Indie Comics Spotlight

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Gravedigger #1

grave


“I’ve been framed. Like Elvis on black velvet.”

Having a fling with the boss’ daughter is one thing. Having a fling with a mob boss’ daughter is an entirely different thing that will likely end with your life at risk. That doesn’t stop Gravedigger McCrae inGravedigger #1 from Action Lab Entertainment Danger Zone. The issue is written by Christopher Mills and illustrated by Rick Burchett.

Framed for the murder of a mob boss’s daughter, “Gravedigger” McCrae is on the run in a South Florida paradise, pursued by a relentless crew of killers. His pursuers think tracking him down will be easy, but Digger McCrae is particularly dangerous prey. Gravedigger is a master class in hard-boiled comic action.

Gravedigger McCrae is something of a suave action-hero and Mills presents him as such through the recounting of his dalliance with a mob boss’ daughter. The majority of the issue is spent bouncing back and forth between present and past, with a bit of McRae’s backstory mixed in as a means of giving the reader more insight into what makes him tick. Despite the jumpy nature of the work, Mills does a good job of keeping the pacing evened out and not letting it get too crazy, giving the reader plenty of time to catch their breath amidst the foot-chases and hotel room fights. McCrae exhibits all of the characteristics you’d want from such a character and all of his qualities are displayed via his dealings and interactions with the other characters.

Grounding the work in the noir atmosphere is Burchett’s black and white style. The style effortlessly accents the sheer brutality of the action, all of which Burchett handles with relative ease. McCrae is convincing as a man about town, showcasing a toned physique and striking looks that work wonders for helping him to get his way. The south Florida setting acts as another character in the caper, providing ample opportunity for McCrae to blend in with the locals and take in a few sights along the way. The relatively safe panel layout promises that the reader will know exactly where to go next in following along with Burchett’s rendering of the action.

Gravedigger #1 has a classic sensibility that is amplified by the plot and artwork. McCrae seems to constantly be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, but it’s pretty clear by the end of the issue that there’s no other way he would feel comfortable. Mills’ script is straightforward and slick, introducing all the players and unfolding very cleanly. Burchett’s illustrations are strong and tap into the tone quite effectively. Gravedigger #1 is a fun first issue that’s not your typical superhero fare with a character intent on constantly getting in trouble.

Gravedigger #1 is in stores now.


Book of Death #1

bookofdeath


“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.”

It seems as if every publisher has a cadre of characters who are the upper echelon of that publisher’s universe. And while the majority of the time they’re on the same team, it’s always exciting to mix things up every now and then by pitting them against one another. It’s even more exciting when the stakes are alarmingly high, as they are in Book of Death #1 from Valiant Comics. The issue is written by Robert Venditti, illustrated by Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite, colored by David Baron and Brian Reber and lettered by Dave Lanphear.

The Valiant heroes. X-O Manowar. Bloodshot. Ninjak. The Harbinger Renegades. Unity. This is how they lived. This is how they died. Now we know. The Book of the Geomancer has recorded it all. But only a young girl – the last in a line of the enigmatic mystics who protect the Earth known as Geomancers – has seen this future come to pass, from the coming cataclysm to the dawn of the 41st century. Alone with her sworn protector, the Eternal Warrior – a soldier battle-forged across five thousand years of combat – the duo must defy their allies to stop the Dark Age that now threatens to eclipse our world. Together, they are the number one target of every hero and villain on Earth. Either the Eternal Warrior hands her over… or they take him down. But can even he single-handedly protect one child when the entire Valiant Universe wages war against him?

The Valiant universe has no shortage of courageous and capable fighters, but the Eternal Warrior might be the one who’s truly seen it all. Venditti uses his history as a protector of Geomancers as a way of steeling him for what appears to be a battle against the entire Valiant universe. Most of the issue features those other heroes confronting Eternal Warrior about his decisions, as there’s a tension when the confrontations occur surrounding his lone wolf mentality. A cloud of urgency is pervasive throughout the issue, as Venditti wastes little time impressing upon the reader that the stakes in the issue are alarmingly high, even by Valiant standards. Many of the books from Valiant bear a weight to them that reflects a “sky is falling” mentality in a way that’s not overbearing, but extremely effective at ratcheting up the drama to stratospheric heights and Book of Death #1 is no exception.

