Posts Tagged ‘Dark Horse Comics’

Steve Sunu

 

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Intro and Outro music “Hurts Like Heaven” by Coldplay

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Warning: Contains spoilers!

Second Warning: You will cry.

Third Warning: I’m not messin’ around! For realsies, you’re going to cry like a baby and the unstoppable river flowing from your eyes will create a pristine lake of tears. Children will water ski in your tears while their mom watches from the shore and dad drinks a beer as he drives the boat!heartbox

Sure, I’m having a bit of fun with the emotional outpour that will result in reading Heart in a Box, but it comes from a place of truth. I tend to put a lot of distance between myself and the media I consume. I’ve been that way since I was a kid and it’s never really gone away. Don’t get me wrong, I connect with a lot of books, movies, television, etc. but the impact never feels as strong as that of others when they react to the same thing. Heart in a Box, written by Kelly Thompson (Jem and the Holograms, Captain Marvel & The Carol Corps) with art by Meredith McClaren (Hinges), did its best to pierce my comfort bubble and succeeded with flying colors. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to throw things – basically this book ran me through the emotional gamut and I’m all the happier for it. Thompson and McClaren never shy away from the heightened intensity that comes from affairs of the heart. Instead, they use a fantastical premise to facilitate an honest and, at times, brutal look at a young woman’s journey towards emotional maturity.

The plot goeth thusly: After an extremely harsh breakup, Emma, embittered and frustrated with the lingering feelings she has for her ex, wishes her heart away with the “help” of a mysterious stranger she calls Bob. Realizing she can’t live without her heart, Emma embarks upon a cross-country quest to regain the seven pieces needed to make her heart whole again.
hiab-page-3-panel-excerptAs lead characters go, Emma is a refreshingly honest look at the flawed female protagonist. It’s been coming up a lot more as new writers and artists inject comic books with characters devoid of decades worth of continuity but heavy on presence and personality. And thanks to Thompson’s superb grasp of voice and McClaren’s expressive art, Emma feels real. She’s by no means a terrible person, just emotionally immature, but as the story unfolds we learn the reasons behind Emma’s actions and we gain new insight about the wide spectrum of love through her journey. Emma’s struggle and eventual redemption act as metaphorical explorations of the many ways in which love is given and taken. Each interaction she has produces a different display of love, but those interactions also come with the added baggage of rage, regret, loneliness, and hope tied up in a knot of confusion and occasional clarity. Nothing is simply done or explained in Heart in a Box because the book’s greatest strength is in its complex and nuanced portrayal of people.

Whether it was intended or not, Heart in a Box has shades of the hero’s journey in its plot and structure. Emma’s call to adventure starts with her desire to put her heart back together. Bob, acting as mentor and helper, gives her the box that will mend her heart physically and each person or animal in possession of a piece presents a challenge or temptation. Emma’s turning point comes when she ends up as caretaker to a crotchety old man and, upon his death, digs up his grave to get her piece back (trust me, it makes sense in context). Her need to complete the quest drives her forward but it’s only after she receives her final gift from an unexpected source that she feels whole and healed again. It doesn’t match entirely, but the elements are definitely there.HIABOX_WM-108

As I said before, Kelly Thompson has an amazing gift for voice and character. Her sense of humor comes through repeatedly but it never steals the book away from the dramatic moments. Instead, Thompson finds a lovely balance between comedy and drama in just about every part of the book. Characters like Bob and Mr. Jamison, who would typically be used as comic foils for Emma in other works, do just as much heavy lifting within the narrative. Bob may be totally evil (possibly) but he’s often the only person she can talk to and he respects her emotional needs even if Emma isn’t aware of what she wants. Mr. Jamison, a bitter old man, isn’t just reduced to flinging insults at Emma. He has his own story to tell and how it reflects on Emma is brilliant storytelling on Thompson’s part. Seriously, from a character and narrative perspective, Emma and Mr. Jamison’s time together is the cornerstone of Heart in a Box.

