Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief


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
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Milkman Murders (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
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Aliens: Salvation (Dark Horse)


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
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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


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:


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!


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!


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
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (DC)



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
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Frank Miller’s Daredevil Artifact Edition (IDW)

Miller DD Artifact

CREDIT: IDW / Marvel

Rating: 5/5 – A Must Have for Fans of Vintage Frank Miller Art.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

I’ve talked about IDW’s Artist’s Editions before.  They are reproductions, at full size, of the original art used to make a comic book.  In the case of this volume that’s about 12″ x 17″.  They are also full-color reproductions of the black & white original art, which may at first seem kind of strange, but in reality allows you to see blue lines, light penciled notes in the page margins, white-out, tape, etc.  You can see the age of the pages as some are yellowing a bit.  It really is a great representation of what looking at an actual page of original art is like.  And given that any single page of Miller Daredevil art sells for $1000s nowadays, suddenly the $100 price tag for 149 pages of art starts looking like a pretty good deal…at least it does to me.

An Artist’s Edition reproduces complete stories by an artist.  So while it’s not ideally meant to be used like a big black & white collected edition, you can theoretically use it like one and read complete stories.  An Artifact Edition, like this one, is a bit different.  The folks at IDW (editor Scott Dunbier in particular) were not able to hunt down complete stories of original art.  In the interests of sharing historically significant works of comic art, they put together an edition like this one with as much Miller Daredevil art as they can lay their hands on.  Which gives us 106 pages of art from multiple issues from Daredevil #159 through 190, including nearly complete issues for #175 and #181.  Add to that a double page foldout of a Daredevil poster and the wraparound cover to Elektra Saga #4.  Then they add in 4 pages from Spider-Man Annual #15, 2 pages from Bizarre Adventures #28 featuring Elektra, and 4 pages from Miller’s Wolverine mini-series issue #2. They bring it home with 24 Miller covers, 18 of them from his run on Daredevil and 5 pin-ups and house ads!  This is a cornucopia of Miller art, including some of the strongest examples of his work from the era that helped him rise to legend status in the comics world.

While this is not a replacement for the collected editions of Miller’s Daredevil, it’s a wonderful tome for fans of his art that want to see what it looked like in its raw form, white-out and all!  Personally, I love these tomes and am eternally grateful to Scott Dunbier and IDW for pioneering the format that has now been copied by a number of other publishers.  If you’re a fan of Daredevil and seminal Frank Miller art, this is a must-buy.  I have a hard time giving any of these IDW editions less than a 5/5, they’re all absolutely wonderful.  If you have a favorite character, artist, or era of comics that has received the IDW Artist’s or Artifact Edition treatment I urge you to save up your shekels and buy some of them.  But, fair warning, you’re going to need a BIG shelf to hold them!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
) Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Oh, Hell Vol. 1: Chyrsalides


CREDIT: George Wassil and Michael Connell

Rating: 5/5 – School Can Be Hell, Sometimes Literally.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

Angela Arrington is a child nobody wants. Abandoned by her original parents, her adoptive parents can’t handle her rebellious, destructive streak, so they send her to a particular academy that will change her life forever. Did the brochure mention that the academy is in Hell? And that she’d be training to become a demon? Well…not quite…but Angela seems to be a pretty resourceful kid.

I backed this as a kickstarter offering, mainly because the concept and art looked really nice, and there was an early-bird special so I could get it on the cheap. What I got back simply exceeded any possible expectation I could have had for the book. Bottom line, this book is polished and good-looking enough that it needs to have the Image or even the Dark Horse logo slapped on the corner of it. It’s easily one of the most professional looking crowdsourced book I’ve received.  You can check it out the 1st 5 chapters on-line on the web-site and also buy a hardcopy of chapters 1-8 if you love it as much as I did.

The book ‘ends’ but leaves a lot open to be resolved down the road. Not all webcomics translate well when compiled into a paper format, but this one kept me up turning page after page because I had to find out what happened next. That doesn’t happen all-too-often with comics these days, so when it does happen, it’s worth taking notice. As mentioned, it would easily work as a title from Image, IDW, or Dark Horse.  That it’s a true self-published independent comic is a testimony to just how great indie books can be.  Seek this one out, people. You’ll be glad you did.

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

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