Archie: The Married Life Book #1 (Archie)

Archie The Married Life Book #1
CREDIT: Archie Comics

Rating: 5/5 – Archie All Grown Up.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

My sole experience with Archie prior to this last year was picking up copies of Archie’s Double Digest at the grocery store as a child.  I long ago moved on to what I thought were more “serious” superhero comics and never looked back. Then along came Afterlife with Archie, which not only threw zombies into the mix, but replaced slapstick humor with mature themes and situations. Spurred by this and news of Archie’s impending death, I decided to give Life with Archie a try, a series that for the last few years has focused on two possible futures (one in which Archie married Betty, the other Veronica). Archie: The Married Life Book #1 collects the first six issues of this series, each issue featuring one story each from the two possible futures. In other words, this collection is jammed packed with a lot of fantastic material that has definitively cemented me as an Archie fan for life!

Each story begins with a short recap of their respective wedding bliss (originally published in Archie #600 – #605). However, there is no required reading before tackling Life with Archie and the recaps are sufficient to jump right into the series. Having read the marriage stories, they weren’t as good as I imagined and actually lowered my expectations going into Life with Archie. To me, the marriage stories fell flat and the characters were as one-dimensional as ever. That being said, Life with Archie immediately redeemed the whole concept by setting itself up as a bit of soft ret-conning to flesh out the details hitherto glossed over. As the story progresses, we see how the single decision by Archie to choose either Betty or Veronica alters the respective futures. Some of the differences are major, but most are subtle. The supporting cast in particular seems to play similar roles in each future, but they choose to deal with their situations differently in each.

Co-writer Paul Kupperberg admits in one of the forewords that at times he had trouble keeping track of the different storylines because there were so many similarities. I’ll admit to experiencing the same thing, having more than once gone back through the book before starting the next chapter. Despite this, Kupperberg and his co-writer Michael Uslan do a masterful job of ensuring continuity throughout. They even introduce the concept of a multiverse to explain not only the two futures in the book, but also the multitude of Archie related books released in the past 70 years. It is hinted throughout the book that this concept will be explored further in the series and I look forward to that. Until then, we are treated to a cast of characters that through their personal trials learn and grow and break free from the shackles of their previously assigned roles. Through all this growth, the art Norm Breyfogle maintains the Archie style that is as distinctly recognizable as the characters themselves. To the untrained eye, it is indistinguishable from any Archie art of the past. I would say that it is much cleaner and crisper.

In terms of story, character development, and overall Archie mythos, Archie: The Married Life Book #1 represents the very best Archie I’ve ever seen. Archie and his crew grow up and break away from the small town life that has held them captive for 70 years. In doing so, they reject their assigned archetypes what seemed to be more simple personalities in the kid’s stories to reveal a depth of character that I never expected in an Archie comic. Nevertheless, it maintains that bit of nostalgia that Archie always seems to elicit. I think that this reinvention of Archie is just what was needed after so many years and I look forward to not only the next book in this collection, but the future of the Archie brand as a whole.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
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The Graveyard Book Vol. 1 (Harper)

CREDIT: Harper

Rating: 5/5 – A Magical Graphic Adaptation of Gamain’s Award Winning Novel.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

This graphic adaptation is equally suited for people who have read Neil Gaiman’s prose version or who are experiencing it here as a graphic novel for the first time.  I read the prose edition when it first came out in 2008, and one of the chapters “The Witch’s Headstone” was first published the year prior to that in Gaiman’s all-ages “M is for Magic” anthology.  The Graveyard Book is the tale of Nobody Owens (aka Bod) who is raised by an assortment of supernatural guardians, primarily ghosts, in a local graveyard after the murder of his parents by “the man Jack”.

When you’re dealing with core material that is of the quality of Neil Gaiman’s Hugo and Locus award winning novel it’s a really touchy thing.  There would seem to be a lot of downside for the adaptation to not hold up to the prose, kind of like how people will often say that a movie is not as good as the book it was based on.  This is happily not the case here, P. Craig Russell has done a stellar job of selecting an art team with styles that are similar enough in tone to make the whole work hold together, but each is different enough that it gives every chapter a charm all it’s own.  Why all the different artists?  Russell said in an interview that it would have taken him years to get the book out if he illustrated it all, but by doing the overall design and illustrating a chapter here & there he was able to get the book out in a much more timely fashion.

