Indie Comics Spotlight – Hellchild #1, Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1, and The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1

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By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Hellchild #1

1

“Oooh! What’s the matter Hades? A god can’t overpower a simple vampire?”

Vampires are notorious for being creatures of the night with a propensity for drinking blood. That doesn’t go over well with most people, prompting some such as Liesl Van Helsing to rise up to stop them. When one of those vampires gets a little god’s blood in them though, things get a little more complicated. Hellchild #1 from Zenescope seeks to untangle those complications. The issue is written by Pat Shand, illustrated by Vincenzo Riccardi, colored by Eleonora Bruni, and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Angelica Blackstone is half-Greek god, half-vampire, and she’s pissed! When she is brought back from the dead and given a new lease on life by monster hunter Liesl Van Helsing, Angelica joins a gang of Viking vampire junkies living in the underbelly of New York City. But she has a hell of an ax to grind with her absentee father, Hades, who she blames for her death. All hell is about to break loose!

The opening of Hellchild #1 throws readers right into the thick of things before Shand goes back in time to explain the present. In this issue, Angelica Blackstone’s presence as Hellchild is being emphasized through her association with vampires, which makes a great case for the presence of Liesl Van Helsing and Hades (as Angelica’s father). Fortunately for readers, Shand makes the issue very accessible to new readers and doesn’t direct them to a bunch of other random issues in the Zenescope universe when certain events took place. There’s still a lot to digest in the issue though and Shand provides few details in terms of how exactly Liesl’s interactions with a witch led to the rebirth of a god’s daughter. Other than that though, the script is pretty concise and keeps things moving along at a very brisk pace.

Riccardi’s artwork is effective at capturing the otherworldly aspects of the tale. The characters are illustrated with a very stylized approach that gives the characters more of a caricature-like appearance. In fact, some of the facial expressions feel almost a little too cartoonish and it sort of subverts the otherwise dire and supernatural tone the book seems to be going for. There are also some pages that feel very polished and finished and others that feel a little less so. None of it’s bad, but there are some slight inconsistencies throughout the book. Bruni does a great job with colors, especially the pages at the Lavendar night club where she gets to play around with neon pinks and blues.

Hellchild #1 is a set-up issue first and foremost, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like one. The introduction of Hellchild is done in a way that leaves plenty of room for more development and is effective at setting the table. Shand doesn’t have to rely on the readers’ knowledge of the Zenescope universe for the book, yet he still provides plenty of hooks into it. Riccardi’s artwork is pretty simple and is a little more on the lighter side, even though it still captures the spirit of the issue very well. Hellchild #1 is another entry in the Zenescope mythology that doesn’t require a compendium to understand it, which is welcome because there’s some pretty crazy stuff going on in it.

Hellchild #1 is in stores March 23.

Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1

2

“You are not defined by your scars.”

When a dog looks at you, it’s been suggested they’re doing so to figure you out. Dog owners know that their pets are a lot smarter than most others would think and they appreciate the same level of care you would give a child. There are some out there though who view dogs less as people and more as entities. It’s those dogs who need help in Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 from Action Lab Entertainment. The issue is written by Scott Fogg and Vito Delsante, illustrated by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt, and lettered by Full Court Press.

For five years, readers have looked at the Action Lab Entertainment logo and wondered, “Who IS that dog with the jet pack?” Wonder no more! The story you never thought would be told is now an ongoing monthly title as Action Lab: Dog of Wonder, comes to comic book shelves everywhere.

Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 offers up a superhero dog with a lot more of a role than the caped dog arguing with the monkey at the Sidekick Lounge. Fogg and Delsante’s script is pretty great in this regard, because it personifies dogs as having their own world with their own problems. In fact, Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 could exist in a world alongside the recent BOOM! Studios release Kennel Block Blues. Both works give readers a glimpse into dog world problems and Fogg and Delsante quite cleverly pit rescues against the kennels that do the rescuing in Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1. At the core of the issue is some headier material, in that caring for strays – even with the best intentions – is often a thankless job when the resources aren’t there to do so.

