Indie Comics Spotlight-Dead Letters #1, Flash Gordon #1, and Lumberjanes #1
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Dead Letters #1
“The first thing I remember is I can’t remember anything at all.”
It’s a very good bet that if you wake up one morning with little to no recollection of the night before, it’ll have little to do with gangsters chasing after you. Or bandages on your wrist. Or a revolver on the nightstand. All of those characteristics make for a compelling story and it’s one that BOOM! Studios is telling in Dead Letters #1. The book is written by Christopher Sebela, illustrated by Chris Visions, colored by Ruth Redmond and lettered by Steve Wands.
Sam doesn’t remember anything. He wakes up in a dirty motel with a bandaged arm and revolver on his desk. The setting itself should provide enough context for his current situation, but the armed men knocking on the door require him to pick up a bit more from the situation. Sam will have to use every trick from his forgotten repertoire to outrun and outsmart his way through a hardboiled wonderland of gang wars, femme fatales and big secrets.
On its surface, Dead Letters #1 feels like a pretty standard noir book with hints of gangsters and dirigibles. Upon reading it, though, you quickly come to realize that there’s so much more to the setting than just that. Sam clearly has a past life with combat and weapons training, which gives the reader the impression that there’s a lot more to him than what’s initially presented. Following along with amnesic characters is pretty adventurous in its own right, but Sebela does some stuff that ensures the book doesn’t feel played out. There’s also a good mix of characters throughout, with the majority of them capable killers with little hesitation when it comes to pulling the trigger if it furthers their own cause.
A story’s grittiness tends to work better when the art cooperates and Visions goes to great lengths to do just that. The characters are illustrated with strong, defined outlines that manage to get lost amidst the scratchy backgrounds and scenery. The scratchiness makes the book feel hazy at times and gives the reader something that resonates with both them and Sam, yet it doesn’t really detract from the pacing of the book or anything. Action sequences abound and Visions handles them rather deftly, giving the reader ample opportunity to keep track of everything that’s going on. Redmonds relies on some rather dark colors that further the tone of the book and make it feel sufficiently rough.
The world being created by both Sebela and Visions is pretty crazy and blends together a wide variety of varying ideas and concepts. A lot of people have been talking about the book’s twist and there are no spoilers here, but suffice it to say that it’s pretty significant and will definitely give the reader a fresh take on things. There’s a lot in the book that will be familiar to some readers, but Sebela does a great job in making the book feel unique, primarily through Sam as the lead character. Visions is equally up to the task of illustrating the book, fleshing out a world rife with angry mobsters and guardian angel dames. Dead Letters #1 is a promising first issue in a series that could go in a number of directions, so grab the issue and pick which way you want to go.
Dead Letters #1 is in stores now.
Flash Gordon #1
“…I’ve got this.”
Everyone knows Flash Gordon. Most people know the character from some of the more recent approaches, most of which are a little tacky primarily because of the technology and camp used to bring the character to the screen. The old-school Flash Gordon was significantly more swashbuckling and Dynamite Entertainment brings back the old friend in Flash Gordon #1. The issue is written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Evan Shaner, colored by Jordie Bellaire and lettered by Simon Bowland.
Flash Gordon is a daredevil playboy. Dale Arden is a sci-journalist lamenting the death of the US space program. And Dr. Varkov is a genius with a propensity for being a lot more than he lets on. The three of them traverse the galaxy, seeking to prevent Earth from being invaded by the evil Ming. The trio find themselves jumping from one sticky situation to the next, all the while trying to take in the sights that often accompany interstellar travel.
Parker wastes no time introducing the reader to who Flash Gordon is; in fact, if you don’t have even a passing knowledge of the character you might feel a little lost in the first issue. It’s clearly a somewhat calculated gambit, but it does afford Parker plenty of opportunity to get right into the thick of things with Flash, Dale and Dr. Varkov. Quite frankly, it works pretty well in Flash Gordon #1. There is something of an acclimation period on the part of the reader, as it’s likely many will think they missed a page or that something is out of order. Just the opposite though, as Parker gets right into what makes Flash Gordon so loved: space exploration. And that’s where Parker excels most, by infusing Flash Gordon with all the panache he’s known for as opposed to trying to redefine him.
Shaner’s art evokes a newspaper strip feel that is especially appropriate for the character and work. Flash Gordon was first published as a newspaper comic strip in 1934 and Shaner really taps into that nostalgia for the first issue. Despite the throwback style, Shaner modernizes the look somewhat by giving the characters plenty of room to emote, helping the reader feel as if they’re jumping through the galaxy alongside the main characters. Bellaire has to get a nod here as well, as the colorist seemingly on fire manages to work in just about every major color imaginable as the heroes travel from one world to the next. Flash Gordon may be the hero of the story, but both Shaner and Bellaire manage to shine on their own by giving the reader a feast for the eyes in terms of characters and settings.
Flash Gordon #1 is a book that really pays homage to the source material and offers it in a pretty pure form. It doesn’t try to modernize the character or look; instead, it recognizes the character itself and plays into that world. The creative team does a great job in paying respects to the timeless hero, really presenting both him and his world in a way that is reminiscent of how they used to be presented. Parker doesn’t wait for the reader to feel comfortable and puts them right in the midst of danger like Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov often find themselves in. Shaner and Bellaire showcase a great artistic touch that makes the book feel nostalgic without feeling cheesy. Flash Gordon #1 is a book that’s quite exciting to read and doesn’t let up at all in the first issue, revisiting an old favorite with respect.
Flash Gordon #1 is available in stores now.