Which brings us to Meredith McClaren and her beautiful illustrative work. Like Thompson, McClaren brings personality to the art, which is a necessity given the range of emotions Emma goes through. There’s an open quality to the art that deftly draws you in and holds your attention. The line work is simple, and by that I mean it isn’t busy or unnecessarily detailed. She knows exactly 20150915_202243how much to show so that we keep our focus on the characters and she really knows how to throw a punch to the gut when it comes to Emma’s state of mind. McClaren also handles coloring duty and it goes without saying that there is some fantastic color work happening in this book. Once Emma wishes her heart away, she becomes grey and flat but with each piece returned her coloring brightens a little more as she’s infused with more memories and feelings. When I talked with Kelly on the podcast, she was very open about how crucial the coloring was in conveying Emma’s emotional status in the story. She and McClaren went back and forth on the desaturation and their hard work shows. I’m an especially big fan of Emma’s fusion moments with the pieces of her heart. It’s so raw and I love how McClaren turns the memories into different forms depending on what she gets back. Also, I’m a sucker for a sweet tattoo on a character and Emma has one awesome octopus tat!

So, if you’re looking for a good cry or just a nuanced and honest look at human emotion, go pick up Heart in a Box at your local comic book store or go online through Amazon, comixology, or Dark Horse. It’s definitely worth your time.

 

Artist Tony Parker talks about the upcoming This Damned Band from Dark Horse Comics!

 

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Sam chats with Kelly Thompson about reviving Jem and the Holograms for a modern audience and the emotional gut punch of Heart in a Box. Also, get the official shipper name for Kimber and Stormer!

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Logo by Nicole Jekich @NJekich
Music: “Jem and the Holograms Theme” by Freezepop

 

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In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

october 1963 beatles manager brian epsteinThis was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 27th.

For as long as I can remember The Beatles have been a part of my life. My mother was a child of the 60s and 70s and when I was growing up this was the music she’d play for me and my sister. Chief among all the records, cassettes, and CDs played in our house was the music of The Beatles. I could devote entire articles to my favorite Beatles songs and what they mean to me as well as the history of the Fab Four themselves and never miss a beat. But like many people, the history or rather the story of one such member has never been fully revealed. We know about Pete Best’s break with the band, we know about George Martin’s brilliant instincts as a musical producer, but how many people really know, or paid attention to, Brian Epstein? Manager of The Beatles from 1961 until his death from an accidental overdose in 1967, Brian Epstein took an unknown and only mildly popular Liverpudlian band performing cover songs of black music and turned them into the artistic powerhouse of pop music and experimental rock we know today. It’s because of Brian Epstein that The Beatles are the standard instead of the exception. It’s because of Brian Epstein that The Beatles exceeded all expectations and took the world by storm. And it’s because of Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson, and Kyle Baker that Brian Epstein’s story can be told.

Fifth Beatle CoverThe Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story is the mostly linear, slightly exaggerated, but predominantly emotional story of Brian Epstein. The manager of his family’s record store, North End Music Store (NEMS), in Liverpool, Brian is relatively well off but he’s, by all accounts, a stranger in a strange land. He’s Jewish in a time when Britain was very anti-Semitic, he’s a homosexual in a time when homosexuals were thrown in prison if they were caught, to say nothing of the violence and intolerance he received, and he’s a man with high cultural ambitions in a working class city. Only when his assistant, Moxie, takes him to the Cavern to see The Beatles perform does his life change. He sees in them something special, something that could change the world. He doesn’t just become their manager, he becomes their biggest fan, intent on making them, in his own words, “Bigger than Elvis!” in the eyes of the world. The toll this takes on him is enormous: anxiety, exhaustion, pills, and an abusive “relationship” left him feeling like a failure despite his success and unloved despite the supportive circle of friends and family. Brian Epstein was a flawed and tragic human being, but he was possessed of an overabundance of confidence and hope in the band he built from the ground up. He was instrumental to The Beatles’ rise yet he still remains a footnote in their history.John and Brian

Tiwary, by his own admission, approaches Epstein’s story from a personal connection to The Beatles and Epstein himself. A first generation Indian-American in the film, media, and comic book industry, Tiwary found a kindred spirit in Epstein and approached his story from the perspective of the perpetual outsider. No matter what Brian does, he always feels as if he’s alone. The pressures he puts on himself to succeed and ensure that The Beatles succeed, as well as the continued trappings of his personal life, lead him to seek refuge in pills. But Tiwary also shows exactly how essential Brian was to propelling The Beatles into stardom. His hard work, his business savvy, and the risks he took at his own expense paid off in the long run. Everything we know about the early Beatles, what made the youth of Britain and America fall in love with them, comes from Epstein’s management of, as John Lennon says in the book, not just their gigs, but their digs as well. From their uniform clothing and haircuts to the emphasis on their Liverpudlian roots and humor, Epstein cultivated them into a package, but unlike Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker, who we see through Epstein’s eyes as a devilish figure of greed and gluttony, Epstein wanted what was best for his boys. He fought for them every step of the way and the continued references to the real and symbolic nature of bullfighting and matadors give credence to that fact.