What makes Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 feel like an Action Lab title is the extremely airy artwork by Higgins and Brandt. Action Lab himself boasts a look that’s all-American and gracious, with Higgins and Brandt emphasizing his presentation as a means of reinforcing the notion that dogs can be regal in their own way. Characters (human and animal alike) are illustrated with simple outlines and generic definition. Higgins and Brandt rely on the simple character models to help underscore the notion that this is meant to be more of an all-ages book and the artwork feels appropriate for such. The colors throughout are also light and boast plenty of pastels, providing a look that’s effervescent before anything else.

Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 is a pretty enjoyable first issue that capitalizes on a fairly simple notion: dogs have feelings, too. Action Lab is a character replete with gadgets and confidence to fight what he perceives to be the good fight. Fogg and Delsante don’t let the script get bogged down in overly complicated narratives or characterizations. The artwork by Higgins and Brandt is bubbly and a perfect match for the content of the story. Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 will appeal to all readers and relies on the notion that dogs should be treated with respect too.

Action Lab: Dog of Wonder #1 is in stores now.

The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1

3

“Someday you gotta explain to me how that nutso bag of yours works.”

The problem with being immortal is that you cross paths with a lot of people, some of whom will remember the incident and perceive it as negative. That leads to a lot of enemies who get even more insulted because you can’t remember them due to living forever. That sets up for some entertaining encounters down the line, as is the case in The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 from Valiant Comics. The issue is written by Rafer Roberts, penciled by David Lafuente, inked by Ryan Winn, colored by Brian Reber and lettered by Dave Lanphear.

Archer is about to set off on his most dangerous mission yet – a quest into the mystic reaches of Armstrong’s bottomless satchel to liberate his friend and comrade from the clutches of the mad god Bacchus! (Okay, so, Armstrong went into the satchel himself to get a bottle of whiskey that he kinda misplaced and got stuck. It’s like the Amazon warehouse of arcane treasures in there…and he doesn’t exactly have a maid service). Imprisoned in Armstrong’s satchel for centuries, Bacchus now commands a legion of monsters, goblins, and golems bent on escaping back into the world of man and enacting revenge on their captor. Can Archer single-handedly combat the godly embodiment of intoxication himself – and rescue his best buddy – without becoming lost amongst Armstrong’s endless repository of bizarre artifacts and historical oddities in the process?

Valiant’s still relatively new as a publisher considering they just rebooted themselves as such, but one of the biggest contributions to their somewhat freewheeling approach to comics are Archer and Armstrong. The duo definitely exists in the zanier side of the Valiant spectrum (alongside Quantum and Woody) and Roberts doesn’t miss a beat in capitalizing on that zaniness in The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1. The premise behind the series is just as crazy, as the duo delve deep into Armstrong’s satchel and Roberts ensures that what they find in there is nuts. The first 3/4 of the issue is something of a slow build-up, but Roberts hastens the pace from there to set up dual storylines at the end. And the dialogue exchanges are just as witty as ever, with Archer’s pragmatism meeting its match in Armstrong’s recklessness.

Where The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 strays from what readers might expect in Lafuente’s artwork. There’s a certain joie de vivre in Lafuente’s approach that eschews more realistic-looking characters in exchange for something slicker and more cartoonish. Some of the perspectives seem to play up the concept that Armstrong is a very fun-loving individual and both Archer and Armstrong seem to exhibit body types that are defined by blocky figures. Winn’s inks further accent Lafuente’s unique style, in that the characters are given more heft by bolded outlines and heavy inks. And the colors by Reber are a great finishing touch to the artwork as it provides plenty of pop and contrast across all the unique beings found within Armstrong’s satchel.

The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 is another entry in a series that relies on the fact that it’s outlandish and unpredictable to propel it. Archer and Armstrong are in yet another unique adventure in the series that will pit the two against new challenges that even they will have to psych themselves up for. Roberts’ script is evenly paced and builds up to a great cliffhanger that establishes the tone of the series. The artwork is a great mix of Lafuente’s cartoonish pencils, Winn’s strong inks and Reber’s great color work. The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 is something that fans of the pair will definitely want to check out, but it can also appeal to new readers looking for something slightly off-kilter.

The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong #1 is in stores now.


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