Where I Have Been For the Last Four Months?

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So let’s go over the big question I’ve got a few times, “Hey Scott, where were you for the last four months or so?”.The short answer is “busy”. The long answer is “very busy”. I recently left my day job to pursue my MBA full time, rather than part time. I’ve also been spending time finishing up writing duties on two separate independent comic series “Good Samaritans” and “Vis”. That’s right- now you guys can make fun of my comics like I do to yours (revenge is sweet isn’t it?). I’ve had the pleasure of working with some absolutely fantastic artists and editors during this process and it has been very illuminating.

 

That being said you can now check out my first comic, Good Samaritans #1 for FREE on DriveThruRPG and keep up with my work on Facebook at Scott Gladstein Presents.

 

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The United

The United

Staff: Melchizedek Todd

Overview:

An honest to God solid Christian multi-publisher crossover.

Review:

Ok so today I am going to do something a little different. I normally review only Issue #1s but today I am going to take a look at “The United” which, while technically a #1, is actually a mega crossover event between 10 Christian themed superheroes. I am totally in support of Indie crossovers and I was very excited to come across this one. For better or for worse- I am going to check out The United #1. Let’s give it a look.

Lettering & Layout

The layout is very reader friendly- as a 10 character crossover has to be. We have a character page with headshots and names of all the characters and when we are introduced to them we are given a small blurb about their abilities. This is helpful and not super intrusive.

The lettering is not fantastic. The introduction uses some very stock fonts in big, poorly laid out, exposition blocks. In panel the lettering is odd. Sometimes it is stretched or warped oddly but you can read it without issue.

Art

The art style is very stroke-heavy and is something I’d more expect to see in a horror comic but it is very detailed and it works. Someone obviously put a lot of love into the art for this comic and it shows. There are some anatomical oddities and inconsistencies but overall it’s fluid and is more a stylistic thing than anything. My only other real complaint is that due to the high contract and stroke-heavy nature of the art sometimes it is a little hard to follow if there is a large number of characters on the page. While not on the professional level- it isn’t a bad attempt and every scene has a plethora of “things” going on (as opposed to the empty background a lot of indie comics have).

Story

What we get out of this comic is a good old-fashioned superhero beatdown. I was skeptical of this comic until about page 7 because that page features a whole host (see what I did there? pun pun) of heroes just beating the living hell (I got a million of these) out of some robots on a beautifully done splash-page. THIS is what crossover comics are about.

In short, they have all been summoned by what is essentially the Devil (who has a rather fun and unique character design). A lot of Christian comics I have reviewed in the past were very preachy and (pardon the pun) black and white about morality. “God is good” is the only message we get and we are never introduced to the complexities of matters of morality and faith. I’m not religious and that always put me off about them. This comic doesn’t do that however. Right off the bat we are given some very valid reasons as to why God is a jerk by the antagonist. He talks about how God turns his back on the weak, punishes the innocent, and is wrathful at seemingly random times. While we (as readers) and the heroes are never going to side with the Devil on this one- this is a legitimate test of faith for the characters. We get some good back and forth from these characters and they show their devotion in their own way. Some quote biblical passages, some are silent, and some show their colors by simply quipping back but no one falters in their faith. A scumbag even calls them, “super-powered Jesus freaks” and that shows that the writer is not afraid to address the absurdity of the premise within the context of the real world. It makes it more believable and human- something a lot of superhero comics lack.

If there is a weakness to this comic- it is the overall plot. We have a bunch of kind of directionless plot threads that are just kind of thrown at us. They are fun visually but we aren’t made privy to exactly why some things are happening or what their overall goal is. Honestly- I wasn’t looking for Les Miserables from a massive crossover book but it would have been nice to see a more coherent story put together all the same.

Overall

Overall- this comic defied my expectations. I expected to get a moralizing yuppy Christian book with a bunch of, as the comic puts it, “superpowered Jesus freaks” but what I got was a lot of fun. It was a fast paced beat ‘em up with more characters than I could shake a stick at. It wasn’t overly long and while the overall direction was a bit messy it had a very good approach to the whole concept. Give it a read.

 

Metrics

Art: 5/10 (Stylized and decent. Not pro.)

Lettering: 3/10 (Not professional)

Plot: 5/10 (A realistic world with some interesting moral questions but lacks direction overall)

Novelty: 8/10 (A GOOD Christian comic? This is a white whale.)

Overall: 5/10 (but go read it)

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Project Chrysalis

Project Chrysalis

Staff: Amit Chauhan

Overview:

A train wreck with clipped photography for art.

