Mind the Gap Vol. 1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – “Everyone is a Suspect, No One is Innocent”
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas

After working in the PR and Marketing Department at Marvel Comics for years, Jim McCann left that world to focus on his writing and it seemed to be the right choice. Being no stranger to writing, scripting numerous episodes of the daytime soap One Life to Live, McCann wrote his first graphic novel at Archaia that won him an Eisner for Best New Graphic Album with Return of the Dapper Men. After joining Image with the series Lost Vegas, he continues his creator owned work on Mind the Gap. It’s a story that can best be described as a mystery/thriller with a “who-dunnit” twist involving numerous characters. This first volume introduces the reader to a huge cast, and of that cast there seems to be only a couple of characters that you can seem to trust. Each chapter will leave you guessing, as the story slowly pulls back the curtain, revealing each character’s life.

Mind the Gap introduces us to Elle Peterssen, a wealthy young woman who suffers an attack in the first issue that leaves her in a coma. Just who attacked her and why is the mystery that’s laid out over the course of this first volume’s five issues. As she awakes in her coma state, she finds that the world inside of her mind can be as rich a world as the one outside. She floats within the mindscape, encountering interesting people who are also in the same situation she is, disconnected from the outside world but still alive. She finds that she can do certain things while in her coma, like entering other’s bodies and manipulating the world she’s now become a part of. What she struggles to do though, is put the pieces of her attack back together, and the reasons why she was targeted.

McCann does a great job of keeping the reader guessing, while introducing us to numerous characters along the way who all seem to be connected in one way or another. There are some great twists and turns throughout as McCann plants the seeds of doubt with almost each new character that comes into play. Even after this first volume ends, there’s still a ton of questions remaining to be answered. This book reads like a soap opera in the best way possible with characters reappearing out of nowhere from people’s pasts, but all making sense within the context of the story. McCann doesn’t cheat with his reveals. He builds them up slowly, and then shows the reader exactly how it all makes sense.

The majority of this first volume’s art is handled by Rodin Esquejo. Best known for his fantastic covers on the Image series Morning Glories, Esquejo moves into interior pencils for the first four issues. He has an ultra-clean line that uses computer effects for some of the heavier action scenes. There’s no costumes, capes, or masks so Esquejo has to rely on his character work, and he does so fantastically. Each character has their own look and style, and there’s never a question of who each character is on the page and in the panels. Colorist Sonia Oback does a great job of adding to the art with her great color choices, especially when Elle is part of the mindscape. Issue five has artist Adrian Alphona taking over for the backstory on one of the major characters, and the rougher, scratchier pencils are a great fit for that character and story. I hope this is a re-occuring theme as it gives each character a visually distinct background.

Mind the Gap does such a great job of drawing the reader in with it’s rich character development and mysterious plot. You’ll be guessing up to the very end of this first volume, and then some more as you wait for the next volume. As the inside cover reads, “Everyone is a suspect, no one is innocent”, and after reading this first volume that definitely seems to be the case. McCann balances out each character’s time in the spotlight, while Esquejo and Oback provide them with their own unique look. This first volume fully entertained me as I read it, and left me guessing how it all ties together long after I finished.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Sheena Queen of the Jungle Vol. 1 HC (PS Artbooks)

Sheena v1

CREDIT: PS Artbooks

Rating: 4.5/5 – The Original Jungle Girl Gets Her Due in a Great HC.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

I’m a sketch-hound. I take a thick book full of empty pages to every convention, with the intention to get artists both known and yet-to-be-known to fill it full of renderings based around an annual theme. One year, for example, I had every artist give me their version of Marvel’s popular assassin, Elektra. Another year, it was DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes characters. This year, however, I gave them something they could really sink their teeth into – Jungle Girls. I make no bones about it, I love the image of a savage beauty in what amounts to a fur swimsuit swinging into certain danger. I’ve had this obsession since I was a boy on the cusp of puberty and caught former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts taking on the role of perhaps the most well-known jungle goddess – Sheena, the Queen of the Jungle.

Small wonder, then, that when I heard that PS Artbooks planned to release a beautiful  hardcover collection (under the watchful eye of Roy Thomas) compiling the 18 issues of Sheena’s first comic book run (across three volumes), I scooped it right up. This first volume collects the first four issues of Sheena’s exploits from 1942-1948 (each issue clocks in at a hefty 60+ pages), and it does so with an eye toward creating a book any comic historian would be proud to have on their shelves.  It’s available in a regular “bookshop edition” HC (available for $35 at sites like InStockTrades) and a much more expensive slipcase edition limited to 125 copies worldwide.  When you line up the 3 slipcases, the spines will combine to create an image of Sheena!

