Indie Comics Spotlight: The Marionette Unit, 3 Floyds: Alpha King #1, and Over the Garden Wall #1

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

The Marionette Unit


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“What little luck I had almost vanished in the fog that fills the streets.”

A boss wants workers who are productive and how they go about getting that productivity varies from boss to boss. Some use a carrot, but others use a stick. The Marionette Unit from TMU Workshop goes for the latter. The issue is written by Azhur Saleem (James Boyle as a co-creator) and illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Caldwell.

Beatrice Shaw is searching for her missing sister Melodie, last seen employed at a workhouse run by shadowy industrialist, Henri Dubré, inventor of The Marionette Units. He has forged man and machine together to create an abominable dream of never-ending efficiency. As Beatrice enters this terrifying world, she must find a way to break free of the clutches around her and confront Dubré before all hope is lost of ever finding her sister again.

There’s a haunting simplicity in the approach Saleem takes in his script for The Marionette Unit. Saleem doesn’t really delve too deeply into the world that Beatrice inhabits per se, instead relying on many of the readers preconceived notions about Victorian England and the race for technology that accompanied the era. There are elements of steampunk pervasive throughout for sure, but Saleem infuses the book with a deeper, more philosophic meaning through the interesting use of technology as it pertains to factory workers. One of the stalwarts of the modern age as far as capitalism goes is the reliance on cheap labor and Saleem takes that concept to the next level in The Marionette Unit. The dialogue is snappy throughout the book and conveys a deeper meaning to the events, with Saleem touching on concepts such as individuals being symbolically bound by larger groups (corporations, for instance) and their struggle to truly break free.

Slightly detached from reality is Johnson-Caldwell’s artwork. His approach is very loose and nondescript, relying on a relaxed style that renders characters who sport relatively ambiguous figures and expressions. In fact, all of the characters in The Marionette Unit seem to float across the pages – much in the same way that a marionettist would control a marionette in a performance. There are a few panels that also reference the strings of the marionette as a subtle way to further impress upon the reader the overarching control society has on someone. Johnson-Caldwell’s colors are bland in a way that continues the aforementioned theme, capitalizing on a minimalist approach that underscores the monotony of the daily routine.

The Marionette Unit is a chilling visualization of the reality that there is a broader power at play pulling the strings in life. Beatrice is faced with a seemingly insurmountable hill to climb as far as finding her sister goes, working against a depressing backdrop where her productivity is physically controlled by her boss. Saleem’s message in The Marionette Unit is one of invisible control exerted over individuals despite their attempts to be individuals. Johnson-Caldwell’s artwork is eerie in its almost ethereal approach that presents characters illustrated with a disconnected style that’s befitting of the broader message. The Marionette Unit pits a caring sister against a cruel man and the society he’s a part of to find answers.

The Marionette Unit is available here.

3 Floyds: Alpha King #1


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“We taste revenge.”

The life of a small brewer is anything but glamorous at first. You have to contend with finding the right mix for your recipe, getting your beer into people’s glasses, and hordes of barbarians who want your girl. The latter is definitely the exception to the rule, but Image Comics proves to enjoy the exception in 3 Floyds: Alpha King #1. The issue is created by Nick Floyd and Brian Azzarello, written by Azzarello, illustrated by Simon Bisley, colored by Ryan Brown, and lettered by Jared K. Fletcher.

Set a long time ago in a suburb far, far away (Munster, Indiana), Brewer and CiCi are producing a home-brew so distinct that it attracts a monstrous king and his horrid minions from another dimension. Swords are unsheathed, lines are crossed, and sieges are laid for the rise of the Alpha King!

Brewers think very highly of their brews and with good reason – they reflect their hard work and creativity. It only makes sense that Floyd and Azzarello team up on a script that blends together the more routine aspect of brewing with a completely insane fantasy aspect. The barbarians in 3 Floyds: Alpha King #1 are hell-bent on pillaging and looting above all else and they don’t care if a small brewer stands in their path. The dialogue is rife with plenty of coarse language throughout that reflects the savage attitude of the barbarians, but it also blends in plenty of humor in terms of the characters coming to terms with the reality of one another. Azzarello doesn’t take it easy at all with presenting the action, throwing the reader right into the thick of a world full of anger and demanding barbarians.