Review:

The cover of “Project Chrysalis” tells me this comic is about “A corporation with a history of evil and atrocities” and that “A girl stumbles upon her new superhuman abilities” and features some terraced photography with a filter on it. Well… that doesn’t fill me with confidence that this will be a good book. However, I’ll take it at face value and give it a fair shot. Let’s jump into Project Chrysalis.

Art

Oh lord. The art. The ART. Yep- this is another trace/filter comic where everything is done from stock images and it is beautifully bad. I’ve missed this sort of artwork. It’s bad and there is really nothing worse. I suppose that it does, in fact, get the point across without hiring an actual artist. It isn’t until page 7 that the full impact of just how bad this art is hits us. We have our protagonist superimposed over stock backgrounds. She is clearly cropped out of the photos that were taken of her (or maybe of stock images?), run though a gain filter and plopped right there onto a layer above stock images. Her perspectives are all off, her expressions laughably exaggerated for a real person, and the next effect is something akin to looking at the collage of a 13 year old girl.

Lettering

The lettering was done by someone with a copy of Adobe Illustrator who just up and decided they wanted to try their hand at lettering one day. We have a very thick text for the first third of the book while we get an exposition dump and some rather basis lettering done in the second half. It’s all legible but feels very “basis” and amateurish.

Story

Plotwise we are using the (shakes magic mysterious historical event 8 Ball) Nazi Tibet expedition as the basis for some superhero hijinks. There is something about a husk-god and Nazis but we cut away from that in favor of meeting our protagonist. We get a whole montage of her groaning in pain and get some tell-don’t-show narration telling us what’s going on. The premise is that the Nazis retrieved a husk from Tibet and now in modern day due to some science-fu the husk is alive (and apparently an attractive young girl). She has superpowers and starts to fight the evil organization that is trying to catch her (for those playing along at home- that is trope #23 on the “Generic Superhero” plot list).

Let’s talk about the narration for a second. It is pretentious and almost as bad as the art. It talks about how a chrysalis (you know- the cocoon thing that hatches into a butterfly) is a catalyst for change, a new beginning then goes on to say how it is devoid of any imperfection, and that the word itself is derived from the greek word for gold. What?! The word “catalyst” is misused because it’s not the cause of the change- it’s the result. It is certainly not devoid of imperfections as many caterpillars don’t emerge due to defects. Finally… what does gold have to do with any of this (other than linking it to the next like “all that glitters is not gold”). The dialogue in this comic is just painfully pretentious (please turn on a Park song of your choice at this point for full effect) with lines like “tears from someone in despair are the kind of thing that pierces even the coldest of souls” and “Then you have to go through the humiliation of being spanked on the rear end….” (couldn’t say butt there?). I wish I was making this stuff up.

Overall

Overall, this is a joke. The cover set us up exactly for what was on the inside. It’s a pretentious mess that tries to hide how bland and samey it is. The art is the cherry on top- probably having been made with the aid of a bunch of very excited friends of the staff. This is apparently part of the Tiber Saga and if the rest of the comics in it (the other 2) and I’m glad I caught this one first so I know not to read the rest. Hey- at least it is a free comic… so at least you don’t have to ask for your money back if you bought it.

 

Metrics

Art: 1/10 (Cropped photos with a filter over some stock art)

Lettering: 4/10 (A little basic but it works)

Plot: 2/10 (Pretentious and unfocused)

Novelty: 1/10 (Derivative)

Overall: 2/10

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Brake

Brake

Staff: Shane Will, Nicholas Garza

Overview:

A ham-fisted attempt to make a Muslim superhero.

Review:

Today we are looking at “Brake”, a short, 7-page, superhero comic about a Muslim superhero (I don’t normally read the sales blurb, but I happened to catch it). This is apparently the origin story for a member of a comic universe (known collectively as the “Tomorrowverse”) by CK Comics and Scattered Comics. Let’s jump on into “Brake”.

Art

The art is not great. it gets the point across but there are some wonky angles, bizarre and inconsistent anatomy, and it all looks very low grade. The scenes are empty sometimes and the poses pretty exaggerated even by comic standards. The shadows, though done in the standard high-contrast fashion, are more or less random. There was a point on page 5 & 6 (of the PDF) that I thought his costume had an odd fan-shaped pattern on his forehead as it is in 5 panels it is there but later on we see that it was just intended to be shadow- despite him moving and us getting several angles on him.

Lettering

The lettering is not bad, but it was clearly done by someone new to the art. Sometimes the way the balloons are placed makes it difficult to tell who is talking in what order. A minor issue is that, since the site I got the comic from watermarks things, the bottom of the pages look like a jumbled mess because they place white text on the black bleed. Not a big deal, but most comics avoid putting things into the bleed for reasons like this.

