Indie Comics Spotlight (1/11/16)

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
 
Artful #1
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“Don’t you worry none about the Artful. He gots ways.”
 
Vampires are never easy to deal with. If you’re a character with a reputation for being dodgy then maybe you have a better chance of making it through the night. The Artful Dodger in Artful #1 from Action Lab is one such character. The issue is written by Peter David (adapted by Nicole D’Andria), illustrated by Laura Neubert and lettered by Justin Birch.
 
Artful is the dark, funny, and action-packed story of one of the most fascinating characters in literary history, the Artful Dodger from the classic Oliver Twist, this time with a twist: Vampires.
 
For some reason, Artful #1 takes a long time to develop into what it’s ultimately aiming to be. David’s story is a fun twist on a somewhat obscure character (when compared to others in the story) in literature and David does a good job of introducing the reader to him and building him up. The issue follows the Artful Dodger as he encounters a new female companion and how he changes her point of view of a few things, but the vampire component seems somewhat absent. The issue makes reference to vampires, although David doesn’t really do much more in the way of building them up to be antagonists. It’s possible that because this is the first issue of a novel adaptation that the pacing is off and vampires will play a more prominent role as the series progresses.
 
Neubert’s illustrations in Artful #1 capture the spirit of the era in which the Artful Dodger calls home. The Artful Dodger has a boyish charm to him and his appearance, accentuated by an outfit that’s equal parts pomp and street urchin. Neubert gives each character full attention in each panel, paying little attention in way of detail to backgrounds. Some of the facial expressions seem a little on the cartoonish side and it’s possible Neubert is using that as a means of emphasizing the somewhat broader appeal of the story to a wider range of readers. The panels are very clean and make for an easy read visually.
 
Artful #1 is another mash-up that throws together an anachronism with a myth. Artful Dodger has a reputation for being a sly devil although it remains to be seen whether or not he can handle vampires. David’s script is a slow burn, taking its time to get to the meat of the story. Neubert’s illustrations are relatively simple and harmless, offering a glimpse into the lives of those living in London at the time. Artful #1 starts slow before it will likely pick up the pace.
 
Artful #1 is available now.
 
Divinity III: Stalinverse #1
 
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“Death to any who would threaten the motherland.”
 
Heroes are supposed to protect the world from the villains. Generally, those heroes align for a common sense of good, but what if that common sense is a different version of “good?” In Divinity III: Stalinverse #1 from Valiant Entertainment, Russia proves that even it has ideals it believe are worth fighting for. The issue is written by Matt Kindt, penciled by Trevor Hairsine, inked by Ryan Winn, colored by David Barron and lettered by Dave Lanphear.
 
Earth has a new god. The world you know is gone. Welcome to the Stalinverse, comrade.
 
Kindt opens the issue in a way that’s both jarring to the reader and effective in highlighting the new stakes in an alt-universe within the larger Valiant Universe. In this version, Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Shadowman and others all serve Russia and its interests in a way that Kindt capitalizes on that’s pretty terrifying. The concept of superheroes exceeding any checks on their powers certainly isn’t new, but Kindt’s take on it is even more dire in that the superheroes are all united for the same cause. Kindt essentially breaks the issue up into smaller sub-stories focusing on the aforementioned characters and their introductions are somewhat glossed over in exchange for acts of intimidation and terror. The dialogue feels a little jumpy at times because of this, but Kindt does ground the dialogue in one line that both confirms their vision and further unifies the story.
 
Hairsine’s pencils are clean throughout the issue and he does interesting perspectives where various parts of the characters are shown in action. The main characters all bear looks that make them easily recognizable as Hairsine is very familiar with the Valiant Universe at this point. The empty gutters allow each panel to stand out on its own, providing Hairsine a great means of focusing the reader’s attention on exactly what he wants them to be looking at. Winn’s inks are strong, providing emphatic shading in spots that helps add to the overall mystique of the book’s direction. Barron’s colors are various shades drab that pop here and there for effect.
 
Divinity III: Stalinverse #1 is a very interesting what if where Russia runs the free world. The entire story comes together pretty well in setting the stage for the new take on the world where Russia rules it all and the superheroes inhabiting it are at its beck and call. Kindt’s plot is engaging and the characters are presented in a way that provides for quick introductions. Hairsine’s illustrations are clean and concise, placing the once-loved characters in a new position of terror in the name of an ideal. Divinity III: Stalinverse #1 is a radical take on familiar characters and could be very interesting as it continues to unfold.
 
Divinity III: Stalinverse #1 is available now.
 
Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1
 
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Assassins have been around for a pretty good chunk of history. They’ve crept through the shadows, observed their targets from hidden locations and strike when the target least expects it. Aspen Comics took that concept and added an exciting twist in the Executive Assistantseries and the main character in that series Iris. Iris gets her origins explained a bit in Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1. “First Assignment” is written by David Wohl, illustrated by Giuseppe Cafaro, colored by Wes Hartman and lettered by Zen. “Pain Drops” is written by Vince Hernandez, illustrated by Randy Green, inked by Mark Roslan, colored by Hartman and lettered by Zen.
 
With the new Aspen Universe forged and taking shape, Executive Assistant: Iris’ past secret case files are brought to the forefront, uncovering two new and thrilling adventures that may just reveal that the seeds of Iris’ role in this new era began to grow long ago!
 
What’s interesting about both stories in Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1 is that they take something of an origin approach to the character while also weaving in other aspects of the Aspen Universe. Wohl spends most of “First Assignment” characterizing Iris as a timid new Executive Assistant, learning what it means to be in that role and the submission it requires. Hernandez takes a slightly different tact in “Pain Drops,” in that Iris is much more well-known and formidable in her role as an Executive Assistant. Both stories look at different levels of maturity in the same character and they’re equally as powerful in giving the reader insights into what makes Iris work. The reveal at the end of “Pain Drops” though is what will lead to grander storylines down the road as Hernandez gives Iris an opponent she may not be as capable to deal with.
 
There’s a slight transition in artwork between the two stories. Cafaro illustrates Iris as a somewhat timid character in “First Assignment,” using effective body language to demonstrate her reticence in becoming an Executive Assistant. In “Pain Drops” Green gives Iris a much more vivacious sensibility that comes with being the best at what she does. The art in the latter feels a bit more incomplete in some regards, in that Green illustrates Thalia with a look that feels cartoonish and not as evolved as the look of Iris in the same story. Hartman’s colors in both stories is solid though and imbues the book the right level of drama.
 
Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1 is a good one-shot that delves into the backstory of one of the most interesting characters (and concepts) in comics. Iris started out with little awareness of what was to come, but still made the best of things and became a truly formidable assassin. Both stories by Wohl and Hernandez are good bookends for the life of an Executive Assistant. The artwork by Cafaro and Green is pretty continuous and showcases two sides of the same coin. Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1 has broader intentions when it comes to the Aspen Universe and is setting up one of the more intriguing characters to play a bigger role.
 
Executive Assistant Iris: Enemies Among Us #1 is available now.


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