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SJ Reads Bonus: Afterlife with Archie

Published October 7, 2017 by admin

afterlife

 

Like I said, I can’t not talk about horror in October…

I touched on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a little while ago, so I can’t exactly ignore Afterlife With Archie. I picked the thing up because it looked so weird, I couldn’t really not read it. Even so, I left it sit around for a while, figuring that I’d be putting myself through a gag title, and did I really have time for that.

And then I opened it up.

Askfdajlfaj;dajlfdajldfs is a safe approximation of my reaction.

Seriously, it’s one of the best horror titles I’ve read in a long time, and I still don’t understand how the really good horror titles are coming out of the Archie properties. Not only are these things holding their own with other, more recognizable titles, but in a lot of cases their overall sense of story and character development is better. 

The basic premise is that Reggie hits and kills Hot Dog with his car. Despondant, Jughead has Sabrina help bring his dog back to life. Thus starts the zombie outbreak. I mean, this could easily go so many ways of stupid…but it doesn’t. There are moments of humor, but it’s definitely got its horrific side. I love how there are little moments with all the characters grasping at what’s going on and how it’s affecting their relationships, whether it’s Archie’s feelings about his dad, or Veronica’s thoughts on Betty and on and on. I’ve only read through volume one, but the thought that these kids are hiding out as the whole town falls victim to the contagion…it’s intense. And it’s never really played like ‘oh ha ha, look at these cartoon characters be victimized, pretty gross, amirite?’ There’s care taken with the different story lines. Granted, it had been forever since I’ve really delved into the world of Riverdale (the eighties cartoon series is about the extent of my knowledge), but it does a really good job of conveying the basics very quickly. I didn’t really feel like I was missing anything, and I felt like I picked up on all the subtext and things I was supposed to know about to get the full range of the title.

The art isn’t as malevolent as Sabrina, but in some ways that lends itself to a really surreal feeling. You kind of forget that you’re reading about freakin’ Archie, or you forget that this is a storyline that really shouldn’t be happening in this universe, until you sit back and it all comes together and hits you.

It’s a suprisingly good blend, and I can’t wait to see where it all goes.

Get vol 1 here

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SJ Reads: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Published September 25, 2017 by admin

I was going to wait until October, but since the news broke last week that it’s getting a TV option and I LOVE this series, I decided what the hey.

sabrina

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is another offering from Archie Horror, who brought us the magnificent Afterlife with Archie. A few things to keep in mind:

This is based off the 60’s comic book Sabrina, so it takes place in 1966. It has absolutely nothing to do with the 90s television series – the character went through a lot of incarnations before this point. Honestly, for me it makes it a little easier to take, because there’s less of an association with the outright familiar.

This series has much more of an existential dread vibe than Afterlife. There’s not really any humor, and between the time period and the art, there’s a nice tension throughout the story. In the intro to vol 1 the comparison is that if Afterlife is Evil Dead, Chilling Adventures is Rosemary’s Baby or Exorcist.

If you are offended/bothered by anything of an occult nature, you will not like this series. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. You can dislike that they did this, dislike that it was with this character, but there are a lot of Archie stories, so luckily you don’t have to wander into this if you don’t want to. There is no denying that the witches are malevolent in this series. The occult/satanism vibe is extremely overt, so it’s not something you can really read around if it bothers you.

This story has nothing to do with Afterlife – Sabrina, Betty, and Veronica are characters in both, but the stories don’t cross over at all, so just pretend they’re not even in the same world.

There are some similarities to the show, mostly that Sabrina is half witch/half mortal. Also, like in the show, witches aren’t really supposed to fall in love with mortals. That’s about where things end.

The day that Sabrina is supposed to be claimed by the coven as an infant, her mother rebels, which leads her being lobotomized by spell and put in a mental institution. For other reasons, her father is sent to Hell, so she’s raised by her aunts in another town. As she hits her sixteenth birthday she has to make a decision as to which way she’s going to live her life. Meanwhile, her father’s old ex, Madam Satan, has been summoned from Hell and is after revenge, and Sabrina.

So, yeah, little different.

There are a lot of interesting things going on here. The time period lends itself not only to the horror vibe, but to the subtexts of racism and gender roles, as well. You always get a sense that Sabrina is fighting to be who she is around different groups of people, which makes for an interesting read. It’s also picked up with the Betty and Veronica practicing witchcraft in secret storyline, and some other places, as well. A lot of the characters we’ve come to expect as being benign become super-interesting in this version. Hilda and Zelda, as well as Sabrina’s father, project a definite malevolence, though her aunts sort of swing back and forth. They want the best for their niece, but they also definitely want her to commit to the coven.