Each chapter of the book is a standalone story focusing on Bod as he grows up, each chapter being spaced 2 years after the previous one.  The nature of the storytelling and the temporal difference from each chapter to the next melds perfectly with the various art styles.  Kevin Nowlan takes Chapter 1 as the infant Bod is adopted by the inhabitants of the graveyard.  Chapter 2 is done by P. Craig Russell himself as Bod finds a friend.  Chapter 3 is by Tony Harris (illustrating the real world) and Scott Hampton handling art on the other side of the Ghoul-Gate (and this transition works surprisingly well).  Chapter 4 is the story of the Witch’s Headstone, illustrated by Galen Showman (and my favorite chapter of the book).  Jill Thompson brings us Chapter 5 which is the story of the Danse Macabre and we finish with a short interlude by Stephen B. Scott setting up the action for the second half that will be out on September 30th covering Chapter 6 through the end of the book.

Gaiman’s prose is wonderfully brought to life by P. Craig Russell and the cast of other artists.  While each Chapter stands on it’s own, there is a clear through story that beautifully captures Bod’s growth, education, and maturation as he travels through his life in the graveyard.  It’s certainly an unusual way to grow up but at the same time it felt relatable and that’s part of the magic Gaiman is able to weave as a master storyteller.  Whether you’ve read the story before or not, you owe it to yourself to sample this visual adaptation of Gaiman’s enchanting story.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough and it will be challenging to wait another 2 months to read the second half.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
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Death Sentence HC (Titan Comics)

Death Sentence

Rating: 5/5 – Ultimate Power with an Ultimate Price Tag.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

The conundrum is simple: I can’t afford to buy every comic I see, and even if I could, I’d lack the time to sit and enjoy them. So when I sit down each month to plan out what I’m going to buy, I tend to pick one or two independent comic publishers (the ones in the small print sections of your Previews catalog) and buy from them almost exclusively. It’s great because some of the best books I’ve read have come from following this practice, but it’s also awful because I seem to be the kiss of death for any company I start following. Alias? Yeah, that was me. GG Studios? Guilty (although they’re still producing books across the pond from us). It’s for this reason I stay away from companies like Big Dog, because I know some of the people who work for them and want them to stay in business! If Moonstone goes under, you can blame me. That said, of late I’ve been following Titan Comics, and it seems like a safe bet because they’ve been around for a long time, and should (hopefully) be immune to whatever curse I bring to the table.

And I really hope that’s the case, because books like Death Sentence are the reason I buy comics. Bob has already reviewed issues 1 and 2, but now that the series is complete and collected in a beautiful hardcover with a slew of extras, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit a book that may have flown below your radar. The sexually transmitted disease G+ grants its victims amazing powers, but kills them in six months. The book follows the lives of three infected characters – artistic sellout Verity, down-and-out rocker Weasel, and the Russell Brand like Monty – on their individual spirals, both upward and downward, toward the eventual end.

I’ve often felt life should come with a warning. That it’d be nice if someone would come by and tell you in six months you’re going to die and there’s really nothing you can do about it. What would you do in that time? Tie up old ends? Rekindle friendships and patch up old animosities? Make sure those who’ll live on are provided for? Rage, rage against the dying of the light? This book throws this concept right at the reader, with the added incentive that for those six months, you might have the ability to do something about it.

For Monty, the goal is to experience life at its fullest, and the rest of the world be damned. For Weasel, it’s reconciliation with his estranged child, and perhaps to go out on the biggest heroin bender ever. The real summation of the book’s message, though, comes from Verity, who realizes throughout the book that her best work – that unknown masterpiece that lies in the churning belly of every creative person on this planet – may never be realized. “I just want to do something exceptional, before I go. A tiny piece of me, resonating across the world, that says: ‘Here I am!’ I mean something. I count!”

