Cracking Open The Vault: Yes! Another PUBWATCH!

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Welcome to the inaugural Vault PUBWATCH! Every month, Corissa Haury and I will be bringing you the latest releases from Vault Comics, plus a bit of commentary on each. We’re almost too late for a November one, but we’re juuuuust squeaking by, and you can expect future posts to be a little more timely going forward. At any rate, Vault had five issues total for us this month; three brand new series and two continuations. Let’s take a look!

Maxwell’s Demons #1

Maxwell’s Demons takes readers inside the world of Max, a brilliant young boy whose introduction includes two existentialist references, a leviathan, and a look inside the mind of Max Maas, the main character. The story begins in a bit of a tropey way, with Max as the neglected child of an alcoholic finding solace in his experimental play on a regular basis. His father is truly awful, the emotionally abusive type that focuses on himself and expects the rest of the world to make way for him.

In this story there is no school for Max, it is unclear what season it is outside, and in fact Max could live in an apartment 60 floors up in Chicago and the reader never knows. Vittorio Astone’s art inside Max’s room portrays the place as dark, crowded with monitors and shadows. There is a closed window with some kind of light pouring in, yellow as it highlights floating dust specks in the bedroom. Max’s friends are limited to talking stuffed animals and a hamster we don’t see much of. The darkness of the home in which the comic takes place adds to the sinister feeling of the father’s unwieldy rage. “An inanimate object might become a best friend,” says the narrator (written by Deniz Camp) early on in the story, adding to the loneliness of Max’s situation.

This marriage of a lonely narrative, shadowy artwork and bright, well-placed lighting creates a sense of darkness during the entire comic. It’s a dark story that requires maturity from the central character. The places to which Max retreats offer challenges a normal child wouldn’t face. Like the leviathan. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that Maxwell’s Demons is an interesting twist on the typical “lonely, abused nerdy boy” myth we so often indulge in Western stories and culture. It should be interesting to watch the story of Max grow, and see if the comic book name is a reference to the thought experiment by James Maxwell.


Alien Bounty Hunter #2

Alien Bounty Hunter took an unfortunate hiatus after issue number one, but it’s back now! You can read my full review of the first issue here. Number two dropped a couple of weeks ago, and it continues the first’s habit of being charming. It’s an action tale starring a spy with a heart of gold. Madsen is likeable, he’s empathetic, he cares. Issue two also introduces Cancel, some sort of mysterious female motorcycle vigilante. We don’t learn a lot about her, but she’s cool and clever. I was a little worried she’d turn out to be a love interest, and she still might, but she currently has no time for Madsen’s shenanigans, which I appreciate. ABH does something I think is rare in modern comics in that each issue feels like part of an ongoing story but also a complete tale in its own. This is, I think, what a comic book should always do, but this particular trick seems to have given ground to decompression and shortened page counts. In any case, Alien Bounty Hunter is a pretty excellent comic book.


Reactor #1

Reactor #1 does an excellent job of starting a narrative about a team of ragtag militia members who were forced back to a previously abandoned Earth to rid the planet of vampires. The story begins with a quick background to create the foundation for an epic battle scene that constitutes the first half of this issue. This narrative is cleverly disguised as one of the main character’s pre-battle speeches. Her name is Poli, and she gives this speech to inspire a small group of humans to get to some “bloodsucker” cleanup. The cast of characters that joins her in this first issue include Poli’s right hand man Randolph and his three daughters, Wreak, Woe, and Weep. This already sounds fun, right? It is.

I didn’t know I wanted a story with vampires who discuss Star Wars in it. I didn’t know I wanted a story with a kid in a mech suit destroying vampires. After reading Reactor #1, I can’t wait for the second issue. Let me be clear, the action in this comic is fantastic. It is clear that these scenes were planned out with care as they were made. Each sequence is perfectly punctuated with battle sounds. Every panel has its own sound, articulate and perfectly matched to the moment. Sometimes sound effects wail and BOOM across multiple panels. Is this the work of letterer Taylor Esposito, or artist Dylan Burnett? Either way the sound effect letters and the illustration crush together in an action amalgam of battle glory. It is highly enjoyable, and the attention to this intricate detail makes the fight scenes come alive for the reader.

The relationship between the vampires left on earth to die when humanity left Earth, and the militia sent there to destroy them, is the central focus of Reactor #1. It is full of great scenes during an epic battle, but that is just the beginning of the comic. The latter half introduces a new element and establishes the central problem for the main characters, creating the premise for this futuristic and promising series.


Deuce of Hearts #1

I hadn’t read anything about this book prior to giving it a try, and that seems like…a mistake. It raises an interesting question for me: Is a solicit part of the actual comic? I think “no,” but the solicit for issue one, also found on the back cover, contains an element crucial to understanding the plot that does not appear anywhere within the pages. It made reading through the issue difficult; I was watching scenes play out, but not really understanding how or why they seemed to resolve. The main character seemed to have some sort of luck or reality-altering power—even with the explanation on the back cover, there are still some elements of this comic that I don’t understand, and not in a “show me more” kind of way. I can’t even remember his name, and I’ve just read the thing. The art does interesting things, and the dialogue is very snappy–somewhere between Lucky Number Slevin or Ocean’s Eleven, but with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Maybe that’s your kind of thing!


Zojaqan #2

In Zojaqan #2, Shan continues to interact with the Zoja, an alien race she encounters in Zojaqan #1 after the postal worker protagonist finds herself in an undiscovered place far from Earth. The detailed artwork from Nathan C. Gooden is expressive, even in alien faces. The humanoid aliens are just human enough to instill in Shannon a need to interact and nurture, and be relatable enough to the reader. The Zoja seem to be much like early humans: prey in the jungle. As the race of Zoja evolves, Shan’s motherly instincts kick into action and she works to protect them.

There is great care taken in the portrayal of the characters in Zojaqan, and it really comes out in issue #2. The central character Shannon is drawn consistently, carefully in each panel. Though she is clearly a matriarchal, gendered figure, she is never sexualized in the artwork. Gooden portrays Shan as powerful, muscular, lean, and tough. Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing write Shannon with a personality that perfectly matches the visual portrayal of her character. She is a mother, a woman, and specifically, a woman of color who has lost a son to racist murderers when she lived on Earth in issue #1. She is an old hand at dealing with grief, and so she does. As Shannon herself says, in Zojaqan #2, “Not a single piece of me holds back. No doubt. I just make happen what needs to happen.”

This is true for Shannon’s convictions throughout the comic book. She learns from her own mistakes as she struggles to lead what has become an entire race of people on a foreign planet. This is not a woman who expected to deal with something like this, but she takes it in stride and does so with a willpower readers can admire and long for. What makes Zojaqan so good is the exploration of that willpower and Shannon’s role as Zoja matriarch, and her interactions with the Zoja as they learn together.


And that’s all we have for you this month. Happy vault cracking!

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.