Sally of the Wasteland (Titan Comics)

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CREDIT: Titan Comics

Rating: 2/5 – We Don’t Need Another Hero(ine).
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

I reviewed the first issue of Sally of the Wasteland as a 3.5/5, comparing the titular character to a certain DC anti-heroine whose name rhymes with Harley Quinn. It was a good start but I was curious how it wrapped things up, now that the series was complete and collected. Sadly, I think I might have been better off letting that first issue paint my own ideas about a band of ne’er-do-wells trying to make their way through a post-apocalyptic Louisiana, because the actual story fails to deliver on a number of levels.

First off, the promising cast of characters quickly become one-trick ponies or wind up dead just when you start getting to know them. This is, of course, part of any apocalyptic quest story – Who will be the last person(s) standing? – but an important part of that storytelling idea is to make us care that they survive or feel bad (or cheer) when they die. The action comes fast and furious at the expense of any real character development, so when people do buy it, your general reaction is to simply turn the page and wait for the next victim. Even Sally herself is given to two speeds – crazy psycho warrior or overprotective wannabe girlfriend – and little else. They should have just painted the white, red and black makeup on her and pitched the idea to DC. They already had a start with the pigtails.

Then there’s the story itself. I won’t deny the action is well done, and I loved the cannibal mutants, who share some of the funniest moments and best dialogue in the book (which is kind of praising and condemning in itself), but right when things get completely crazy, the book pulls out a final chapter like someone came up to them and said “Wind this up” when they had about three or four more good issues to go. It came off as tacked on, rushed, and not particularly well planned. Even the ending left me thinking “So?” and glad to be closing the book, likely never to be opened again.

There’s still amazing artwork from Tazio Bettin, something I’ve said time and again I’ve come to expect from anything that comes out of the Titan stable. The characters are certainly drawn in iconic and memorable ways…it’s just unfortunate they weren’t written that way. Bettin does a good job of painting a war-torn Louisiana and his creature designs are particularly well-done. Hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future.

I’ll often buy first issues of new series – whether they’re from the Big Two or smaller independent companies – to find out if I want to check them out when they show up in trade format. It’s a good system, as often you can tell from that first book whether or not a book will be worth waiting for or not. Unfortunately, every now and then a book will start out of the gate with an incredible story that captures your imagination, only to peter out and fail to even finish in the money by the time the story is through. Sally of the Wasteland was that kind of book: A solid beginning, with a lot of potential, but not enough going for it to stick the landing.

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

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Death-Defying Doctor Mirage TPB (Valiant)

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CREDIT: Valiant

Rating: 4.5/5 – Spell-Binding Series Mixes the Mysteries of the Afterlife With Unending Love.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Amy Okamoto.

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage Volume 1 trade paperback collects the full five issues of the miniseries. Written by Jen Van Meter and beautifully illustrated by Roberto De La Torre, this haunting tale of love and the paranormal gives us not one but two new heroes, both aptly named Doctor Mirage.

The series focus is on Shan Mirage, a paranormal investigator who can speak to the dead. Widowed during a battle with a water demon, Shan has spent several years in search of her husband’s spirit, unable to find him or gain closure. Financial struggles force Shan to take on a paranormal project for a questionable client with ulterior motives. On the cusp of rejecting the job, she does an about-face when an enslaved being from the other plane offers her the location of her husband Hwen in the spirit plane. Shan then delves into the world of the dead, crossing over in spirit to find and release Hwen. From this point on, Shan is forced to battle on two fronts – in the land of the living against an occult group, and in the underworld, as she finds her way to Hwen. Their reunion is bittersweet as they must separate again to save the veil between worlds from crashing down. The greatest sacrifice of all is made – sacrificing their love for the safety of the world. All is not lost however.

Van Meter does an excellent job of character building, especially with the Mirages. Their deep bond and love for one another, shown through a series of flashbacks interwoven with the present adventure, serve as both an impetus for Shan’s risks and a means of character development. Van Meter shines here as she shows rather than tells us that this couple is in love. This is accomplished by allowing us to witness love blooming, casual moments of openness and banter, and the intensity of their union. She cleverly incorporates this into the telling of the story in such a way that the “flashbacks” aren’t flashbacks.

Shan Mirage appeared a limited number of times in the Shadowman series, but her character was not fully explored until now. Van Meter’s Shan comes across as a real woman, intelligent and emotional with quirks and insecurities — a refreshing change from the medium’s popular portrayal of female heroes. There’s also a sense of mystery as we explore the realms of the underworld and try to decipher their customs and meanings. The story itself is complex, but the heart of it is the simple human emotions of the heroes and villains.