In true comic fashion, these three lives become intertwined by the conclusion, which needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Writer Monty Nero, who annoys me to no end because this is apparently his first comic work and he knocked it out of the park, creates anti-heroes you still want to cheer for, villains you can almost see yourself becoming if you aren’t careful, and a surrounding cast of people who are far from perfect creations, but very much people you know. In short, he creates real people in a very surreal landscape. Mike Dowling’s raw and gritty artwork provides the perfect illustrative vehicle for Nero’s words. Verity isn’t a smoothly rendered piece of pop-art fluff. She has an edge to her, and Dowling helps bring that to the table. Weasel’s debauchery and Monty’s charming vileness are also served well by his work.

In what I’ve come to expect and appreciate from Titan, this book is a bountiful collection of extras, from a gallery of all the variant covers that followed the series, to a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the process in a series of conversations between Nero and Dowling. Think of it as a “commentary track” on the DVD of the book, were it to exist. Although the book sticks the landing well in its ending (and kudos to Nero for giving us that), I’m heartened by two things: The presence of a Vol. 1 on the spine of the book, and Nero’s final words at the end of the book: “I hope people enjoyed it, and I hope we get to do it again.” Both of which point to the idea that there may be more from this duo, and perhaps more stories to come out of this world they’ve created. I can only hope this is the case.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
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Where Bold Stars Go To Die (SLG Publishing)

Where Bold Stars
CREDIT: SLG Publishing

Rating: 5/5 – An Education From an Unlikely Source.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

I’d seen, and enjoyed, my share of Filipino artists over the course of my comic book reading, usually when they broke into American mainstream books, but I never really understood the whole culture that comes from comics created in the Philippines. “Bomba Komiks” for example, were an underground form that took on lewd and pulpy topics that, according to Eisner-Nominated writer Gerry Alanguilan, did a lot of damage to the Filipino comic-culture perception. In Where Bold Stars Go To Die, Alanguilan attempts to reclaim the Bomba Komik title and give it more respect, or at the very least a better understanding from the surrounding society that may still think the genre lives in its past. Whether he succeeds or not will be up to the reader.

A “Bold Star” is the Philippine equivalent to a soft-core porno actress. Many are, like any celebrity, idolized by their fans. When Daniel, the protagonist of the book, sees a particular 80s Bold Star, he becomes obsessed with her, to the point where he finds every movie she was in, every magazine where she appeared, and – to be blunt – has nightly self-encounter sessions with her as the object of his affections. He knows his love can never be realized, but he can’t escape the visions he keeps having of her. Then, one night, he discovers where Bold Stars go to die.

Before you judge this book try and remember your own crushes from whenever or wherever your youth was spent. I know as I read I was reminded of some of mine, and how I’d gone out of my way to find mementos of that particular person. I think it’s a safe bet that most men share this same past, and while I won’t speak for women, I’d be surprised to find it’s not the same for them as well.

That said, this book pulls no punches. While not out and out pornography, most of the women are rendered quite beautifully but also quite naked, and Daniel does what many a man does when he dreams about them. In fact, what he does ties in very heavily to the book’s finale, but it does so in a way that will make sense to anyone who has had an obsessive love for the unattainable. This is not a book for the young, but I kind of wish I’d had it around when I was in my awkward teens just so I’d know the feelings I had were nothing new or unique.

It’s also a very short book, with the story itself only taking about half of the perhaps 80 to 100 pages. The second half is a portfolio of popular artists from the Philippines and elsewhere (Tony DeZuniga, Lenlil Francis Yu, Gilbert Monsanto, and Francisco V. Coching, to name a few), with their takes on the female form. And, sadly, a tribute to the book’s artist, Arlanzandro C. Esmena, who passed on shortly after the book’s first printing.

