Halloween! Yes the greatest day of the year draws near.
Forget the empty calories and regretful sugar comedowns that come with candy
binges, for there are comics on offer this Saturday and they are ALL FREE! Yes,
Halloween comes early. Praise Cthulhu.
In order to make sure the Comicfest swag was adequately
previewed, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, said "Halloween
Comicfest" five times and, lo, most of them appeared at the measly cost of
my soul, my firstborn and my tickets to next month's Angel Olsen gig. Consider these
comics good for All Ages unless marked like this: (M) or I seem particularly
apprehensive about their content in the mini-reviews.
ACTION LAB PRESENTS (ACTION LAB)
It's all uphill from here, folks, I promise!
Featuring samples from four Action Lab titles, Action Lab Presents is a pretty ho-hum
affair. Opening with a title called Miraculous,
you have to be concerned when you see a credit listed as "Art arranged by
Cheryl Black." Now, I'm not sure if Cheryl's done all the work here or
what (the credits are kind of unclear), but if you like entirely computer
generated art in your comics, boy, you're in for a treat. I do not, so let's
move on as I have no real idea what's going on here story-wise. It appears to
be based on some sort of card game. I'd clarify that but I can't really be
bothered. Sam Ellis and Christy Blanch's Monster
Dojo rests solely on a Karate Kid
gag that's sure to go over the heads of its target audience, but with a gaggle
of cartoony monsters, the kids might have some fun with this nonetheless, I
guess. Ghouls Scouts by Steve Bryant
and Mark Stegbauer is kind of like Oni's Junior
Braves of the Apocalypse (in which scouts battle zombies) but...well, not
as good. That might be a bit unfair as there are only six pages presented so
give it a read and judge for yourself. Rounding things off is a four-page
sample from the ongoing Puppet Master
comic based, yes, on those horror movies of the same name. It's a little strange to have a "Teen
Plus" comic included with all this All Ages fare, but alarmed parentals be
cool - this is a pretty innocuous inclusion, no puppet murder-carnage, I swear.
(M) AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE HALLOWEEN COMICFEST EDITION
Note: as this is rated Teen Plus "for violence and
mature content," I've marked it (M) to be on the safe side.
Perhaps I've read to many comics too quickly in putting this
column together, but I'm struck by how Afterlife With Archie, underneath it
all, may be a comment on life as a fictional comic book character, doomed to entertain
the masses, month after month, incarnation after incarnation, never finding
peace, not even in death...
For the fans of this series, this Halloween Comicfest
edition of Afterlife With Archie is
the first issue of the second story arc, presented in black, white and grey.
For newcomers, Afterlife With Archie brings the zombie apocalypse to Riverdale.
Gone is the Dan DeCarlo cartoonishness to the art and the milkshakes and
"aw, shucks" stories - this is serious business. It's also pretty
good. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's scripts bring both the soapiness and the drama
of The Walking Dead and filters that back through the sprawling cast's well-established
inter-personal relationships. Artist Francesco Francavilla brings noir-ish
moodiness and the perfect balance between the cartoonishness of the old-school
Archie with the realism of someone like Sean Phillips. I've not read the second
arc, but this issue is a strong start. In many ways, this is the series that
spawned not only the line-wide Archie reboots but I bet that without this, you
don't have DC's Scooby Doo and other Hanna-Barbera books (see way down below). Grab
this little trendsetter if curious.
ASPEN PRESENTS: THE ADVENTURES OF THE ASPEN UNIVERSE (ASPEN)
Something felt a little off about Aspen's All Ages Comicfest
book at first glance. Artist Siya Oum attractively cartoons the whole thing in
black and white but the pages feel somehow empty. However, upon arriving at a
colouring activity page I realised that the whole book is really designed to be
coloured by you and/or your kids. There's word puzzles, dot-to-dots and more
also included but, seriously, grab those Derwents out because there's literally
hours upon hours of colouring to do here. If this is all an accident, it's a
very happy one, but I'm going to give Aspen the benefit of the doubt here and
say good job to them - even if that cliffhanger at the end of the book's second
story, Charismagic: Sparkle, is a
little cruel. You don't have a little cat running in terror from a clearly
predatory bear in a kids book and leave it at that, guys...