And by commit I mean sign her name in Satan’s book. Let’s just put that out there now so I don’t get yelled at when someone tries to read this thing. I told you, this ain’t yer 90s Sabrina. There’s also some very sixties stuff with school shenanigans and trying out for a play, and other things that are foiled when Madam Satan shows up in disguise and takes Sabrina under her wing.

Sabrina, herself, is facinating. She’s the protagonist, but she also isn’t the goody goody we’re used to seeing. She’s somewhat victim to manipulations, but she also is ready to stand firm in what she wants and believes. She’s hardly innocent and uses her powers however she wants. I think there’s even a moment where she says something like ‘I’m a teenage witch, this is what I’m supposed to do!’

Honestly, after so many seasons of seeing her as a kind-hearted goofball (and I love Melissa Joan Hart’s portrayal of her), it’s kind of awesome to see her like this. She’s still kind of at the mercy of some things, but more of her decisions (even if she’s being misguided) come more from her.

You’ll still see familiar faces – there are some from the comics that we don’t see a lot of in the show. For you 90s fans, Harvey makes an appearance (heh), and Salem is there, though in a much less comedic capacity. Ambrose, her British cousin, also shows up and ends up joining Salem as more of a sympathetic sidekick.

It’s very important to note that this isn’t Sabrina as Buffy, Sabrina as Practical Magic, Sabrina fighting evil. And honestly, I don’t want those. This is what I want. This is horror. This is dark. This is something distinctly of and for this character. This reads like a showrunner snapped after being criticized over the 90s show one too many times and decided: FINE, SEE HOW YOU LIKE THIS. (note: this is my headcanon and not the actual origin of this series. The writer and artist are amazing in their own bodies of work and deserve a ton of praise for this). This is something that absolutely should not work because it is definitely against type and uncomfortable.

And it is magnificent.

Honestly, I was shocked when I read it. I did not expect it to be good, let alone this good. Does it unnerve me? Sure. Does it make me uncomfortable? Yep. But that’s what good horror does. Seriously, if you can step back from your expectations and how you feel about the television show, if you can embrace this for what it is, it’s truly amazing how strong of a title this has turned out to be. My only gripe is that it’s super slow to release (something that I hope changes now that it’s under the public eye).

The art is also some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen in a horror comic in a while. It has a distinct retro/vintage feel (some of it has a straight up EC or Creepy/Eerie vibe), and with the majority of muted colors, you just feel everything knot up inside you while reading. Characters you want to like and agree with become horrifying then revert back, and the familiar never feels altogether safe. It’s easy to fall into this series based on the art alone.

As for my thoughts on the television show…I’m not sure. I think it could be amazing. I really want it to be all that’s in my head. However, I also expect that because it’s going to CW that there will be changes (there’s at least one aspect that I kind of wonder if they’re going to have to change), or be dialed down, or whatever. I hope I’m wrong, because I think there is a market for this as is, if it can overcome people’s nostalgia over the 90s show.

For what it’s worth, I loved the 90s show. I thought it went on too long and became somewhat stale and a caricature of itself, but I loved the first few seasons. It’s cute, it teaches lessons, it’s feel-good. Salem is one of my favorite characters. However, it’s been done. I don’t need the further adventures of, I don’t need soap opera Sabrina or teen angst Sabrina or whatever.

Something based straight from Chilling Adventures would give them a lot of room to build (it’s only 2 collected volumes so far, I think), plus it provides a lot of subtle social commentary. I don’t know that marketing it is going to be the easiest thing between instant knee jerking and people wanting something close to what they remember, but with Riverdale’s success, hopefully I’m wrong.

If you’re brave enough to check out the comic, you can find the first volume here. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but if you like horror and different takes on the familiar, definitely give this a try.

 

SJ Reads: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Published September 11, 2017 by admin

 

natsume

Today I want to hit another of my favorite, recent titles, this time in manga. While recovering from respiratory issues this winter and trying to deal with a case of sudden existential dread, I started reading a lot of manga again. I hadn’t really gone on a binge like that in years, and I was amazed at the different types of titles I was finding. The one closest to my heart at the moment, though, is Natsume’s Book of Friends. 

It’s nice to find a shojo title that isn’t romance-centric, and I really like the episodic feel of this one, too. Although there is some plot progression through the series, the author does a fantastic job of recapping the main issues of the series at the start of each volume, so you really could pick it up anywhere.

