Indie Comics Spotlight: Ei8ht, Plunder, Hellbillies


By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Ei8ht #1


“The past is green. The present is purple. The future is blue. The Meld is something else entirely.”

Science fiction is a very uneven genre at times, with some lamenting a loss of its halcyon days. That’s not to say that all science fiction now is bad; rather, some of it is much better than others. A work that definitely stands above many other works is Ei8ht #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Mike Johnson, illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque and lettered by Nate Piekos of Blambot!.

Welcome to the Meld, an inhospitable dimension in time where Joshua, a chrononaut, finds himself trapped. With no memory or feedback from the team of scientists that sent him, he can’t count on anything but his heart and a stranger’s voice to guide him to his destiny. The Meld doesn’t take too kindly to strangers, thrusting Joshua in the midst of a bunch of angry locals and an even angrier dictator seeking to learn more about him.

From the opening page of Ei8ht #1, it’s clear that creators Johnson and Albuquerque are onto something. They introduce only two of the time settings in the first issue, but those two are extremely integral to understanding the entirety of the world they’re creating. Like Joshua, the reader is thrown right into the fray with little knowledge of what’s going on, save for the fact that “eight” is the frequency for communicating with the future. There’s just enough presented about the Meld for the reader to have a pretty solid grasp of what’s going on–even if Joshua still doesn’t have a complete picture–thanks to stellar contextual clues dropped by Johnson. By the end of the issue the stakes are clearly laid out for both Joshua and the reader, with Joshua seemingly poised to be an unlikely hero to the people of the Meld.

There’s a lot of beauty in Albuquerque’s pencils, presenting gorgeously rendered characters whose emotion oozes off the page. The transition from excitement to terror on the part of Joshua is powerful, giving the reader a sense of the magnitude of the journey he’s about to embark on. The panels transition seamlessly across the page, lending to a smooth, continuous flow of action that moves the reader along at a frenetic clip. For instance, there’s a couple pages in a tent where Albuquerque relies on multiple insets and callouts to accent the scene, with all of them stitching together in a way that feels complete. And Albuquerque’s use of colors is absurdly simple yet elaborate, pointedly helping the reader keep up with the different time settings while at the same time emphasizing details of the specific settings. 

Ei8ht #1 boasts an alarmingly simple premise that’s masked by an almost staggering level of complexity, courtesy of the time traveling component. The first issue shows tons of promise and fires on all cylinders, giving readers everything they could possibly want in a first issue. Johnson’s script is snappy and avoids fluff, instead focusing specifically on the trials of Joshua as he travels through time. Joshua has a certain Heathrow Huston from Fear Agent sensibility to him in appearance and demeanor, as Albuquerque imbues with dashing characteristics that make him believable as a main character. Ei8ht #1 is a brilliant first issue that uses colors in a rather clever plot device, pitting a unknowing hero in a situation where he has to survive.

Ei8ht #1 is in stores now.

Plunder #1


“They went after what they wanted. The world gave us nothing.”

Being a pirate isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, especially now. With sophisticated military operations capable of quickly ending any piracy situation, the idea of hijacking a massive ship with a small crew is becoming more and more outlandish. And even if the crew of pirates has been around the block a few times and have a system, it’s doubtful that they’d be prepared for what they find on a ship in Plunder #1 from Archaia Entertainment. The issue is written by Swifty Lang, illustrated by Skuds McKinley, colored by Jason Wordie and lettered by Deron Bennett.

After facing off with an illegal Chinese vessel, a gang of Somali pirates tries to board what they think is a research vessel, only to find themselves in the midst of a massacre. As their worst nightmares become reality, the 14-year-old boy who went from translator to reluctant pirate not only becomes the key to survival, but must decide for himself how far he is willing to go in the name of self-preservation. That self-preservation comes against unspeakable horrors that none of the pirates are mentally equipped to handle.