(M) BLACK-EYED KIDS (AFTERSHOCK)
Nice to see new publisher on the block, Aftershock, getting
in on the action with a black and white reprint of the debut issue of Black-Eyed Kids by writer Joe Pruett and
artist Szymon Kudranski, whose artwork looks so good in black and white I
almost don't want to see the regular coloured issue. All set up here, as a
sleepwalking teen alarms the rest of his family and a group of black eyed
teenagers commit seemingly random acts of violence across town. Pruett scripts
us an intriguing start to the series, with the kids' black eyes and
expressionless faces kind of looking like Michael Myers masks thanks to
Kudranski's black and white art - which is supremely detailed and uses
photographic backgrounds almost like manga artists Inio Asano and Hiroya Oku.
It's an interesting and moody effect.
Well worth a look, it's also good to see that collected
editions of various Aftershock series are beginning to roll off the pressers. I
hope they do well. Black-Eyed Kids #1
is an effective start to the series. It's clearly in no hurry, a good thing,
taking its time to build atmosphere and tension to what hopefully is a major
payoff down the line.
BOOM! BOX HALLOWEEN HAUNT 2016
The second of many squeeze-'em-in samplers this year, Boom!
Box wisely kick things off with a self-contained (I'm pretty sure, I'm a little
behind) Lumberjanes story by Shannon
Watters and Caret Pitesch all about mix tapes, the joys of music and the
pitfalls of "cool." Super sweet stuff. Giant Days by John Allison and Max Sarin has been stealing a lot of
hearts so it's nice to read some of that - shame it's just three pages worth.
The quality is there, no doubt, and this recap of a group of teenage girls
adventures functions well as an introduction to the characters even if it seems
to spoil every adventure they've had to date. I can literally tell you nothing
about James Tynion IV (does he really need the "IV"?) and Rian Sygh's
Backstagers from the two pages
presented here. It looks like good comics but I'm not sure who's going to pick
the series up based on this alone. Same with Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams - again, solid
comics, talented creators. No idea what's happening.
Boom! Box's effort highlights the joys and frustrations of
the comics sample package. It all feels too random, difficult to connect with, despite
the obvious quality of the work on offer. Pick this up for Lumberjanes, everything else is a bonus. Looking at it like that,
you can't really go wrong.
Not particularly in the spirit of the day, but you can't
really blame DC for loading up this year's offering with hot properties. DC
Superhero Girls' free Halloween offering contains a few scenes from an
original graphic novel titled "Hits and Myths" which is Homer's
Odyssey via Superheroes gone kiddie. This is bright and bouncy stuff by writer
Shea Fontana, artist Yancey Labat and colourist Monica Kubina, tossing a selection
of de-aged DC characters into a school together who somehow find the time to
fight super-crime on the side. It's perfect entry-level comics really, candy-coloured
and wholesome but comes with pretty dead-on characterisation all round, even
considering Etrigan The Demon is one of the girls' teachers and the throwaway
villain at its opening is rather lamely named "Lion Mane." Sheesh.
Jack Kirby probably dreamed up fifty throwaway, lets'-get-things-moving
villains every day and none of them were ever that bad...
DISNEY: TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE
So I actually opened this up and thought there had
been some sort of printing error. Readers will have to work harder than they
should to figure out what Tokopop's offering actually is -- a slice of Jun
Asuka's manga adaptation of Tim Burton's enduring animated classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. I only
know this because I bothered to turn to the inside back cover (this edition
reads as manga - right to left) make sure my glasses were on correctly and peer
at the tiny box advertising the full details of this project. Shame. This is an intriguing and well-crafted
effort, from what's offered here at least, with Asuka's pages easily
transmuting Burton's gothic stop-motion into heavily toned, scratchily inked
manga. I did the research Tokyopop couldn't be bothered doing for this project
-- this adaptation was created back in 2004 and its creator only professionally
debuted the year before. Handsome work by Asuka. Terrible she's not credited
properly by the publishers.
GRUMPY CAT HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2016 (DYNAMITE)
As with this licenced property's FCBD offering, Grumpy Cat Halloween Comicfest totally
overachieves. "I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Just Don't Care,"
by Ben Fisher and Steve Uy fills the bulk of this minicomic offering, as Grumpy
Cat and sidekick Pokey chat about the year's best holidays and visit a haunted
Dump trucks of Grumpycash should be unloaded onto Uy's front
lawn ASAP to keep him on this property as his lively, witty cartooning is the
reason to pick up the book. Look for the stellar cover featuring the titular
feline in the rain, JasonVoorhees-style hockey mask askew just enough to make
out his trademark grumpy scowl. Fun stuff.