Artist Roberto De La Torre and colorist David Baron have created a beautiful book with haunting imagery and poignant use of color. At times gritty and frightening and at others beautiful, their depictions make the story come to life.  Death truly was just the beginning for this enchanting series. The next adventure for the Doctor(s) Mirage will start soon in The Second Life of Doctor Mirage.

Reviewed by: Amy Okamoto
(amy@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Strange Talent of Luther Strode vol. 1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Fine Mix of Characterization and Ultra Violence.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is violent. It’s ultra violent and that’s exactly what writer Justin Jordan was going for. In the foreword of the first volume of Luther Strode in his closing paragraph Jordan talks about the concept of the book stating, “it’s about power and the decisions that suddenly having it forces you to make. Well, that and sweet, sweet ultra-violence.” That violence for the most part is so over the top that it’s humorous, but towards the end of this first volume although it’s still over the top, it effects you that much more because of your investment into the characters. Jordan’s writing will have you loving both parts of the story, the violence and action all gloriously drawn by Tradd Moore, and the development of the characters over the course of these first six issues.

Remember the Charles Atlas ads that ran in comic books in the 1970s about the wimpy kid getting sand kicked in his face? The big bully and scrawny Mac not being able to stand up to him until he reads Atlas’ book “Everlasting Health and Strength”? Well in Luther Strode that same idea is used with a book titled the “Hercules Method” that originally dates back to ancient times, and has turned the men who have studied it into physical gods. When High School student Luther Strode reads the book he’s able to protect himself against the school bully, but that power leads him down a path that he never could have imagined with consequences that will definitely shock you. Jordan will have you rooting for Strode, but I found myself also caring about those closest to Luther including his best friend Pete who’s even a bigger nerd than Luther, his girlfriend Petra, and his mom who’s suffered an abusive relationship in the past which makes the violence all that more impactful. I was originally drawn to this first volume because of Tradd Moore, but found myself enjoying it just as much because of Jordan’s writing.

And speaking of Tradd Moore, his art is just as over the top as you’d expect when it comes to the amount of energy and movement on the page. Tradd Moore’s work is new to me. I absolutely loved his short but sweet run on the All-New Ghost Rider, and that work led me to picking up this trade. I’m now even more of a fan than before! He has such a thin line and it looks as though his pencil never leaves the page, but it’s all so clean and clear. The action scenes absolutely flow from one scene to the next and the violence, like a man’s arm being shoved though another man’s jaw…well, it’s drawn with every gory detail. As mentioned above, Moore’s art makes the violence seem humorous at times, but when the characters you come to love are threatened with that same level of violence, Moore’s art will make you cringe and that’s a job well done. You’ll notice the differences in Strode’s body throughout as Moore subtlety changes his shape and muscle tone until he’s as large as he is on the cover. It’s another example of Moore’s attention to details.

Image just released the first issue of The Legacy of Luther Strode which is the third and final volume of the series. Although I’m saddened to hear that this series will be ending, it’s also refreshing to know that there’s an end in mind and I still have a second volume to read in the meantime. There’s plenty of story still left to be told within this world as the first volume hints at bigger and more powerful threats that we just briefly see. Jordan and Moore have created a wonderful new character in Strode and have given us over the top action and violence to go along with him. I’m ready for Volume 2!

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

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iZombie vol.1 (Vertigo)

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CREDIT: Vertigo

Rating: 4/5 – A Zombie You Can Love.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The first volume of iZombie isn’t the typical zombie story. Although it could be argued that it capitalized on the zombie craze that began with the Walking Dead, its nothing like it. Instead it adds a lighter touch to the genre in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve had this first volume sitting on the shelf for quite a while now, but seeing commercials for the new CW iZombie TV show had me pull it down from the shelf and give it a read, and I’m sad that I didn’t read this earlier. Written by Chris Roberson and drawn by the brilliant Michael Allred, iZombie will leave you impressed by its characterization, respecting the well thought out ideas introduced, and laughing at its healthy dose of humor.

Main character and the “zombie” of the story Gwen Dylan is coping with life as an undead, but not your typical undead. Yes she has to eat a brain once every month to “survive”, but she quite hates it. Her job helps her do this though with her work as a gravedigger. After each shift she hangs around the graveyard with her best friend who happens to be a ghost named Ellie, and after they’re done hanging they usually move on to a local diner with their friend they’ve nicknamed Spot, who happens to turn into a human sized terrier when there’s a full moon. iZombie is never afraid to embrace the silliness, while at the same time getting serious when it needs to.

