I jumped at the chance to review the second volume of IDW’s gritty G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, and I was more than a little surprised, and even caught over guard, by the time I reached the conclusion. While the first volume dealt with emotional, militaristic, and counter-intelligence issues, this second volume deals more specifically with emotional complexity, philosophical discussions of right and wrong, and the sometimes very thin line between the two. Hanging over all of the characters and their actions is the theme of consequences. The consequences of choices, of giving in to emotions, of misplaced or refused trust. Crafted by writer Mike Costa, the Cobra Files elite team continues to be a simmering pot of secrecy, distrust, and moral ambiguity, just waiting to boil over.
Co-writer Daniel Freedman and fellow co-writer and artist Sina Grace are back throwing punches and making jokes in the third and final issue of their Burn the Orphanage miniseries, Born to Lose. Working as both a continuation and conclusion to the previous issue’s Demons storyline, this issue, titled Wise Blood, offers more in the way of character development for Lex and Bear, while Rock is spirited away to try and make things right on a distant planet. There is less brawling here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still see some battles and bruises, though, at times, they come more in the form of volatile relationships and hurt hearts. The story splits focus more evenly between Rock and Lex and Bear this time around, and the two friends contemplate and plumb the depths of what it means to be in love and what love even means, where the stakes can be just as high as in an actual fight, and the injuries possibly even more long lasting. This introspection is still delivered in the raucous and irreverent style as those following the exploits of Rock and his friends have come to expect, and the energy behind the musings make the dialogue more kinetic than conjectural.
Binary Gray comes from independent comics publisher Assailant Comics, and I am glad I was introduced to this interesting title, and even more pleased to say how enjoyable and entertaining of a book it is. The more I read, the more I wanted to read more. Collecting the first six issues of the series, available both in print and digital at assailantcomics.com, Binary Gray starts with a small idea and then opens out into a larger story and world, and the results are impressive. Alex Gray leads a less-than-unique life as an IT guy at a nondescript office. In fact, the only interesting thing about him is that he is living in the past, trapped inside a recurring emotional loop of tragedy over his father’s death, for which he partly blames himself. There is no enjoyment in Alex’s existence until a work accident gives him the ability to communicate with electronics using his mind, turning his whole world upside down and bringing more excitement, possibility, hope, and danger into his life than he ever could have imagined.
Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem is a short, simple story that overflows with elegance, emotion, and beauty and is entirely captivating. Written by the prolific Steve Niles (based on a story by him and Matt Santoro), perhaps best known for creating the popular 30 Days of Night series, as well as the highly original Criminal Macabre and a plethora of other miniseries for a multitude of publishers, Breath of Bones lives and breathes simplicity in its storytelling. Published by Dark Horse, this is a deeply felt World War II story - small, personal, and set against a larger, destructive, seemingly unstoppable backdrop. The story of a small Jewish village under threat of Nazi invasion, and with no protection save for the hope and belief of a young boy and his grandfather that their faith will deliver them a protector in the form of a mythic golem sculpted out of the ground, is brief, direct, and remarkably poignant.
Knuckleheads #5 continues the zany antics that writer Brian Winkeler and artist Robert Wilson IV have been dishing out since unleashing their creative collective digitally through Monkeybrain Comics. This is a compact, non-stop story, and even when our heroes get a much-needed moment’s rest, it doesn’t last long, and fists, both super-powered and not, start to fly. Still in the cool-down phase from Trev's first true Crystal Fist heroics from the night before, by the end of the issue things get a lot more interesting, and the story opens up beyond Trev and his friends, widening the scope to interstellar proportions. The big, unforeseen story development is exciting and imaginative, showing that Winkeler and Wilson IV are comfortable working in small-time shenanigans, as well as intergalactic intrigue. Issue five is almost completely comedic, reveling in situational humor with an off-kilter superhero spin, and peppering character moments and new obstacles in between the laughs, and all of that is perfectly fine by me.
