Monday, January 18, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 1/13

Abe Sapien #30
Story: Mike Mignola & Scott Allie
Art: Santiago Caruso & Dave Stewart

Abe Sapien is the darkest of the Mignolaverse titles. While BPRD has a lot of adventure to it, Lobster Johnson is a pulp action book, and even Hellboy in Hell has a spooky, supernatural vibe, Abe Sapien is a soul searching story of one man who doesn't know his place in the world. But occasionally, the series has these interesting one off issues that take us away from Abe in the present and let us see some of his past. This issue is one of those, and it is a sight to behold. Back in 1983, Abe is spending the night talking to Professor Bruttenholm, the father figure of the various B.P.R.D. agents, and Abe stumbles across a book of spells and magic by a mage named Gustav Strubl who lived in the nineteenth century and has since returned from the dead and, unbeknownst to Abe, been on his trail and in his orbit for some time in the present. Bruttenholm brushes it off and heads to bed, but a Dr. Malloy comes in and tells Abe the story of Strubl, a story of dark schools, witches, trips to Hell, and prophecy. It's a delightfully classic horror story, Strubl being a Doctor Faustus-esque figure who wanders the world trying to gain a position in the world to come when Hell rises. And the story ends with a classic end of horror movie/story disappearing act. The pleasure of what Mignola and his various collaborators do when telling these kind of stories is that they take tropes and twist them into a slightly new formation, often with the help of an able artist. This issue's artist is an artist new to the Mignolaverse and to American comics: Santiago Caruso, whose art is absolutely astounding. His art has a very European style, which makes sense being he;s a European artist, with soft lines and inks that make for eerie shadows. His devils and demons have proportions that are large and just a bit off, adding to their sense of the unnatural. And his version of Hellboy is excellent: I'd love to see him do a Hellboy short at some point in the future. Generally, there's an almost Hieronymous Bosch vibe to the issue that really adds to the horror of the issue. If you're looking for a fun, one off horror story, this issue of Abe Sapien is a great choice.

Gotham Academy #14
Story (Framing Sequence): Brenden Fletcher
Art (Framing Sequence): Adam Archer & Sandra Hope

After Olive Silverlock's encounters with Hugo Strange and her family history, and the Robin War, Gotham Academy takes a break from the more serious plots for a light-hearted anthology arc, "Yearbook." When Maps Mizoguchi is turned down to join the yearbook at Gotham Academy, her best friend Olive gives her a scrapbook to make her own yearbook, and so Maps begins making yearbook pages around some of the wilder adventures of the year we haven't seen yet. In "Animal Science 101" (Story: Derek Fridolfs. Art: Dustin Nguyen), Colton, the school's second story man, breaks into the  science lab during prank week only to find that Dr. Langstrom's experiments aren't so easily taken; "Queen Glee" (Story & Art: Katie Cook), sees Olive and Maps trying to find out why Dyllin, head of the Glee Club, has suddenly made the Glee Club more popular than ever; and "Scottie Dog" (Story: Hope Larson. Art: Kris Mukai) follows an adventure of history teahcer Professor MacPherson when she was a student at Gotham Academy, and her meeting with another student with a special power. The stories are charming and fun; each with a slightly different flavor. The first, from Fridolfs & Nguyen, has an action tone, with Colton and his friend Eric being chased by a genetically altered goat. Katie Cook's is a mystery with a high school vibe and cute cat videos, and if there's something Kate Cook draws better than anyone, it's cute cats. Hope Larson and Kris Mukai's story is one of teen angst and accepting yourself for what you are and not letting other's opinions matter. They each hit a different genre, but all feel perfectly in line with what we've seen in Gotham Academy. A gem of the current Batman line, Gotham Academy works in so many different ways, and it looks like the Yearbook arc with spotlight many of them. I'm curious to see whether the stories will remain whimsical, or take on a more serious edge as the arc continues.

Leaving Megalopolis: Surviving Megalopolis #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jim Calafiore & Jason Wright

After Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore's dark super hero graphic novel, Leaving Megalopolis, was published beyond it's Kickstarter backers by Dark Horse, I reviewed it; it's a great, dark superhero story that doesn't deconstruct the genre but embraces its darkest aspects. Now, in Surviving Megalopolis, a new story that opens a month after the original series ended, things have not improved in the city of Megaloplis, which remains in the control of the superheroes who have been turned into monsters. But while we do spend time with the still evil heroes as they retrieve the body of Overlord, the hero who turned on the rest at the end of Leaving Megalopolis, and see just how depraved they are, the focus of the story is again on the normal people who live in the world around them. Mina Gutierrez, the chief protagonist of the original graphic novel, has spent the month getting ready to make her move against the evil heroes, as she remains in Megalopolis. We get more of her backstory, and meet another hero through her flashback, the Crimson Shadow, this world's Batman analogue, and she confronts the current Crimson Shadow with a surprising revelation if his identity. Harold Lamb, who Mina helped escape, is tracked down by a man who is working for a wealthy sponsor seeking to make a trip into Megalopolis to find her missing husband and needs a guide. As with any Gail Simone project, this issue nicely blends action with character. Mina and Harold are both great, layered characters, and Bennet Tanner, Harold's handler and new love interest, is one of those men of seemingly casual violence, who claims to not like violence but easily takes out two large men. And I am very curious about the origins of this new Crimson Shadow and how his background ties with Mina's. And credit goes Calafiore for his excellent designs; Crimson Shadow and Amphibonaut, who is an underwater hero, have these designs that are both fresh and still hearken back to classic superhero aesthetics. If you haven't read Leaving Megalopolis, that's fine; Surviving Megalopolis gives you everything you need to understand the world, and provides a superhero story tinged with horror and great characters.

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