Welcome back to the round-up! This week’s it’s lucky number seven as we’re rocking seven reviews! Featuring books like Image’s latest, Manifest Destiny and Umbral, to their classics like The Walking Dead, as well as Vertigo’s Coffin Hill, Marvel’s Fearless Defenders, Boom’s Candy Capers, and IDW’s Triple Helix. Whew! Toldja this round-up was jam-packed!
MANIFEST DESTINY #1/ Written by CHRIS DINGESS/ Art by MATTHEW ROBERTS/ Colors by OWEN GIENI/ Letters by PAT BROSSEAU/ Published by IMAGE COMICS & SKYBOUND ENTERTAINMENT
Officially, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are on an expedition commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and chronicle the flora and fauna of the area while seeking a river route westward. Unofficially, the two officers and their crew of soldiers, mercenaries and convicted criminals seeking pardon for their crimes are traveling to tame the wilds of Louisiana rather than explore them. For the French tell tales about strange creatures who dwell in the forests of the West – bestial men unlike anything seen before in Europe…
Mash-ups of historical figures combating supernatural menaces have become somewhat trendy in recent years. However, Chris Dingess must be credited with having crafted a truly original tale for this sub-genre in Manifest Destiny. To my knowledge this is the first tale of its kind set in the age of Westward Expansion between America’s Colonial period and The Wild West.
It is clear that Dingess did his homework beforehand and a goodly amount of historical detail finds its way into the narrative. Clark – a former quartermaster – is depicted overseeing the day-to-day operations of the camp while Lewis – a former aide to Thomas Jefferson – takes charge of the scientific research, as in the historical records of the real expedition. This attention to detail helps set the stage for when both men are confronted by things their experience and science prove incapable of explaining.
Artist Matthew Roberts matches Dingess’ script in quality. His character designs are caricatured without being cartoonish, giving the characters large and expressive faces with clearly defined features. The amount of fine detail Roberts puts into certain panels is amazing. Curiously, while his human figures are slightly exaggerated, the wild life he depicts is drawn with uncanny accuracy and realism. Colorist Owen Gieni does a fine job of expressing the vibrancy of the brave new world just waiting to be explored.
Manifest Destiny is a historically accurate horror tale. It is also an exciting one with riveting action, interesting characters and exciting artwork. History buffs who admire a good thrill will enjoy this book as much as horror fans who don’t care much about historical accuracy so long as the yarn being spun is a ripping one.
UMBRAL #1/ Written by ANTONY JOHNSON/ Art by CHRISTOPHER MITTEN/ Colors by JOHN RAUCH/ Letters by THOMAS MAUER/ Published by IMAGE COMICS
Fantasy comics are a rare breed. While the comic format is an excellent medium for the genre, very seldom does one get a lot of buzz. A Conan here, a Red Sonja there, something groundbreaking like Jeff Smith’s Bone appearing once in a blue moon. Otherwise though, strong, engaging and well-known fantasy comics aren’t common.
Umbral is a bold attempt to create a new dark fantasy universe. While its art, style and concept are fantastic, it’s missing the coherency and character to really stand out.
The story revolves around a thief named Rascal and her friend Prince Arthir, who amidst celebrations during a solar eclipse, set out to steal an ancient artifact from beneath the Arthir’s castle. Things quickly get out of control when Rascal and Arthir suddenly find themselves in a dark, terrifying shadow world populated by demons.
The comic’s art is to die for. With unique character designs, use of color, and genuinely unsettling monsters, Umbral’s titular shadow world is a treat to look at. Problem is, the rest of the story isn’t nearly as striking and clear. Umbral rushes at a breakneck speed, never stopping to really show who the characters are before it jumps straight into mind-screws. At times, the story feels more like Antony Johnson checking off plot points than really building a world.
A good first issue should give you a strong sense of who the main players are so that you know who and what this story is about. By the end of the Umbral #1, all that’s known about heroine Rascal is that she is a cliché fantasy thief. Umbral is something that’s been seen before and despite some gorgeous artwork, not really worth seeing again.
COFFIN HILL #2/ Written by CAITLIN KITTREDGE/ Art by INAKI MIRANDA/ Colors by EVA DE LA CRUZ/ Letters by TRAVIS LANHAM/ Published by DC COMICS & VERTIGO COMICS
There’s a darkness in the pages of Coffin Hill that is intriguing yet simple and familiar yet fresh. Eve Coffin is complex with a sinister history, yet her attitudes and insecurities are wholly relatable. In Coffin Hill #2, Caitlin Kittredge continues building story threads that move fluidly from the past to the present. As she does this, an enticing, dark cloud of evil and magic is built around the relatable attitudes of the story’s protagonist, Eve Coffin.