The-Fifth-Beatle-2Framing the story within the changing times of the 1960s also gives Tiwary and artists Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker an artistic avenue with which to get inside Epstein’s head without the hallucinatory or non-linear elements feeling out of place. Robinson is the predominant artistic presence and his illustrations are gorgeous. While this is Epstein’s story, it’s also the story of The Beatles and Robinson depicts the energetic pull of the band so beautifully that you can almost hear their music jumping off the page. When Brian sees and hears them we share in his experience. He also brings out the absurdity of Epstein’s position within the world of music and media. I mentioned the scene with Colonel Parker, but Epstein’s negotiations with Ed Sullivan to have The Beatles headline three shows with reduced pay is a thing of surreal beauty. Sullivan refers to The Beatles as a “novelty act” so Tiwary and Robinson choose to depict this discussion by way of Sullivan using a ventriloquist dummy. True or not, it’s a symbolic and dramatically ironic way of looking at the world from Epstein’s perspective. Robinson seems to understand Epstein’s struggles just as much as Tiwary, which affords him the ability to depict his pain and hope simultaneously without either emotion overshadowing the other. It’s fitting, then, that the book opens and closes on both notes. Kyle Baker’s solo work showing The Beatles’ tour of the Philippines and their actual harrowing experience is reminiscent of a Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon with Brian desperately trying to fend off the bull that is Imelda Marcos and the Philippine regime. Though the style looks out of place, it actually works within the context of the story as Brian’s psyche takes on different forms.

Final Thoughts: If you’re a fan of The Beatles, then this is a definite read. It’s a story that needed to be told and thankfully Tiwary, Robinson, and Baker were the ones to do it. There’s also a movie on the way based on the book, so look for that in the future!

This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 19th.

Presto CoverSometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief, or it takes a thief to catch some back robbers, or it takes a thief to do whatever task is required of her so long as she can have a little fun along the way. This is the world of Bandette, the Eisner award winning book from Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. The first volume, Presto!, collects chapters 1-5, as well as a number of standalone stories, and presents our leading lady’s adventures as a thief extraordinaire who’s not above calling in reinforcements to help her squash the plans of other, less sophisticated criminals, while rewarding herself with a missing Rembrandt or two for a job well done. If none of that even manages to get you to smile, then this book clearly isn’t for you because Bandette is pure fun wrapped in whimsy, tied up in the slightest bit of self-awareness.

A master thief backed by the power of Presto! Bandette is the bane of Absinthe, a former assassin and the current leader of FINIS – Friends In Need Improvement Society, an organization claiming to help those in need while secretly causing chaos and destruction through public bombings, political manipulation, arms trading, and murder. When Bandette blows their nefarious cover via the local news, she’s warned by a rival thief, Monsieur, that her life is on the line. Undeterred by the threat of death, even after participating in an exceptional fight with FINIS’ greatest, and most feared assassin, Matadori, Bandette is determined to bring FINIS and Absinthe down by allying with Monsieur to steal seven items of great value to their common enemy.

Bandette is a criminal, but she’s the best kind of criminal, one who’s not so evil that she won’t help the police or someone in need should the occasion arise. She also intends to have as much fun as possible while singing her own praises. She’s proud of who she is and what she does, making absolutely no apologies for herself. It also helps that she surrounds herself with her personal band of “urchins” ready to help her at a moments notice while maintaining a precarious relationship with Inspector Belgique. Her world is a colorful homage to multiple influences, the greatest of which is Tin-Tin creator Hergé. The devotion of Tobin and Coover to aping not just the Francophone style but the adventurous spirit of Hergé and other creators of his ilk can’t be ignored. They even throw in a little shout-out to the man in the book, naming the television station that exposes FINIS, HRG-A. Paul Cornell also points out in his foreword that Tobin’s dialogue is so very “French” that one would assume lines like “Now then, I would make you vow to keep my secrets, but you are a cat…and no cat has ever given away a secret.” or “And while a bull is not bandette 4so very wise, I am a monumental genius!” sound as though they’ve been translated for English readers. It’s a testament to Tobin and Coover that they can invoke so much of the Belgian and French style of comics that anyone might mistake their work for the genuine article.

