Indie Comics Spotlight: Fiction Squad, Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini, Armor Hunters: Aftermath

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By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Fiction Squad #1

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“Every nursery rhyme is a crime scene.”

Left to their own devices, characters in nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables get into all manner of trouble. Sure, they usually work their way out of it by the end of the story, but getting to that point can prove to be rather trying. It is sort of the point though, as learning the valuable lesson along the way is important. Would those lessons still be learned if there were authority figures on hand to answer the tough questions? BOOM! Studios is aiming to find out in Fiction Squad #1, written by Paul Jenkins, illustrated by Ramon Bachs, colored by Leonardo Paciarotti and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Fablewood is a pretty dangerous place, but no area is more dangerous than the City of Rimes, deep in the heart of the Children’s Realm. After transferring in from the realm of Mystery, a failed detective from an unfinished prose novel, Frankie Mack, is about to uncover a conspiracy that could unmake storytelling itself. After Humpty Dumpty is pushed to crack and Jack (of Jack and Jill) goes AWOL, Frankie and his partner, Simple Simon, are put on the case. And that case looks like it may have something to do with a burgeoning war between the Queens and Witches.

Nursery rhymes and fairy tales are certainly familiar to just about everyone in the world; especially those which have lasted generations. Jenkins draws upon that recognition in Fiction Squad #1, deftly weaving multiple fairy tales together into one world where they all coexist. Frankie has all the qualities you’d expect from a leading detective, in that he’s hardened and willing to ask the tough questions. Jenkins uses those traits to the advantage of the story, giving the reader the chance to tour the City of Rimes through Frankie’s willingness to venture into all corners of the city in the name of justice. And the characters themselves are very enjoyable, successfully showcasing all the characteristics that make them recognizable to children all over the world.

Bringing together seemingly disparate worlds visually is never an easy task, but Bachs handles it very well. His characters are very expressive, even though not all of them are human. For instance, Humpty Dumpty has the look of an arrogant egg with no fear of falling from heights, despite his fragile make-up. Alice and her tea party have the look of a group of ne’er-do-wells who aren’t afraid to get into trouble. Bachs brings all these characters together and makes them feel as if they really all do inhabit the same shared space. That sense of unity is further bolstered by Paciarotti’s vibrant colors, which despite appearing somewhat muted by a darker tone still manage offer great contrasts between the varying areas of Rimes.

Fiction Squad #1 has a lot of entertaining aspects to it. At its heart, the book is a whodunnit, hard-boiled detective story. From a broader perspective, it manages to blend a lot of familiar characters into an unfamiliar world and makes that world seem inviting, even if it does seem more evil than good. Jenkins is clearly having fun writing Fiction Squad #1 and really does well in bringing in more and more fable tale lore to make the plot work in a sensible way. Bachs’ illustrations really add life to Rimes, giving readers a wide assortment of characters who are good, evil or somewhere in between. Fiction Squad #1 is very unconventional, but it embraces that fact and has a blast with it for an enjoyable read.

Fiction Squad #1 is in stores now


Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1

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“Gentlemen of the press: “Harry Houdini has done it again!”

Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes are two very familiar characters in history. They’ve each made their name for different reasons and both of them have specific personality traits that endear readers to them. What if the two of them came together though? Dynamite Entertainment seeks to answer it in Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1. The issue is written by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, illustrated by Carlos Furuzono, colored by Aikau Oliva and lettered by Rob Steen.

The world’s most famous detective meets the world’s most famous magician…and death ensues. Famed detective Sherlock Holmes and brash showman Harry Houdini must combine forces to defeat a mysterious mystic dedicated to destroying Houdini’s career and killing anyone who gets in his way. And Houdini’s illusions will prove to be representative of a few conundrums that may prove a little taxing for even the great Sherlock to unravel.