Sheena slipcase

CREDIT: PS Artbooks

A brief introduction sets the stage for anyone unfamiliar with the titular heroine, talking about her creators and appearances in numerous titles, and also includes a brief nod to her appearances in film by such notables as Irish McCalla, the aforementioned Ms. Roberts, and on television in a series starring Gena Lee Nolin. Still, Sheena’s appearances in comics are what purchasers of this book no doubt want to experience, so little time is wasted getting to the meat of the matter. The jungle queen’s exploits are faithfully reproduced with amazing clarity given the number of decades since these stories first saw print. If you’ve been hoping to get a solid reproduction of these early issues, let this be your book.

Sadly, it would have been nice if the proofreaders at PS Artbooks had been doing their job, as one table of contents lists the story “How Sheena and Boob Came to the Jungle” (it’s supposed to be Bob, referencing Sheena’s male companion in most of her stories). Some might overlook such a blunder, while others might laugh it off as a Freudian slip.  If this were a less expensive trade I might let it slide without mentioning, but these tomes are simply too pricey to allow something like that to go unremarked. If you’re shelling out the money for a Porsche, you’re not going to be happy if it comes with a scratch, no matter how small, that you didn’t put there yourself. In this case, lax editing kept this book from getting a 5 out of 5 rating.

I’ve seen these tales reprinted before in different collections, but the production value on this book gives the colors a greater brilliance, which is a pretty significant accomplishment if you’re familiar with the limitations of color printing back when Sheena’s books were originally created. The stories, as you might expect, are the great two-fisted tales of action and adventure so common to the era and the genre. It’s both an entertaining read as well as a fun history lesson.  Roy Thomas Presents Sheena, Queen of the Jungle Volume 1 is a must own and a must read if you’ve got any love for the genre of jungle heroine adventure.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – al@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Heroes of the Comics (Fantagraphics)

HeroesOfComics
CREDIT: Fantagraphics Comics

Rating: 5/5 – Fabulous Portraits and Bios of Legendary Comics Creators.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Drew Friedman is a veteran artist, having been published in seminal underground comics like Raw and Weirdo. Magazines like Heavy Metal, National Lampoon, and Mad.  He has also been drawing fabulous portraits of celebrities for a looong time.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, check out his web-site.  Friedman draws movie stars, sports figures, comedians, politicians, musicians, and more.  And in this book we find collected the work where he chose to turn his able pen to comics creators.  And not just any creators, these are the giants of the fields.  The title of the book does not lie, these are the Heroes of the Comics.

In addition to 83 wonderfully rendered full-page color portraits we are treated to capsule biographies of each on the opposing page.  You may know some of these creators, but most people will not be familiar with them all.  I’ve read a lot of comics and a lot of comics history and I discovered a few names in here that I was unfamiliar with, but I know them now.  And how cool is it to see the faces of the men behind the comics you know and love?  Or, in some cases, the creators behind the comics that inspired the comics that inspired the comics that you know and love…  Check out the Fantagraphics web-site where you can download a 21-page preview of this fabulous 9″x12″ hardcover tome.

Check out portraits of people you likely know: Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko.  And what about Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Carmine Infantino, Ramona Fradon?  Frank Frazetta, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, and many many more.  If you love comics and you care about the creators behind those comics you love, you owe it to yourself to check this book out.  It’s a visual treat and a learning experience wrapped into a single hardcover.  Thank you, Drew Friedman.  Thank you, Fantagraphics.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Letter 44 Vol. 1 (Oni Press)

Letter 44 Volume #1
CREDIT: Oni Press

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Political Thriller with a Healthy Dose of Science Fiction.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

On his first day in office, newly-elected President Stephen Blades takes charge of a nation embroiled in two wars, an economy on the brink of collapse, and a failing healthcare system. Sound familiar? Well, don’t get too comfortable as that familiarity ends when President Blades opens a letter left by his predecessor. The letter details that seven years prior NASA discovered an alien presence in a nearby asteroid field, where they appear to be building an unidentified structure for an unknown purpose. Keeping this knowledge a secret from the public, the president nearly bankrupts the country and ramps up the war effort as a catalyst to develop advanced military technology and train soldiers for what may be an eventual alien invasion. He also sends nine astronauts on a mission to space to discover what these aliens are building and whether or not they are threat to Earth. President Blades is sworn into office just as these astronauts are about to make first contact.

Letter 44 Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of Charles Soule’s creator-owned book that is part political thriller and part science fiction. It was the political thriller part of the book that really surprised me. In the hands of any other writer, I would expect this type of book to be straight up science fiction, devoting most, if not all, of its time to the looming alien threat. Instead, attorney-by-day Charles Soule turns your average alien invasion into an enthralling political story as President Blades comes to grips with this new reality and weaves his way through the opening days of his presidency. Foul play runs amok as agents of the prior administration go to lengths to ensure the status quo and I had at least three jaw dropping moments that had nothing to do with aliens. It could be argued that working for the Blades Administration is more dangerous than a mission into outer space! Suffice to say, in a medium where science fiction, superheroes, and fantasy drive the market, I found the political part of this story the most intriguing.

