The secret of Murder City

Over the past few years, many a comic book series has transitioned to the small screen with much success. From superhero-based shows like Arrow, The Flash and Daredevil to supernatural dramas such as Outcast and the record-breaking The Walking Dead, fans have been treated to a plethora of live action adaptations of their illustrated favorites. “There’s no better time to be a comic book fan,” as they say, and it seems the comics-to-TV trend isn’t dying away anytime soon.

Here’s another comic book series that many believe could be the next hit TV show.

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Nailbiter: The Murder Edition vol. 1

Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Mike Henderson, Nailbiter is a crime/mystery comic that takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon, a (fictional) city which gave birth to 16 of the most notorious serial killers in the world. In this first volume, NSA Agent Nicholas Finch travels to the city to investigate the disappearance of his friend Charles Carrol, an FBI agent who went missing while investigating the cause of the town’s apparent penchant for producing psychotic murderers. It doesn’t take long for the hot-headed NSA agent to find trouble…

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…and for trouble to find him.

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Without any solid leads, Agent Finch reluctantly turns to the most notorious Buckaroo Butcher for help – Edward “Nailbiter” Warren – a serial killer whose M.O. involves kidnapping men and women who have a habit of chewing their fingernails, keeping them alive long enough until their fingernails grew back and chewing his victims’ fingers to the bone before killing them.

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I didn’t think something with such dark subject matter could be this much fun. A good gory comic is one that balances out its intense scenes with the other elements of the story, and the creators of Nailbiter play that game really well. There’s definitely a lot of action, as well as some heavy parts, but somehow the comic manages to throw in some humorous jabs from time to time.

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What I like most about this comic book series is that it has a lot of personality. Not only will you enjoy its dynamic characters but you’ll also get the feeling that the city has a life of its own. You’ll want to get to know the place as much as its people, except you can’t really do that. Not this early in the story anyway. So you just find yourself hooked on the mystery surrounding Buckaroo, Oregon.

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Overall, Nailbiter is a thrilling read that is sure to suck you in from the very first page. Great characters, great storytelling, and playfully sinister art all come together in this exciting murder mystery series. If I had to guess why people want to see this on television, only one thing comes to mind: they probably can’t get enough of it.

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A tale among stars

As a kid I never really found sci-fi appealing. I was raised on fairytales so fantasy was my natural first choice as far as genres go. When I was about eight years old I discovered I liked horror as well and to this day, those two genres are what I constantly look for regardless of medium. What they have in common is that there are elements of the fantastic in them – supernatural beings, magic, and everything that humans can’t create or become.

Sci-fi (or at least the common notion of it) is about technology, steel, everything artificial and fabricated. Even when it deals with distant worlds, it is nothing unreachable. No matter how out-of-this-world the stories are, they are still grounded on science. And science is what humans do so I never saw it as anything special. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I got to read this comic book series called Saga that I became more interested in the genre.

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Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga is about as sci-fi as you can get. It is a true space adventure spanning an entire galaxy. It has all manner of life forms from people with horns and wings to biomechanical robots with TVs for heads to large cats that can tell when you’re lying. It is a reality where space bounty hunting is a lucrative career path and spaceships are a common form of transportation; so common that they literally grow on trees. There’s even an entire planet that deals in interplanetary sex trade and a giant flaming gorilla (because why not?).

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So what makes Saga any different from other sci-fi stories? Well, BKV wrote it, that’s what. Like Vaughan’s other works, his character development for Saga is top-notch. First he lets you fall in love with protagonists Alana and Marko, who got into a forbidden relationship in spite of being from rival races that are locked in an endless war with each other. Despite their biological differences, they actually end up having a baby and get chased throughout the galaxy for it (hence the space adventure).

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Then, Vaughan introduces you to their would-be captors: a bounty hunter named The Will and his trusty sidekick Lying Cat. You’ll end up liking them, too, just because they’re a cool pair. There will be parts where you want the protagonists to get away, but at the same time you also end up worrying about what happens to the bounty hunters. It feels like the good guys are good guys and the “bad” guys don’t seem so bad so part of you roots for them, too. And that’s one of the things I enjoy about this story – even the bad guys are likeable.

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Oh, and then there’s Prince Robot IV. He’s a bit of a douche but he does make the story that much more interesting. I guess you can say he’s the main bad guy of the story.

