Indie Comics Spotlight: Protocol Orphans, High School Romance and Hardcore Luchador


by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

Protocol Orphans #1

“The average 8-year-old can hold her breath for 90 seconds. Therefore, you have 90 seconds to solve this thing…or you will die.”

Living as an orphan is not a life that anyone would choose given the choice. Thankfully, there are those out there who make that life easier for orphans by adopting them. The thing is, they’re not always raising the orphan with the child’s best interest at heart. Every now and then, an orphan is adopted and raised to be a super-spy, a story showcased in Protocol Orphans #1 from BOOM! Studios. The issue is written by Michael Alan Nelson, illustrated by Mariano Navarro, colored by Gabriel Cassata and lettered by Deron Bennett.

Dad is more than just a dad. He’s actually the boss for a group of elite agents trained from childhood to be exquisite tactical machines. Lewis, Lisa, Damon, Jamie, Parish and Tristan also happen to be orphans. They’re tasked with finding and stopping a bomb while Dad watches, at the behest of the Grandparents, who serve as Dad’s boss. What entails is a series of unplanned events, car chases and fighting, all of which the orphans are aptly suited for. Mix in the intrigue at the end of the issue and things are looking more and more serious than any of them anticipated.

If anything can be said about Protocol Orphans #1, it’s how fast it moves. Nelson drops you right in the thick of things and doesn’t let up, crashing through the story at a blistering pace. It works very well though for the story itself. There are also quite a few characters thrown at you, but their cohesion is effectively presented by Nelson so that you don’t miss a beat. These kids love to play around despite the stakes and are quick to point fingers when things don’t go according to plan, characteristics that really help the book. The seamless transitions from character to character in those events and from present to past in flashbacks highlighting some of their training really give you a sense of what they’ve been through and are expected to do. And there’s tons of action, giving you everything you can handle in the way of a classic espionage tale.

Navarro’s art is spectacular. It pays a lot of attention to detail and really showcases all the talents of the orphans, both in the present and past. The character renders fall somewhere between serious and cartoonish in a way similar to how the story goes between the two as well. Facial detail is given attention and Navarro affords the characters a pretty wide range through that detail. What’s more is that each orphan is illustrated as their own person, helping to further emphasize the contrast in personalities among the orphans. The panel layout is pretty standard, with little in the way of varied page structure or inset panels.

Protocol Orphans #1 straddles the line between fun and serious, offering a tried and true espionage story that factors in the complicated psychology that accompanies the parent/adopted child dynamic. These orphans have been raised to deal with adversity (usually with their life on the line) and it shows in the future as they’re constantly looking to one-up each other and impress Dad and the Grandparents. The twist at the end of the first issue was quite a surprise and almost takes the book in an entirely different direction. Protocol Orphans #1 offers a very fast-paced story with great art that presents familiar storylines blended together in a unique way.

Protocol Orphans #1 is in stores now.

High School Romance #1

“So…um yeah…basically what I’m trying to say is…uhh…”

Remember high school? That super fun time when everything you did was scrutinized by everyone else there? Work studied by teachers? Actions evaluated by principals? Social status evaluated by peers, both potential and actual? The entire process made for a time that many people wish to forget, but it has a lasting effect on everyone who attends. Living in the now for some is very difficult though, such as in High School Romance #1.

The issue is written and illustrated by Jin Chan Yum Wai, with art assets by Matt Lutton.

Max is what you would call a geek. He’s got a small group of friends that he spends time with, getting by as being one of the least popular students at the school. There’s a confidence brewing within him though, one that will put him in front of Candy, the most popular girl in the school. He wants to ask her out, but he’s got to run the social gamut in order to make his dreams a reality.

Wai has taken the classic, geek falls for prettiest girl story and added in a rather unique twist: everyone at the school doesn’t want it to happen. They all have their reasons, but the most interesting is that of the principal, who appreciates the current social balance amidst the students. The dialogue is very snappy and gives each character a very unique voice, with which those characters play their parts well. The story itself is familiar to anyone who’s seen a teenage high school movie, but there’s enough new twists in this book to keep it feeling fresh and original.

Artistically, there’s a lot of anime influences in the work. Characters are illustrated with bold, strong lines that give them definition, with Wai eschewing detailed portrayals of the characters. That doesn’t stop their emotion in key moments from shining through when appropriate, giving the book the emotional touch. The color palette chosen is also very interesting, as it relies on black and heavy pink shading, which works exceptionally well for the content of the story itself. The art doesn’t rely on setting and detail in general to carry the story along, but it does the job more than sufficiently.

High School Romance #1 is a very fun and entertaining look at the trials and tribulations of being in high school. The social ladder there is one that every student (both current and former) has dealt with, which makes the story very relatable to a very broad audience. The interesting reasons for why most of the school doesn’t want Max and Candy together is a breath of fresh air. The twist at the end poises the next issue to go in a very interesting direction that may be slightly unpredictable.

High School Romance #1 is available via Comixology now.

Hardcore Luchador #1

“I don’t care if they’re made of explosive bunnies. We’ll take them all!”

If you ever seen a wrestling match in your life (not the Olympic or amateur stuff, but “professional), you know there’s a formula that has to be followed. Intense action, both in and out of the ring, rivalries shelved for partnerships, mysterious entrants laying claim to the title and a massive world underneath the ring. Quick, which one of the above descriptions doesn’t seem right? If you said the last one, then you clearly haven’t read Hardcore Luchador #1

The first issue is written and penciled by Angelo Gines, Jr. and colored and lettered by Topher Steven.

The Hardcore Luchadors are the tag team champions, squaring off against Dos Genericos in front of a screaming audience. They’re match is going about as expected, considering the popularity and status of the Hardcore Luchadors, until a new opponent enters the proceedings in Negador. Alongside Brimstone, the duo proves to be a little more than the tag team champs were expecting. There’s also some sand people and a giant turkey mixed in to ensure that the craziness remains as ridiculous as it possibly can.

For starters, Gines, Jr. (and Steven) are both wrestling fans. The majority of the issue captures the essence of a wrestling match, with everything from folding chairs to being thrown through the announce table. In fact, the entire issue is set against that backdrop, with even the wrestlers fighting in the mysterious world much like them in a wrestling match. The dialogue by Gines, Jr., is very defining, giving each character their own unique personality that helps carry along the story. Speaking of story, the concept of the villain appearing amidst a wrestling interruption is pretty brilliant; it makes it so that the wrestlers think it’s all part of the act. It’s very meta in that regard.

Gines, Jr., handles the art duties and he does a fantastic job. Characters are bold and illustrated much like those you would see from Genndy Tartakovsky, defined by thin yet bold outlines and paying little attention to an excess of physical detail. These are characters illustrated with a lot of positive carelessness to them, in that the pencils help convey the free spirited nature of the story. That free spirit is further emboldened by Steven’s colors, all of which are very vibrant and continue to set the tone of a raucous wrestling match turned real life battle.

Everything about Hardcore Luchador #1 is just plain fun. Wrestling fans will definitely get a lot more out of the Total Package (see what I did there), but there’s still a lot of zaniness otherwise that you can pick it up with little to no knowledge of how pro wrestling works. The first issue feels very open and shut, offering a resolution to the immediate threat, but leaving the looming specter of something greater down the road. If you’re looking for something that’s slightly off, yet still manages to feel so right, then Hardcore Luchador #1 is the book to check out.

Hardcore Luchador #1 is available via Comixology now.

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