Indie Comics Spotlight Thanatos Diver, God Hates Astronauts, Ex Con

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)


Thanatos Diver #1

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“I bet we’re gonna find something sooo cool. And you’re gonna be like ‘I want it!’ but I’m gonna keep it because I’m a way better adventurer.”

If you’ve ever fancied yourself a treasure hunter, then you know that life isn’t always that glamorous. Sure, there’s the chance for the big score, but more often than not you’re forced to contend with other treasure hunters and a scarcity of really valuable finds. Those stories are still very exciting to pursue and Th3rd World Studios has such a book in Thanatos Diver #1, written by Nick Tapalansky and illustrated by Alex Eckman-Lawn.

Samantha is an ambitious treasure hunter with a penchant for dreaming big. It’s a good thing she dreams that way too, seeing as how she can’t seem to catch a break and is always being upstaged by Jade, a fellow treasure hunter. The two have a rivalry that goes back quite a ways, prompting Samantha to find a way to win the battle at least once. That ambition takes her a lot further than she anticipated for a prize that could be more trouble than it’s worth.

Down-on-their-luck heroes always seem to make for very interesting characters and Samantha is no exception in Thanatos Diver #1. In that regard, she’s very enthusiastic and recklessly optimistic, daring to be adventurous even when others are frightened by the opportunity. Tapalansky does an excellent job introducing the reader to her, presenting her in youth, showing a childlike fascination with finding treasure that carries into her adulthood. Tapalansky paces the issue in a way that primarily sets up Samantha’s role as the main character, slowly revealing her intricacies to the reader. She’s very amiable in terms of how she approaches life, choosing to venture headstrong into the unknown on a daily basis.

There’s a certain lightheartedness to the book that Eckman-Lawn captures quite elegantly with his illustrations. He evokes some pretty clear anime references in the characters’ appearances and some of their facial expressions that help keeps the book feeling adventurous. His overall style is also pretty intriguing in that it mixes bold outlines with roughly filled-in spaces. It’s almost as if the style is a mix of solid line art and pastel watercolors. Eckman-Lawn’s unique approach almost comes across as somewhat haphazard, but it beautifully mixes Samantha’s brashness with her penchant for sticking to her guns.

Thanatos Diver #1 is a blast for a first issue. It’s very imaginative and reminiscent of some great old-school JRPGs, where the main character is somewhat predestined for greatness if she can only realize it. Tapalansky’s dialogue is very charming and presents a story that’s shaping up to be equally as joyous. There are some great influences in Eckman-Lawn’s illustrative style that makes the book feel airy and relies on an unassuming style. Thanatos Diver #1 is a strong first issue in what’s likely to be a pretty solid story that offers up a precocious main character who exudes a cocky arrogance.

You can preorder Thanatos Diver #1 here.

God Hates Astronauts #1

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“Uh, please don’t have sex with that chicken.”

It’s wholly possible that animals are secretly plotting to overthrow humanity and take over the world. If and when that day comes, humanity can only hope it’s ready to handle the onslaught. Chances are that readiness will involve a military response and some groups with more of a religious bend to things. Like farmers seeking to escape into space with their chickens while animal space police attempt to stop them, so comes God Hates Astronauts #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written and illustrated by Ryan Browne, colored by Jordan Boyd, and lettered by Crank! and Browne.

A NASA-funded group of arrogant “super people” must stop a rash of farmers that have been using rocket-powered silos to launch themselves into outer space. As these Astro-Farmers fire themselves all over the galaxy, NASA must utilize their every resource they can muster. This includes a guy with a ghost-cow head, a bunch of magic bears, and a Chicago cop with robot arms to avoid an intergalactic incident. Mix in a king who is fond of cheeseburgers and oversees the galaxy and it’s a good bet that hijinks are sure to ensue.

You’ve got to hand it to Browne: he’s extraordinarily unapologetic about his tale. In fact, the story in God Hates Astronauts #1 comes across as so ridiculous that you can’t help but think he’s toying with the readers, writing so outlandishly for the sake of his own amusement. Once you get past the absurdity, though, it’s evident that he’s actually crafting a pretty intriguing story. The most glaring feature of the book is the anthropomorphic characters with a flair for intergalactic travels and a dialogue that’s one-part philosophical and one-part matter-of-fact. There are going to be comparisons to Animal Farm, but Browne’s characters have a different focus than the farm rulers from that book. Browne infuses them with seemingly more intelligence than the rubbish farmers attempting to propel themselves into space, but also offering them as an elegant representation of a distinguished class system.

