Fear Agent is back, with a desperate grab at a sustainable future for the remaining people of Earth. After an inordinate amount of alien invasions have left their home planet an almost completely inhabitable rock of death and depressing memories, the survivors are running out of options for survival. This is the impetus that kicks off this book, thrusting Heath, Mara, Charlotte, and the majority of the Fear Agents into a series of splintered adventures, failures, and unexpected tragedies. It starts in an almost episodic, uniquely standalone kind of way, though still connected to the larger, ongoing story, and this lulls you into a false sense of safety until, on the turn of a dime, everything goes wrong and calamity stacks upon calamity, disaster breeds death. By the end, you’re begging for something, anything, good to happen. But, that just ain’t how things play out, not in Fear Agent, and especially not in a volume titled Hatchet Job. In this, the fourth volume, collecting issues seventeen through twenty-one, Heath once again watches his world crumble all around him, though this time he’s not solely to blame, or at least not solely blamed by others. It is arguable though that Heath not being the cause of the trouble makes it harder for him to cope with it, though the preeminent cause still hits close to home and takes its emotional toll on the emotionally ravaged hero.
Dark Horse’s sleeper hit, Dream Thief, is back, and so are the eighties. For those of you just joining us, last year writer Jai Nitz and artist Greg Smallwood created a little, five-issue miniseries called Dream Thief, and it was phenomenal. I read all of it and had the pleasure of reviewing issues three through five, and when I read it all over again to review the trade collection, I found myself engrossed in the mystery, intrigue, mayhem, and mysticism, as if I was reading it for the very first time. But, enough from my ghost of reviews past, because Nitz is pushing forward, and backward, with his story, building off the previous events and showing us a past we only got the vaguest glimpses of near the end of that first run, and the ball gets rolling fast. If you have to play catch up during the first issue of this next chapter in the Dream Thief saga, a four-issue arc titled Escape, that’s okay. I know I did, and I loved every minute of my refresher course. Part of the beauty of Nitz’s writing is that it doesn’t pander to the reader. It’s quick, intelligent, and layered with subtext and surprises, and getting the story and all its nuances straight and under your belt the first time around can be as complex and challenging as it is for John Lincoln. In that way, we’re right on pace with John, who believes his father is somehow connected to his new-found life as a Dream Thief, and his best friend Reggie, who now is in on John’s secret double life.
Street Angel sneaks up on you in some most unexpected ways, and, by the time you’re done with this premiere issue, you very well may find yourself grinning from ear to ear. Written and created by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, with art and lettering by Rugg, Street Angel takes a remarkably simple conceit and takes it all the way to the comics bank. Rugg and Maruca know comics, and here and there they slyly break the fourth wall, bringing us into the story more and making us a participant in Street Angel’s unchecked chicanery. Thirteen-year-old orphan Jesse Sanchez is Street Angel, and Rugg and Maruca’s description of her beats anything I can try here, but, suffice it to sa,y she’s got mad skateboarding skills and tackles any challenge head on, and that challenge is often ninjas.
I have not read many comics anthologies, so when the chance came to review Amazing Forest, I jumped at the opportunity. What is so special about this specific anthology series, you may ask? Well, for one thing, it is put out by top-notch digital publisher MonkeyBrain Comics, a still relatively new company that is home to some of the most extraordinarily unique, fun, and creative comics to be found online, or anywhere for that matter, and many of the titles have had collections released in printed by companies like IDW, Image, and Dark Horse. The other reason is Erick Freitas and Ulises Farinas, the creators of Amazing Forest. I first came across Freitas and Farinas when I reviewed their Dark Horse one-shot Gamma, and it was one of the strangest, coolest, funniest comics I'd stumbled upon. So, of course, an anthology created and written by the two of them was a must for me to check out. Also, Amazing Forest is just a fantastic title. Or is it an amazing title?
