Reviews Roulette: Crime, Magic, Surgery

Reviews Roulette: Crime, Magic, Surgery

As Romona states below, Reviews Roulette is a feature where editorial staff assign comics to staff writers -- comics they've never looked at, comics out of the blue. It's a grab bag of mystery, and here's what our women think! Baltimore: The Witch of Harju #2 Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden (W) Peter Bergting (A) Ben

As Romona states below, Reviews Roulette is a feature where editorial staff assign comics to staff writers — comics they’ve never looked at, comics out of the blue. It’s a grab bag of mystery, and here’s what our women think!

Cover: Baltimore Witch of the Haiju, Mignola  and GoldenBaltimore: The Witch of Harju #2

Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden (W)

Peter Bergting (A)

Ben Stenbeck (CA)

Dark Horse

I had no previous knowledge or expectations for this comic. These are my spontaneous reactions while reading it.

The cover is promising: an undead hand reaching out of a grave, surrounded by Victorian era grave bells. I’ve always found those delightfully creepy. The color scheme is a bleak blue and a yellowish grey, and the style is clear but not very detailed. The scenery is depicted so that it isn’t clear if it is day, night, foggy, or winter. There is a bleak, overcast look, contributing to the overall sense of disorientation. The next page opens into a scene of chaos, with a group of men dragging what appears to be a zombie through the street. A woman announces that she has a new method for killing it since guns and knives have so far proven ineffective. Page three reveals that the undead man is in pursuit of the woman (Sophia), and she promptly sets it on fire to put an end to the nonsense. I like her style.

But it’s not so simple as all that. A little demon-looking monster escapes from the burnt up corpse. While in mid-flight, the monster gets stabbed through the head and held fast to the ground by a sword, but seeing the level of abuse it’s host body could take, my guess is that it will take more than a head wound to stop this thing.

I’d have to say that I’m intrigued by the premise, but it didn’t make a strong enough impression for me to add it to my pull list. I’m over the entire zombie/demonic possession fad that has swamped pop culture. But, if I weren’t entirely jaded with the undead, this story was well-crafted enough to introduce audiences to several characters and build a mystery with only five pages of content. If you’re up for another one of those Evil Dead type comics, this might be worth looking into. But don’t ask me, because I’m not reading any further.

— Romona

Cover: Prometheus Fire and Stone, Tobin, Dark Horse 2014Prometheus: Fire and Stone #1

Paul Tobin (W)

Juan Ferreyra (A)

Dark Horse

Dark Horse has embarked on an ambitious project with the Fire and Stone event. Prometheus #1 is the first in a comic event that will attempt to bridge the Alien, Predator and Prometheus movies. Alien and Aliens are two of my all time favourite movies. So I am both excited and nervous whenever a new addition joins the franchise. Sequels and tie-ins have gone so wrong in the past.

Paul Tobin eases readers into the story by starting with a familiar formula. It starts with a crew deep in space about to commence a salvage mission. There’s the captain, Angela, a doctor, James, an astro-biologist, Francis, a cyborg, Elden and three soldiers, Galgo, Piper and Higgins. This time, however, there is a new player thrown in — Clara, a documentary film maker. And of course this crew has its share of secrets and scandals – affairs, hidden medical conditions and more! This first issue uses Clara’s film as a vehicle for introducing all the major players. Though this is a tad more original then simply spelling everything out for the reader, it’s also a lot of information dumped in all at once.

The biggest secret of them all, however, is that Angela lied to her crew about their mission. They’re not looking for salvage on any old planet. They’re looking for something specific – a probe, sent by Peter Weyland, to find a race of creatures known as “the engineers.” Her plan is to complete Weyland’s mission and discover the true origin of the human race. Though I didn’t always agree with Angela’s choices I did appreciate that this comic is continuing the franchise’s tradition of bold and brave female characters. Neither Angela, nor Clara is afraid to say what they’re thinking or chase after what they want. I hope Paul Tobin maintains this characterization throughout the series.

This first issue may have a hard time convincing people to come back for more. Fans of the franchise may find the formulaic plot a tad tedious and those new to Aliens may be bored by the lack of action. But I do think there is the potential for a good story here. The character voices are clear and lively and it’s set itself up for a lot of scandal and twists. Combine that with Juan Ferreyra’s beautiful, detailed art and it’s worth hanging on for at least one more issue.