HARLEY QUINN AND THE SUICIDE SQUAD SPECIAL EDITION
Quick note: Marked T for teen.
Yeaaahhhh, look I don't think it's unkind of me to
suggest that this is not artist Jim Lee's finest work but this free comic is an
intriguing sample of the rebooting of Suicide Squad into what the publishers surely
hope will be a long-term A-list property. I'm guessing the material is drawn
from Suicide Squad: Rebirthvand given
a new #1 because DC, but don't punch me if this is incorrect as this is not
really my area of expertise.
Anyway. This issue is scripted by Rob Williams
(whose Vertigo book Unfollow is
really worth a look) and largely drawn by Lee and a slew of apparently very harried
inkers. The highlight for me, however, is a middle section drawn by Sean
"Cheeks" Galloway, who gives Harley Quinn's hallucinatory expository
sequence some beautifully curved and expressive cartooning, something like a
glossier Tiny Titans, that makes the
eventual return to Lee all the more jarring. Still, those curious about all
this DC Rebirthing going on or even those just looking for a window into the
world of the Suicide Squad post-movie should grab this unreservedly (and then maybe
buy the John Ostrander-scripted collections of the original series. That's the
good stuff right there!).
(M) HARROW COUNTY #1 (DARK HORSE)
Wise move by Dark Horse here, bringing the atmospheric and
perfectly Halloweeny Harrow County
back in this freebie edition. I've reviewed this issue before, back upon the
launch of this successful series. Nobody minds if I cut and paste that, right?
But first, one quick thing to note for completists: this edition comes with a
brand new cover by artist Tyler Crook.
There are things not of this realm loose in Harrow
County, supernatural beings known as ‘haints.’ Emmy, on the cusp of her
eighteenth birthday, feels the pull of the big city just as the mysteries and
the paranormal entities of her hometown begin to truly make their presence
known to her.
Steeped in the ghostly, Harrow County #1 by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook reads like an
unearthed slice of classic American supernatural fiction The creators are
immediately at home in their fictional landscape, with Bunn spinning
an engrossing camp-fire creeper of a narrative (which, interestingly, grew from
a novel Bunn abandoned) over Crook’s rich, earthy and distinctive painted
The creators have produced a stellar debut, one
that’s unsettling yet somehow warm, and it’s easily worthy of the advance buzz
that it’s generated. Harrow County #1 is
a must for horror comics fans and is a wonderful edition to Dark Horse’s
ever-expanding line of sharp, smart and dark titles.
JOHNNY BOO AND THE PUMPKIN TIGER (TOP SHELF/IDW)
I had no idea beloved cartoonist James Kolchaka
had produced so much Johnny Boo material but (take note Tokyopop - this is how
you do it), thanks to the inside front cover, I learned that there are seven
volumes currently available, the first five of which can be purchased in a
bargain-priced slipcase that I myself might have to add to my shelf.
School Library Journal called Johnny Boo "A
landmark book for the kindergarten crowd" and it's hard to disagree. In
this little sampler, our little ghost with the ducktail hairdo goes
skateboarding without a helmet (uh oh!), gets lectured by little ghost pal
Squiggle, accidentally summons The Ice Cream Monster and discovers the
existence of pumpkin patch-guarding Pumpkin Tiger. Phew. That's a lot for such
a little comic and Kolchaka's absurdist little story is virtually guaranteed to
keep the little ones giggling. Thumbs way up.
LITTLE TAILS ON HALLOWEEN! (MAGNETIC PRESS)
Oh my goodness, this is adorable.
Frederic Brremaud and Frederico Bertolucci's
Little Tails is the adventures of a puppy and a squirrel named Chipper and
Squizzo exploring the wilderness around their home, learning about animals and
nature and having a good deal of fun in the process. Educational? Sure. Most
importantly though, Little Tails is
*gorgeous* with each page featuring a central painted image with sequential
penciled panels up top and bottom of each page that look like lost storyboard
images from a sadly never completed animated film.