Story

So I give this comic props- it tackles a very difficult topic. The opening narration talks about how the teachings if Islam are bad being perverted by an group of extremists few and not all Muslims are evil. This is a very bold stance to take in the current climate but one I happen to agree with. If I can soapbox here for a moment, every belief (be it religious, national, cultural, and even philosophical) has their extremists and we shouldn’t judge the group as a whole for their more radical parts. Radicalism has little to do with the nature or teachings of the group and more just serves as the glue that binds them- it could literally be anything that meets a few criteria. However, this comic handles this delicate topic about as subtly as a toddler with a hammer.

The first page sets up the universe with a exposition dump delivered ala the news. The world is full of superheroes, the war in the middle east is ongoing, anti-muslim sentiments are running hot and there is a superhero named “Tomorrow” who is from the future that our protagonist is inspired by. Oddly enough for an origin story, we just get a few lines of narration to explain his backstory. He was in a car accident and suddenly he was invulnerable.

The dialogue is pretty heavy in this comic- a lot of “tell” rather than “show”. Honestly, a lot of the first few pages could have been shown visually rather than exposited about in narration (show some images of Tomorrow on the news, some anti-muslim rallies, give us 2 panels giving him his origin and power, and finally show the protagonist making the costume like we get). This is a problem with a lot of indie comics and indie superhero comics in particular. We are told everything rather than shown anything. For example, we get a panel where a villain pulls a gun and one guy yells, “Look out!!!” and another guy screams, “He’s got a gun!” but their poses and expressions already convey that.

Overall the plot is about as generic as it could be, relying on a lot of tropes of the genre. The protagonist, Bahir Azeem, got superpowers and was inspired by another hero to action. He is Muslim and I mean SUPER and stereotypically Muslim. Every scene he is either praying, talking about something related to his faith, or giving exposition. It’s like when a female character is in the cast and it is painfully obvious that she is “the girl” and that about sums her entire character up, except in this case Bahir is 100% defined by his religion. I can respect this comic for trying to give us a Muslim hero- but a cardboard cutout with the word “Allah” would have had more depth.

The comic ends with some sickeningly derivative scenes of the hero punching the villain and then being locked in jail 2 panels later and is followed by the generic scene of the hero shaking hands with the political leader while looking at the crowd waving one hand. This seems like something out of a 80s TV show, but it falls really flat and feels super stale. I’ve read PSAs and propaganda pieces that were more subtle than this. In fact- that’s exactly what this feels like; a propaganda comic. I mean I know it’s really just ham-fisted writing, the best intentions gone wrong, and an over-reliance on superhero tropes but that is what it feels like. Like a PSA or propaganda piece in that they rely on high moralizing and dramatics over any sort of substance. We are TOLD that the Muslims are being treated ill but we never see Bahir experience this sort of prejudice. The villain’s motives might as well be “to ruin Christmas” because it ultimately amount to “Because I’m evil!”.

Overall

In conclusion- don’t read this comic if you want a good story about a Muslim superhero. Go check out G. Willow Wilson’s fantastic run on Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan or the New 52 Nightrunner comic. Both feature much more developed Muslim characters than this one dimensional schlock.

 

Metrics

Art: 3/10 (Low quality but gets the point across more or less.)

Lettering: 4/10 (Armature but readable.)

Plot: 1/10 (One-dimensional and formulaic.)

Novelty: 1/10 (Derivative.)

Overall: 2.25/10

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Spring Heeled Jack

Spring Heeled Jack

Staff: Tony Deans, Martha Laverick, Joshua Cozine

Overview:

Something is just not right about this horror comic.

Review:

Today we’ve got another horror comic. This time rather than some generic monster we have Spring-Heeled Jack. For those not familiar with the myth Jack is a character out of victorian England and was something of an urban legend. He has some connections to devil (eyes of fire, clawed hands, etc) and some “gentlemanly” aspects to his appears. He has appeared in a lot of media and has been adapted into many comics over the years. That being said, let’s jump into Spring-Heeled Jack and see if this is “just another Spring-Heeled Jack comic” of if it is something special!

Art & Lettering

The art isn’t my favorite style but it’s well done and fits the comic’s tone. It’s done in a style that shows a lot of the brushstrokes and uses a very flat pallet. It’s a good mood setter and it’s well-drawn with a lot of use of shadow and contrast. When we finally see Jack a few pages in he matches his description though have a very “vampiric” quality about him. The lettering is clean and legible however- exactly how it needs to be and it matches the feel well enough.

The second act totally changes everything. While the same art style is used, without the heavy shadow and dark colors to hide it- there is some sloppy art. There are a few instances of odd and inconsistent proportions, some panels lacked background that should probably have them, and the character designs are not as novel in this sort of light. It takes on some vaguely manga inspired aspects later and it kind of clashes a little (though one could argue that there is a pervasive influence that is just more highlighted more later on).

