leached away.
This issue feels like a prelude to the real story, so I’ll be curious to see what #2 has in store for us further down the line.
— Laura H.