Natsume is an orphan who has been bounced from relative to relative and doesn’t have a lot of friends because people think he’s antisocial and weird. In reality, he can see and communicate with yokai (there’s a big debate as to what this term actually refers to, but think spirits and supernatural creatures/events). At the start of the series he’s moved in with relatives who are trying to connect with him, and is being hunted by yokai that have mistaken him for his deceased grandmother. It turns out that Reiko (his grandmother), trapped a lot of yokai by their names in a book. Natsume comes to the decision that he’s going to give these names back, so most of the series is him either attempting this or running from more predatory yokai. Pretty early in the series he runs into the yokai Marada, who he calls Nyanko-sensei because he tends to take the form of a lucky cat.

I really like how the foster parents in this series really want to include Natsume, and a good portion of the stories are him trying to relate to his family and his new friends at school, some of which, as it turns out, have also had interactions with the supernatural. The whole series has a nice, slightly autumnal/melancholy feel that really hits a nice nostalgia/coming of age vibe. Everything feels temporary as Natsume learns lessons the more he interacts with different people and spirits. He’s very much between two worlds, and there’s always the silent question lurking as to whether he’s going to have to choose one.

Nyanko-Sensei is also a brilliant character who provides a lot of quirky comic relief. Parts of these books are really just so funny (without feeling intrusive or out of nowhere), and it gave me a much-needed lift. He’s definitely my favorite character, and I love the differences in his art depending on which form he’s in. There’s always a lot of great banter between him and Natsume (he’s guarding Natsume until he can get the book for himself, in theory, though they grow to be friends as the series goes along). There’s also some interesting bits as new characters like several exorcists are introduced, and the sheer different personality types of various yokai are really nice. This is less like the booga booga style ghosts we’re used to, and more like they’re just separate entities, doing what they do and trying to figure out what their lives are now.

The artwork is gorgeous, and each volume is so easy to relax into. I’m at volume 19 so far, and it doesn’t look like it’s over yet, so that makes me extremely happy.

Get the first volume here

SJ Reads: American Vampire

Published August 28, 2017 by admin

 

So, as we all know, I love vampires in general, especially when they’re done well. I’ve mentioned American Vampire on here before, but I recently reread/caught up, and this just affirms that more people need to read this series.

american vamp

The concept of vampires through history isn’t a new one, but it’s really interesting how this series just goes for it, as well as picking some interesting moments. Sure, in some cases it goes for the obvious ones (WWII being the easiest choice), but a lot of times it explores stuff I wouldn’t have thought of, like 1920s Hollywood, Boulder Dam in the 30s, various parts of the 1800s, the space battle of the 60s.

Oh yes, there are vampires in space. The thing is, though, that even when you think things are going off the rails and it’s going to completely crash and burn…somehow the next volume pulls it out and makes it amazing again. Things that could be completely corny like a greaser slayer or the mentioned vampires in space really explore parts of characters in ways that I didn’t see coming.

So basically the whole plot is Skinner Sweet is this vampire turned in the 1800s – in this comic, vampires have powers specific to where they’re located and how they’re turned and Skinner is the first “American” vampire, having attributes that are different and stronger than what’s come before. It’s also interesting that instead of exploring other paranormal creatures like werewolves and the like, the mythology makes them a type of vampire that people /assume/ to be man-wolves or whatever. So basically everything paranormal is vampires. Which is gutsy. Sometimes it works better than others, but it does help to tie the universe together. There’s also a parallel plot exploring an organization bent on stopping vampires, so you have the slayer element as well. The downside is it’s sometimes hard to keep the timelines and characters straight, especially in the volume format. Honestly, though, at the end of the day, it’s still a really fascinating series. The series is really good at exploring society – be it segregation, class warfare, immigration, modernization, the works. You do have some jump the sharky moments – there’s an anthology volume that I’m not particularly fond of, the Dracula arc seems a little random, and while I’m fascinated by the current Gray Trader arc, it also kind of seems like cheating to introduce a whole other big bad to make Skinner more heroic.

Because, at the end of the day, yeah, there are a lot of great and interesting characters, but Skinner is the best in this thing, with maybe Pearl as competition. Whereas Pearl’s battle focuses more on the traditional vampire vs what’s left of her humanity, Skinner has always been a self-serving bad dude, from his outlaw days to the current arc. He does do some heroic things, but I would hope that the writers keep to his core nature – brutal, self-serving, side-switching, and inadvertently hilarious. And somehow, you still end up feeling for him.

The art is also just incredible – the variety of vampire art used throughout the series is diverse and insane, as well as all the research that must have gone into planning all the historical details.

Find vol 1 here

Any other vampire fans get into this series? How far have you gotten? What are your thoughts on all the changing arcs? Favorite vampire type?

