In light of all the Star Wars comics I’ve been reviewing as of late, I figure now is as good a time as ever during a week break between comics to review something outside the realm of both Marvel and Star Wars and, once again, check out what Image has to offer in regard to its few new series. A few weeks ago I had heard about an upcoming comic called Oliver – a fresh idea from writer Gary Whitta, writer of greats like Rogue One and The Book of Eli. These movies are favorites of mine, and on top of that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Whitta on various podcasts and other nerd outlets the past few years. He’s really a man of a people, and a super nerd just like the rest of us, so I always try to put some time aside to enjoy what he has to offer. He seems to be working on everything across the board these days. Whether comics, novels, movies or video games, no medium seems to stop Whitta from putting pen to paper and writing a pretty sick story, so I have high hopes for Oliver and its ever popular writer. Oliver may not exactly be the genre for me, but that wasn’t going to stop me from checking it out.
The comic Oliver is a twist on the Charles Dickens’ character Oliver Twist, and it’s a big twist. Set in the distant post-apocalyptic future, the famous orphan spends his days as a superhero fighting for the liberation of England, which has since been seeped in division. Raised in a society of similarly faced men bred in labs years ago originally make for war, Oliver is an outlier: a natural born boy, which is unheard of within this group of people. Despite many’s protest, Oliver is permitted to live and grow among them, but there’s something different about him. He grows exceptionally fast, and he’s exceptionally athletic. Only a few years from his birth he has the look and the maturity of a preteen boy, and before long he begins to wonder about his family, and his origins, something kept quite mysterious to both Oliver himself and the comic’s readers. While the man that raised him chooses for now to keep Oliver in the dark about his true nature, he knows it won’t be long before the full truth will have to be revealed.
One thing to note first about Oliver, is that its setting and its visuals are really cool. Post-apocalyptic settings aren’t often found outside the realm of America, so seeing a completely desolate London, England is awesome, and due to Whitta’s English background and work on Book of Eli, you can really tell he knows what he wants when showing the massive landscapes and barren shots he asks his artist to provide. Conceptually, the story is solid, though it’s difficult to say where it’s going or what it’s trying to do with only 1 issue. Oliver is basically a non-character so far. He says very little in this issue, and although we establish he has a bit of a rebellious and adventurous nature about him, he just doesn’t seem all that interesting in this issue. Additionally, I’m just not sure what this issue has to do with Oliver Twist other than the characters likeness I guess? There’s a couple cool Charles Dickens quotes throughout, and it starts in a neat Dickens-esque way, but I haven’t seen any Oliver Twist moments that make me go “Hey that’s like the book, but post-apocalyptic!”. Maybe I’m missing something. Either way, I’m sure there’s more to come, and I think a lot of people are going to dig this comic. Whitta is the lord of fan service and giving people what they want to see, so I would suggest not fretting. At least yet.
(4 / 5)
Blackbird falls into one of the many genres out of my wheelhouse. It’s synopsis and quick glance-through gave me fantasy young adult vibes, which is totally cool, but pretty hit and miss for me. Image’s line of fantasy comics have perhaps been the shakiest in everything it allows its creative teams to dish out, perhaps because of the sheer quantity they’re publishing at any given time. Image should be held to a high standard regardless, and if Image’s vomiting of tons and tons of comics ever falls short of decent, they should rethink their strategy, because I feel they’re in more dangerous territory now than they’ve been in the recent past. Blackbird should fall in line with that standard, and while I think the cover was cool enough for a grab off the shelf, I was skeptical going in.
Blackbird follows the seemingly slice-of-life life of Nina, a woman long haunted by an experience in her youth that exposed her to a magical world invisible to the normal human eye. Her one time experience was short lived, and believed by few if none at all. She no longer sees this magical realm she knows to exist, and so she spends her days near obsessing over that reality beyond her own. Giant mythical creatures, essentially what Nina believes to be near omnipotent gods roam the world and appear when necessary. She’s unsure whether they’re benevolent, or for all she knows, completely evil, but she feels she deserves to be exposed to this world again, because why would she be in the first place? It was an unfair existence, and no one can argue. But, when she’s once again exposed to this magical world now as a woman, she may have the power to seek out the answers to the mysteries of this realm. She also may be completely in over her head.
