The Envelope Manufacturer (Drawn & Quarterly)

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CREDIT: Drawn & Quarterly

Rating: 3.5/5 – A Thought-Provoking But Challenging Story.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Over twenty-five years ago, Chris Oliveros created a publishing company called Drawn and Quarterly. Back then it published a lone anthology magazine by the same name before branching out into more long form comics and graphic novels. Over the course of almost three decades, Drawn and Quarterly has published works by Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and more. Chris Oliveros was there for it all, until last year when he stepped away as publisher to focus in on his own project and the first is titled ‘The Envelope Manufacturer’.

Although originally deciding to self publish the first couple issues, a couple of setbacks delayed subsequent releases and Oliveros re-worked the book and decided to publish the story as a graphic novel with the company he founded so many years ago. The Envelope Manufacturer isn’t a joyous read, but it’s thought provoking and a challenging work as you decide just what’s real, and what may be the main character’s stressed and breaking mind. Mr. Cluthers owns a struggling envelope manufacturing facility that’s struggling to get by with out of date equipment, a staff of two, debt collectors calling incessantly and to top it all off, Cluthers has a wife who has had enough. Cluthers continues to believe that he’s on the verge of a break with more orders coming in, which he constantly reminds himself and his staff of, but they never do.

Adding to the weight of the struggling business, there’s also a fascination with suicide. It’s here that the book challenged me as I tried to understand just what Cluthers is seeing or thinking. In a particular scene, Cluthers is walking down the street while off panel, someone is yelling to ‘Jump’ off a building we never completely see. This theme carries throughout the book and is handled in different ways by Cluthers and also one of his staff, Herschel. There are also scenes where the art we’re shown has caption boxes pointing to someone off page, giving us a feeling of not being in control, much like the characters Oliveros is presenting to us. I think the story will challenge you, like it did with me, but it’s intentional and accomplishes the feelings the work is trying to evoke. That challenge may frustrate some readers as it did with me at times, but that is also what makes this book unique.

What made me pick this book up was the cover art. I love Oliveros’ style. Lots of short lines defining shadows and textures make up a majority of the art. The interiors are black and white which makes the blacks all that more defining. Looking at Oliveros’ machinery, you realize just how simple his art is, yet it has a complex and heavy feel to it. The machinery is old with cranks, buttons and knobs, but Oliveros uses simple shapes with lines and dashes to give it all a weighted mechanical feel. He uses six-panel pages for most of the square shaped book and zooms the camera in, again, giving an unclear picture at times of just what’s happening in the scene, also providing a skewed perspective. It mostly works, but it’s not easy and I could say that ultimately it’s somewhat rewarding. It’s exciting to see Oliveros’ first work, and because of his appealing style, I’m eager to see what he has in store next.

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

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Swords of Sorrow: The Complete Saga (Dynamite)

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CREDIT: Dynamite

Review: 3.5/5 – A Nice, if Disjointed, Piece of Comics History
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

While the rest of the world was busy getting caught up in Secret Wars and Convergences, there was another epic crossover I had my eyes on. Dynamite has made a name for itself over the past few years as a home to a number of those elusive “strong female characters” so many industry people seem to want to tap into, but don’t always seem to get right. Let’s be honest, when you’re dealing with characters like Dejah Thoris, Red Sonja, Jana the Jungle Girl, and Vampirella – all characters who seem to have an ongoing bet as to who can show up in less clothing – you could be forgiven for dismissing this series as a giant slice of cheesecake. Particularly when you have artists like J. Scott Campbell (on cover detail for the first issue), Francesco Manna, Dave Acosta, and Mirka Andolfo covering the art chores. Yes, if that were all there was to this series, you’d be well within your rights to just roll your eyes and give this series a pass.

That’d be a big mistake, of course, because the series also offers one of the strongest all-female writing squads ever assembled: Gail Simone at the helm, overseeing the main storyline, Nancy Collins teaming up Vampirella with Jennifer Blood, Marguerite Bennett on a Red Sonja/Jungle Girl three-parter, and G. Willow Wilson and Erica Schultz on a Masquerade/Kato one-shot. And that’s just getting the list started. While it is neat to have an all-female group writing this series, it isn’t because they’re great female writers, but because they’re great writers – period – that these characters, whether legends from classic science fiction or relatively recent creations from comics’ “Bad Girls” movement, are given the opportunity to show who they are now as opposed to how they may have been viewed in the past.