Illustrating animals as humans is no small feat, but Browne handles it very well. Each of the main characters is illustrated in a way that accurately depicts their personality. Those personalities are further enhanced by some pretty remarkable facial expressions that really nail the mood of the action on the page. He keeps the panel layouts pretty fresh from page to page, using standard grids for most pages, but also mixes in some non-paneled characters and panel overlays here and there. Boyd’s colors are very vibrant and give the book a sufficiently cosmic feel reminiscent of the 80s Marvel books. Even Browne’s lettering deserves mention, as it rather comically calls out the action in a way that reinforces the hilarity of the events.

God Hates Astronauts #1 is a pretty bold romp across farms and space. The farmers think they’re part of a greater power and seek perfection, while the animals think they’re just crazy. It’s a very interesting reversal of the norm that Browne manages to make feel entertaining, thanks to witty dialogue and outlandish scenarios. Browne’s art deftly conveys the madcap action to the reader, offering well-defined characters full of emotion and personality. God Hates Astronauts #1 is a book that’s just so crazy it might work and will definitely be unlike anything else you read.

God Hates Astronauts #1 is in stores now.

Ex Con #1

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“When you look at a crowd like this, what do you see? The horror of unrestrained wealth? Celebrity train wrecks waiting to happen? This may be the case. But I see something else. I see their lights.”

Being a good con artist means being able to read people. To anticipate their moves based on their vices. You can then use that to your advantage in dealing with them, pressing their pain points to maximize your return. Some con artists are better at those readings than others. Still, some like Cody Pomeray are even better, because they can literally see the emotion in the mark in Ex Con #1 from Dynamite Entertainment. The issue is written by Duane Swierczynski, illustrated by Keith Burns, colored by Aikau Oliva, and lettered by Rob Steen.

1985: L.A. con artist Cody Pomeray had a gift for looking inside a mark’s soul with just a glance. But one fateful night, he targeted the wrong man — and was sentenced to the most savage prison in California. Pomeray would have been beaten to death on his first day if not for the intervention of Barnaby Creed, the most powerful crime lord in the Southland. Fast forward to 1989. Now Pomeray’s out on parole, robbed of his special ability and tasked with doing Creed “a little favor.” He has no idea he’s just stepped into a long con, and this time, he’s the mark.

Ex-Con #1 is more or less a scam artist story, with a slight twist: Pomeray’s ability to physically read people and suss out what weak point to target in his dealings with them. Swierczynski’s tale lays out in a way that capitalizes on this ability to excess: setting it in the 80s. Pomeray is believable enough as a con man who gets a little unlucky at one point and the set-up for the rest of the issue (and presumably series) plays out familiar enough. Color-coding the different emotions in others is also pretty clever, as it more or less lets the reader see the world through the eyes of a talented scam artist. The dialogue is rather gritty as well, reminding us that Pomeray’s world isn’t really all that glamorous when the truth comes out.

Burns does a great job capturing the aforementioned color-coding of emotions. Characters exhibiting whichever emotion is relevant are outlined by a halo of a specific color, which also makes it easier for the reader to keep up with who’s who. It’s almost like a paint-by-numbers comic book in some ways. The players involved are also illustrated in a way that accentuates the largeness in the world of Ex-Con #1, as some of the earlier scenes feature a ton of partying 80s style. Burns deftly handles the transition to the less celebratory prison scenes, depicting a world that feels darker and more restrictive (and rightfully so). Panels are presented in a way that also makes the book feel like it’s a movie playing, with each scene carrying the action another step.

Ex Con #1 is a pretty gritty but interesting story about a con man and his unique ability. That ability makes things interesting for Pomeray, until, of course, he gets it taken away. Swierczynski offers dialogue that evokes the right level of grime in the world of cons and scams, ensuring that the reader knows this book isn’t really for kids. Burns’ style is a good match for the story as well, presenting Pomeray’s world both before and after his powers and largesse decline, offering a glimpse at the fast times of such a world. Ex Con #1 is a pretty interesting first issue that could definitely up the stakes as it progresses and watching Pomeray do his “job” without his unique gifts should be fun.

Ex Con #1 is in stores now.


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