Struggling to come up with Halloween costume
ideas, Chipper and Squizzo look outdoors for inspiration, finding the creepiest
critters they can. With a maze and a word puzzle included, Little Tails on Halloween packs interactivity with its education. Sleeper
hit of Halloween Comicfest? Yep. Ensure you grab this.
MUMMY'S ALWAYS RIGHT (COMIX TRIBE)
Gaws is a kid who also happens to be a mummy. His
mummy is also a mummy and she is, apparently, always right. In this installment
of Joe Mulvey's Mummy's Always Right,
Gaws attempts to pick a Halloween costume - difficult to do when you’re already
one yourself and runs an imaginary gauntlet of comic book ideas, told over a
sequence of splash pages, as he imagines himself in the garb of various
costumed heroes and villains. Shout-out to colourist Jules Rivera here, who
elevates Mulvey's cartooning greatly with some really nice and painterly work. Not
the most memorable effort of the day but this is cute, inoffensive stuff,
perfect for kidlettes of all ages.
MY LITTLE PONY: HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2016
Little Pony. You'll either be inclined to pick this up or not, I'd imagine.
I know nothing about this property (sorry!), but this comic by writer Rob
Anderson and artist Amy Mebberson looks like pretty solid All Ages pony fare to
me. Perhaps I'm going crazy, but I almost swear there's a Tezuka Unico bounce to the posture some of
Mebberson's ponies and extra points to the team for actually delivering on the
theme -- spooky dreams, missing books and apparitions all make their way
through the story. It's all harmless though, so saddle up pony lovers of all
So apparently Comix Tribe is putting out something
called C Is For Cthulhu: The Lovecraft
Alphabet Book which, I have to be honest, I kind of wish was their
Comicfest giveaway despite how intriguing John Lees and Iain Laurie's Quilte actually is. The best way to
describe Quilt is also the most unfair- but I'm going to do it anyway. A kind of
underground comix version Clean Room,
Quilte sees Dr. Karla Quilte, Dream
Therapist, entering her patient's dream states to help them overcome severe
traumas. Things, as they must in horror comics, go awry...
It's tonally dark stuff, with artist Iain Laurie
playing a Dave Cooper goes Doctor Strange
riff (another unfair comparison, sorry guys!) over the course of these bad acid
trip pages, with clever layouts aplenty. Apparently, the duo also completed a
project called And Then Emily Was Gone,
which I'm keen to take a look at. For adults and older teens, I'd say, Quilte may well fly under the radar but
it is generously sized and really worth a look. Now where's that Lovecraft
Alphabet book at?
PEACH AND THE ISLE OF MONSTERS (ACTION LAB/AW YEAH
A bewildering, Bendis-storm of word balloons will
confront the young reader who picks this effort up, but expositional info-dumps
aside, Peach and The Isle of Monsters
by writer Franco Aureliani (dial it back a bit, Franco!) and artist Agnes
Garbowska has a lot to like about it. Featuring a feisty heroine, Peach, who
apparently was born of a peach, who takes an ancient sword and attempts to stop
the creatures on the Isle of Monsters that steal from her village nightly, this
is a good little teaser overall with some decent cartooning...but man, those
SCOOBY APOCALYPSE AND HANNA BARBERA PREVIEW
Sandwiched into this Comicfest freebie are pages from each of DCs four Hanna-Barbera re-imaginings, Scooby Apocalypse, Future Quest, Wacky Raceland and The Flintstones. There's not really enough of any of them here to critique except to say that each of the four titles looks way better than expected (Future Quest excepted - that was the title that initially made rock solid sense to me).
So what is going on here? Well, Scooby and the gang face a monster-filled apocalypse thanks to writers Keith Giffen and J.M DeMatteis (whose work on various Justice League books in the '80s remains an all-time DC highlight) and artist Howard Porter (whose work has improved immeasurably since his tenure on the Grant Morrison helmed Justice League of the '90s). Jonny Quest and Hadji team up with the more "super-heroic" characters of the Hanna-Barbera stable, including Space Ghost, Birdman and The Herculoids, in Future Quest. Scripted by Jeff Parker, Future Quest steals the show, as it should with the *beautiful* art by Evan "Doc" Shaner and the legendary Steve "The Dude" Rude. Editorial deserves a huge pat on the back for assembling this creative team - it's pitch perfect comic creator casting. The Flinstones go grown-up thanks to writer Mark Russell and criminally underrated artist Steve Pugh who looks to be putting out career-best work on this title, which is kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. Rounding things out is Wacky Races by writer Ken Pontac and veteran artist Leonardo Manco whose computer-aided, hyper-detailed artwork breathes new life into Dick Darstardly, Muttley and co. It's comics as Hors d'oeuvres, all in all, not something I'm usually in favour of as these things tend to get a little muddled, but as pure promotion Scooby Apocalypse and Hanna-Barbera Preview Edition is a success.
