Indie Comics Spotlight – Feb. 3 2016

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By Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

The Birdlander #1


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“Fire a friend flare and get into position. And get somebody up on the big gun!”

Friends are hard enough to come by in today’s world. Real friends, that is; you can have as many followers and friends as you want, but how many of them would you trust to have your back when things get dicey? It’s a question that’s often asked of players in an apocalypse and one character is grateful to find some friends in The Birdlander #1. The issue is written by Aaron Walther and illustrated by Ed Bickford.

In a post-apocalyptic world overrun by dinosaurs, a young woman named Sumi searches for a legendary warrior known as The Birdlander.

Sumi acts as the main character for The Birdlander #1, even though Walther doesn’t rely on her exclusively to carry the plot. Her arrival at a settlement does serve as the catalyst for the rest of the issue, but Walther instead uses one of the other characters’ interactions with Sumi as a way to build the background. It’s a pretty effectively storytelling device, as it both establishes the stakes for Sumi and explains why the apocalypse in The Birdlander #1 is different from any other apocalypse. It’s oversimplifying things to say that the book is really just one long simple conversation, yet it’s that conversation that feels well thought-out and complete. Walther paces the tale evenly and doesn’t really rush into things, giving the readers bigger and bigger pieces of story to chew as the tale progresses.

The Birdlander #1 leverages Bickford’s ambiguous art style to create a world teetering on the brink of complete desolation. Characters are rendered with little attention to the minute details; instead, Bickford illustrates each character as more of a basic representation of the state of things. There’s a lot of attention paid to faces and their expressions – something Bickford relies on to further impress upon the reader that some level of joy can still be found in such a horrid wasteland. The entire book is largely black and white, which reflects the relative simplicity inherent to living in a world broken down to the most basic component of survival. Panel layouts range from standard grids to insets and overlays, breaking up the story and adjusting to the chance in action accordingly.

The Birdlander #1 is a first issue that offers the requisite amount of information about it to get the reader hooked. Sumi is searching for a mythical figure in the Birdlander who has a reputation for being the most feared and mysterious being in existence. Walther’s script is clean and straightforward, steadily working toward an ending that reveals the stakes for Sumi to contend with in the remaining issues of the series. Bickford’s illustrations are simple yet captivating, presenting a barren world that claims survivors with competing interests struggling to survive. The Birdlander #1 is a great first issue that leads into a webcomic and should present a pretty fascinating tale to follow.

The Birdlander #1 is available now.

Cry Havoc #1


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“For a time, I would feel I belonged still to a world of straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last long. Something would turn up to scare it away.”

There are times when everyone is faced with an internal struggle. The subject of the struggle could be as simple as what to wear or gravely more complex such as a debilitating mental illness. Reconciling one’s demons is often an exercise in futility and that exercise is exacerbated when your demon is a werewolf as it is in Cry Havoc #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Simon Spurrier, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, colored by Nick Filardi (London), Lee Loughridge (The Red Place) and Matt Wilson (Afghanistan), and lettered by Simon Bowland.

Lou is a gay London musician struggling with her identity who gets violently plunged into an occult nightmare – which totally messes up her life. In order to overcome this sinister influence, she’s sent to war-torn Afghanistan with a unit of Private Security Consultants each of whom, like her, holds a monster inside themselves. Their mission: to locate and kill the leader of a folkloric revolution.

Full credit to Spurrier: he’s crafted a pretty fantastic first issue. There’s a tightness to the entire issue in terms of the plot and pacing that makes it feel extraordinarily lucid from start to finish. Spurrier skips around a bit in presenting the overarching concept of werewolves and how their abilities both help and hinder their causes, but he does so in a way that comes together quite nicely in the end. Lou serves as the focal point for the issue (and presumably series) in that she’s struggling with something she didn’t ask for, yet has changed her regardless. What’s more is how Spurrier presents Lou in three distinct locales/situations that are equally effective in moving the plot forward while simultaneously giving Lou personality.

