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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

Hot n’ Cold

 

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While supervillains have become a staple in today’s comic books, it wasn’t until the Silver Age (mid 1950’s-late 1960’s) that readers saw a boom in their creation. Golden Age comic book stories (late 1930’s-mid 1950’s) were mostly characterized by conflicts between the superhero and everyday bad guys such as bank robbers, mobsters, common thugs, crooked politicians, and – perhaps most notable for that era – the Nazis.

With a newly revamped Flash that debuted in Showcase #4 (Aug. 1956), Carmine Infantino and his crew proceeded to introduce an array of supervillains to pit against the Crimson Comet. Showcase #8 (Apr. 1957), Barry Allen’s second appearance, gave birth to one of the Flash’s most prominent rogues: Captain Cold. But the hero in red wouldn’t be the Captain’s only rival.

Making his first appearance in Flash #140 (Sep. 1963) is Mick Rory, a.k.a. Heat Wave. In the story, the two criminals initially hit it off as Heat Wave helped Captain Cold escape with his loot by attacking the Flash just as the icy criminal was about to get caught. However, things quickly turned sour between the two. They found themselves at odds with each other after a short conversation revealed they were after the same girl – a TV celebrity widely known by her stage name, Dream Girl.

This was the beginning of a rivalry that has so far lasted for half a century. Although the two supervillains belong to the same super group (fondly called the Rogues), readers still find them constantly butting heads over issues such as who should be the leader of the gang or whose fault it was that the job didn’t go as planned and so much more. This volatile relationship caused by their constant bickering has created a unique dynamic among the villains of the Flash mythos, and has kept its readers entertained through several decades.

From my collection: The Flash #140 (Sep. 1963), Heat Wave’s first appearance – one of my favorite Silver Age stories and cover art.

Ten-cent tales

Ten-cent tales

Up until the early 60’s, most comic books cost only 10 cents. If you were a kid living in the 1940’s and you had 10 cents to spend, you would have had to choose between ice cream, candy and comic books.

The movies would have been too expensive for you, since they cost a little over 20 cents. Apart from toys (which you probably had to convince your parents to buy for you), your only other forms of entertainment were the radio and television. And, by the way, the TV didn’t have color until around mid-50’s; and they were too expensive for most families then.

It’s no surprise how comic books kept a lot of kids (and even adults) entertained with their colorful pages, fantastic stories, and super-powered protagonists – just as they continue to do so today.

All for just 10 cents.

My first ten-cent tales (L-R): Flash #115 (Jul. 1960) where Flash becomes morbidly obese, Flash #116 (Sep. 1960) where Flash battles a man from another dimension, and Flash #119 (Jan. 1961), an early appearance of the Mirror Master, and Ralph Dibny marries Sue Dearbon (on her first appearance in comics, no less).