Hergé, however, is only one of several nods to different characters and books that have influenced Bandette. There are shades of Pippi Longstocking, Sherlock Holmes, Scott Pilgrim, and Batman fused into Bandette’s personality and the menagerie of characters surrounding her. This is a character incapable of being caught off guard, she wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. Bandette is never unprepared, never fazed by the prospect of getting caught by the police or dying at the hands of inferior foes. She and the book she inhabits exudes an atmosphere of joie de vivre. There’s rarely a moment where Bandette isn’t smiling or admonishing others with a sharp, yet hilarious insult as she plots and schemes. Coover’s art keeps the infectiously happy mood alive through the frenetic energy of Bandette. She’s constantly moving about,  jumping from rooftop to rooftop, flipping over gravestones, and doing high wire tricks on a clothesline while having a quasi-romantic lunch with her marvelous and handsome Daniel. It’s as if the book is trying to contain her, but the minute the front cover is opened, she jumps off the page ready to seek out her next great feat of unfathomable thievery.

Final Thoughts: This is a book that should be read by everyone. Young and old, girls and boys, all of them will fall for Bandette!

Cover 2This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 13th.

Last time on S.H.O.O.T. First: The Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Task Force (S.H.O.O.T.) recruited a new member, a former Muslim calling himself Infidel, after an attack on an Afghani mosque by a jinn. Only it wasn’t really a jinn, but an Outside Actor (OA), a creature that feeds on the faith and belief of humans. S.H.O.O.T., however, operates on a strict, “no belief” policy, which allows them to use weapons powered by disbelief, doubt, and anger. By the end of the first issue, Infidel secured his place on the team, an Angelic conspiracy was revealed, and we learned that the field leader of S.H.O.O.T., Mrs. Brookstone’s, son Ray is half OA.

The team’s next mission takes them to Egypt, specifically the pyramids at Giza where a sect of Orthodox Jews have taken hostages in the name of the Angel of the Lord, declaring to the media that they’ll only release the hostages when the agents of S.H.O.O.T. are brought to them without their weapons. Complying with their demands the team give exchange themselves for the hostages, but find that the terrorists are the least of their problems. Calling upon the power of God and the angels, the Jewish acolytes summon the “protector of their people”, which turns out to be a giant golem made up of the Great Pyramid. Believing the Outside Actor to be operating the golem from the inside, Mrs. Brookstone hitches a ride on Robot to infiltrate and destroy the enemy within. Keeping the golem busy, Infidel tells Bett to shoot for the Aleph, the first letting of the Hebrew alphabet, as a means of stopping the power of the creature. Bett quickly points out that by believing the golem is real enough to have powers to stop, Infidel has disarmed himself, Pyramid Golemhis guns no longer working in response to his sudden belief. It seems that Infidel’s crisis of faith is now a crisis of doubt.

Justin Aclin brings a strong second issue that delivers as much action and humor as it does ruminations on the difficulties of remaining doubtful while being confronted with everything you doubt to be true. The few months Infidel has been on the team haven’t necessarily knocked all of the belief out of him. In fact, facing a golem, a symbol of the Jewish faith, does more to create doubt in his new found Atheism. The image of Infidel (after being tossed by the golem) landing amongst the faithful, praying, is powerful considering Infidel’s later confession that he feels lost and empty, which he shares with Bett after she tosses a sandwich at his head. But Bett isn’t unsympathetic to his plight. She knows loss as well, the victim of “fairies” who led her astray in 1881 only for her to show up in the present day with no memory of the time she was gone. Displaced from her home and family, she understands loss very well. It’s a lovely moment between the two, and possibly the start of a love triangle as well. Infidel’s crisis of doubt is juxtaposed by Mrs. Brookstone’s need to doubt in order to save her son. Having a child who’s half Devil, and possibly an instrument of the Apocalypse, is a constant reminder that she’s connected to the very creatures she’s trying to destroy. Doubt is the only weapon she truly has, the only thing she can wield to keep her son safe.

The artwork of Nicolás Selma just gets better here as well. The splash page of Mrs. Brookstone standing over the dead body of her son’s father, now in his demonic form, just makes her more badass and Selma has a way of making Aclin’s comedy pop. Particular favorites are Bett’s needlepoint message to Byron, “Smile! There’s no God” and Byron’s illustrated gun settings. But, far and away, the pyramid golem is the highlight of the issue. It’s impressive in its imaginative design as well as the sheer awesomeness of the creature, making it a formidable opponent for the team. I would absolutely buy that as an action figure.