Kittredge does an amazing job of blending the violent, supernatural mystery of Eve’s adolescent trip to the Coffin Hill woods with the mystery of disappearing teenagers ten years later. The horror aspects of the plot subtly creep into the everyday dialogue, as Eve tries to convince those around her of the ominous nature of the forest around her family’s estate. By doing this, Kittredge forces the reader to anticipate and question the role her witchcraft background has within the plot.
The characterization of Eve’s descent into rebellion during her teen years emphasizes the concepts of identity and the lengths one will go to escape his or her heritage. The choice to have Eve return to her family’s decrepit mansion forces her to face her past, her notions of who she is and was, and all of the evil that the long line of Coffin witches have kept covered up.
Miranda’s art skillfully extends Kittredge’s sinister and dramatic plot. Her depictions of Eve are crisp and convey the character’s attitudes wonderfully. There are subtle nuances in each panel containing Eve that trick the reader into believing she is just a normal woman struggling to reconcile her past. In the next moment, however, a delicate shift in shadowing or a tinge of color added to one of Eve’s eyes designates a darker connection to her supernatural side. In one large frame, Eve crouches on the front of a police cruiser surrounded by a slew of raven feathers that is so detailed and impactful the reader cannot help feeling the magical tension.
Kittredge’s skillful blending of Eve’s back story and attitudes with the supernatural combines with Miranda’s crisp and beautifully dark artwork to create an issue that should be read.
TRIPLE HELIX #2/ Written & Art by JOHN BYRNE/ Colors by LEONARD O’GRADY / Letters by ROBBIE ROBBINS/ Published by IDW Publishing
Triple Helix reads like a John Byrne fever dream, a cocktail of superpowers and action that is intimately familiar yet strangely altered. Elements of Byrne’s X-Men and Fantastic Four heyday are on display, along with dashes of his creator-owned Next Men and wackiness alá the Great Lakes Avengers. The end result feels like stumbling across an episode of a favorite old TV show that you’ve somehow never seen before.
Byrne wastes no time with overwrought exposition or fancy visual beats in Triple Helix #2–this is full speed ahead superhero stuff. There are no scenes of heroes drinking coffee or winking to the camera. From start to finish, the pages are jam packed with superpowered folk locked in the throes of action. Characters with names like Cataclysm, Dart, Pylon, and Apex battle Sentinel-esque robots in classic old school fashion. The artwork is unlikely to go down as Byrne’s most inspired, with no Terry Austin flourishes rounding out the pages, but the relentless variety is impressive and the world building feels encompassing.
Considering how much of the issue is centered on action, there’s a solid amount of subplot woven throughout. Readers are shown glimpses–sometimes in a page, sometimes in a panel–of rips in the fabric of this seemingly tidy superhero universe. Things are clearly not what they appear, and a slightly ominous air hangs over the fast-paced proceedings. The heroes harbor some sadness and appear to be a bit under-prepared for whatever’s lurking in the story’s shadows. It’s not all minor chords, however. There’s a scene of super villainy that’s gloriously theatrical, a kind of Silver Age throwback that channels equal parts gruesome and amusing while making sly use of panel transitions. It’s the type of bizarre moments comic books were built to showcase, and here’s hoping there’s more in issue three.
Triple Helix delivers costumes, powers, intrigue, thought balloons, and sound effects in a package that is unironically like comics of old. It’s not exactly clear why John Byrne is taking readers back to this oddly familiar territory, but it’s a fun trip nonetheless.
ADVENTURE TIME: CANDY CAPERS #5/ Written by ANANTH PANAGARIYA OTA/ Art by IAN MCGINTY & TESSA STONE/ Colors by MAARTA LAIHO/ Letters & Design by HANNAH NANCE PARTLOW/ Published by BOOM STUDIOS
The second-to-last piece of the Candy Capers story by Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota certainly goes to great lengths and depths to locate Ooo’s heroes, Finn and Jake. What’s been so great about this series is the lighthearted way it reads while still having some abrupt and staggeringly creepy remarks by the well-dressed after-dinner mint, Peppermint Butler.
Candy Capers #5 is split into two stories, similar to the other issues in the mini-series; however, the transition is particularly natural in this book. One leads directly into the next with ease, which is reflective of the authors’ comfort level working within the confines of the greater story. While Peppermint Butler and Cinnamon Bun are up to their usual shenanigans and missteps in “Reflections and Dark Confessions”, the authors continue to expand on how disturbing the un-wrapped Butler can be, which is truly contrasted with Cinnamon Bun’s… well, everything about him.
Ian McGinty’s artwork coupled with Maarta Laiho’s coloring in the first half of the issue are nicely sequential and don’t require the reader’s vision to focus on one single piece for too long. Laiho’s colors, specifically the orange/red aspects, are vibrant and jump off the page, while the darker tones are soft but still have recognizable texture.
The second story in Candy Capers #5, “Lair of the Vault King”, goes through the rolodex of some of Ooo’s inhabitants, both iconic and obscure. It’s the kind of rag-tag group of adventurers that PB and CB have been searching for as temporary replacements for Finn and Jake because they get stuff done, no funny business. Well, there is a little funny business, because their whole adventure is edged out with twists and turns.
