Indie Comics Spotlight: Freelancers, Shadowman, Knights of the Living Dead
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Few professions are more fast-paced than and as potentially lucrative as that of a freelancer. No, not the type of freelancer whose job depends on writing and artistic gigs. Those folks are living day-to-day and fearing a paycheck won’t stop. It’s the more exciting version of the role involving car chases, shootouts and fighting that is the subject of Freelancers #1 from BOOM! Studios. The issue is written by Ian Brill, with art by Joshua Covey, colors by Justin Stewart, Vladimir Popov and Zack Sterling and letters by Pat Brosseau.
Life as an orphan is inordinately difficult. Being raised in a kung fu orphanage makes it slightly easier. Val and Cassie are taking that training and making a go of it in LA as freelance bounty hunters. Their latest target is Lobo Ramirez, a man with a penchant for going fast, baby tigers and machetes. Things are going according to plan, until they don’t. On the cusp of capturing Lobo, the duo manages to lose him, prompting a return home for half a paycheck and even more Ramen. If the issue ended there, it wouldn’t be a very exciting series. They’re given a second chance after a visit to their agent Patrick Sunnyside and it’s with the second chance that they realize something is amiss about their target.
Brill’s story is one-part Charlie’s Angels and one-part police serial. Val and Cassie have a yin and yang partnership, both of them having an almost automatic link where they know what the other’s thinking instinctively. They’re vivacious and daredevil characters who are in dire financial straits and are ready to take any job that pays them. Taking such seemingly low-excitement jobs is a fairly standard storyline, but their background as kung fu orphans could add an interesting twist. Stephanie Rushmore is introduced as a potential antagonist who the main characters have a past with. In fact, the entire dynamic which Val and Cassie operate in is fascinating and allows the comic to not take itself so seriously. There’s some humor mixed in with the action.
Covey’s art features primarily action panels, but the more mundane (read: plot movement) scenes are equally as potent in moving the story. It’s buoyed quite well by the coloring team, who infuses the characters and settings with an almost 80s, neon vibe. It really works to help set the tone of the story as one featuring bounty hunters with a lighter side.
Freelancers #1 is, in a word, fun. It’s not exactly the most original concept, but, again, the idea of the two leading ladies as orphans raised in a kung fu orphanage adds in an almost automatic refreshing backstory. Following along with them as they struggle to make ends meet while simultaneously uncovering something so much bigger will make the series worth following.
Freelancers #1 is available now.
Amulets, voodoo and shadows. The combination of the three was last seen seventeen years ago, when the original Shadowman comic ended a 43 issue run. Times have changed since then, but one thing remains the same: that a relaunch of the series with Shadowman #1 by Valiant Entertainment could work. And it does. Shadowman #1 is written by Justin Jordan and Patrick Zircher, with art by Zircher, colors by Brian Reber and letters by Rob Steen and Dave Lanphear.
Josiah Boniface and Helene LeBreton are more than just a couple of young kids in love. Josiah just so happens to be one of the more recent incarnations of Shadowman, a hero of sorts similar to Spawn. That is until he sacrifices himself against Darque, the latest bringer of the dead seeking to take over the world and kill Shadowman in the process. The pair has a son named Jack Boniface and he’s the central character in the present. He knows very little about his parents and was raised in the foster care system. All he has as a memory of them is an amulet his mother gave him, which proves to be more valuable than even he realizes until it’s a little too late. Add in a creature named Mr. Twist and the book quickly becomes crazy.
As far as first issues go, the pacing in Shadowman #1 is very well done. It does a great job of getting readers reacquainted with the character, establishing the stakes and then presenting an origin for the new Shadowman, as well as a villain. There are some points where the dialogue is really witty and others where it seems a little stilted, but it’s not enough to detract from overall enjoyment of the book. Mr. Twist is already proving to be one of the more interesting characters. He has sort of a devilish humor in him that accompanies his sermon-like dialogue. He’s fairly terrifying (as evidenced by his latest scene of carnage) and the story makes him to be just a harbinger for other things to come. Watching him face off against Shadowman will be fun. Watching whatever it is above him face off will be even more exciting.
Zircher’s art is up to the task of matching the story. Shadowman is depicted with an almost voodoo-like skull mask that reminds the reader that while technically, he is a hero, he’s also something of another world. Mr. Twist is shown to be quite fond of gore and really taps into this fear of being invaded. The two characters are set to square off for some fantastic battles.
Just about everything Valiant Entertainment has been putting out recently has been rock solid and Shadowman #1 is no exception otherwise. It’s a strong first issue that does everything right as far as first issues go. There’s enough presented to get you hooked, but not enough where you know what’s coming next. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Shadowman #1 is in stores now.
Knights of the Living Dead
The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is certainly nothing new. In fact, it’s one of the most storied tales in history, rife with valor, betrayal and knights. In all of its retellings though, it’s a good bet none of them featured events like those in Knights of the Living Dead from Slave Labor Graphics. The book is written by Ron Wolfe and illustrated by Dusty Higgins.
King Arthur is a truly troubled king. His wife, Guinevere, is set to be burned for her marital transgressions with Lancelot, something Arthur is leveraging to draw the knight out for combat. With Merlin at his side warning of the Travesty, Arthur stands resolute in leaving the gate open for Lancelot’s arrival, despite the fact that there are other evils lurking outside as well. Those other evils are zombies, a plague which Arthur and Merlin have been dealing with that has the entire kingdom fearful for their lives. It’s not until Guinevere steps up and subdues the hordes that she becomes Queen, while Arthur resorts to the bottle. She enlists six of her most beautiful and powerful handmaidens to make up the Court of 7, taking the swords of the fallen knights and picking up the slack.
This wouldn’t be a King Arthur story without the Lady in the Lake and she’s definitely included here as well. She maintains a powerful hold on Anerin, a young bard obsessed with the lady for her beauty and charm. She promises him the fantasy of a perfect life, only it doesn’t quite work out that way.
Knights of the Living Dead is more or less three different stories, all tied together by the common thread of the King Arthur Legend. The first two are tied together fairly well, as the first one features King Arthur lamenting Guinevere’s choices and the second one features Guinevere herself saving the day. The third brings in the Lady of the Lake, making her just as evil as the zombies in the earlier stories.
Wolfe does a great job working the zombies into the Excalibur canon. It reads a lot like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, where the historical events just have a supernatural element added in. Granted, King Arthur as historical fact is slightly debatable, but there’s enough of the core story here to grab onto where the introduction of zombies doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
If there’s one minor complaint about the writing, it’s the constant reference to color. This is a gripe because the book is in black and white. Higgins art features jagged edges and some varying styles, all of which works. The black and white art itself isn’t a drawback and gives the story of a Night of the Living Dead vibe, but there are some parts where hair-color is referenced as red for instance. The fact that it isn’t red sort of snaps you out of the moment. Not a big thing though.
Fans of King Arthur will likely find a lot to like in Knights of the Living Dead. It stays true to the legend and adds in some twists that make it seem like a fresher story. The art is great as well, using a minimal approach to convey the gravity of the plague facing the kingdom. Zombies are getting to be a little oversaturated at this point, but using them in creative ways such as this does add a breath of fresh air in them as characters.
Knights of the Living Dead is available now.