Indie Comics Spotlight – Dead Man’s Party, Haunted and Red Sonja


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Dead Man’s Party #1

“The TGV Milan to Paris is about as outside-the-box as I can get.”

Besides being an episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, a dead man’s party is an event that doesn’t happen too often in the world of assassins and hitmen. When it does though, it has a tendency to bring everyone out of laying low and into the spotlight, as one of the competitors seek to cash in and add a notch in their assassination belt. Dead Man’s Party #1 is an issue of a comic that takes the premise of a dead man’s party and throws in a pretty savory twist. The issue is written by Jeff Marsick and illustrated by Scott Barnett.

Ghost is one of the world’s premiere assassins. He’s got it all too: immense skill, suaveness and a generally relaxed approach to life that spurs adventure. One thing he’s not prepared for is a cancer diagnosis, giving him less than two months to live. So what does an assassin with a terminal illness do? Throw a dead man’s party of course! The thirty day contest pits five renowned killers against one another in an effort to kill Ghost and claim his Swiss bank account and the bragging rights. This isn’t your normal dead man’s party however, as Ghost finds out this one has quite the surprise in store.

Marsick starts the issue off in a relatively ho-hum, spy/hitman way. Ghost is the quintessential assassin, replete with all the things that make James Bond the man he is. Where Dead Man’s Party #1 truly excels though is where Marsick takes the life of such an individual. Adding a fixed mortality to someone who’s seemingly invincible adds an interesting wrinkle to the assassin’s daily routine, but Marsick takes it one step further and adds in a rather brilliant twist at the end. The story moves from being more than just a hitman and his peers to being a more intricate tale that weaves in various aspects of betrayal and espionage. Because these are assassins, everything is very much cloak and dagger in many respects, giving Marsick ample opportunity to slowly bring the reader along without giving away too much.

Barnett’s illustrations are a very good complement to Marsick’s writing. The characters of the story are all the focus and Barnett gives them all the attention. He relies on a charcoal, grayscale illustrative style that’s relatively simple in its presentation, but adds a certain isolation to the characters. These individuals thrive on solitude, so imbuing the book with a variety of grays, blacks and whites could also symbolize the vague, moral code the hitmen abide by. Despite the basic color palette, Barnett manages to infuse the book with a solid level of detail and some varied panel layouts. The art is a very strong addition to the overall feel of the book.

Dead Man’s Party #1 is a pretty masterfully done book that puts a twist on the basic hitman story. Ghost is more James Bond than Deathstroke in many ways, but he does manage to come across as something of a blend of both characters. Marsick’s story is pretty awesome and ends with an amazing twist that will keep your interest peaked and practically demand that you return for the next issue. Barnett use a pretty minimal illustrative style that maximizes the effect of the story itself, giving the book it’s own, distinct tone. Dead Man’s Party #1 is a book that doesn’t come along too often, but it’s one you should definitely check out if you’re looking for something intelligent and exciting.

Dead Man’s Party #1 is available now via Comixology.

Haunted #1

“Thirteen years since the sky ripped open. Since the sun and blue sky went away. Since they came and everything changed.”

There are scary things in the world, both living and dead. The living things have a corporeal form and can seemingly be dealt with more effortlessly; it’s the ethereal we have to worry about. When the ethereal rise up and invade our world, things are going to get really awful really quick, as they do in Haunted #1 from Red 5 Comics. The issue is written by Scott Chitwood, illustrated by Danny Luckert, colored by Ivan Plascencia and lettered by Troy Peteri.

Creatures once thought to be mythological terrorized mankind and society collapsed. Thirteen years later, Sarah McCallister manages to survive by being tough, smart and looking out only for herself. But when a chance to set the world back to normal arises, she finds herself in the compromising position of putting her faith in strangers for the first time. Trusting strangers is almost as scary as some of the things going bump in the night all around Sarah, especially considering those things are pretty fierce demons for the most part.

The best way to describe Haunted is to imagine if the Ghostbusters failed to stop Gozer the Gozerian from taking over the world. That’s the world Chitwood creates in Haunted; a world where all manner of demon and ghost roam the world, free to possess at their leisure and cause general mayhem. The characters in the first issue represent the human hope and they’ve actually got something of a chance, thanks to the no-nonsense Sarah. She’s as feisty as she is intelligent and acts as a pretty sound protagonist to follow. There’s clearly something bigger at play on the part of the demons, all of whom are hellbent (get it?) on ridding the world of all humans and claiming it completely for their own.