As stated before, the transition between stories one and two is really well produced. The shift in artists is similarly smooth so that Tessa Stone’s story develops into a much more angular and spontaneous read. The color vibrancies are a bit dulled-down in this half of the issue, but because of the hilarity and dynamic action shots (which includes a really fun two-page spread that could totally be a cool mini-poster), the quality of story on all ends remains intact. All-in-all, the final issue of Candy Capers is reluctantly welcome to come as soon as it can, because you will inevitably want more of all this.
FEARLESS DEFENDERS #11/ Written by CULLEN BUNN/ Art by WILL SLINEY/ Colors by VICTORIA GANDINI/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
Fearless Defenders’ penultimate issue is an all right one, but frankly pretty jarring. In light of the book’s cancellation, this feels especially like the rushed, hasty set-up to a necessary conclusion rather than an organic chapter in the Defenders’ tale. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth looking at in the book, though – it’s still a fine issue of Fearless Defenders, even with the bumps in the road.
This issue takes us to Hippolyta’s New Amazonia, where she has gathered the resurrected and new Amazons to celebrate their return, and is the set-up for some good character moments. Annabelle and newcomer Ren consummate their relationship, and Dani invites X-buddy Magma to join the Amazonian revelry. Hippolyta has taken a supporting position in the team’s events since her introduction, so it’s good that she’s finally getting some real focus; on her people, her motivations, and the origins of her resurrection. Fearless Defenders’ art is its typical quality level: Veronica Gandini’s colors during her party are fantastic, and Will Sliney continues to do a good job on the art overall.
Bunn’s character interaction moments are nice, but the need to quickly wrap up his series in two issues is really what stifles this issue. In her plan for more Doom Maidens, Caroline LeFay turns her attentions to the Amazons, which incenses Hippolyta enough to (probably) get the gang to confront her once and for all in issue 12. Whether all of the threads of her Maiden-engineering will come together (Brood involvement – and where has that nice Brood Sleazoid from #8 even been? – futzing with Terrigen mist cocoons), or be left hanging remains to be seen, but it would have been nice to get a peek into that in the final page instead of Hippolyta stalking off. Or even to intersplice the party with LeFay, especially after the scene where the Delphyne Gorgon talks about how some of the Amazons aren’t pleased with Hippolyta’s decisions.
Fearless Defenders’ second-to-last issue may be jarring and could have been done better, but it’s still the second-to-last issue. Come next month, the title will be no more. Issue 11 may not be the strongest, but it’s still one worth getting if only for that reason, and to see how everything will come out in December.
THE WALKING DEAD #116/ Written by ROBERT KIRKMAN/ Art by CHARLIE ADLARD/ Inks by STEFANO GAUDIANO/ Gray Tones by CLIFF RATHBURN/ Letters by RUS WOOTEN/ Published by IMAGE COMICS
Over the coming months The Walking Dead will inch its way towards “All Out War”, as their current run’s title teases. It’ll be a slow march, taking 12 issues to unfold, but at least their amping up the release schedule to bi-monthly in order to accommodate. With so much time devoted to the final clash between Rick and Negan a few of these issues could struggle with having enough content to offer.
The Walking Dead #116, however, does not suffer this potential pitfall. Rick and his coalition have come to Negan’s home turf in an attempt to end their quarrel before things escalate further. As for Rick’s plan in the event things do get out of hand, it’s genius and owes much to his years of experience gained from living in Kirkman’s screwed up, zombie-laden, post apocalyptic world. This face off between an outmatched Negan and an overly prepared Rick provides yet another opportunity for Kirkman to display Negan’s ineptitude. Not that he isn’t dangerous, he’s menacingly so, but he repeatedly fails as a leader.
A couple issues back Jesus gave Rick a pep talk, calling on him to not only lead their ragtag army but inspire them. And judging by the numbers Rick has amassed at Negan’s gates, it’s worked. As Negan tries to dwindle Rick’s forces by instilling yet another fear tactic, it backfires, and only works to bolster Rick’s troops more than it demoralizes.
Adlard’s art parallels this continuing examination of Rick and Negan perfectly. One panel sees Negan looking out over his encampment as a horde of zombies shamble closer, bringing with them inevitable doom. Later, he illustrates Rick triumphant, appearing over the horizon as his troops look up, reverently, to their returned leader. It’s striking imagery, and mirrors Kirkman’s own placement of Rick and Negan as two ends of the spectrum; one inspiring and hopeful, the other shrouded in fear and defeat.
The dynamic Kirkman, Adlard, and co. are exploring between Rick, Negan and their drastically different leadership styles is the linchpin of “All Out War.” There’s as much to enjoy in Rick’s burgeoning confidence as there is in Negan’s downfall. And with more issues to come, the continuing battle between these two will only bring more surprises and shifts in power.