That level of seriousness is in full effect when we see Gwen eat a brain and have flashbacks to that person’s past life and their murder. That murder is what drives most of this first volume as Gwen and Ellie investigate a freaky neighbor who they believe has something to do with it. It’s during this investigation that Roberson shows just how smart the book can be in addition to it’s humor and fun. The origins of zombies, ghosts and more are all explained within and the way Roberson lays it all out actually makes a whole lot of sense, as long as you’re willing to stretch your sense of belief of course. Within the pages of these first five issues we also see an all-female group of vampires, an ancient monster hunting organization, and a whole lot of awkward romance all drawn by Michael Allred.

Allred has recently found a whole lot of new fans with his work on Marvel’s most recent Silver Surfer series, but his work here, although dealing with a completely different subject matter is just as strong. Although at times during some issues the quality of the work seems as though there was a dip in effort, Allred’s pencils perfectly match the mood. This book isn’t scary. It’s not supposed to be. Allred’s pencils reflect the light hearted and ironic tone of a book about a brain eating zombie. Gwen like much of Allred’s female leads is super cute despite her purplish pale tone, and Ellie is an attractive Gwen Stacy look-alike who’s personality is a great balance to Gwen.

There’s a wonderful style to iZombie and after reading this first volume it’s not surprising it was picked up for a tv show. There’s an interesting premise in a Scooby Doo like group of characters who are just as interesting as the villains they investigate. I’m not sure where this book heads after these opening five issues, but I’m expecting it to be another investigation into another brain’s past and that’s a solid premise for future stories. There’s still so much to explore with these characters as Roberson only hints at all the their origins within. I’m looking forward to reading more of iZombie and it might be about time I check out the TV show and hope it lives up to the comic.

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

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Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melnibone (Titan)

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CREDIT: Titan Comics

Rating: 5/5 – A Classic Repackaging of a Classic Tale
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

I’m not sure what it is about Elric, Michael Moorcock’s albino sorcerer/warrior king, which brings out some of the most amazing artwork from the creators tasked to retell his tale. I wrote earlier about Titan’s other, more recent, take on his tale, but with this series, collecting the Roy Thomas/P. Craig Russell collection from Pacific Comics, it’s apparent that no matter who works on Elric, the artwork is always a cut above. And yes, it doesn’t hurt that this is P. Craig Russell (and Michael Davis) we’re talking about, but if you missed out on this series when it first came out, take a minute and give thanks it’s coming back to you.

I won’t dig too deeply into the writing aspect of it. Roy Thomas does a great job of adapting Moorcock’s story to the comic book page, and if you’re familiar with Elric’s tale, you already know what to expect (if you’re not familiar, you owe it to yourself to go pick up Moorcock’s original tomes). This first volume collects the first book, Elric of Melnibone, while future books will cover books two and three – The Sailor on the Seas of Fate (personal favorite) and the Weird of the White Wolf – giving Elric fans a nice collection of at least the first part of his epic, while also providing newcomers with a solid introduction to the albino king’s storyline.

It’s the artwork, though, that truly takes center stage in this book. We’re now in a world where, thanks to computers, coloring a book can have no limits. In the right hands, even shoddy inkwork can be made to look gorgeous with the right application of a filter here and an opacity layer there. Keep that in mind as you look at what Russell accomplished with a brush, both on the inking and coloring side. This book was not created in a period where a computer could simply nudge an errant panel back into place, or a transform command could resize art to where it needed to be. This was when comics took planning, and there was no “undo” key to save them. I apologize if I sound like your parents, but seek this book out and I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Moorcock’s Elric has been retold several times in comic book form, and I’m fairly certain it will be retold at least a few more times before I stop reading comics. That each version of his retelling have their own unique qualities to love about them stands not only as a testament to the power of the story itself, but to the writer able to inspire such visions in the creators called to tell it. If you’re looking for an amazing piece of relatively recent, but no less important, comic book history to put on your shelves, or simply want to find out what this whole Elric thing is all about, pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

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

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Jupiter’s Legacy vol. 1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Two Generations of Heroes and Family Issues.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas

Jupiter’s Legacy is another creator owned series by Mark Millar, this time teaming up with ultra talented artist and co-creator Frank Quitely. It takes a look at the modern superhero and how they live within today’s fan obsessed and media frenzied world. At the same time, Jupiter’s Legacy draws parallels to the greatest generation as today’s heroes try to live up to the high standards and morals of those that came before, all while being wrapped inside the layers of family drama and jealousy. It sounds like a lot and it is, but Mark Millar has a way of simplifying the writing to focus on the core themes and the results are extremely entertaining, especially when played out though the pencils of Quitely.