Sherlock Holmes and Harry Houdini are extremely familiar to just about any reader, which really helps readers jump into Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1 with both feet. Del Col and McCreery present both characters in ways that tap into the characteristics that make them who they are. The dynamic between the two is also pretty explosive, with Houdini’s brashness clashing with Sherlock’s arrogant intelligence. Adding a spiritual twist to Houdini’s performance is pretty interesting as well and adds a rather refreshing take on both somewhat tired characters (from a usage standpoint). The story plays out at the intersection of Houdini’s mystical reputation and Holmes’ propensity for pursuing the more intriguing mysteries.

The rather antiquated settings of the book further thrust Houdini and Sherlock into their shared world. Both Houdini and Sherlock are illustrated with a lot of masculinity, showcasing the traditional strong features that make them defining male characters in literature and history. The pages are a little busy when it comes to the panels, as Furuzano packs a lot onto each page. The panels are framed by some rather interesting borders that help the book feel more Victorian and as if you’re leafing through a scrapbook of their adventures. Oliva’s colors offer a relatively flat feel to the book and there are a few instances where color is used as a means of amplifying the action on the page.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1 is a pretty fun mash-up boasting two extremely strong and well-known characters. The concept breathes some fresh air into both characters, spinning their best characteristics into a sort of battle of the wills between the two. Del Col and McCreery draw upon some of the more recent incarnations of the characters to give readers a foothold into the story that weaves the two worlds together. Furuzono’s illustrations are very appropriate for the work, presenting a London full of mystery, magic and mentalists. Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1 is unique and could be a pretty zany story bringing the two fabled characters together.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini #1 is in stores now.


Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1

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“We are Unity.”

Assembling a team to defend the planet is never easy. Personalities clash, powers have to mix and the protected have to buy into the collection of power. It’s safe to say though that when the entire planet is threatened by a galactic enemy, that it’s a good thing to have a team of superpowers come together to defend it. And that’s just what Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 from Valiant Entertainment has going for it. The issue is written by Robert Venditti, illustrated by Cafu, colored by Brian Reber and lettered by Dave Sharpe.

The invasion of the Armor Hunters has passed, leaving massive casualties and a fractured populace in its wake. While the effects of their arrival proved catastrophic for much of Earth, it did prompt some heavy hitters to realize they could do more good together than separate. X-O Manowar, Unity, Bloodshot and the Harbinger Renegades realize they must forge a new frontline of defense for the people of Earth if it’s to stand a chance. And if the build-up in the one-shot is to be believed, the planet will definitely need their services.

Armor Hunters was a very ambitious crossover for Valiant and the fallout was massive. That’s what makes Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1feel so rewarding. Venditti’s script is done in a way that gives readers a chance to collect their breath before diving into the next major event in the Valiant universe. Earth is teetering on the edge of complete chaos and fear, held in check solely by the presence of X-O Manowar and others. Venditti paces the issue extraordinarily well, giving it time to breathe and not really rushing to get anything across to the reader other than the payoff at the end. It’s great seeing all the characters living their routines post-apocalypse and the entire time you’re reading you know that Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 is sort of the calm before the storm.

At this point for Valiant, all of their main characters have been defined and have notable looks and styles. Cafu taps into that and does a wonderful job illustrating all the characters, even managing to throw a big smiley face on a giant robot for good measure. Pages are jam-packed with action and many panels really show off the characters referenced, giving the reader a great look at who’s who. Panel layouts are pretty straightforward and simple, with Cafu relying more on the traditional grid over an abundance of insets. Reber’s colors are also extremely efficient at filling out the world in Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 further, offering darker tones throughout.

Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 is a book that rewards patience in the reader with the potential for a big payoff. It’s great for Valiant fans to be able to see many of their favorite Valiant characters “relaxing” so to speak in their own ways before being brought together for a greater good. Venditti makes their union feel a little like the Avengers, but with decidedly more disparate personalities and a slew of individual motives. Cafu’s art is very strong and presents a world on the brink of disaster, with all the members of Unity on full display. Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 is a great one-shot that really seems to move things in position for events down the line more than anything else, but is still worth checking out.

Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 is in stores now.


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