The individual books are collected based on when they were released, and while that makes sense on one level, on another it makes for a fairly confusing read. Individually each story, from the one-shots to the multi-parters to the overarching main book, offer a lot of fun, exciting adventure with great artwork riding shotgun. Putting all those pieces together in a more coherent order might have been worth the effort.  When the book winds towards its ultimate conclusion it’s also tasked with concluding some of those side-stories, which yanked out of the overall tale.

So, is the story itself any good? That ultimately depends on what you’re looking for. In the forward Simone talks about this history of this series – the opportunity to bring all these characters together in the same book for the first time – and she’s right. If you’ve ever wondered what might happen if Miss Fury teamed up with Lady Rawhide, or if the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty wound up on Mars, this is your book. The story itself is almost irrelevant in the face of its cast of characters. It’s a pretty standard bad guy wants to take over the world and a ragtag band of people are gathered together to try and stop him. There’s a few twists and turns along the way, but this is a story you’ve seen before…albeit not one with Pantha and Lady Greystoke in it, but similar nonetheless.

When this series was announced I knew I wanted in. I knew I’d be getting great artwork and, as I mentioned earlier, some of the industry’s best writers pulling the story together. I also knew it was a Dynamite book, so I knew there’s be tons of variant covers (thankfully put together in a nice gallery at the end of the book) and there’d eventually be a massive trade of it, so I felt like waiting to see how everything fell together before commenting. While the story of Swords of Sorrow isn’t necessarily anything I haven’t seen before, it’s a nice little chronicle of characters both old and new, gathered together to tell that story. It tends to skip around a lot due to the stories being packed in order of release, but if you know that going in, it shouldn’t distract too much from your overall enjoyment of the story.

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

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Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief

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CREDIT: Ryan Browne

Review: 5/5 – An Experiment in Ridiculousness Pays Off for the Creator of God Hates Astronauts
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

Fans and participants of 24-Hour Comic Book Day, take note. Ryan Browne has just upped the ante. In what can perhaps be called a bold yet foolhardy experiment, Browne set out to create a story with the following restrictions: He could only spend one hour on each page with zero planning ahead of time. Basically he sat down at his art desk and simply began scribbling and stopped when the clock hit 60 minutes later. Then he did another page. Then another. 280 pages later, he’d created Blast Furnace, which might be the most awkwardly plotted, crazily drawn thing I’ve ever read.

At the same time, it might be the best thing I’ve read in years.

While poring over each hastily-drawn page, as the story itself got more and more ridiculous – he had me at an ostrich wanting to watch porn on pay-per-view while being put up in a cheap motel – the grin on my face kept getting bigger and bigger. This was the comic my 13-year old id most likely would have written. Unencumbered by things like continuity, stereotypes, or an excessive need for technology to clean things up, this book takes an adult reader’s mind to places it probably hasn’t been in years. It’s a sloppy mess that’s all over the place, and at the same time it’s a beautiful throwback to why we read these funnybooks in the first place.

I can’t explain the plot. I don’t even believe Browne can explain it. It’s a stream-of-consciousness trip that should give many artists pause to wonder what possible excuse they can put up against not completing their own works. In the equivalent of roughly 11 days, Browne created a complete graphic novel (barring extra time for coloring and publishing it). What’s holding everyone else back? What’s holding you back, if you have it in you to create and tell your own story?

Of course the book will not be for everyone. Many will find it to be juvenile, incoherent, and without any sort of structure. Anyone able to get beyond those hurdles, however, will see this book for what it really is: A love-letter to anyone who ever put a ballpoint pen down on a piece of notebook paper back in school and tried to make something with it. If you’re one of those people, seek this book out. The Kickstarter edition I backed (getting in on the $25 early-bird special) included a random sketch (and I do mean random!) on the first page as well as a poster, postcard, and sticker. Without all those extras, it was still worth picking up.

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

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The Milkman Murders (Image)

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CREDIT: Image

RATING: 4/5 – A Dark and Disturbing Look Inside a Suburban Home.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Back in 2004, Dark Horse published a four issue mini series as part of their horror line called The Milkman Murders. Written by Man of Action’s Joe Casey with art by Steve Parkhouse. The Milkman Murders is a disturbing look at the potential horrors of suburban life. Although originally published by Dark Horse more than ten years ago, a few years back Casey and Parkhouse brought their creation over to Image Comics to be released in a hardcover edition. Since I missed getting my shipment of comics this week due to the New Year, I pulled this off of the bookshelf and I’m both glad, but also a bit depressed that I did. The Milkman Murders takes you to the dark shadows of suburban life and within the confines of one suburban home, shows multiple acts of violence, depravity and abuse.