Interestingly, like all three DC offerings, the Hanna-Barbera sample is geared toward moving collected editions rather than monthlies and I have to say, it makes a pretty compelling argument to pick them all up...
Apparently containing material taken from an
oversized Treasury Edition (Treasury Editions are back? That's so great!) is
writer Robbie Thompson and artist Nick Bradshaw's Spidey #1. Nothing really Halloweeny going on here, but what
readers will find is classic Spider-Man - Pete fights a villain, Pete goes to
High School, Pete has to act dumb in front of Gwen Stacey while Spider-Man
beats up Doctor Octopus (lifting something unbearably heavy in the process),
Pete goes home to Aunt May. It's pretty paint-by-numbers stuff on the surface,
a "greatest hits" kind of Spidey story, but here's the thing -
there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Thompson's script is simple and straightforward,
cramming an origin into a single opening page and clearly and concisely rolling
his story out thereafter. Bradshaw, however, looks like an absolute superstar
here. His Spider-Man is lithe and expressive despite the mask, his art is
detailed and fun - he's still channelling Arthur Adams but there's a lot more
going on here than just imitation. All in all, this is a solid introduction to
the character for new Spider-Man fans and a reminder, perhaps, of how you can
still make classic, simple stories in the Stan Lee mould work seamlessly in
2016. Really good.
Ahead of December's can't-miss complete hardcover
collection, Viz's Tomie Comicfest
edition will have fans of weird horror rubbing their hands together gleefully.
Tomie, the femme fatale who returns from the grave over and over again, capable
of making any man do her bidding, is one of the prototypes of the J-Horror
monstrous women and it's a treat to see one of her bizarre tales given away.
Fans of her creator, Junji Ito, will love seeing his artwork at regular comics
size and "Mansion," the story given away, packs in Ito's trademark
weirdness and talent at creating truly unsettling situations as well as some of
the most striking body horror ever seen in comics.
"Mansion" is part Gothic, part psychodrama,
part body horror romp but the less said about this the better, really. Horror
is difficult to do effectively in comics but what the medium excels at is its
ability to bend our reality into disquieting new shapes. There aren't many
creators as adept at doing this as effectively as Junji Ito. If you like
horror, you must pick up Tomie.
THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: YOU CHOOSE THE STORY
Another not particularly Halloweeny entry, but one
that's a tonne of fun nonetheless is The
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: You Choose The Story #1, which is actually #7 of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl reprinted
as a new #1 because Marvel.
Anyway, I literally just realised after all these
years that the name "Squirrel Girl" makes a lot more sense when
pronounced in a North American accent. I also just realised that I'll have to
start reading this series at some point soon because it's really very good.
Introduced by none other than Galactus himself is this "Squirrel Girl
simulator" issue in which you can choose what Squirrel Girl does over the
course of several adventures. Writer Ryan North and artist Erica Henderson are
clearly having a ball here as our heroine battles The Swarm, Bonehead and
homework over the course of this self-contained issue, and this unique series
really feels like something of an outlier in this era of supposedly editorially
driven corporate comics. Oh, and Koi Boy. Haha. Koi Boy...Good times.
WRAITHBORN (BENITEZ PRODUCTIONS)
Joe Benitez's Wraithborn
#1 gets its '90s-styled pages reprinted in this freebie. Featuring a teen schoolgirl
by day, supernatural slayer by night, Wraithborn
feels a bit like "Todd MacFarlane's Buffy" if that makes any
sense, with a script (by Marcia Chen) that somehow feels pretty plodding
despite all manner of stuff exploding off the page in angular panels. I much
preferred Benitez's FCBD offering, Lady
Mechanika but fans of the particular comics dynamism that Benitez
admittedly excels at will find much to like amidst all the glowing swords and
See you next week. Love your comics.