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.

DSC00425F

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.

DSC00429F

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.

DSC00435F

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

DSC00439F

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.

DSC00441F

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.

DSC00444F

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 modern gods

Stories about superhumans have been around perhaps as long as civilizations existed. From religious texts, to Greek mythology, to today’s novels and comic books, we see all sorts of beings capable of performing the most amazing feats. Whether these stories were products of pure imagination or inspired by real-life events, people have always been captivated by the idea that greater beings exist. And oftentimes, the heroes that emerge in such stories reflect, in some way, what’s going on in the world.

At a time when nations were on the brink of war, Superman was born, and the savior that the world desperately needed quickly rose in popularity and forever changed the comic book industry. Similarly, Captain America enjoyed the adoration of countless readers, being the man who would willingly take on the Nazis at the height of their power.  In Grant Morrison’s book Supergods, the author noted that it is no coincidence that the two most popular superheroes today are playboy billionaires who happen to be geniuses, referring to Iron Man and Batman. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that says about our world’s current state.)

Last month saw the birth of yet another super being with the debut of Image Comics’ Huck. In their latest comic book series, writer Mark Millar and artist Rafael Albuquerque introduce their version of the everyday hero.

DSC00365

Covers A and B for Huck #1

DSC00383

Covers A and B for Huck #2

Huck is about a man who has incredible strength, speed, invincibility and the apparent ability to find humans and objects no matter where they are in the world. What makes him unique is that he uses his powers to do good deeds for everyone in his community. And by good deeds, I don’t mean he fights off super villains and stops natural disasters from happening. I’m talking everyday good deeds like returning a lost necklace and… well… taking out everyone’s trash and buying everyone lunch.

DSC00374

He fights terrorists, too.

DSC00385

The series is only two issues in but so far it has been a delightful read. One of the reasons I like reading superhero stories is that they tend to give you that “everything will be alright” feeling. And in a world where even the most mundane good deeds are becoming more and more scarce, Huck reminds us that these things matter just as much as stopping the bad guys.

Millar and Albuquerque combine great storytelling and dynamic art in this promising tale about the hero that the world needs. I’m really hoping they get a long, solid run with this series.

Those stories you won’t tell mommy

If you frequent comic book shops and bookstores then you’ve probably spotted this shamelessly pink graphic novel on the shelves. You’ve probably taken a closer look (or pretended to “accidentally” glance at it) and found that the gold font on the cover says BIG HARD SEX CRIMINALS. And maybe you got curious about it but you just can’t bring yourself to actually pick it up and bring it to the counter. I know. I’ve been there too.

front 1

Back1

The thing with sex stories is that they have to be good. Otherwise, it’s just porn on print. What Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky did with Sex Criminals is pretty smart. Yes, the book has lots of nudity. Yes, the book is packed with silly sex jokes. Yes, there are pages that made me a little embarrassed to be reading it in public. But beyond all that, the characters are surprisingly relatable and the story does make enough sense for you to take it seriously.

What I liked the most is the way the characters break the fourth wall – that is, they literally speak to the reader in some panels – and it feels like they’re sharing their lives with you.

Suzie 1

Suzie 2

You become their confidant and you find yourself deeply engaged in their lives. You know their problems and frustrations, their fantasies and fears, their childhood stories of curiosity and discovery, and then you realize how honest the book is. That, although it is a wild, dirty, sex sci-fi story, there is something very human to it.

Jon 1

Jon 2

So you do the thing that humans do: you sympathize. And that’s when you realize you’re willing to tag along no matter where their sexed-up adventures take them. Sex Criminals is what you get when two very talented guys decide to get a little crazy – I really doubt you’ll read anything like it. So go ahead and pick up that pink book you’ve been eyeing. You might just find yourself quite satisfied once you finish it.

end 2

A magickal Halloween

A few weeks ago I wrote about some new releases from Image Comics; this one made it just in time for Halloween. Black Magick is a dark fantasy series about Rowan Black, a detective for Portsmouth PD who’s also secretly a witch. In this first issue, Detective Black finds herself in the middle of a hostage taking orchestrated by a perpetrator who seems to know all about her dual identity.

DSC00207

Black Magick #1 by writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott. Cover A by Scott, magazine cover by Rick Burchett, cover B by Jill Thompson.

I really like it when Image releases magazine-sized issues. It’s always a treat to read comics in large formats – even more so with Scott’s art.

DSC00214

DSC00210

The illustrations are mostly done in grayscale, which sets the tone very effectively. The use of color in some panels makes the scenes more intense and just really eye-catching.