Final Thoughts: I can’t wait for the next Outside Actor! What creature of religion will Aclin and Selma re-imagine next?

Since I reviewed Manifest Destiny, it got me thinking about comic books that use historical eras and figures as settings and main characters respectively. Looking to the past can be a great source for relating present day issues to days gone by, but it’s also a fun excuse for true escapist literature. I mean, do you want to read a comic about Abraham Lincoln as he truly lived or would you rather see his steampunk equivalent traveling through time? Yeah, you heard me. That’s a thing and it exists. The point is that history can be as fun and off-kilter as it is relevant and heartfelt. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some history comics I’d recommend to history buffs and people looking for a good comic to read.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of this is lifted from a previous post I did on a former website. I make no excuses for the fact that I’m a lazy self-plagiarist.

Time Lincoln – Story and Art by Fred Perry, Coloring by Robby Bevard

I told you it was a thing! Yes, Time Lincoln, a fantastical journey into The Void where some of history’s most beloved and loathed figures are engaged in an epic war of epicness! At the moment of his assassination, Abe finds that it’s not John Wilkes Booth but Joseph Stalin about to pull the trigger! Stalin, having learned all of his secrets from Rasputin, has seen and taken power from “The Void” and knows that, in the future, Lincoln will be his most formidable foe. And before the deadly bullet ends his life, Abe is thrown through The Void, tearing through time and space, to begin his epic journey. This comic is just pure fun! Not only is Abe decked out in all his steampunky goodness, but he’s joined by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, Albert Einstein, and a boombox wielding Isaac Newton! And, I kid you not, Lincoln fights Hitler atop Mount Rushmore! Yeah, you heard me!

Marvel 1602 – Written by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Andy Kubert, and Digitally Painted by Richard Isanove

Can we just take a moment to thank the Pantheon that Neil Gaiman exists? Anyway, say what you want about Marvel and their penchant for holding on to continuity in the face of abject confusion, when something like this graphic novel exists, I’m glad they keep everything! Set during the tumultuous transition between the houses of Tudor and Stuart, Gaimen skillfully weaves a plot of mystery and intrigue as a great and dangerous power threatens the world, both Old and New. Ascending to the throne upon Elizabeth’s death, James I actively persecutes the “witchbreed” – those magically gifted as opposed to genetically evolved – who may be the only ones capable of saving the world. Aside from the superb writing and art, how Gaiman establishes each Marvel character within the Elizabethean era is just as delightful. Elizabeth consults with Sir Nicholas Fury, Peter Parquagh is apprenticed to Doctor Stephen Strange, and Carlos Javier’s students consist of Scotius Summerisle, Roberto Trefusis, Hal McCoy, Werner, and “John” Grey. Familiar, yet different. It was so popular that Marvel based stories on The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man in the same universe.

The Five Fists of Science – Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Steven Sanders

Anyone familiar with the Tesla vs Edison battle that flares up from time to time will love this comic! Basically, Tesla and his best pal Mark Twain are engaged in a great battle for world peace against Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie. The plot involves giant robots, the dark arts, and Tesla being…Tesla. Plus, it has my all time favorite line from any comic book: “Quickly, to New Jersey!” And according to Matt Fraction himself, artist Steven Sanders likes to add his own sound effects while he draws, so you can only imagine how much fun he had with this comic! It’s fun times for all as history comes alive to deliver a swift fist of SCIENCE! to your gut.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne – Written by Grant Morrison

Grant Morrison is one of many polarizing figures in the comic book community, but whether you love him or hate him he has a way of telling a good story. In this case, we have Bruce Wayne hurtling through time after supposedly dying at the hands of Darkseid during Final Crisis. Finding himself at humanity’s beginning, Bruce moves forward in time (Cavemen, Puritans, Pirates, The Old West, anywhere from the 1940s-1960s, and beyond) in order to solve the ultimate mystery, that of his own identity and his mysterious connection to all things bat-related. Morrison, by this time, had already planted the seeds of Bruce’s time travelling journey long before his supposed death. This book served to fill in the blanks, elevating Batman as a legendary figure, an archetype, always present and necessary. Even if you’re not all that into the mythos of Batman, at the very least you get to see Bruce head butt Blackbeard!