SJ Reads: The Unwritten

Published August 21, 2017 by admin

Today’s SJ reads is another graphic novel/comic series, since that’s our theme this month. I’d heard the title The Unwritten kicked around for a while, but not really taken the chance to investigate it. Then, when I had worked my way through a two-month long manga binge and was craving something else, I checked out the first couple of volumes from the library.

Holy. Guac.

I mean, it’s Mike Carey, so it’s not going to be bad, but seriously, guys, this series is amazing. Picture Harry Potter mixed with Christopher Robin mixed with every genre ever (including children’s lit), mixed with conspiracy theory, mixed with Jung, and you might come close to describing The Unwritten. Maybe.

71FozulL5SL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_

So we open with Tom Taylor doing conventions, because his dad is a famous author noted for writing a series that would be similar to Harry Potter in our world, and the main character coincidentally is named Tommy Taylor and looked like him as a boy. Things really get going when an audience member questions if he’s really who he thinks he is during a panel (welcome to every panelist’s worst nightmare). What follows is a long, winding story where Tom struggles to figure out if he’s real or fictional, how his world crosses with the literary or how that’s even possible, all while fighting a strange cabal of people known as the Unwritten, who have lived throughout history making sure that only the write message gets written. He also has to deal with what his father did to him and turned him into. Helped by the questioning lady in the audience who may or may not be sane (or real), and a reporter, and a few other people who may or may not have his interests at heart, this is a fast-paced, intricate romp through not just fantasy, but also a lot of really interesting literary paths. We fall into Moby Dick and other titles, go back and forth in history, go to Hades, go to a kid’s world that is reminiscent of Beatrix Potter or the Hundred Acre Wood – there’s even a crossover with Fables (admittedly, since I’m the one person who absolutely isn’t a fan of Fables and since that volume really didn’t affect the plot one way or the other, that’s the one weak part of the series for me).

Also, this series has balls. I will warn you, there is language, there is violence, stuff gets dark. If you’re going into this expecting Not!Harry Potter fanfic or happy fantasy time, this is not that. At all. The stakes are high. If you ever wondered what would happen if your YA fantasy friends grew up and had to play their adventures straight, this is definitely the series for you. I can’t say much or I’ll give it away, but the ending is also one of the best series endings I’ve ever read. As I went along, admittedly I began thinking that there was only one real possible exit if things were being played out to their logical conclusion…but no way a series author would go there, right?

Oh, he did. He goes there. And it is magnificent.

So yeah, if you want something different, if you feel like you’ve aged out of Harry Potter or want some dark fantasy that also explores some high concepts, check this one out.

You can find vol 1 here

 

SJ Reads: Lucifer

Published August 14, 2017 by admin

At this point I figure most of the people who are reading this are going to at least be aware of Sandman. If you aren’t, let me know, and I’ll cover it in a later post. I’ve found, though, that at least within my own friend/writing circle, not as many people are familiar with Lucifer.

 

lucifer cover

Okay, calm down. Here’s the thing. If you’re familiar with the show, this is not that. If the whole religion in fantasy gets you hepped up, that’s perfectly cool. You don’t have to read it, like it, or agree with me. If that’s the case, you may want to skip this one.

For those who really are into dark fantasy and want a longer title that will take a while to get through, especially if you’ve already done Sandman and loved it, you’ll want to check this out. Picking up where Lucifer is running a piano bar with his Lilim companion Mazikeem, continuing the theme of being bored with the role he’s been cast in.

Things to know:

He is still manipulative and scheming and there is a lot of magical politics and entrapment, so he’s not altogether a hero in this series, even though he’s a protagonist. He definitely does things his own way and plays things hard and fast, and has to deal with the complications of that, even when he wins.

He’s less of the booga booga destroy humanity figure and more along the lines of trying to prove his views to his brother angels and God. At one point, they have to band together to save reality, which is an interesting experience.

Basically, through various machinations, Lucifer creates a side universe parallel to ours which has a lot of consequences and effects. The series also explores what machinations other angels have gotten up to, along with the desires of a living deck of tarot cards and the daughter of Michael, so there’s a lot going on. This is less good vs evil and more free will vs predestination and a whole lot of various characters trying to find their place in the universe(s). There’s a lot of separate adventure arcs, mythological figures, and a lot of interlocking pieces. People that show up in the beginning that you think are gone reappear, and the ending truly had me turning pages at a mad pace.

If you like how detailed and rich Sandman is, you’ll love this. If you like various mythologies being played with and combined, you’ll love this. If you like super entwining plots and really vivid art and dream-like storylines, this is for you.