DSC00215

Story-wise, the first issue sets up the mythos well, revealing just enough about the protagonist without giving too much away. You get a good sense of the type of world in which the narrative exists, and the writer teased just enough to make you feel that something big is coming. And, again, the art is simply magnificent. Anybody who’s a fan of magic should definitely follow this series. This might be the best we’ve seen from Rucka and Scott, and I can’t wait for issue #2.

The creepy comics of Emily Carroll

A couple of weeks ago I picked up Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I didn’t know what to expect. The cover looked innocent enough to be a children’s book and it wasn’t until I read the back cover that I found out it was a horror book. And I’ve never encountered or heard of Carroll’s work before so it felt like a gamble when I decided to get this one.

woods

But boy did my gamble pay off. Her stories are extremely entertaining and her style definitely sets her apart. I like how her illustrations are brilliantly laid out on the page with the text, flowing seamlessly from page to page. Her seemingly childlike illustrations  give her comics that storybook feel, but this only adds to the creepy vibe of her work.

The book features five short stories which are perfect for those nights when you just want a good quick scare. Cleverly written, eerily drawn, and overall a great read. You may also check out her web comics for free at http://www.emcarroll.com/.

Halloween in June

I’ve been picking up a lot of horror books lately – both graphic novels and classics. Here are some of the titles I read last month.

Archie Horror

You read that right. Archie as in Archie Andrews. As in Betty and Veronica. As in Jughead, Reggie, Moose, Midge and the rest of the Riverdale crew. Some very creative minds at Archie Comics got together and launched the imprint Archie Horror. Its first title, Afterlife with Archie, debuted in 2013 with Escape from Riverdale, a five-issue story arc. In the series, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Francesco Francavilla gives the childhood favorite a fresh take as they pit Archie and the gang against flesh-eating zombies – And it’s brilliant.

DSC00114

The first four issues of Afterlife with Archie in over-sized magazine format.

Also released under the Archie Horror franchise is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Written also by Aguirre-Sacasa, and this time with artists Robert Hack and Jack Morelli, the series gives another childhood icon a dark makeover. How dark? Witch covens and devil worship…But with teenage/high school issues. Unfortunately the series was delayed a few months so it’s only on the third issue of its first story arc. Each issue, however, has so far delivered solid content, art and story-wise. Can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

DSC00117

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, issues 1-3.

Dracula

And here’s my sixth novel for the year. I tell you, no movie can ever capture how good this book is. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has so many things going for it – mystery, adventure, dark fantasy.

drac

A leather-bound copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Cover art by Jessica Hische.

This is horror done right. I like it when the author throws a veil over the monster; You can guess what it is through the silhouette but you won’t know what it really is until the veil comes off. And that’s what’s so good about this book. You get bits and pieces at first and then Stoker reveals the true nature of Count Dracula at just the right moment. Things only get interesting from there and before you know it, you’ve been taken for a ride. Truly a must-read for horror fans.

The early works of Jeff Lemire

I still remember the very afternoon when I first encountered one of Jeff Lemire’s works. I tend to spend my lunch breaks at the mall and as you might guess, I frequently end up checking out bookstores during such trips. So there I was, carefully examining what’s new on the shelves, looking for things I might have missed during my last visit. That time, I checked the bottom shelf of the graphic novels section hoping to find a hidden gem; I was not disappointed.

I pulled out Lemire’s Underwater Welder from a row of books that seemed to have been forgotten, tucked away beneath Superman, the Walking Dead and the other more popular books that were deemed worthy of the more visible shelf space. At the time, I had no idea what it was about. I don’t have any particular interest in underwater construction either, but the cover just drew me in.

welder cover

The story is about a man who struggles with the demands of his job while trying so desperately to be a good husband as he deals with the pressures of his impending fatherhood. As everything seems to be falling apart, a supernatural encounter at the bottom of the ocean sends him to a Twilight Zone type of world.

I would describe Lemire’s art as rugged – not the most technical, not the smoothest drawings you’ll see in today’s comics. But his style communicates the human emotion so strongly. The brilliance of his drawings is that they have the ability to be so striking, so effective in delivering the message in spite of being remarkably simple. The impeccable use of the eyes, some well-placed lines on the face and you find yourself empathizing with the character.

panel 1

The use of black and white also adds to the emotion of the book by creating an eerie atmosphere, characteristic of his earlier works.

panel 2

Lemire can write about the most mundane things and still manage to captivate his audience through his emotionally charged works. Later on I picked up Essex County, his first graphic novel under Top Shelf Productions and a predecessor of Underwater Welder.

Essex cov

Again I got more of those expressive looks and Lemire’s trademark gloomy atmosphere.

ess3

It never gets old though, and it’s no surprise he was able to transition into mainstream comics with his masterful storytelling. Since releasing his earlier works under Top Shelf Productions, Jeff Lemire has worked for various comic book publishers including Vertigo, DC Comics and Image.