Indie Comics Spotlight – 4th Hanzo #1, Haunted #1, and Monster & Madman #1


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

4th Hanzo #1

“And the reasons why you left may not agree with why you came back.”

Ninja carry with them great skill, resolve and kunai, among other things. All manage to make the ninja a complete and deadly assassin, including the big, bushy tail. Well, that’s what a squirrel ninja keeps with him in 4th Hanzo #1. The issue is written and illustrated by Miguel C. Hernandez.

4th Hanzo’s journey begins after he returns home from months of training in the forest. His village begins to suffer from multiple attacks by a group of ronin thugs. It is up to 4th Hanzo and his clan to stop them. Meanwhile, there are grander schemes being placed into motion that maybe not even 4th Hanzo can stop with all his talents.

Stories of ninja and samurai are pretty regular throughout history, but Hernandez manages to make things a little interesting by making the players squirrels and raccoons, among others. 4th Hanzo is a ninja squirrel who is looked upon by many as a more than capable fighter; someone that the others in his clan turn to in order to save them when things get a little rough. And 4th Hanzo isn’t afraid to put his safety at risk in an effort to keep those around him safe. And the story itself does offer some openings to move in a generally positive direction, giving 4th Hanzo many more opponents who will seek to challenge his ability.

Hernandez also handles the illustrative duties, relying exclusively on black and white shades. Characters are depicted with extreme detail and sharp lines, prompting the characters to pretty literally cut the pages. 4th Hanzo #1 is also a book that’s all about animals being personified as fellow ninja and samurai and those animals are shown effectively enough to trigger stereotypes in the reader’s mind. The facial expressions also evidence the appropriate emotion for the situation, which is always impressive when an artist can present an animal doing that. The black and white panels also really work well with the story, which helps the overall tone of the book as well.

4th Hanzo #1 is a book dealing with pretty heady themes while offering relatively lighthearted dialogue and animals as the main characters. Hanzo is going through quite a bit of personal thoughts, primarily focused on his role as protector of his people and how they view him. He’s got to contend with the expected riff-raffs, but there’s a much larger situation brewing considering these animals inhabit a world with, you know, humans. The first issue is a solid read that actually goes by pretty quickly and shows that squirrels are really that fast.

4th Hanzo #1 is available now via Comixology.

Haunted #1

“It’s LA. Nobody walks.”

Breaking up is hard to do…at least, that’s what the songs tell us. Whether you’re the one doing it or having it done to you, long relationships have a way of leaving fragments of memories behind in the two former partners. Those fragments typically come and go, but some people find a way to create an imagined projection of the person composed of those memories. In a way, the imagination haunts the thinker, much like Haunted #1 from Maerkle Press. The book is written and illustrated by Thom Zahler.

Peter is an aspiring Hollywood screenwriter, whose imagination won’t let him forget the girl back home who broke his heart. Keeping around a mental projection of that girl makes things difficult for him to live in the present and enjoy new relationships. This prompts Peter to go through something of a soul-search to find out what will really make him happy and how he can focus on his future instead of his past.

Zahler’s story has pretty wide appeal, as most people can relate to a lost love that didn’t quite work out. The big thing with Haunted though is that Zahler embodies that memory for Peter, giving him a “ghost” so to speak that still haunts him, even three years after they broke up. It leads Peter to feel tremendous doubt about his ability to be happy without his ex Genevieve, but it takes his imagination playing tricks on him to realize that. There’s even a somewhat intriguing twist at the end of the issue that mostly makes sense within the context of the issue. The aspiring screenwriter in Peter romanticizes his former relationship to some extent, with the script overall feeling like something of a romantic comedy that even Genevieve herself says Peter would be great at writing.

The black and white art with a pale green hue is very appropriate for the subject matter. Zahler makes the book feel exactly like what it is: a confused writer dealing with a project image of a women who broke his heart in the past. The characters are defined by bold, black lines that make sure they get all the attention in the book–and rightfully so. Character designs feel a lot like something you’d see in Archie as well, which offers a bit of levity to the otherwise intense, emotional storyline. There’s even a nice touch with the some the dialogue boxes resembling screenplay style and direction, reminding the reader they’re reading a story within a story so to speak.

Haunted #1 is interesting because it literally puts a face to an emotion that stays with many: lost love. Peter is trying to move on romantically from Genevieve, but there are parts of him that still wants to be with her; parts that could jeopardize his happiness in the present. Zahler’s dialogue is pretty snappy and moves the story along at a comfortable pace, while his illustrations remind the reader that there is some humor to be found in the situation. Haunted #1 is a pretty light read that doesn’t require much of the reader, but it resonates in a way that few books do honestly.

Haunted #1 is available now via Comixology.

Monster & Madman #1

“Can I be of assistance?”

Ever wonder if Jack the Ripper would’ve been stopped if there were someone more capable of stopping him than just Scotland Yard? What if Batman were on the case for instance? How about Frankenstein’s monster? The former seems more likely than the latter, butMonster & Madman #1 from IDW Publishing thinks that the latter is more intriguing than the former. The book is written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Damien Worm.

Frankenstein’s monster has found his was to a frozen tundra, where he finds plenty of time to roam around with his thoughts and polar bear cubs. Roaming takes a toll on just about everyone though, prompting Frankenstein to seek passage on a ship that can take him off the desolate tundra and to somewhere more promising. Eventually, he ends up in London in 1888, living in a world alongside the Whitechapel murders, five of which were attributed to Jack the Ripper. In between is all manner of insanity.

Never let it be said that Niles doesn’t have a way around the macabre and Monster & Madman #1 has that in black, grave-digging spades. Frankenstein’s monster is characterized in a familiar fashion, completely brutal when the situation calls for it, but generally he tries to be kindhearted. It’s hard to challenge years of pre-conceived perceptions about a character such as Frankenstein’s monster, but Niles manages to make the character feel relatively new and individual. The potential for the crossover with Jack the Ripper (and possibly other historic figures) is very intriguing, which definitely helps in presenting Frankenstein as a sympathetic character.

Worm’s illustrations perfectly mirror Niles’ script, as Frankenstein is delivered to the reader as a brooding hulk who will take care of himself at all costs, but doesn’t hesitate to help others if he feels they need it. The work is very abstract and is something Edgar Allen Poe would be proud of, leaving a lot of the action relatively vague to prey on the imagination of the reader. There are an abundance of blacks and reds pervasive throughout the entire book, all of which underscore the violent nature of both of the main characters. There are some pages that are exceptionally dark which make things a little difficult to make out, but otherwise, the darkness plays into the themes underscoring the characters themselves.

Monster & Madman #1 is a very interesting book that puts together two of histories more fabled beings in Frankenstein’s monster and Jack the Ripper. The pairing of the two is something that definitely has appeal, primarily because Frankenstein’s monster represents innocence in a way, while Jack the Ripper is pure guilt. Jack the Ripper is more less viewed as who he is, but Frankenstein’s monster does evidence the capability to be incorruptible to an extent. It’s expected that Niles will do great things with that dichotomy of characters and Worm’s talents will definitely be up to the task of keeping up the pace artistically. Monster & Madman #1 is definitely a strong start to a potentially fascinating series and those looking for something a little more morose will definitely want to check it out.

Monster & Madman #1 is available in stores now.


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