Piracy is a concept that’s got little to nothing do with the historical definition of the term; gone are the days of swashbuckling men with a “code.” Nowadays, pirates are just about anyone with a boat, an AK-47 and the desire to put the two together, which is where Plunder #1 lives. Lang does a great job of essentially making all the main characters irredeemable–save for one possibly–and content to scuttle from one ship to the next, looking for loot. It’s their latest target that really puts them on their heels and Lang is quickly crafting a pretty masterful horror tale as the pirates explore the seemingly abandoned ship they come across. That horror is left largely to the imagination, with a few choice eviscerations on display to guide the reader’s mind in a certain direction; a direction that Lang is proving will not be shied away from in terms of its depravity.

There’s a certain grittiness and unclean appeal in McKinley’s illustrations in Plunder #1 that gives the reader a general sense of feeling dirty. All of the above is a funny way of saying that the art feels crude, but it works perfectly for the tone of the book. Many of the main characters have something about them physically that speaks to their life choices: a missing hand or a partially burned face for instance. These malformities at first make the reader think that the pirates are the horror on the seas, but their appearances turn out to be a perfect contrast for what the “true” evil looks like in what the pirates find on the abandoned ship. Wordie’s colors choices skew red and orange, again reinforcing the notion that things are going to get worse before they get better and that a lot of blood will be spilled.

Plunder #1 takes a pretty familiar premise in terms of both pirates and unspeakable horrors and brings them down to Earth and the high seas. The mix of the two isn’t quite as prevalent as finding strange things happening in space, but there’s a certain isolation to being asea that easily replicates that of other stories such as Alien. Lang’s script is extremely patient and unfolds deliberately, slowly pulling more and more of the curtain back for the reader to see what the pirates are up against. McKinley’s illustrations are crudely presented and remind the reader that being a modern day pirate is anything but glamorous. Plunder #1 is a great first issue that doesn’t look to pull any punches while delving deep into the horror side of things.

Plunder #1 is in stores now.

Hellbillies #1


“You never know what’s out there.”

It’s bad enough when you’re in the illegal activities field to deal with the law. It gets worse when you’ve got to contend with nosy individuals seeking to intervene as well. What is expected regardless is an entertaining story, similar to one in Hellbillies #1. The issue is written and lettered by Jon Westhoff, illustrated by Bryan Boles and colored by Sean Fagan.

Eustace and the boys stake out a fanatical group in the swamps in this fast paced first issue. In this line of work, it’s often those without claws and fangs that do the worst things. To help someone in trouble, they’ll need to contend with animals, the police and a slew of mysterious villains. The true start to the HB ride is here. It’s a Hellbilly freak out, that’s what it is! The road to hell leads south.

The United States deep south is something of an anachronism and it’s the tone that Westhoff taps for Hellbillies #1. The story takes place in 1986, but it wouldn’t be alarming if you were confused that maybe it happened even further back in time then that. With the setting established, Westhoff moves right into the world of Hellbillies #1, featuring characters who are pretty simple-minded, yet complex enough to run a moonshine ring. Their troubles with a local minister are seemingly for their illegal alcohol operation, even though there’s something more sinister at hand that even they’re not aware of. Westhoff does a good job working towards this reveal, primarily through the use of rather comedic dialogue and exchanges.

Another reason it’s difficult to take the book seriously (in a good way) is the art style. Boles relies on a cartoonish art style that borders on the absurd in some ways, eschewing attention to proper anatomy and kinetics for a look that’s more relaxed. It’s a newspaper strip style that affords the reader the opportunity to follow along with relative ease, without losing sight of the broader strokes of inanity. Characters stand ready against multicolored backdrops and Fagan’s palette feels bright enough to keep the tone lighthearted.

Hellbillies #1 is a pretty basic book that doesn’t really try to pull any crazy reveals. It’s also a book that knows what it wants to be and does it pretty well, blending a rather humorous tale with players who are entertaining when they follow through with it. Westhoff’s script is simple yet efficient, effectively telling the story of southern bootleggers faced with a more sinister foe than just the law. The art style by Boles is amusing and lightens the tone of the book dramatically. Hellbillies #1 is a fun and less than serious issue that pokes fun at certain conventions while using them to its advantage.

Hellbillies #1 is available now via Comixology.

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