For a book that features a lot of monologuing, Gill and Braithwaite do an excellent job of rendering pages that still feel as if they’re action-packed. Familiar characters are easily recognizable and you’ll find few artists who can meticulously display a swarm of ants in a way that looks terrifying. There are quite a few “hero shots” peppered throughout the issue that effectively convey the sheer force the heroes bring with them in any situation. For instance, Gill and Braithwaite depict X-O Manowar landing to meet with Eternal Warrior in a way that emphasizes the weight of his armor; he lands with a force that requires Eternal Warrior stand strong to avoid being knocked backwards from the impact. And the colors by Baron and Reber are strong, accenting the artwork through vibrant blues and greens in some settings and sharp yellows for others.

Book of Death #1 is a great first issue with characters who are immensely powerful. Valiant Comics is seemingly pulling out all the stops in the issue, preparing for what’s shaping up to be an epic four-issue miniseries. Venditti does a fantastic job of setting the stage and introducing the reader to all the key players, pacing the issue methodically to prepare future tensions. The artwork is top-notch, with Gill and Braithwaite rendering characters who are expressive and ready to fight. Book of Death #1 is a strong first issue that both Valiant fans and those new to Valiant will definitely want to check out.

Book of Death #1 is in stores now.


Partners

partners


“I’m Detective Lombardo, and this is my partner Detective Vaveli.

Life as a detective is pretty hard, what with solving cases and all. What makes it more difficult is when said detectives get in bed with the criminals they’re supposed to be investigating. When things go south, those detectives can’t really blame anyone but themselves and inPartners, things really go go south. Fast. Partners is written by Glenn Møane, illustrated by Elias Martins and colored by Russell Vincent Yu.

With their hands full doing hits for the mob, homicide detectives Stephen Vaveli and Joe Lombardo find themselves in a tough spot when they try to catch a ruthless killer who preys on children. Inspired by events that led to the conviction of two NYPD detectives in 2006, Partners is a hardboiled crime noir story about loyalty, ethics and the consequences of doing business with the devil. 

Vaveli and Lombardo are two dirty cops forced to reconcile their day job of investigating murders with their night job of working for the mob. In that sense, Møane strikes a fairly even balance in presenting both sides of the coin, as the two detectives are clearly dirty. Their allegiances are questioned in their latest case, which quickly takes a pretty dark turn and adds a level of grit to the story that makes it feel much more mature. In fact, the strongest part of Partners is Møane’s characterization of the two detectives, as they’re characterized as very conflicted individuals who are content with being dirty. Møane actually unfolds a pretty solid story with very even pacing throughout and the reader uncovers things about the investigation alongside the detectives that throws other things into question. 

Most of the book is illustrated in a way that reflects the somewhat evil nature of the characters. The setting presented in the book trades in dark alleys and nighttime scenes, the majority of which grounds the book in seedy exchanges. Martins’ characters look a little cartoonish in many regards, as facial expressions seem a little exaggerated at times. Martins does blend together a good mix of characters and settings in the panels, helping to realize a fully created world in the book. Yu’s colors stick to the primary range, generally accenting the illustrations well.

Partners is an interesting police procedural focused on two corrupt detectives trying to survive two worlds. Vaveli and Lombardo are strong leads with desires to be good detectives polluted by thoughts of criminal activities. Møane’s story is straightforward and offers a surprising twist at the end, maintaining a grounding in the notion that there are some cops who are content with working both sides of the law. Martins’ illustrations are effective at capturing the general criminal element pervasive on the streets the two detectives patrol. Partners is a good read if you’re looking for a book about detectives playing both sides of justice.

Partners is in stores August 3.


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