Luckert’s art is very creative. There’s a healthy variety of different demons on display and the characters are illustrated with great contrasting details. Some of the panels bleed together a bit, where the characters are seemingly lost in the background setting they’re inhabiting. Luckert does a great job subtly infusing the book with moments of sheer terror (primarily through the demon designs), such as instances where the reader sees only eyes in the background or a demon charging. Overall, Plascencia relied on a relatively dark color palette which thrives on dark blues and reds, both of which really reinforce the fact that things are not well in Haunted.

Haunted #1 is the first in a four-part series and it’s off to a promising start. Sarah is clearly identified as the main character, yet her supporting cast will be equally as important. There’s the potential for her to make a lot of difficult decisions considering she now has a running crew; her previous solitude stripped her of having to make tough moral choices (her interaction with a grandmother proves that). The series has four issues to get everything wrapped up, but what exactly will be wrapped up is still a little fuzzy after the end of the first issue. Whether or not Sarah and the others can actually stop the demon invasion remains to be seen. One thing is sure though: they likely won’t have to cross the streams.

As Red 5 is an independent publisher, the best way to ensure your copy of Haunted this spring is to pre-order it by the end of February from your comic shop using order code FEB141420. Haunted #1 of the four-issue series is set for release on April 30, 2014.

Red Sonja Berserker One-Shot

“Only my sword is for hire–nothing else.”

Red Sonja has earned a reputation as an impressive fighter who refuses to sit idly by while those around her who can’t defend themselves are picked on. In that regard, she’s something of a superhero. Like many superheroes, there are many stories written about her, which includes Red Sonja Berserker One-Shot from Dynamite Entertainment. The issue is written by Nancy A. Collins, illustrated by Fritz Casas, colored by Mark Roberts and lettered by Rob Steen.

Another day, another adventure for Red Sonja. What starts out in the foothills of the Eiglophian (mountains of Asgard) moves through the Thirsty Dog and makes a stop in Dinander. Along the way, Red Sonja encounters a mammoth bear, drunken idiots, a ruler with the power gone to his head and a man running a gladiatorial combat ring. All that makes for yet another legend in Red Sonja’s history, punctuated by her triumphant return to pay back and old debt.

At this point, Red Sonja is so storied and well-known that it’s hard to tread new ground with her. Collins does a great job tapping into that mystique, offering a Red Sonja who’s as feisty and fierce as ever. The problem is that it feels like every Red Sonja story is the same thing: Red Sonja is traveling, she’s accosted by men, references are made to her being a weaker sex and she kills people and proves them wrong. It’s not a knock against Collins at all; rather, just that it’s difficult to make Red Sonja feel fresh at this point. Still though, Collins does weave a rather unique spin into this tale, offering up a new comrade for Red Sonja to share trials and tribulations with.

The illustrations by Casas are strong and effective. Red Sonja maintains all of her warrior persona despite the conditions and Casas handles the other characters well. Many of the warriors going up against Red Sonja are sufficiently threatening in appearance, ensuring that the obstacles thrown in Red Sonja’s way effectively covey her ability to take them on. Casas does an especially good job with the mammoth bear in the story, who’s a warrior in his own right and equally as capable as any of the other warriors in the story. The panels eschew the traditional layout, offering an almost staggering array of various insets, including a few full-page shots that are well illustrated.

Red Sonja Berserker One-Shot is a story that pits Red Sonja against another ruthless leader risking the lives of innocents. It’s no surprise to say that she emerges victorious, considering she’s one of the most powerful fighters in her world. Collins gives her a story that’s equally as adept at giving fans the Red Sonja they expect as it is at offering an adventure for readers. Casas’ art is also well done and matches the writing in a way that really helps the pacing of the tale. Fans of Red Sonja will definitely want to check out Red Sonja Berserker One-Shot and fans who’ve never read a Red Sonja story can find out what the fuss is all about.

Red Sonja Berserker One-Shot is in stores now.

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