Indie Comics Spotlight: 47 Ronin, Cancertown 2, Bedlam


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

47 Ronin #1

Japan is rife with history. A history steeped heavily in tradition and honor, best exemplified by the code of the samurai. It’s that code which led to the legend of the 47 Ronin and their years-long mission to avenge their disgraced master. That tale will now see new light as a comic from Dark Horse Comics called 47 Ronin #1. The issue is written by Mike Richardson, with art by Stan Sakai, colors by Lovern Kindzierski and letters by Tom Orzechowski and Louis Buhalis.

The story starts in the present, with Murakami Kiken of Satsuma lamenting a past. That past involves Asano Takumi-Naganori of Ako being summoned by Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Asano knows little in the way of court politics, prompting Oishi, his Chief Retainer, to express some concern for how Asano will fare. Asano isn’t as worried, as he’ll be instructed by Court Official Kira Kozukenosuke Yoshinaka in proper etiquette.

Taking his servant Yasobei along with him, Asano sets out to learn the ways of etiquette from an admittedly corrupt man in Kira. Asano refuses to play, forcing Kira to constantly harass Asano and attempt to humiliate him in the Shogun’s palace. Asano is pushed too far and draws his sword against Kira in the palace. Such an act is punishable by death, leaving Asano in an unenviable situation while Yasobei is tasked with fetching Oishi.

Whew. Richardson has crafted quite a first issue to start out the series. Everything you could possibly want from a samurai tale is here. Asano struggles with reconciling a desire to please the Shogun with Kira’s obviously immoral approach to the training. Oishi is sufficiently worried for his master and the sparks are flying where everyone feels dishonored.

Asano as a main character is a little difficult to get a handle on. He vacillates between humble servant of the Shogun and short-tempered combatant. It’s somewhat expected in light of what sets him off, but the changes seem a little too rash. Going to such extremes makes it hard to fully understand who Asano is, something that will likely be explored more fully in future issues.

Sakai’s art is fitting. It lends a pulpy, newspaper comic feel to the book, offering very simple panels that elegantly tell a deeper story. The characters and environments are sufficiently presented, with Sakai focusing on body language to effectively convey emotion. His art is a perfect complement to Richardson’s story, presenting an entire package.

If you’re big on samurai stories, 47 Ronin #1 is for you. It really captures the conflict the samurai of the 1700s faced, fighting to assuage years of supremacy through combat with a changing world where they take it upon themselves to dictate morality. It’s a great first issue that sets up the remainder of the series to be at least as great, if not better.

47 Ronin #1 is available November 7.

Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours

There are some aspects of the human mind that are better off left alone. The deeper reaches of thought that are only accessible through the most extreme circumstances, where we lose ourselves in madness and chaos. It’s those aspects that serve as the setting for Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours from Markosia Press. The graphic novel is written by Cy Dethan, with pencils by Graeme Howard, colors by Peter Mason and letters by Nic Wilkinson.

The second volume takes place six months after the events of Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth and Vince Morley continues to be a dangerously sick man. His ally Bugfuck is in a psychiatric hospital, but even that’s not enough for Vince to keep his sanity. The points where his two realities cross are quickly being erased, prompting Vince into even more madness.

Honestly, to give anything else away from the second volume would be doing a disservice to the reader. Dethan has forged a world polluted by violence, fear and negativity, making it perfectly clear why Vince is so damaged. While the first volume of Cancertown introduced the reader to Vince Morley, the second volume shows you why he’s so mad.

He suffers from Cotard’s Syndrome, a side effect of which thrusts him into a diseased world that others should be thankful they’re not “fortunate” enough to be privy to. He really is teetering on the edge of reality and is struggling to maintain some sense of sanity. Vince could very well run Cancertown if the end of the volume is any indication. The character’s environment has such a toxic effect on his life that it’s a small wonder the reader doesn’t feel dragged into Cancertown as well.