300 – Written and drawn by Frank Miller with colors by Lynn Varley

Yet another polarizing figure, Frank Miller has joined Alan Moore in the “Cranky Old Man” club, though for far different reasons. But before senility set in, Miller was respected for his groundbreaking interpretations of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, as well as his run on Daredevil. Outside of the mainstream heroes, Miller has been just as influential with works like Ronin, Sin City, and 300. Influenced himself by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, the graphic novel is Miller’s interpretation of the Battle of Thermopylae. King Leonidas, along with 300 of his best warriors, hold off the Persian forces under Xerxes as he tries to conquer the city-states of Greece. It is their sacrifice that rallies all the people of Greece as a united front against the Persian army. Though made more popular by the movie, the comic itself is still a fun read. It’s wildly inaccurate, way over the top, and kinda racist, but at least Miller has the decency to include a recommended reading list for those interested in what actually happened.

Revere: Revolution in Silver – Written by Ed Lavallee, Illustrated by Grant Bond

I’ll be honest, this one is on my radar, I just haven’t had the chance to pick it up. But I’ll be damned if I don’t want to read it! You can have all the Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunters you want but of all the historical figure meets the supernatural stories out there I would’ve thought Paul Revere versus anything would have been first on the list! I mean, come on, the guy was a silversmith for crying out loud! A silversmith!!! The story practically writes itself. The graphic novel is definitely making use of the premise, casting Revere as a renowned monster hunter tasked with hunting down a supernatural killer in the midst of the revolution. Though Sleepy Hollow recently debunked all the myths of Paul Revere, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what would have made for an awesome spinoff.

Hark! A Vagrant – Written and drawn by Kate Beaton

I absolutely adore and love Kate Beaton’s work. Her webcomic is one of my favorites and I was lucky enough to meet her at Emerald City Comicon a few years ago before she really started blowing up all over the place. In a few short panels, she’s capable of reducing an historical event, person, or piece of literature to its bare essesntials while making you laugh the whole way. She’s a history lover’s dream and I most definitely had a number of her comics taped to my desk in the history office in college for the enjoyment of all! If I had to pick a favorite, it would be a strip consisting of a fan letter written by Jules Verne to Edgar Allen Poe. The look on Poe’s face at the end is priceless!

47 Ronin – Written by Mike Richardson, Art by Stan Sakai, and Editorial Consultation from Kazuo Koike47 Ronin 1

A passion project of Richardson, 47 Ronin is a book that tells a fairly faithful version of Japan’s most defining stories. It’s as historically significant as it is culturally. What Western society knows of Japan, and how the people of Japan view themselves, comes from this story of 47 warriors who avenged the death of their daimyo (lord), after he was forced to commit seppuku, and committed seppuku themselves in order to uphold their code of honor. This isn’t a book that takes the premise and runs in a different direction. Richardson wanted to tell the story through the medium of sequential art and he does so without the need to embellish what’s already fraught with plenty of drama. Stan Sakai’s art creates a book that reminds you of Japanese woodblock paintings, lending an authentic look combined with the cartoonish style that made Usagi Yojimbo so fun. It’s obvious that both Sakai and Richardson wanted to do right by the story and it shows in every page and every panel.

These are just scratching the surface of what’s out there in the realm of historically inclined comic books. If you’re interested in alternative versions of DC Comics characters, check out the Elseworlds books where you get to see a Victorian era Batman in Gotham by Gaslight, Green Lantern stories ala Shaherazade in Green Lantern: 1001 Emerald Nights, and the Justice League as inhabitants of the Old West in Justice Riders. A personal favorite of mine, however, is Superman: Red Son where writer Mark Millar imagines what would happen if baby Kal-El had landed in 1950s Ukraine and grew up under Stalinist rule. Outside of the Elseworlds, my favorite book is Darwyn Cooke’s Justice League: The New Frontier where Cooke depicts thesuperman_red_son transition of Golden Age heroes to the Silver Age through the mirror of post-WWII idealism, the Red Scare, and Cold War politics. Of course if Marvel is more your style it’s not uncommon for their characters to travel through time on occasion. Though if you’d like a nice standalone story, pick up Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight to get some badass female fighter pilots during World War II.

There are also numerous books through Dynamite Entertainment that continue the stories of pulp and Golden Age heroes like Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger, etc. during their appropriate time periods and one of my favorite historically set comics is Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins that reimagines the characters and story of Peter Pan during World War II. Beginning to sense a common era of interest?

But those are my recommendations. Feel free to recommend some of your own and happy reading!