The pages drip with a very violent and savage symbolism courtesy of Kelly’s artwork that successfully blends together people and animals. The transitions from a seemingly idyllic lunch at the zoo to a chopper landing in war-torn Afghanistan is handled perfectly by Kelly, providing geographical transitions for the reader that don’t feel jarring. And he does a fine job of filling each panel with characters rife with a range of emotion, much of which tends to focus on fear and terror. What’s going to get a lot of attention in the book is the use of three colorists for each of the three locales. Filardi’s work on London casts the city in a bluish hue, perhaps symbolizing the depressed emotion associated with dealing with newfound abilities. Loughridge washes “The Red Place” in reds that convey dire circumstances for Lou, while Wilson’s yellowish/green tinge offer up Afghanistan as a location that many will only go if they’re desperate (which Lou is in this case).

Cry Havoc #1 offers a very elegant portrayal of struggling with the monsters that reside in every one of us – only here, they manifest themselves more violently. Lou comes across as a seemingly benign musician with a newfound beast inside of her – the perfect portrayal of “look the innocent flower, be the serpent beneath.” Kelly’s illustrations are gritty and the perfect complement to Spurrier’s crescendoing fervor. Each of the three colorists does a fantastic job differentiating the locales and pieces of Lou’s personality. Cry Havoc #1 is a well-thought and well-executed first issue that should have readers coming back for more.

Cry Havoc #1 is in stores now.

Tomb Raider #1


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“That. Hurt. Stand up. Hurts. Ugh. Stand. Up.”

All the glitz and glamour that comes with making an astounding historical find is typically hard-earned. As any adventurous archaeologist will tell you, getting the prized artifact doesn’t come easy. Lara Croft has certainly faced her share of danger en route to some pretty amazing adventures, yet that doesn’t stop Dark Horse Comics from throwing more danger her way in Tomb Raider #1. The issue is written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Phillip Sevy, colored by Michael Atiyeh, and lettered by Michael Heisler.

Lara Croft is pursuing a lost truth about the world that just might unlock the secret to defeating death! She becomes entangled in a search for a rare mushroom said to grant immortality and a lethal new enemy that just won’t die!

Tomb Raider #1 opens up much like any other Tomb Raider story with Lara Croft exploring, training, and being approached about her archaeological expertise. From there though, Tamaki makes things a bit more interesting. Lara doesn’t readily accept the notion of assisting with a hunt for immortality – it’s not until a series of strange events unfold that her interest is piqued. Tamaki presents this series of events very elegantly, moving Lara through situations that each represent a different facet of her personality. It’s a well-executed, subtle way for Tamaki to introduce new readers to Lara Croft while providing enough hooks that familiar readers will nod along in approval.

Unfortunately for Sevy, Tomb Raider #1 doesn’t really give him much chance to illustrate exotic locales for Lara to traverse through, but what he does illustrate comes across well. Lara is easily recognizable despite not spending much time in her trademark adventuring garb and Sevy doesn’t over-sexualize her gratuitously. The panel layouts are also very interesting, as some pages feel cramped in a way that still manages to cleanly choreograph every punch thrown in a battle while other pages boast circle overlays that give the reader a glimpse into what Lara is experiencing with her senses. The various panel styles keeps the reader on their toes and gives Sevy the opportunity to visually define the different parts of Lara’s personality. Atiyeh’s colors come across as predominantly muted yet still provide plenty of contrast amongst characters.

Tomb Raider #1 successfully blends all the great characteristics of a good Tomb Raider story in a way that’s accessible to new readers and welcomed by old readers. Lara Croft is a well-traveled explorer who never seems to be able to completely escape dangerous situations which makes for interesting reading. Tamaki’s script builds up to a cliffhanger ending that sets the stage for the remainder of the series. Sevy’s illustrations are effective and clean, giving readers a version of Lara Croft who’s confident in her demeanor and abilities. Tomb Raider #1 is a great first issue that feels like an extension of the video games the series it’s based on.

Tomb Raider #1 is in stores February 17.


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