The coarse personalities of the characters are mirrored perfectly by Bisley’s illustrations. The barbarians are drawn in a way that distorts their physiques in an effort to exaggerate their stature and reinforce the notion that they’re not very pleasant individuals. Bisley definitely draws on a heavy fantasy influence in that the barbarians are extremely muscular and violent. The panels are laid out in a pretty straightforward way, with clean square and rectangles accurately framing each scene of the action. Brown’s colors emphasize yellows and greens for the barbarians and more subtle blacks for the humans, helping to underscore the great differences between the two groups.

3 Floyds: Alpha King #1 sits comfortably at the intersection of brewmaster and beastmaster. The arrival of the barbarians in Indiana lends the book an Evil Dead feel of sorts with the unsuspecting brewer forced to find a new strength to save his girlfriend. Azzarello’s script is really entertaining and moves along very quickly. Bisley’s artwork is pretty messy in a positive way and breathes life into the barbarians as they traipse their way across the pages. 3 Floyds: Alpha King #1 is a very enjoyable book that doesn’t take itself very seriously and knows what makes it tick.

3 Floyds: Alpha King #1 is in stores now.

Over the Garden Wall #1


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“Where are you going sheriff? Gasp! Is there a new case?!”

The boundaries of one’s imagination are typically limitless. Having such an active imagination leads to all sorts of adventures. Some of those adventures are getting attention in Over the Garden Wall #1 from KaBOOM! Studios. The issue is written by Jim Campbell, Danielle Burgos, and Amalia Levari; and illustrated by Campbell and Cara McGee.

In this kickoff issue, Wirt and Greg might have escaped the Beast’s grasp and made it out of the Unknown, but some things can’t be forgotten. Greg returns to Dreamland at night, where the silly creatures who live there help him on his adventures. Then, dive back into the early days in the Unknown where young Anna, the daughter of the Woodsman, must learn to survive in the woods on her own.

From the outset, there’s a sheer level of innocence in Over the Garden Wall #1 that Campbell, Burgos, and Levari are clearly enjoying. Greg is unabashed in his take on life, gliding through imaginative scenarios in which others would likely find some hesitation. The dialogue by Campbell, Burgos, and Levari reinforces this sense of childish wonder throughout as Greg approaches the situations with a reckless abandonment. It’s clear that the writers are focused more on presenting a story that’s lighthearted and spirited with Greg, while Anna’s story is a bit more adult. That’s not to say that it’s night and day between the two stories, but Campbell, Burgos, and Levari show they can also get a bit more serious with their dialogue (monologue?) for Anna.

The artwork in Over the Garden Wall #1 is just as fun as the story itself. Campbell and McGee render characters who sport generally childish appearances that give the book a youthful, all-ages appeal. Greg is illustrated with eyes as wide physically as they are figurative that reinforce the notion that the world looks different to someone with his perspective. And despite the seemingly dire circumstances in which both Greg and Ana themselves in, Campbell and McGee focus on artwork that refuses to stray away from being bubbly. Even the panels are arranged in a way that feels loose and joyous, further providing the reader with a sense of imagination.

Over the Garden Wall #1 is a pretty entertaining all-ages book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The scenarios that both Greg and Anna find themselves in are different from one another, but both rely on similar traits of childlike wonderment. The script by Campbell, Burgos, and Levari is airy and enjoyable in its relatively innocent approach. The artwork by Campbell and McGee is equally as vibrant, offering characters who manage to convey a sense of menace at times despite their outward appearance of happiness. Over the Garden Wall #1 is definitely for readers looking for something fun and easygoing.

Over the Garden Wall #1 is in stores now.


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