What’s more is the dialogue pulls no punches. At all. Dethan inserts lines that aren’t sugarcoated or anything, which help to severely depress the atmosphere in the book. Everything seems bleak. Everything seems like it could unravel at any moment and Vince is the one forced to hold it all together. If the almost endless terrors that appear in Cancertown don’t cause you to feel uncomfortable, the fact that Vince Worley is the only savior should.

While most of the second volume’s success is attributed to the writing, you have to also applaud the art as well. Howard’s pencils are terrifying. He reaches deep into some part of the human psyche that most don’t know actually exists to create character models that would make Stephen King proud. Every character is depicted as diseased as Vince, keeping the entire book awash in depravity and despair. There are also a wide variety of panel layouts and types, ensuring that the book doesn’t get tiresome in reading. It’s a long one for sure.

Both Mason and Wilkinson add their own flourishes to the work through the colors and lettering. The colors are completely washed out, devoid of any optimism. They accent Howard’s illustrations perfectly and complete the picture of a world mired in hate. Wilkinson’s lettering moves with the characters, their appearance acting as projections of that character’s state of mind. It all comes together well.

Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours is not for the faint of heart. It’s one man’s journey to hell and back, similar to that of John Constantine, but with less actual hell. It’s a lengthy decay into madness that will have you feeling off on more than one occasion. It’s exceedingly violent and crass, meriting attention only from those willing to indulge their less sunny sides in quite a bit of darkness.

Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours is available now.

Bedlam #1

The world is full of psychopaths, all of whom are seeking some perverse joy in life that doesn’t exist for others. Their chaotic nature makes for nothing but unpredictability and it’s that chaos that leads to Bedlam #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Nick Spencer, with art by Riley Rossmo, colors by Jean-Paul Csuka and letters by Kelly Tindall.

The opening scene is ten years in the past, with a man frantically calling 911 on behalf of his wife. She called him from her field trip where Madder Red opened fire before murdering everyone on site. His excursion is ended by the arrival of “The First,” a caped hero who arrives to see the carnage wreaked by the vicious individual. Of course, that plot is just the start of Madder Red’s malicious intent.

Fast forward to the present, where Fillmore Press is struggling with the psychopathic tendencies inside. There’s been a recent spate of killings and Fillmore feels he could be of some help. This is a man who willingly gets shot to prove a point, so it’s clear he’s a little off.

First off, the issue has a sufficient creep factor to it. Spencer has crafted a tale that features a truly depraved individual at its core, a man who finds joy in killing any and all comers. He does it all for sport, with little reasoning behind his actions given at all. It’s likely as Fillmore continues to reach out to the police that some of the motives will become clearer.

Now the second part. Madder Red screams Joker. Not just any Joker, but Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, right down to the bomb in the police headquarters. Madder seeks a slightly different end than the Joker, but their approaches to life are very similar. Ledger’s Joker wasn’t the first or last psychopath, although he’s one of the higher profile ones considering the gravity of the role and the success of The Dark Knight.

The character comparison is blatantly obvious and, thankfully, Madder evens out a bit as Fillmore in the future. Madder is fond of expository and monologuing, whereas Fillmore is a bit more connected with his madness. Fillmore only begins his relationship with the police in the double-sized issue and his future choices will prove to be an interesting reason to continue reading.

With the art, the simple fact is that you’ll either love it or hate it. Rossmo’s style is very unique and it really works for Bedlam #1, showcasing Madder Red with a white mask littered with red triangles. He looks as unhinged as he actually is and that’s a testament to Rossmo’s artistic ability.

Csuka’s colors are what complete the art though. The book is drenched in reds, blacks and whites, presenting a stark reality and world that Madder Red inhabits. It’s a violent life he leads and seeing the despair through the colors really hits home how detached the character is from reality.

Bedlam #1 is about a mad man with a conscience. Whether or not the conscience overrides the psychopathic tendencies remains to be seen, but at the very least it’ll be a fun ride to find out. There are clear influences on the work (Ledger’s Joker and Die Hard with a Vengeance) that sort of snap you out of the tone while reading. Overall, there are some interesting character developments being laid out in Bedlam #1.

Bedlam #1 is in stores now.

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