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Beyond all the weird elements of sci-fi, Saga is packed with humor, action, serious and heart-felt moments, great characters and so much more. This series made me realize that genres aren’t always what make stories enjoyable, and that the best stories are the ones that are able to transcend those delineations anyway. It’s no surprise that Saga is what many believe to be the best comic book on the shelves today. And if you know comic book fans, you know that that compliment isn’t something that gets thrown around lightly. This series really does live up to its hype.

Fatal attraction

This week, I’m rereading the first volume of the crime/mystery/horror series Fatale from the ultra-talented duo of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips. It’s been over a year since I read it and I just recently got a hold of the second volume so a little refresher is in order.

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Fatale Deluxe Edition Volume One. Collects the first two story arcs Death Follows Me and The Devil’s Business.

The story revolves around Josephine, a woman with an obscure past riddled with very deadly secrets. She doesn’t age, and she has the apparent ability to charm men into doing whatever she wants – just some of the side effects of a curse placed on her decades ago. And of course, that kind of power comes with a lot of trouble. Dirty cops, occult worshipers, demons and pretty much every manner of shady individuals want a piece of her.

It’s quite hard to find a series where the level of art matches the level of storytelling – even more so when both are on an exceptional level. The story is multi-layered. You have so many things intersecting, so many plot threads coming together to weave a beautiful noir tapestry. That, in itself, is a treat. If this were prose, I’d still read it. But then you get art like THIS and everything feels perfect.

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Phillips’ illustrations fit the story extremely well. Most of the first story arc takes place in the 1950’s and you feel like you’re transported to that era when you read this book.

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The attention to detail is astounding; from the clothing, to the hairstyles to the cars and the scenery. It’s like reading one of those classic films where everyone looks so elegant – but with a dark, gritty twist.

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I don’t always reread previous volumes before getting into the next one, but this series deserves the attention. I’m actually enjoying it more the second time around and I’m seeing some details which I might have missed or forgotten. More than anything, I’m getting really pumped up for volume two, which should be another great read.

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Awesome cover art for the second volume. Collects the last three story arcs West of Hell, Pray for Rain and Curse the Demon.

Super spies and secret lies

I finally got to read the final volume of Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt’s masterwork and one of my favorite graphic novels. It’s always bittersweet when you reach the end of an amazing story – on one hand, you finally get to find out how it ends but at the same time, you don’t want it to end.

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I remember picking up volume one a couple of years ago in an effort to add some mystery books to my reading list. The first thing that caught my attention was the funky cover art. It looked different and that’s what I always go for; though it wasn’t an easy decision to get it. After some Googling I found out that the series was about spies and conspiracy theories and I felt like that type of story had already been told too many times. I worried that the book had nothing new to offer, but it proved otherwise.

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Mind MGMT isn’t just about spies. It’s about super spies who have insanely powerful mental abilities. There are those who have the power to make you do things through verbal suggestions, poems, music and art. Others can make you see things and confuse you by changing your surroundings and their own appearance. Some can live on indefinitely and heal from virtually any type of injury through sheer willpower. Some can erase your memories while others can see into the future. And then there are the really powerful ones who can do all of the above and more. Now, imagine two groups of super spies – one seeking to fix the world, the other trying to control it – using their abilities to take each other out.

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This graphic novel is riveting. It is fast-paced and has lots of action, as you would expect in any spy story. But what grips you is the way the story is told. It’s one of those stories that make you ask so many questions when you begin reading it. But the more you find out, the more you want to know. And on a day when you have nothing else to do, there’s just no way you’re putting this book down. You’ll just have to find a comfortable spot and accept that you’ll be there until you finish the volume.

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Similar to his earlier works, Kindt’s watercolors create beautiful dreamlike scenes that work brilliantly for telling this highly cerebral story. But the art isn’t the only thing that will keep your eyes busy.

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You’ll also find clues on page borders and hidden messages scattered throughout much of the series which eventually come together to expand the breadth of the story. There will be times when you have to go back to earlier pages to make sense of things, and you will have fun doing it. (Because who doesn’t enjoy playing detective every now and then?)

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Mind MGMT is one of those stories that you should read after you’ve had your cup of coffee. There are so many things going on in every page that you most definitely want to get into it with a fresh mind, lest you miss out on some of the more subtle details. Kindt’s execution is flawless. As you read, you get the sense that everything about the graphic novel is deliberate. The level of thought that went into this series is simply astounding. If you’re a fan of the spy game, definitely (and I mean DEFINITELY) pick this one up. There really isn’t anything like it.