To my own surprise, this comic book was really well received by critics. I didn’t hate this comic book, it just felt a little unsurprising. The world is vibrant and the creatures are cool to look at, and yet it feels underwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading a weekly comic from an amateur comic book writer on Reddit or someone’s blog. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, I enjoy that world of comics, but as I mentioned earlier Image’s publications should be held to a high standard if they’re going to oversaturate the way they do. The writing is good, the art is nice, but other recent Image titles like Isola or Death or Glory completely blow this comic book out of the water. It’s not to say there isn’t potential in this comic. I think there is a world to be built and expanded upon here that’s worth paying attention to, but I don’t think this is as much of a mind-blower that Image seems to consistently publish.
(3 / 5)
This is an interesting comic to say the least. When I grabbed this guy, I had absolutely no idea what it was, what it was was about, or anything about the creative team. However, the cover was awesome and it immediately gave off Scott Pilgrim vibes, which is one of my personal favorite comics of all time. Upon my first read, I was extremely confused, the story seemed to be jumping around, characters were undeveloped and world building was too quick and unexpected. I was, honestly, extremely disappointed by the comic simply because I was so thrown off by its contents. However, I really wanted to give this comic a revisit and thus a second opinion.
What I first learned by simply looking at the cover a little more, was that Sun Baker is a comic book anthology magazine. Essentially what this means is that they usually use different artists and different writers to make short, very quick stories within one issue. This explained the inconsistencies I found my first time through, and almost completely eradicated my confusion. This allowed me to take in each story (there’s only 2 / 3 in this one) as its own entity and appreciate them on an individual level. I also just spent more time with this comic in general the second time around, giving it an actual thoughtful read, and honestly, after the second time through, I liked this comic so much more. In fact, I loved this comic the second time. It’s extremely quirky and fun, in many similar ways that Scott Pilgrim was. The stories they introduce are simple, but insanely fun and if they revisit those worlds I’m all in. There’s no real character development here, but it’s not really needed to fit into the ‘anthology feel’.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this comic. If you liked the vibes of Scott Pilgrim, or if you just like that indie vibe at all, sit down and read Sun Bakery, it has the workings of something really special for that kind of audience. If you’re not so sure, or you don’t like that Scott Pilgrim-esque, silly and over the top indie feel, then Sun Bakery might not be for you. It’s definitely a unique comic with awesome and funny art, some great dialogue, and the workings of some really cool action adventure stories with a couple sweet female protagonists. At the very least, give Sun Bakery a shot, you may just find a new favorite out of this one.
(4 / 5)
Chew: Making Cannibalism Fun!
Chew is a long-running comic series, with its first issue released in 2009 and its final trade volume coming out earlier this year. It centers on Tony Chu, an agent for the FDA, which has become the most powerful agency in the U.S. government following an avian flu epidemic that created a death toll in the tens of millions and led to a complete ban on chicken. Tony is a cibopath, meaning he learns the history of anything he eats, a power that can be troublesome eating normal food–so, of course, his job involves taking bites out of murder victims. At the very beginning of the story, his partner, John Colby, takes a meat cleaver to the head that was aimed at Tony; Colby doesn’t just live, he comes back with half a face turned cybernetic.
It only gets weirder.
Chew is a prime example of where indie comics excel. It has a storyline with a designed ending point, and characters that aren’t going to be reborn in a whole new universe because the writers at Image can’t come up with any new ideas (although crossovers are still a thing). They can take chances on weirdness because if they overstep somewhere, no one’s hovering over their shoulders screaming, “YOU BORKED SUPERMAN!!!” Blended with a heavy dose of rock-solid comedic timing, Chew ends up being tremendously entertaining.