Our education as comic book readers and admirers can come from the most unlikely of places. On its surface, Where Bold Stars Go to Die is sure to confuse, turn off, and perhaps even offend those unwilling to dig deeper into its message. Many will dismiss it as light grade pornography, but within the pages of this book is a piece of unexplored – at least by me – comic book culture and history that I feel very happy I took the time to learn about. So be warned, comic book experts, when you grill me on which Green Lantern was the best, be prepared to talk about your own personal Bold Star. Or I’ll know you’re just a poser.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 1 (Image)


Rating: 4.5/5 – A Peculiar, Exceptionally Fun and Unique Series.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.
Collecting Chew #1-10.

The premise of Chew is outlandish. In the near future, poultry is outlawed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the most powerful law enforcement agency in the world, and people have superhuman powers based on food. Enter Tony Chu, a Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. And what he eats as an agent of the FDA is not always food. My impression upon reading the premise of this series was curiosity and I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did, because as outlandish as all this seems, writer John Layman has crafted one of the most fun, humorous, and unique stories that I’ve read in a while. Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 1 collects the the first two story arcs of the comic series. I really like this since one story arc isn’t always enough to get the full flavor of a series. This collection is a perfect length–enough to get you hooked and wanting more.

As you dig into the series, Chu is steadily joined by an eclectic cast of characters, each unique, interesting, and fun in their own right. I love the way the series introduces its characters, with a few panels featuring their bio and their power, if applicable. Here’s just a small taste of the cast to whet your appetite:
·  Chow Chu (brother) – chef, parents must have really hated him to give him that name
·  Mason Savoy (partner) – fellow Cibopathic, slightly unhinged
·  John Colby (partner) – cyborg, meat cleaver to the face
·  Amelia Mintz (love interest) – Saboscriver, food writer
·  Poyo (rooster) – King of Cocks

The cast is one of my favorite aspects of this series. I also love how almost each individual issue features a prelude, which is skillfully tied into the narrative. Both the character introductions and the preludes set up the story quickly so you can just enjoy what’s ahead. The stories are about as crazy as the world they are set in and Layman leaves quite a bit open-ended. At any given time, there are multiple plot points left hanging. Some of the plot points are wrapped up within this volume, some, I suspect, will unfold in the long run as the series progresses. This isn’t a bad thing, but I can see some of the finer details lost over time. The good thing about a thick volume is the ability to easily flip back and review as needed.

The art by Rob Guillory is about as unique as the series. As the volume extras note, Guillory’s original illustrations struck a darker tone. And while the series ultimately deals with a future that is far from rosy, the series is also quite humorous. Ultimately, Guillory went with a lighter, animated look, and the series is all the better for it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s perfect for the series. Also of note, Guillory can draw some mean blood, guts, gore, puke, and spoiled food, which is always a plus in my book.

Overall, this first volume of Chew provides a great introduction and more into this world of poultry politics and intrigue. It’s a twisted, funny book that offers something different from your mainstream comic in both story and art. Already I’ve picked up the next volume and I suspect I will ultimately add this to my regular pull list. Do yourself a favor and give it a try. You may develop a taste for it as well.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
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Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 (Image)

Pretty DeadlyV1
CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Modern Mythology with Mesmerizing Art.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Pretty Deadly is a book that feels like it’s based on some as yet unknown mythology. It takes some very deep and mature themes and wraps them in a beautiful yet violent package. It’s a book that kept me guessing, while demanding my attention as each page brought me closer and closer to understand just what’s going on. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick has created something special with Pretty Deadly, and it isn’t an easy book to describe. It’s a western, with themes of horror. It’s poetic, but also action packed. Somehow DeConnick and artist Emma Rios have combined all these themes to create a story that isn’t like anything else out there, delivering on all those previously mentioned subjects.

As the book opens, the story is being told by an undead bunny. The story takes place in a midwest locale and we’re first introduced to Big Alice as she chases someone who we later meet, a young girl named Sissy and her blind protector known as the Fox. Just why they’re being chased isn’t found out until about half way through this first volume. As you come to realize just who everyone is and how they’re all connected, it makes perfect sense as DeConnick leads the reader on a violent journey slowly revealing more and more about the world she’s created. Each character is as meaningful to the larger story as the last, making each character have significance and feel important to the overall arc. All the characters and ideas introduced come to a head, finishing in this first volume’s fifth and final issue. Although the conclusion seemed to come very fast, the overall pacing worked for me.