The Baltimore series

I just finished reading Baltimore: The Plague Ships, the first volume of the supernatural series by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Steinbeck. The graphic novel is a continuation of the novel Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, written by Mignola and Golden.

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I read the book last year and enjoyed it immensely, which is why I was really excited to get started on this series. You know how, when you read a good book, you wish the story could go on forever? In most cases, you’re left to imagine what happens with the characters after everything that had transpired in the novel. With Baltimore, you get to find out.

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It’s also nice to see the characters illustrated and in full color. Steinbeck’s art complements the macabre story really well with its gothic vibe.

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Reading it at night makes the experience that much more enjoyable too.

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As with his other works, Mignola managed to make the occult fun without losing its darker aspects. Baltimore is horror mingled with lots of action and enriched by elements of fantasy and mysticism.

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The series is already six volumes in with The Cult of the Red King released last month – a seventh volume entitled Empty Graves is already in the works.

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Overall, volume one did a great job transitioning the story from its written form to the illustrated medium and ended with a good set-up for the next arc. But as enjoyable as it was, I get the feeling the creators were only getting warmed up when they made it. I’m excited for volume two and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how far they can take the Baltimore mythos.

The weekend that was

Last Saturday I read one of Matt Kindt’s earlier works entitled 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man. I became a huge fan of Kindt when I started following his recently-concluded Mind MGMT series, a comic book about a secret organization of spies with out-of-this-world mental capabilities. 3 Story, meanwhile, follows the life of Craig Pressgang, a boy who literally couldn’t stop growing.

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I tried tempering my expectations going into this one since it’s something Kindt made earlier in his career, plus Mind MGMT sets the bar really high not just for his works but for comics in general. But I was pleasantly surprised that the book didn’t feel like it was a lesser creation. Far from it, actually; the graphic novel has a lot of the things I enjoy about Kindt’s comics.

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For instance, his funky art. Kindt uses simple illustrations and brings them to life with his masterful use of watercolors. One thing that makes a comic book good is if it balances the use of words and pictures, and this is something Kindt does particularly well – he lets you read his art as his words guide you along.

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Kindt is widely known for his spy comics, so of course the protagonist gets recruited by the CIA. The book is actually presented as a secret file detailing Pressgang’s life, hence the title.

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Overall, 3 Story is a treat. For first-time readers of Kindt, you’ll get a good glimpse of his brilliance which you can fully appreciate when you dive into his lengthier works. For those who have read his comics before, you probably already know that reading anything from Kindt is always pleasurable, and this is no exception. Dynamic characters, emotional sequences, brilliant imagery and exceptional storytelling – Nobody does it like Matt Kindt.

Welcome to the Rez

Last week I read the third volume of Scalped, the highly acclaimed series from writer Jason Aaron and artist R. M. Guéra. The story follows Dashiell “Dash” Badhorse who, after running away from the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation fourteen years ago, returns as an undercover agent for the FBI. His mission: to investigate suspected crime boss and tribal leader Lincoln Red Crow.

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The first three volumes of Scalped: The Deluxe Edition from Vertigo Comics.

This series was an unlikely favorite since crime isn’t really a genre I’d go crazy for, and the only reason I picked up the first volume was because there was so much praise behind it. But as soon as I started reading the novel, I was hooked.

What I really like about this series is that it feels very real. A lot of the story’s elements are grounded on Native American history, and the richness of their culture makes the novel that much more compelling. I also love that the art fits the story really well. The mixture of dark and vibrant colors adds so much to the comic’s gritty atmosphere.

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This is definitely one of the more serious graphic novels I read, but Aaron’s masterful writing is sure to have you turning pages with all the twists and turns. You’ll find yourself deeply invested in the characters, constantly worrying when they get into trouble and breathing a sigh of relief when they pull through.

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You know a story is good when it evokes real emotion, and that is precisely what this book does. Scalped capped off with issue number 60 back in 2012, and the hardcover compilations which I’m collecting will have two more volumes, set to be released later this year. With consistently solid and intense story arcs, I’m sure the conclusion to this sordid masterpiece can only be explosive. I can’t wait to read it.