What’s even more unsettling about this book is that all the acts of violence are shown with Parkhouse’s slightly cartoony style. Parkhouse has a heavier line and none of his characters are pretty to look at which makes the horrible acts we see throughout all that much darker. He’s able to convey emotions on his character’s faces and uses his cartoony style to express emotions. There’s a particular scene where the mom, who acts as the main character in the book, loses her patience and screams at her son. Her face contorts dramatically and unrealistically while her teeth are enlarged to a point where she looks like a monster, but Parkhouse is able to make you believe it. Parkhouse also makes all the scenes with the family members dark and dirty, but when he shows suburban life outside of their house, everything is clean and polished. The houses are well manicured, the “Mass-Mart” is pristine, and there’s the image of a perfect world presented on the television shows watched by the mom each day.

The Milkman Murders isn’t pretty from an artistic view, or from it’s story. There’s quite a bit to be disturbed by including animal cruelty, domestic abuse and rape. So those who may be a bit more squeamish may want to stay away from this book, but if you can handle the material for what it is, Casey tells an engaging story despite the depressing content. Although at times each of the characters can come off as stereotypical and purposefully so, the way their lives are portrayed and the way the mom interacts with each hooked me until the very end. As dark as the story begins, about halfway through the book it takes and even darker tone and truly turns into a horror story. The Milkman Murders is a book that explores just how dark and dirty lives in a clean suburban world can be. Casey and Parkhouse created a home in a suburban town I’d never want to visit, but after reading this I’m glad I did.

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

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Aliens: Salvation (Dark Horse)

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CREDIT: Dark Horse

Rating: 5/5 – Re-Releasing This Gibbons/Mignola/Nowlan Classic After Twenty Years!
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I may have missed Aliens: Salvation the first time around, but I can’t remember for sure. This one-shot was originally released back in 1993 and since I can’t remember everything I read since there’s just so much to read, it felt as though this was the first time I’ve ever seen it! Written by Dave Gibbons with art and inks by Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan, Salvation boasts some of the industries best talent working on a franchise that’s beloved by so many, and they absolutely deliver in all categories.

The Space Freighter Nova Maru is on a mission to deliver it’s payload to a planet that’s completely covered by water, except for one lone, large island. After an emergency on the ship that occurs within the story’s first few pages, the deranged Captain Foss and main character/cook Selkirk abandon the ship, crashing into the sea close to the planet’s land mass. The rest of the story is told through the perspective of Selkirk, who’s a deeply religious character who thanks and prays to God after every life saving event or dangerous situation, which there are many. How the Aliens show up is something we’ve seen before, but considering that this was written over twenty years ago it was most likely a bit more fresh at the time. Dave Gibbons makes Selkirk believable, and puts him through a series of events that would question anyone’s faith. This story reads so well and although this is a hardcover, it’s easily read in one sitting since you won’t be able to put it down.

Mike Mignola’s art is of course beautiful. I was surprised to see his pencils in a science fiction setting at first, but that quickly changes when the Captain and Selkirk arrive on the jungle infested island. Mignola’s rendering of the Aliens is frightening and because of his style, he’s able to limit the amount of lines in order to bring out all the details of the Alien’s distinct features. Their ridged skin, muscular frames and black shiny skin are all perfectly portrayed with Mignola’s pencils, and Kevin Nowlan’s inks never overshadow the work.

Although rarely celebrated, the lettering by Clem Robins was also something that I noticed in a good way. He uses all sorts of techniques to differentiate the dialogue and tones. Light and dark bolds, slight differences in the heights of the letters and just the right size of sound effects made this a pleasure to read not only for its story, but also for my eyes. Alien: Salvation delivers in every category and should be something that appeals to Alien and non-Alien fans alike. These are some of comic’s best creators producing work during their creative peaks. Don’t wait another twenty years before reading this for the first time!

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

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Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz (kaBOOM!)

