Paul Tobin and Joe Querio’s The Witcher: House of Glass is a murder mystery set in the Black Forest of Angren. It begins with a chance encounter between Jakob, a hunter, and Geralt, the titular Witcher. The two share a campfire and a meal, as well as a lot of expensive Evreluch wine, and then Jakob explains that he’s figuratively haunting the edges of the forest because his unfortunate wife Marta has literally been haunting the land in the form of a Bruxae Vampire for the last nine years. After further commiserations, the two depart into the Black Forest under the pretense that Jakob would like to seek out a new life as Geralt’s traveling companion.
Nightmare Carnival is a short story anthology. The included works are generally gothic in their tone and tenor, and — as indicated by the title — they all relate to a carnival or carnivals in one way or another. With some notable exceptions, the included tales are generally amateurish. A surprising number of the authors have not mastered basic concepts that pertain to the craft of writing (e.g., they overuse and needlessly repeat words; they fail to use paragraph structure to establish tempo; and they include labored dialogue that is usually more distracting than informative); however, it is also true that a number of the stories — or, more specifically, the ideas — that are conveyed in these pieces are entertaining and do deliver the anticipated “goods” — scary carnival-themed events. For these reasons, the work can be recommended to anyone who has a well-worn VHS of Killer Clowns from Outer Space, but it can’t be recommended to a general audience.
Polar Bear Comics' Polar Bear Zombie is a fun, rewarding book that is worth your time. The story involves a couple of hapless zookeepers who struggle to survive in the early stages of a zombie invasion. Their chief ward, the ill-fated polar bear, becomes infected while brawling with the encroaching undead. The animated atrocities accomplish what global warming could not: the would-be hero is laid low — until he returns to hideous life, on a mission to bedevil every man, zombie, and whale that crosses his path. The story is brisk, the drawings are detailed sketches that strike just the right mood, and the gore is so grotesque it may give squeamish readers paws. [ahem]
Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz’s The Authentic Accounts of Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities imagines that William Henry McCarthy — a.k.a. Billy the Kid — was not gunned down by Pat Garrett in 1881. Rather, the outlaw took to the rails and went into hiding. The story begins with a fateful encounter between McCarthy and Fineas Sproule, the purveyor of Sproule’s Biological Curiosities, a traveling “freak show.” Promising McCarthy a life of purpose with some limited security, Sproule, who has four hands (two where his feet should be), convinces McCarthy to join his enterprise. Over the next several hundred pages, they embark on a series of grim adventures featuring a mashup of literary and cinematic fiends that bring to mind the Universal Pictures’ creature features of the 1930s and '40s.
Cosmic VII and the Chronicles of Opus is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are some truly interesting choices in the panel work. On the other hand, the book is far too long, with a number of redundant images, which are often cluttered with needless dialogue. The imbalance is curious because the style is minimalist throughout (e.g., fluid outlines covered in flowing garments set against empty backgrounds). The effect is startling, but only for short stretches. From time to time, the artwork undergoes a significant flourish. Real images are substituted for sketches, color scheme inversions come and go, and well-executed action sequences take the reader’s mind off the looming void behind each and every face. These moments are arresting and compel interest in the book; however, they also function as something of an oasis by contrast, usually one that is set in the middle of a long, chatty spell of inactive characters. The book tries to drive interest in such static moments with multi-perspective shots of what are essentially immobile people.
River Comics’ Ash Man tells the story of Devon Ashford, a wealthy industrialist who falls victim to the rage of a jealous business partner. Murdered, cremated, then scattered to the winds, Devon becomes reconstituted in deepest space — for mysterious reasons. The strongest aspect of this book is the artwork, which is beautiful; large pastel venues blend together in what becomes a vertical narrative, dropping the reader lower and lower, as he or she moves toward the moment of Devon’s betrayal. The artwork alone is worth the price of admission, which is good because the story is another matter.
David Hitchcock’s Springheeled Jack is worthy of your immediate consideration. Imaginative and enthralling, this playful consideration of a real terror from nineteenth-century England is entertaining from beginning to end. In his introduction, Hitchcock explains the historical context for this book. Beginning in the late 1830s, there were reports in London of a mysterious individual who would terrorize women before leaping away and vanishing into the night, only to be spotted later on rooftops and other high points in the city, such as the Tower of London. Beginning with one breathless, pearl-clutching report from the period that claimed this acrobatic tormentor was “most assuredly not of this earth,” Hitchcock reimagines the story of Springheeled Jack as a gothic alien invasion drama, loaded down with literary and historical references that comic book readers are sure to enjoy. For example, the hero of this tale has a bat suit and a fastidious butler named Alfred. His best friend is Dr. Jekyll. (Yes, that Dr. Jekyll.) And, his flying gadgets are crafted by “Orville and Wilbur.” Prince Albert and Queen Victoria also show up, and there are veiled references to Jack the Ripper. And, did I mention the alien invasion?
Alien Legion: Dead and Buried is an immersive space opera with a cast of memorable and impressive characters. The art style is crisp and clean — large, rectangular panels with clear borders are set at right angles and colored with bright, primary shades. Characters are in constant motion: jumping, shooting, racing across weird landscapes, and everyone has a nearly unpronounceable name. The story is hokey— think Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen meets The Fantastic Four, but it’s so earnest that the reader can’t help but get swept up in the madcap galactic happenings.
Lauri and Jaakko Ahonen’s Jaybird is a moving tribute to the survivors of armed conflict in Europe. A boy and his infirm mother, both anthropomorphized birds, “live quietly” in a rotting mansion. By day, the boy roams the halls — which are festooned with portraits of great military heroes from assumedly greater days — as a housekeeper. The mother, bedridden, spends her days slowly dying, completely dependent upon her son’s solicitude. He feeds her, cleans her — and, as the story begins, starts to ask her questions about the forbidden outside world.
BOOM! Studios’ Clive Barker’s Hellraiser: Bestiary #1 contains three very short stories set in the Hellraiser milieu. The first, “Symphony in Red” by Ben Meares and Mark Miller, depicts the growing bloodlust of a demonic torturer. The second, “Desert Fathers” by Victor LaValle, presents a conflict between a present-day band of demon hunters and a demon. The third, “The Hunted, Part One,” again by Ben Meares and Mark Miller, illustrates the capture and impending torture of a down-on-his-luck pinhead.