This has been published in several forms – you’ll find volumes and books on amazon. I prefer by book because you have a lot of content that interconnects, and it’s easier to flip back if you think you’ve missed something.

Find book one here

Have you read this series? Like it better or less than the TV show? Who’s your favorite character or what’s your favorite part? Let me know!

 

 

SJ Reads: Finder

Published August 7, 2017 by admin

So yeah, it’s been a bit and a half. I’ll get to that eventually, but really, I think at the end of the day it’s good to ask if we want to start with explanations or start the way we mean to go. Since my rambling good intentions usually end up taking time and fizzling at certain points, I’m leaning toward the latter this time around. So there ya go.

I want to get back to SJ reads because I think it’s a good way to showcase not just what I like, but titles that people may have forgotten about or titles that aren’t in their comfort zone. So, as a refresher:

  1. I usually only review mass market titles on my blog so there’s no conflict of interest, but like everything I reserve the right to change my mind
  2. This is less of a review and more of my fluid thoughts on a title
  3. 99 percent of the time everything I talk about here I’ve obtained from the public library, and if mine has it, yours likely does too. Use libraries, they’re awesome.

I want to try going by theme a little bit, so this month I’m going to touch on some graphic novel/comic series that are just amazing to me. Seriously, people, if you aren’t exploring this section of your library or bookstores, you’re missing out on some of the most original stories out there today.

So today let’s talk about Finder.

findervol1cover

 

Finder started out as a self-published comic by Carla Speed McNeil and eventually got picked up by Darkhorse and is still going on- that’s the basic schematic. Unlike a lot of titles I’ve read, I don’t know that you honestly have to go in order because she does tend to bop around in time and area within her world. Probably the easiest way to read this is to look for the Dark Horse Finder Library volumes first. I think this collects everything through Talisman, although that’s available in a separate book, as well. Then there’s Voice, and I believe Third World is the latest that’s out. I’ve read here and there in Darkhorse Presents, but honestly, I like volumes because I hate to be kept waiting on the next bits.

It’s extremely hard to put a genre on Finder. It’s honestly all the genres. There are dark bits, there’s drama, there’s some genuinely funny aspects, there’s some coming of age, there’s sci-fi and fantasy…I’ve heard that the author describes it as aboriginal scifi if pressed, and that’s pretty accurate.

Basically, Finder is set in a futuristic place similar to our own world without it being exactly us. A lot of the action takes place in bigger cities, where society has been divided into different castes with different rules and attributes. Outside of the cast system are the Ascians, of which is main character Jaeger. We follow him through the series at different points in his life and through different adventures (though sometimes this deviates and we follow side characters, instead) as he deals with being both the lowest in Ascian society (a sin eater, so he takes on people’s sins before they die) and one of the highest (a Finder, meaning he can find anything, anywhere).

So why bother with something weird and complicated and nontraditional? The characters are amazing. I love Jaeger in a bad way and just love how he’s written. He’s not completely good and not completely bad, he’s very much a dude (and I love that he’s written by a female author, truth be told, especially through arcs that discuss all his various lady friends), and he’s an amazing personality to use to explore different situations. All of the characters do this, but as the main audience porthole into the world, he really makes you put aside your thoughts on race and sex and gender and even species.  The setting and society McNeil has built are just astounding. This isn’t just a futuristic city – you have all sorts of lands and cities and towns and places in between with their own rules, not to mention caste rules and religious rites. I like to grumble that it’s completely unfair that this isn’t a movie or TV series yet, but honestly, it would probably get ruined. I don’t think anyone would really have the balls to throw it up on the screen as is, and to change it would be to wreck it.

This is an insanely simple breakdown. Luckily, if you start with the Finder library volumes, they read more like a continuous story. And if you ever are wondering anything, the author has a huge chunk o’ foot notes in the back of each book. Seriously. The amount of knowledge and research and effort that has gone into this series is just mind-boggling and has brought me to my knees more than once. You have a girl going through a beauty show to find her place in society and falling into whole other rituals, you have a girl falling in love with a book, you’ve got archaeological explorations led by creatures, cities that are levels upon levels and tech that puts you into whole other universes to help you leave yourself behind. This series has something to say about everything. It’s insane and amazing and I love it. This is a one of those ideas that makes me moderately jealous, but mostly in awe, because it’s so well done. I wish I drew well enough to pull something like this off. I wish my world building was that good. As it is, I’m more than happy to wait for the next bit and run around in McNeil’s world every chance I get.

Find Finder vol 1 here

I can’t be the only Finder fan out there – who else has read this phenomenal series? Thoughts? Favorite arcs or characters? Let me know in the comments!