— Christa

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 8  Various, edited by Philip Simon, Foreword by Joel Rose  Dark HorseCrime Does Not Pay Volume 8

Various, edited by Philip Simon, Foreword by Joel Rose

Dark Horse

Opening with a foreword by author Joel Rose that discusses the impact of the stories, this collection of classic crime stories pulls out all the stops to recreate the reading experience to the original printings as closely as possible within the context of a collected volume. The collection reprints the advertising and letters pages from the original printings, along with the occasional prose story. The first time I saw an advertisement for the original, pre-Marvel Daredevil was pretty dang cool.

The art quality varies from page to page, though there are some unique illustrations (the gimmick of flipping the page upside down to learn “whodunnit” could be a bit difficult with a digital copy), and the stories are pretty violent, all things considered. Speech bubbles fill the page, as can be expected from old comic books. And even with the context of moralizing, the stories are the kind that would excite teenage boys of the time. More than one story is narrated by a white specter wearing a hat labeled CRIME, who directs the criminals that end up dead.

The letters pages are honestly pretty hilarious, with adults genuinely thanking the team behind the stories and the editors tersely responding with affirmations. The editors also print letters that question the stories and let the readers decide what’s correct. The stories are basic, if occasionally interesting The dialogue is extremely hackneyed as a modern reader, but if you’re reading this for dialogue that doesn’t come off as cliché you’re missing the point.

The stories are not kind in their portrayals of non-white male characters. Asian characters are stereotyped throughout in depictions typical of the time period, I winced every time I read the word “Oriental” as an adjective or saw the printed page equivalent of yellow-face/demonic Yellow Peril imagery. Many of the female characters are drawn to tantalize, which isn’t surprising considering the intended original audience.  It’s a lengthy volume that exists more for giving access to old, influential stories than reprinting stories of high quality. I’m genuinely astonished that this is the eighth volume published, that these reprints are financially successful enough to continue. Although I’m not a member of the audience interested in this as a historical curiosity, I can see why people would check this out in that context. I wouldn’t go out of my way to read this unless I required research material and needed a source, and even then I’d probably look for other things first.

— Rachel

Never Forgets, Yumi Sakugawa, 2014

Never Forgets

By Yumi Sakugawa

Available here

How many of us wish we could change absolutely everything about the way we look? How many would, if we could?

Never Forgets tells the story of Ellie, post the plastic surgery that renders her unrecognizable but “so gorgeous,” as she navigates meeting friends, documenting her recovery online, and telling her parents. It’s a complicated, heavy topic told with sparse, black and white art: Ellie looks recognizably human, but everyone around her resembles some sort of animal.

The very first few panels introduce us to Ellie: she puts on makeup, fashionable clothes, accessories. She’s an Instagrammer, taking a photo of her cup of coffee to post it online. Right away, we see that Ellie’s cares about image: she enjoys pretty things and gets a boost from looking good. A more critical analysis might call her shallow, that sobriquet that gets handed out to selfie-taking teens and Instagram-obsessed young adults.

So it’s possible – even suggested, maybe – that Ellie got her surgery to look  more like the images she’s been inundated with online. Certainly her friend Bri, who doesn’t even recognize her at first, keeps commenting on her new supermodel-good looks, and the two of them discuss it in Valley Girl-esque dialog that’s peppered with “oh my gods” and zz’s where there should just be an s. But Ellie doesn’t feel shallow. She feels like she’s cut down to the essence of herself. “I know I look different,” she tells Bri, “but I feel more me than ever before.”

The art does the heavy lifting for Ellie’s internal musings: there are multiple panels where she studies her new face in a mirror or window, and her surgery is documented in piecemeal photos online, where friends comment with hearts and encouragement. Tellingly, only one person (who’s name we never see) expresses concern that Ellie is chosing surgery for the wrong reasons – but it’s reiterated over and over again that this was her choice and her decision.

But it’s a hard read. I won’t pretend it’s not. The thick tension between Ellie and her silent parents near the end of the comic doesn’t pull any punches, and raises a lot of questions: what people do with their own bodies is their own choice, but how do you react when that choice is superficial surgery? How would it feel to be a parent looking at the person across the table and not be able to recognize their child? Change is hard. Voluntary change can be even harder, more difficult to explain to anyone else, though those explanations aren’t required or necessary, and resolution isn’t as easy as a button at the end of a story.

So check out Never Forgets, and see what it makes you feel. It’s not neat and it’s not easy, but I’d recommend a comic that makes people think and feel – even if that feeling is uneasiness or confusion – any day.

– Laura H.


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