Writer and artist Peter Bergting’s The Portent: Ashes is simple and elegant. It's like a dream where you only remember bits and pieces and maybe a few broad strokes, but it still fits together and is effective due to the overarching, ephemeral idea of the dream. Bergting’s first original graphic novel, Domovoi, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and his artistic style and relaxed storytelling was unlike anything else I had read or seen, until now. At once lush and desolate, Bergting creates a world that is both familiar and completely unknown and then moves his characters through that world with a kind of violent beauty. Lin, a wood nymph who has been gone for a long time, wandering and searching for the one thing she believes will return meaning to her life, returns to the world she once knew, and, in a way, this is her story. The characters, at first glance, represent familiar fantasy tropes, such as the fearless heroine, the wise mentor, and the young warrior, but through Bergting's unique storytelling, he adds depth and dimension to these characters, layering them with a multitude of mysteries and a mythical history. Much of that history comes from shared experiences, but the way each of the characters responds to that experience is completely different, making for a rich, lived-in past. The past echoes loudly in Lin's ears, everyone whispering their disappointment, and she can feel the sense of failure and regret weighing down on her shoulders. The Portent: Ashes is steeped in the past, a past that haunts the present and swells with regret and irrevocable choices.
Picking up high in the sky, right where writer Fred Van Lente left off at the end of the first issue of Brain Boy: The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T., issue two continues telepath Matt Price’s psychic tussle with the shadowy organization known only as G.E.S.T.A.L.T. Frustrating for Price, but intriguing for us, the name is still all he really knows about this group, except that they are also quite powerful, and it turns out very well financed. We are introduced to a new form of psychic warfare, as Price finds himself physically trapped on an airplane, forcing him to astral project his consciousness in order to battle an onslaught of intangible enemies. That’s already almost too much information, so I’ll just leave it at that, though I will say that Van Lente’s description of the Astral Plane is hilarious. This issue has the same level of laughs as the previous one, and it is entertaining to see Price flex his psychic muscles beyond what we’ve seen and to find himself out of his comfort zone and even in a new outfit.
Eye of Newt is a new, four-issue miniseries from renowned fantasy illustrator Michael Hague, and it encapsulates all the wonderful elements you would hope to find in a classic fantasy tale. There are wizards and witches and dragons and magical baubles and talking animals, just to mention a few of the things to be found in this first issue. Newt is an imaginative, young wizard’s apprentice, and when he is not taking instruction from his powerful teacher, he is often daydreaming. As Newt approaches the trial that will determine how powerful of a wizard he will become, his master has a sense of foreboding about the young boy’s near future. Newt, on the other hand, is still just taking it all in, and though he has been taught much, one has the feeling that he still has much to learn.
The Knuckleheads are back again and still at it, haphazardly trying to save the day and getting mixed up way over their heads in misadventures of minuscule, and galactic, proportions. And, they’re still doing all of it with an insane amount of wit and cleverness, making them one of the most entertaining superhero teams around . . . even though only one of them actually has superpowers . . . which he doesn’t really quite know how to control. But, that’s okay, because writer Brian Winkeler and artist Robert Wilson IV are in complete control of their story and characters and in this, the sixth Knuckleheads issue, they are moving their heroes, Trev, Lance, Guy, and Emma, way outside of their comfort zones, but not before Trev makes friends with a particularly vocal Welsh Corgi. It is obvious from this issue that Winkeler and Wilson IV plan to prove that in outer space, everyone can hear you laugh.
Fear Agent Volume Three careens headlong into the past, revealing the history that writer Rick Remender has been teasing and tempting us with for the last two volumes, spurred on by the desolateness of the Heath Huston of now. The past is like a flood that comes crashing over Heath, and we get caught up in its deadly undertow, dragged along through the memories of Heath’s triumphs and tribulations. The almost mythic story escalates fast into insurmountable alien obstacles, and then somehow goes beyond that with sci-fi shock and awe and damaged, desperate character choices. We know how Heath is in the present, and in The Last Goodbye we learn why, and that revelation is dark, destructive, and heart-crushingly irreparable.
Comic book artist and letterer T. Warren Montgomery launched his own independent publishing company, Will Lill Comics, with a handful of other small press artists and writers, and this marks their second issue of Grafix Chronicles, a black-and-white ongoing anthology series. Comprised of three individual stories, writers Mark F. Davis and Ron Fortier explore numerous genres from superheroes to horror to science fiction. They have a solid grasp on storytelling and know how to manipulate the genre tropes to intrigue us and, at times, to subvert our expectations. Assisting them are artists Ron Stewart, Armin Odzic, and Paul Moore, and each artist brings a different look and feel to their stories, two of which are to be continued in future issues.