Quitely has established himself as one of the major talents in the industry with his works on All Star Superman, Batman and Robin, and more. His pencils give the characters such weight and depth which is perfect for the superhero genre as that weight makes the action all that more intense. Although this first volume isn’t full of non-stop action, the moments that are prove to illustrate just how impressive his art can be. There’s a particular fight scene between the father Utopian, and his son Brandon and a group of heroes that’s both gorgeous in the details and horrific in the violence culminating in a full page splash that won’t easily be forgotten. Fans of Quitley’s work will not be disappointed and his character designs are simple yet striking.

The story starts out in the depression era and continues on into the future showcasing two generations of heroes. Although the main struggle is one between two brothers, that quickly changes by the end of the story extending out into ways I didn’t necessarily see coming. After witnessing our country go through what it did during the great depression, two brothers and their group of friends risk it all to travel to a mysterious island and come away with superpowers. Those powers are used to serve their country up until the present day when one of the brothers starts to feel as though their powers can be used to make the country not only safer, but better politically as well. As the Utopian and his brother argue over how to prevent another depression from happening again, that argument ripples throughout the rest of the family and it’s here that we meet the other two stars of the book, the Utopian’s son and daughter who can best be compared to a Hilton or Kardashian like media star.

Although at times the dialogue can be used to conveniently to move the story along, Millar has a way to have everything read so simply. He’s able to get right to the essence of an idea, and then carry that idea forward in the most entertaining of ways. The first volume of Jupiter’s Legacy delivers in just about every category including price. Image continues releasing the first volumes of their trades at just under ten bucks, and for that price this book is a steal. I look forward to the twelve-part prequel series titled Jupiter’s Circle as Quitley works on the second volume of Jupiter’s Legacy. This book can go in so many directions and this volume is the beginning of it all.

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

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Archie: Rockin’ the World TPB (Archie)

Archie Rockin

CREDIT: Archie Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Archie and the Gang Take Their Act Worldwide.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

It’s a great time to be an Archie Comics fan! Next year promises big changes for the publisher as it expands or relaunches many of its current comic line and moves into television, movies, and fashion. Even its title character will be getting a fresh new look to celebrate his nearly 75 years in comics. One might say that Archie is getting ready to “rock the world” with these changes and while many feel anxious about a change in the status quo, I cannot be more excited. Before that happens, though, the Riverdale gang takes their musical act worldwide in Archie: Rockin’ the World, a volume that collects Archie issues #650-653. It’s a rockin’ good romp around the globe that has plenty of classic Archie to satisfy longtime fans.

Joining the Archies on this world tour are fellow musical acts Josie and the Pussycats, the Bingos, and the Madhouse Glads. As they hop from country to country, the reader gets a quick geography primer on the current locale that is then worked into the story. From there, all sorts of hijinks occur as the Bingos and the Madhouse Glads take off, the Bettys pop in for an emergency performance, and a cornucopia of Archie characters join the narrative. It’s really a who’s who of the Archie world as Dan Parent throws in the naughty Cheryl Blossom, the stylish Katy Keene, the magical Sabrina Spellman, and many more. It makes for a lot of fun to guess who will make an appearance next. Parent even introduces a new character that causes the Archie love triangle (or is it a love square at this point?) some stress. Parent is no stranger to creating new characters and I love that he expands the cast yet again. I also like that he follows up on the previous Archie/Valerie relationship, which keeps with the series’ continuity. Has Archie’s days as a player finally come to an end? Though history and experience would tell you no, you’ll have to read this story to find out. The volume wraps up with short bios on the bands as well as great reprint material featuring some of their older stories. These bands have graced the pages of Archie for over 40 years, so it helps to provide some history for new readers. Dan Parent also handles the art duties on this story arc and as I’ve said before, I believe he’s the best modern Archie artist. He takes a very consistent house style and makes it his own without ever losing the essence of the characters.

Overall, Archie: Rockin’ the World is a big ball of fun that incorporates everything that makes an Archie Comic great: the art’s consistent house style, the cast’s never-ending shenanigans, and the girls fighting over everyone’s favorite redheaded teen. It’s a nice respite before the promised changes of next year. And while I’m all for trying out new things, modernizing the brand, and hopefully raising some interest in this publisher I like so much, I think I’m happy to sit here for a while before all the big changes occur.

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

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