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CREDIT: kaBOOM! / Peanuts Worldwide

Rating: 5/5 – Not a Single Flat Note on This Mix-Tape of Cartoony Love!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I was impressed and pleased with this tribute to Charles Schulz’s masterpiece creation, Peanuts.  An extremely diverse cross section of creators pull out all the stops to express their love for Peanuts and its world, as well as the man who created them. in a variety of ways.

Some of the contributions were biographical, relating the characters to the cartoonist’s own life and development as an artist (my favorite examples being the contributions by Chynna Clugston Flores and Jimmy Gownley).  Some took the characters and looked a them in classic ways but through a filter of the creator’s own stylistic interpretation.  There were a number of outstanding examples of this, my favorite was Paul Pope’s take on Schroeder and Snoopy:

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CREDIT: kaBOOM! / Peanuts Worldwide / Paul Pope

There were actually a LOT of entries in this general category and I loved seeing the Peanuts gang as designed by the likes of creators like Matt Groening, Tony Millionaire, Art Baltazar, Jeff Lemire, Keith Knight, Ryan Sook, Mike Kunkel, and more!

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CREDIT: kaBOOM! / Peanuts Worldwide / Stan Sakai

We got classic tales of the gang from creators like Stan Sakai, Terry Moore, Dave Kellett, Shaenon K. Garrity, and more!  There were tales set around the fringes of the Peanuts world, like Roger Langridge’s tale of the Red Baron’s visit to the psychiatrist to resolve his issues with battling a white beagle… it’s just not natural!

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CREDIT: kaBOOM! / Peanuts Worldwide / Roger Langridge

Even the bizarre, in the form of Evan Dorkin and Derek Charm’s 12-page tale weaving the Peanuts universe together with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos!

This book is a must-read for any fan of Peanuts.  The love and respect the 40+ creators exhibit is so apparent it was infectious as I was reading this.  I’m usually leery of anthologies as there are generally a decent number of entries that just don’t click with me.  There was not a single entry in this book I didn’t enjoy.  Some I liked more than others, a few I absolutely adored, but I didn’t think there was a single flat note on this mix tape of cartoony love for Charles M. Schulz.

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

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Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – A Great Alternative if Mainstream DC Isn’t Working For You.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas

It’s been a while since the first volume of Injustice: Gods Among Us was released. In 2013 the game came out for most major video game platforms, and since then the comic series continues to be published. DC is currently on the eleventh issue of Year Four so there’s quite a bit of story for me to catch up on, but I’m glad I finally got around to starting it as this first volume is an entertaining and much different read from the characters we’re used to in the main DC Universe.

Although DC has portrayed their characters as “gods” before, Injustice really embraces this concept of all powerful heroes attempting to make their world perfect. Injustice was a game released by the same creators of Mortal Kombat, but using the DC characters instead. The game’s timeline takes place after the events of this first volume which tells the story of why the heroes are divided, and what caused Superman to take the violent and controlling turn that he did. Writer Tom Taylor does a great job of humanizing these gods, and he does a great job of making Superman and Wonder Woman especially, feel real. After the Joker pulls off a horrific crime, Superman decides that enough is enough and takes the law into his own hands not just at home, but across the entire world. Wonder Woman follows him, believing that they can make a positive change by instilling their own beliefs. Taylor never gets too preachy with the opposing viewpoints, and his portrayal of all the different characters in this first volume is different, yet still fits within their personalities.

Where this first volume misses is in the art. Eight different artists are credited in this first volume and although artists Jheremy Raapack and Mike S. Miller get the headline, there’s plenty more artists and colorists contributing. Reading the first volume in one sitting gives the whole package a very inconsistent feel. There’s clean lines. There’s heavy pencils. There’s a wide range of inking styles… The art is never poor, but there’s little consistency and not knowing all the artist listed, I couldn’t pick out who’s who since the credits page doesn’t identify which artist worked on what issue. Not only that, but the costume designs were obviously influenced by the game which didn’t look great on the page. Batman in particular looks bulky and his mask always looks off.

Despite the inconsistencies in the art, I really enjoyed this alternate take on the Justice League and I’m excited that there’s so much more story for me to devour. Because of the somewhat limited nature of this series and it taking place in an alternate universe, it feels as though it truly has consequences and we see just a few of them in this first volume. If DC’s current direction isn’t working for you, I’d encourage you to give this series a try. It’s a really different take on what may happen if gods were truly among us.

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

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