There are a couple of things that may end up bothering some people. One is that the most noteworthy deaths are of women. The female characters are pretty much all great when they’re alive, which balances this out somewhat, but there’s a bit of a ‘women in refrigerators’ aspect when they die in the same world that takes men with fatal injuries and Bionic Man’s them instead of letting them go too.
In addition, some people are going to be aggravated by Miso Honey, Tony’s sibling. ‘Miso Honey’ is introduced as the stage name of Tony’s brother Harold. Alright, so Harold is a drag queen? Sure, that works. Except Harold’s gender is brought into question with descriptions like ‘Tony’s brother/sister’, and the character is basically treated as a sideshow piece. Even that might be ok if all this was put to use in a storyline, e.g. something revolves around Harold, and Tony enters a part of the world he doesn’t understand and is deeply uncomfortable with. That never happens, though. Harold merely exists for chuckles, and the chuckles are based on belonging to a group that routinely gets crapped on anyway. No matter your opinion on writing or joking about marginalized groups in general, in this instance it feels like you’re being drawn in to help bully somebody, and it doesn’t feel too good.
And that’s unfortunate, because otherwise Chew is fantastic. If you can ignore a few instances of poor taste, the rest of it is definitely worth your time.
(4.3 / 5)
I cautiously approach this comic book for a number of reasons. Comic writers can get weird. Visions and ideas that are off the wall and wholly original simply because they’re completely oddball are a breeding ground at Image Comics. If it’s clever or funny, or outrageously violent or niche Image will let you publish it, and if it succeeds, it’s a win for everyone involved. Man Eaters is out of my wheelhouse. There’s no superheroes or spaceships so I’m automatically out of the loop, but I’m always willing to give a new comic book, especially one getting some community buzz, a read. I’ve spent some time with Image classics in this area like Rat Queens and Paper Girls, and enjoyed them, but both are set within often typical fantasy worlds I can latch onto. Man-Eaters is an utterly ridiculous modern world setting, and that’s just not my forte. So here we go. Strap in for this one.
As it turns out – there’s a new mutation going around out there and somehow it seems to manifest in cat poop. Anyone that’s cleaned a litter box, pet a cat, touched someone that’s pet a cat, and any little thing related has come into contact with this highly mobile mutation. Any girl that has it turns into a giant ferocious cat on her period. Yup. They turn into man-eating kitty cat killers when they’re menstruating and they’re nigh unstoppable. Luckily, the government has created preventative medical treatment that essentially stops woman from menstruating altogether, and hopefully stop the mutations from ever happening. Big cat killings are way down, and while it seems the efforts to stop these big cats from coming out have been mostly successful, there are cases of slip ups, and sometimes it’s simply unavoidable. Our main character Maude is a fairly typical 12 year old girl. Her dad is a CSI working under the authority of SCAT (yup), the organization made specifically for counter-big-cat-events. They’re the big wigs around here and they have the superiority complex to prove it. That’s not really Maude’s problem though, at least until it happens and she becomes one of those 1 in 100,000. Transformation incoming?
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this was the most comfortable read of my life. It’s weird and way too quirky for me, but I can’t tell you it was bad either. Man-Eaters is incredibly clever and self-aware, and without those elements at their maximum this comic book simply doesn’t work. Some of the current event jokes are perhaps a little outdated. A 12 year old asking for Minecraft money in 2018 is only like a 5 year old reference. If you aren’t making Fortnite jokes when you’re trying to be hip you’re probably off track a little bit. That being said there’s still some great laughs to be had here, and the creative team really lets loose with their nutty ideas. It’s violent, over the top, and wonderfully constructed. There are literally medical diagrams of changes that occur in the human body upon becoming exposed to the mutation, and articles talking about the outbreak, and PSAs talking about prevention and what to do in a kitty cat crisis. It’s absurd and totally respectable. Readers into these quirky Image comics will find something really cool here I think, and I hope it impresses.
(3.5 / 5)