Indie Comics Spotlight – Samurai Jack, Velvet and Atomic Sheep


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Samurai Jack #1

“Um yes – please stop yelling.”

Samurai Jack aired as a cartoon in a different time. That time was almost a decade ago, but the thing is the story still holds up very well. IDW agrees and is launching Samurai Jack #1, the first issue in the triumphant return of the time-traveling samurai. The issue is written by Jim Zub, illustrated by Andy Suriano and lettered by Shawn Lee.

The legend of Samurai Jack is far-reaching. Not just because he’s really that good, but because he’s forced to travel through time and space in an effort to find a way to undo all the bad that Aku has done. It’s that quest that sends him after the Threads of Time, which when combined together will reform the Rope of Eons. It’s a simple enough task, until it starts him off smack-dab in the middle of gladiatorial combat against a group of relatively angry warriors. Jack will not allow something like that to stand in his way though.

Zub has created quite a loyal following with Skullkickers primarily because of his sense of humor and that sense carries over perfectly to the world of Samurai Jack. Jack is as calm and stoic as ever, relying on his pure ability and situational awareness to come out on top of difficult situations. The story doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel either, with Zub relying on the show’s premise as a driving force for Jack’s travels (and travails). Aku doesn’t get much time here, but his inevitability as a major player will remedy that in future issues for sure.

Suriano’s art is very well done, featuring the sharp and bold edges that Genndy Tartakovsky made famous. The colors appear a little washed out for most of the work, which helps to add a more storied look to the book that’s pretty interesting. The hermit and Dreezun both exhibit the wild creativity in terms of character design that remind you you’re reading a book about a time-traveling Samurai. The other gladiators are illustrated with just as much gusto as the main characters, highlighting the general zaniness of the world he lives in.

Fans of the Samurai Jack show will feel right at home here. Zub and Suriano do a great job picking up where it left off, offering up continuity in the way of story and art that will appeal to new fans as well as old. The story is tried and true and the characters are all familiar, welcoming readers with open arms. Samurai Jack hasn’t lost any of his steely calm and combat prowess, which will make for some great stories down the road. Fans of the show will definitely want to check the book out, while fans of great samurai time traveling stories may also find something of interest.

Samurai Jack #1 is available now.

Velvet #1

“This was when I realized just how dangerous Velvet Templeton actually was.”

In a world of superhero books full of capes and tights, there are other books that are a little more grounded in reality. Many of those tales live and breathe the world of double-identities and spies, so it’s always refreshing to see those themes make their way into comics. Image Comics has a book that handles those themes in Velvet #1. The book is written by Ed Brubaker, illustrated by Steve Epting, colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser and lettered by Chris Eliopoulos.

Velvet Templeton is the personal secretary to the Lieutenant Director of Arc-7, one step above MI-6 that is so secretive most of there agencies of its ilk don’t even know of its existence. They’re so skilled that very few things turn their heads, save for the death of one of their top agents. This prompts the agency to look inwards searching for a mole or a retired agent. Velvet realizes that she’s the one who can get the job done, but she’s got to manage her safety as well and not get framed for something she didn’t do.

Brubaker knows how to write espionage tales and layering a covert identity within a covert identity so to speak in Velvet is very effective at steeping the reader in the spy world. The fact that Velvet is billed as a secretary who’s much more than that (but not really known as such to others) is very intriguing and keeps the reader guessing as to what will happen next. He writes really strong female characters and Velvet is just the latest in that trend, proving she’s as smart as she’s beautiful and deadly. The story itself opens up with a lot of suspense and mystery, promising that subsequent issues will be equally as tense and feature just as much covert fighting.

Epting’s art is solid and handles the action very well. He handles anatomy very well, not relying on making Velvet overtly sexy to get across the point that she’s flat-out awesome. He also relies on various lighting effects, which hammer home the fact that spies trade in the shadows, yet his work isn’t so dark that you can’t see what’s going on. There’s a lot of action in the first issue (primarily at the end) and Epting offers the reader some great shots of the action without coming in too close to it. Breitweiser’s colors are appropriately chosen as well, giving the subject matter the appropriate level of gravitas that a spy book should feature.

Velvet #1 starts a very promising tale of spies and double-crosses. The first tale pitches Velvet as more than capable of holding her own against whatever may be put in her way. And it looks like there will be a lot put in front of her as she seeks the answers to the questions being raised about the death of the Arc-7 agent. Brubaker and Epting make a great creative team and are in sync with one another, with the art supporting the script beautifully. This is a book that is just plain solid regardless of whether or not you like the subject matter and Velvet is a very strong character who earns her place in the most clandestine organization in the world.

Velvet #1 is available in stores now.

Atomic Sheep

“Welp” in real life conversation? Seriously?”

Remember high school? Chances are no, probably because you’ve blocked the experience from your memory as much as possible. The experience is just that though–an experience. And it always makes for a fun read in comic books such as Atomic Sheep from Markosia Entertainment. The graphic novel is written and illustrated by Sally Jane Thompson.

Sixteen-year-old Tamrika Fuller is happy with her life. She’s got great friends and even greater grades, giving her no reason to be concerned…until her parents reveal that they’ve been saving for year to send her to their alma mater for her final years of high school. That place just so happens to be an old-fashioned boarding academy several miles from Vancouver. It introduces her to a new, feisty roommate and a whole world where she feels completely out of place, as the school focuses more on science than the arts.

The work definitely resonates with just about everyone who’s spent any amount of time in high school; especially those who happen to transfer into a new one. Thompson captures the awkwardness pretty effectively, conveying the notion that regardless of how you end up, you’re never really “cool” in high school. The dialogue is pretty short and snappy too, with very few words wasted in Tamrika’s quest to get the arts club going. There does feel to be a little bit of a non-conformist message in the book that Thompson hits the reader over the head with on more than one occasion. If Thompson allowed the work itself to be an affront to conformity (rather than Tamrika having non-conformist thoughts all the time), the message may have been delivered more smoothly.

Thompson also handles the art duties and the simple style is very powerful. She capitalizes on bold, black outlines against an almost washed out, peach background, all of which makes up the entire color palette. She does some really fun things with panels and layouts as well, not–ahem–conforming to the standard, rectangular layout that most comic books rely on. The characters offer up the right mix that you would expect in high school and none of them really stand out over the others. She also uses facial expressions that are even more stripped down for certain scenes to convey the base emotion experienced at the moment.

Atomic Sheep is a book that everyone can relate to and Thompson has infused it with a lot of angst. That angst though gives the reader something to commiserate with and really nails what it means to be lost both within yourself and those around you. The book offers something of a silver lining in that if you really do believe in something and keep pushing yourself for it, things will get better. It’s very much a rose-colored glasses view of the world (further bolstered by the peach/salmon color choice for the book) and Thompson conveys a very positive and upbeat message through the high school trials and tribulations of Tamrika. It’s an interesting book that’s refreshing in both its honesty and optimism.

Atomic Sheep is available now.

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