Yet another quality Monkeybrain Comics digital title makes its way to the world of print by way of IDW, and, this time, it is The Mask of the Red Panda, a rousing, urban adventure in the grand tradition of pulp novels and Saturday morning serials. Originally created as a thrilling 1920s-style radio drama called The Red Panda Adventures, creator Gregg Taylor’s Red Panda has taken on a life of its own, moving Taylor from the realm of radio to novels and then to comics, where the Toronto-based Red Panda found a new home with Monkeybrain Comics. This collection brings together the first three-part adventure, or serial, of the Red Panda’s comic debut, and the results are a great deal of old-time-infused-with-new-life fun.
Volume eighteen of Creepy Archives, produced and presented in a deluxe hardcover edition from Dark Horse and collecting issues 84-88 from 1976 and 1977, was my first exposure to Creepy, and it couldn’t be a better way to be introduced to these classic horror comics. I had read some Eerie and Tales from the Crypt comics before, but I found these issues of Creepy far superior for one specific reason: they don’t bog down the issues with constant interruptions or introductions from the book’s “host,” here in the form of Uncle Creepy. Instead, Uncle Creepy dutifully resides in the letters column at the beginning of each issue, displaying and responding to reader mail. While this may seem like an infinitesimal point, for me it meant the world, as it allowed the issues to flow more organically from story to story. It is exciting that the letters columns are included in these archive issues, as are the original chapter and ad pages, because the whole thing draws you in and pulls you back to the time when these comics would have first been read and experienced.
The second volume of G.I. Joe Special Missions is just as entertaining as the first, though in a different way. Still written by G.I. Joe aficionado Chuck Dixon, there is a richer vein of humor being tapped for issues five through nine of the series that make up this collection, which includes a three-part arc involving The Dreadnoks and Zartan, followed by two standalone adventures. The main story, titled Deadfall, takes place in an exotic and interesting locale, just like the first volume’s sea and underwater setting. This time around, we find the Joes in the exact opposite type of location, the dry and dusty desert of the Australian Outback. I love the idea of switching up where these stories unfold and am interested to see if Dixon can continue this idea of location as character into the third volume, if that was ever his idea at all. He very well may just be following where the characters and the story take him, but I can still hold out hope for a snow setting and an appearance by Snow Job.
Travel back to the early 1950s with Dark Horse Archives' third volume of Forbidden Worlds, presented in a prestige hardcover format and gloriously lurid color, complete with all the original ads, editor’s pages, short one-page stories, and, of course, all of the quirky, bizarre, unbelievable (but sometimes true!) publisher’s promises, and every once in a while slightly unintelligible tales found within the pages of issues nine through fourteen of this supernatural comics anthology. Straight out of 1952 and 1953, these stories of malevolent beings bent on revenge, sinister haunted houses, world-destroying monsters, and unfortunate coincidences are rife with hyperbole, turning the use of elaborate adjectives into a work of art. During especially over-descriptive scenes, I found myself removing all of the "–ly" adjectives and just reading the normal, much more direct sentence that remained. While at times comical – who knew you could create so many adjectives to describe evil, or darkness, for that matter – they often bring a highly stylized sense of mood and setting to the stories (letting me know exactly how I should be reacting to the story) and infusing the circumstances foist upon the characters with a certain amount of dread and terror. If I were to start using half as many adjectives in my everyday life, my day-to-day activities would seem much more exciting, and I guess this speaks to the time in which these comics were being made.
Amala’s Blade is a rip-roaring fantasy adventure tale, full of stealthy action, political intrigue, physical comedy, and a gaggle of ghosts. Created by Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas, this Dark Horse original seamlessly blends genres and moves deftly between comedy and drama as the consequences of Amala’s decisions threaten to overtake her future, and possibly lead to re-igniting war between the Purifiers and Modifiers. Ah, Purifiers and Modifiers. Written and lettered by Horton, with art and colors by Dialynas, the world of Naamaron is rich in history and atmosphere, as well as rife with tensions between the steam-and-machine-altered Modifiers and the as-they-were-born Purifiers, creating a fantasy landscape that feels like it has existed long before we meet the assassin heroine of Amala.