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.
It’s time to jump in over your head with the first issue of the new Brain Boy miniseries, The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T. Hopefully, you’re already privy to the world and wonders of Matt Price, a cocky telepath on loan from super-secret Albright Industries to the United States Secret Service, but if not, you can get on board here. Writer Fred Van Lente kicks his story into high gear on the first page and delivers a shocking revelation and then skips back in time to unravel the mystery. Price is more serious here, not in his attitude or demeanor, but in the fact that he now has a girlfriend, Luisa, who was an integral part of the previous Psy vs. Psy miniseries. But, when you can manipulate people with your mind, relationships can be hard.
Amelia Cole is back! In print, that is. She has been living her life as the new Protector of the unknown world digitally through Monkeybrain Comics for quite some time, and now IDW is unleashing Amelia Cole and the Hidden War on the printed world, and it is magical. Collecting the next six issues of Amelia’s ongoing adventures, Hidden War introduces us to Amelia’s exhausting, day-to-day exploits as the new Protector of Otysburg, taking the job after Hector the Protector was ousted from the position in the first volume, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. Amelia often finds herself at odds with her employer, the Magistrate, due to her strong-willed nature and insistence to help people who don’t know magic, as well as those who do. Amelia takes the side of good, plain and simple. She views the whole city as worthy of protection, but between the Magistrate’s annoying, secret errands and her own efforts to keep Otysburg’s denizens safe, Amelia’s pushing herself to her limits, and it’s wearing her out. Or is there more going on below the surface? A more sinister plot flickering around the edges, waiting for the right time to make itself known? I’ll leave that for you to find out.