That’s not to say that the other half of the story is any less captivating. The astronauts face numerous challenges as they approach the aliens and eventually make contact. Not all of these challenges are external, as the crew of nine (really eight, but that’s a plot point yet to be addressed) deal with their own interpersonal issues. It’s tough to get to know a large cast over several months of a comic’s release, so this is one advantage of a collected edition. Nevertheless, Soule does a decent job of fleshing out the characters and making them distinct enough for now. Future issues will hopefully continue to develop this crew. The aliens are not at all what I expected, which is a good thing. If I had to describe first contact with them, I would say it was like meeting floating geometry in a surreal painting. Granted, geometry was never this deadly, despite the opinions of my 14 year-old self. The astronauts investigate these aliens with vigor and I suspect we have only just scratched the surface of what they are and what they are planning. The pacing to the eventual reveal was just right, though I admit that I continually and selfishly urged the astronauts to dive in and learn more.

Letter 44 is my first experience with the art of Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque. He has a unique style that took some getting used to, but has become as much a part of the story as political power plays and geometrical aliens. It is with the latter that his ridged, angular lines plays especially well, though to be fair most of the book deals with ordinary folks in ordinary locales. Though I find it unlikely to happen in this book, I would love to see Alburquerque tackle some muscular, sinewy monsters or superheroes. I think this young artist is definitely one to look out for.

This first volume of Letter 44 is a political thriller wrapped in a cloak of science fiction. Whereas Soule could have easily turned this into a shoot ‘em up, us versus them story a la any number of similar books or movies, he’s instead pulled away the curtain to show us how those who pull the strings might react. The answer is, not surprisingly, politics as usual. The series is currently on issue #8, so there is time to pick up this first volume and get caught up for the second story arc, which I can tell you has doubled down on every premise introduced in this volume.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
(adam@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Weirding Willows Vol. 1 (Titan Comics)

WWillows V1
CREDIT: Titan Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Do We Need Another Fairytale Book With Public-Doman Characters? Yes!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

When The Weirding Willows premiered in Titans A1 anthology monthly, I approached it with some apprehension. The last thing the comics world needs right now, I thought, is yet another mish-mash of public domain characters a la Willingham’s Fables, and the numerous other books, copiers, and hangers-on it has generated in its wake.  So I tread cautiously as I made my way through this first collection, and found myself enjoying Dave Elliott’s take on a small patch of earth which serves as the nexus point for a number of magical realms. The artwork is positively stunning, whether it’s the painted style of Barnaby Bagenda or the more traditional heavier inkwork of Sami Basri (in the latter part of the book). Equally compelling was the appearance of characters both familiar and some not seen in a considerable time. When was the last time you sat down with a copy of The Wind in the Willows?

Some of the mainstays are here as well. Alice…yes, that Alice…is the central character, living with but working against her father, Dr. Moreau, as he continues his beast-splicing experiments. Pity poor Alice, who has appeared in numerous books, manga and video games as a grownup looking to find her way back down the rabbit hole. Yet with the advent of television shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, it seems we’ve only scratched the surface of her looking glass. (Yes, I went a long way for that one…my apologies!)

Moreau has a patron – a certifiably wicked woman who requests some flying monkeys – and when his colleague Doolittle shows up with a new shipment of animals he’s trapped (he’s the son of the original), the presence of a panther and bear should be an easy clue for any Kipling fan as to when a certain man-cub will show up. Throw in Frankenstein’s monster, Dr. Jekyll, and Peter Rabbit and you have a cast of characters familiar yet given new life by Elliott’s capable scripting.

The main thrust of The Weirding Willows focuses on Alice’s attempts to keep the secrets of the surrounding countryside from her father. The land is a junction of portals to Wonderland, OZ, Neverland, Mars, Pellucidar (Hollow Earth) and Elysium. Did I mention Mars? Yes, a certain four armed Barsoomian makes an appearance in this book, which brought an ear to ear grin to this Burroughs fan’s face. A number of side-plots occur and the second volume is set up beautifully by the events of the first. The only problem now is waiting for that next volume to come out.

Titan continues to impress and astound with their releases. Not only are these collections gorgeous hardcovers with beautiful artwork, solid writing, and plenty of extras and notes thrown in, books like The Weirding Willows beat the odds by giving me what I didn’t think I needed – yet another book about fairy tale characters, but ended up wanting very much. You many not think you need this book, either, but let me assure you, you do.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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God Is Dead Vol. 1 (Avatar)

god-is-dead-vol-1
CREDIT: Avatar

Rating: 3/5 – So Many Great Ideas That Are Not Fully Explored.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

God is Dead is full of great ideas, which is no surprise considering it’s co-written by Jonathan Hickman. Unfortunately, those great ideas fall flat as this first volume quickly rushes through them, never exploring one for too long and never allowing the reader to see those ideas take on greater meaning. At times because of the quick pace and the potential of the ideas falling short of their potential, it almost feels as though Hickman and co-writer Mike Costa are at odds with the direction this book should go. God is Dead is an entertaining read, but it falls short in the promise of its premise.