Emma Rios’s art is something that has to be seen. Her lines are abundant and almost messy in a way, yet they all form a beautiful image. This book is full of violence and the amount of lines used adds to that violent imagery. She can go from one page where body parts are being dismembered in a rush of blurry panels, to another where you can see the beauty of the western landscape. Her designs for the characters involved are memorable, even for those that are just plain human. The book is full of creative design, which is helped immensely by Jordie Bellaire’s colors. Flipping through this first volume and you’ll see greens, pinks and oranges that give the art an even more unique feel. It’s a perfect combination and something that I can’t wait to see more of.

This was a stunning beginning of a modern mythology in the making.  The only question I have is where this creative team plans on taking this book next. No matter where that is, I’ll definitely be along for the ride.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
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The Massive Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)


Rating: 4.5/5 – A Unique and Realistic Post Apocalyptic Tale.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Massive is an end of the world tale that at it’s core has a group of people that are driven more than ever before to make the world right, but has a complexity and depth that makes the world around them just as interesting as the characters involved. Brian Wood is creating a world that feels real and genuine but is also a world that you’d never want to be a part of.  There’s been a surge in post apocalyptic stories of late, maybe because of the  success of the post-zombie-apocalypse Walking Dead. Yes the Walking Dead has zombies, but ultimately it’s a story about what happens when the norms of society break down, and the world is no longer the place it used to be. For every Walking Dead out there though, there are plenty of stories and shows that have tried to capture that same feel, yet only a small handful have succeeded.  The Massive is one of those.

The Massive tells the tale of a group of environmentalists that are trying to make the world a better place despite everything that has gone wrong. The Crash was a series of environmental disasters that have plunged the world into despair. Ice caps falling apart, fresh water becoming a limited resource and Tokyo underwater are just a few of the disasters that the world has to deal with. Instead of just resorting to just sitting back and trying their best to just survive, the group of Ninth Wave activists have vowed to continue their attempts at changing the earth for the better. On board their ship the Kapital, we’re introduced to this group of characters that include a former mercenary turned pacifist, another mercenary who isn’t, and a mysterious woman named Mary who seems be hiding quite a bit of who and what she is.

Writer Brian Wood explores these characters through their current situation as well as the use of flashbacks. Their main mission though is to find the Massive. The Kapital’s sister ship that has inexplicably gone missing. It’s this mission that takes the team to different locales and puts them into different situations, each as dangerous as the last. The characters and the world is still somewhat of a humane place, unlike the Walking Dead where everything and everyone just reads so grim. This difference in tone adds to the books strength as there’s still some uplifting moments and characters that are still fighting to make a difference.

The art in this volume is handled by two artists, Kristian Donaldson and Garry Brown who each handle three issues. Kristian Donaldson’s art is magnificent in this book and absolutely works. Just as you feel the realness of the characters, you feel the scale of the world that they’re in. It’s clear that Donaldson is using computer rendered art for the ship and backgrounds, but it still works and gives the ships and mechanics scale and realism. At times the characters and backgrounds look a bit off, but it’s a small complaint given how well the overall package comes together. His character lines are tights and angular giving everything a modern and chiseled look. When Garry Brown takes over in the second half, the art’s still solid, but you missed the tone that Donaldson set for this world. Brown’s character work is such a contrast to Donaldson’s clean line that the overall package feels inconsistent, giving the word a different feel. Dave Stewart’s colors though provide that singular experience throughout though. His use of different color palettes to distinguish flashbacks to present day is brilliant, and just proves how well he understands the medium.  Overall though the art is a pleasure to look at and never takes away from the story.

The Massive is something that needs to be read whether or not you’re a fan of post apocalyptic stories. This may be Brian Wood’s best work to date and fortunately he’s just getting started in this world. This first volume from Dark Horse collects the first six issues so do yourself a favor and jump on the boat now.  This is a story best experienced from it’s beginning.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
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