As the story opens, apocalyptic scenarios are ravaging the planet. Floods, earthquakes and more are killing millions of people. As the world looks to their gods for some type of answer to their prayers, Zeus is the first god to arrive on earth looking to be worshipped. From there, over the course of this book’s first six issues more and more gods arrive and begin to war with one another which doesn’t bode well for the human population. The heroes of the book are a small group of scientists that look to create their own god, a god of science, in hopes of stopping the ancient gods from destroying the world. Each idea along the way is strong, but it’s the execution along the way that fails.

As the group of scientists attempt to create their first god, they argue whether or not there needs to be a story about it’s birth that would get others to believe. It’s a compelling argument that’s relevant to today’s analysis of religion, but the idea is introduced in one panel, and moved away from just a few panels later. Also, as each god is introduced they all feel relatively the same. Loki and Zeus are both similar in their personalities and the way that they speak so at times the only differentiation is from the art. The gods are all violent, and all just a tad crazy. All the other gods like Anubis, Bast and others eventually all do battle with one another, giving the book a heavy dose of violence which Avatar is usually known for, focusing more on that and less on the religious differences and the motives behind their wars.

Artist Di Amorim does a nice job with art as he presents the gods in all their regality, each with their own set of unique features. Although there are at times too many battles in the book, this is where Amorin shines. His action scenes are fantastic and many of them have an epic feel to them. Unfortunately the regular humans lack the same polish, making them feel flat and simple. There’s also a couple problems with storytelling even in the art. In a particular scene a god is starting to form and after first appearing with four arms, a couple panels later she’s down to two. It’s something that shouldn’t be missed, but unfortunately is, again making the book feel rushed.

Overall, God is Dead will entertain, but it feels like it could be so much more. In an industry that is decompressing the writing, at times it’s refreshing to read a book that tells a full and detailed story in six issues. Unfortunately, there’s so many great ideas waiting to be explored within this first volume and none of them get their fair share of time except for the violence. Hickman has proven to be a solid writer so hopefully later volumes are paced a bit slower, I’m just not sure if I want to take the time to find out.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Sakai Project HC (Dark Horse)

SakaiHC
CREDIT: Dark Horse

Rating: 5/5 – 100s of Artistic Takes on Usagi Yojimbo.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

I you love Stan Sakai’s character Usagi Yojimbo you’ve probably already bought or ordered this.  If you’ve never heard of Usagi you should be checking out one of the collected editions of Saki’s ronin rabbit.  It may feature anthropomorphics, but it’s got more humanity than many of the other comics on the stands.  If you’re just a lover of great art, taking the subject out of it, again, this is a must-buy.

In case you were not aware Stan Sakai’s wife Sharon became ill a few years ago.  Even though the Sakai family does have health insurance (not something every comics professional has the foresight to purchase) that insurance still doesn’t cover all necessary out-of-pocket expenses.  That’s where the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPA) and Tone Rodriguez came in.  They had the idea of doing a benefit book.  Then Mike Richardson of Dark Horse stepped up to the plate and offered to completely cover the costs of producing this book and donate all proceeds to the Sakai’s on top of that!  PLUS, all the original art (and a lot of other donated art not featuring Usagi) was auctioned off and those proceeds went to the Sakai’s.

Taking all that off the plate, this is a gorgeous book in it’s own right and well worth buying even if it wasn’t a benefit for one of the greats of the comics field and one of the nicest creators you could ever hope to meet (as anyone who has met Stan at a convention will surely attest t0).  This is a book I’ll revisit and flip though time and time again.  Play “guess the artist by examining their style” when you cover up the art credits on each page with a finger and drink in the art.  It’s a great tool for training your art appreciation.

As an art book alone this stands head and shoulders above ordinary sketchbooks and art books.  I love the idea of seeing hundreds of artists do their interpretation of the same character.  Every image is a unique artistic vision and spotlights both the style of the artist producing it and typically captures some core aspect of the common character being portrayed (in this case Usagi).  At $29.99 for 150 pages of wonderful art this is a terrific deal, and since all the profits go to Stan & Sharon Sakai, it’s a wonderful cause as well.  You benefit from the art you get to appreciate, Stan & Sharon benefit from the sale of the book, it’s good all around!  Seek this book out!  Let’s buy so many they need to go to a second printing!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/
Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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