Story

There is not a lot of dialogue but that shows an understanding of the medium. I’d be surprised if the first act of the book had more than 100 words of dialogue- but it doesn’t need it. This is a good example of how to “show” not “tell”. It starts with a chase and we are not inundated with exposition about the situation. It just “happens” and we are given enough context clues to figure out the rest.

I gotta say- I was not a big fan of making this a Sherlock Holmes story. Half way through we are introduced to “Mr. Arthur Doyle”, a not-so-subtle Holmes pastiche (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Holmes stories). I’ll give them credit- the character looks like the real life Doyle a bit so that’s a nice little touch. I am not sure if they meant it to BE him or to be someone LIKE him. We also have his Lestrad stand in “O’Brien” and his Wattson stand in “Joe” (though he is a fair bit more astute and active than his literary counterpart). Joe is based on Joseph Bell, a forensic surgeon who Holmes was based on in part. I’m 90% sure they are posing this as some sort of historical fiction with supernatural elements but it just kind of feels like they are using it for the sake of name recognition.

We see Jack do some supernatural things (breath fire, take bullet hits without issue, and some claws) and the “law” of Holmes is that while something may seem supernatural- it never is. Science and deductive witt always shines light on it and it is revealed to be a sham. Part of me really hopes the story ends in that fashion but I get this feel like it would be a bit of a let down at the same time. We have the titular character seemingly possessed of supernatural abilities and this is one of the only aspect of the comic left in questions really so if it was all some stage magic or something I feel like that might take some of the “umph” out of the excellent first scene.

Overall

Overall, despite my gripes about it, this is not a bad comic. It’s not a godsend but it’s pretty inoffensive next to things like HellOhGirl or Kinesis or whatnot. If this is your kind of thing you are going to enjoy it. I wasn’t particularly thrilled. It started off good and the art is interesting but the rest kind of falls flat. For something 23 pages long not much happens and it doesn’t quite resolve itself. That is not to say that it needs to in the 1st issue, but I can’t say I’m terribly interested to see where Mr. Doyle goes. All and all, Spring Heeled Jack is your basic boogie-man despite his name.

Metrics

Art: 4/10 (Great at times but other times it is unsuccessful.)

Lettering: 5/10 (It works well.)

Plot: 4/10 (Nothing special and some odd historical choices.)

Novelty: 5/10 (Hey- it takes a shot at doing something new, I’ll give it credit for that.)

Overall: 4.5/10

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Parallel Man

Parallel Man

Staff: Jeffrey Morris, Fredrick Haugen, Christopher Jones, and Dylan Hansen

Overview:

Professional with a great premise.

Review:

So Parallel Man relies on the concept of the “multiverse”- a series of infinite (or near infinite) interconnected alternate universes just next door to each other. This is a concept very much steeped in the lore of American comics as this is the universal logic employed by most major publishers to tie their stories together. The premise of this comic is original- in the vastness of the multiverse one version of America developed the ability to jump to different realities and conquer them because they destroyed their own world. I’m sold on the premise and the cover art looks gorgeous so let’s jump in and see if it delivers!

 

Art

The art is top notch. It is done in a style similar to that of most major publishers and doesn’t fail to impress. You guys know I’m something of an art snob- but this is done with a deep understanding of the medium. It’s in full color, uses dynamic angles, and it’s expressive. They have some very invocative imagery- a shattered Lincoln memorial implies a loss of freedom, Air Force One, and an alternatively colored american flag. Hey- they even got Obama in there for a bit and did a fair likeness of him.

I gotta say though, for all the high praise I am laying on this thing, when we finally get to see the universe-jumping military their appearance fails to impress. The big intro on page 9 just kind of looks like a line of very cookie cutter soldiers in generic “space soldier” style armor of the same height and build. Given the details on earlier pages, I was ready for some realistically diverse and very imaginative soldiers- not something that bland. However- that is about the only misstep in the creativity department (see the story section for more on that).

 

Lettering

The lettering makes me envious. They do more than just your standard boxes and onomatopoeia. The text is legible, the onomatopoeia is creatively applied, and non-interruptive to the beautiful art. They use a variety of balloon and font styles, when appropriate, and it just adds to the already very professional appearance of the comic. Honestly- if I didn’t know better, I would assume that this was something produced by Marvel, DC, or Image.

 

Story

There are some kind of over the top names for things like “hellfighters” and a lot of techno jargon that is meant to sound scientific, but overall the writing is a solid B+ or A-. It does its job and does its word building without giving us too bad of an exposition bomb (aided by the first page’s short introduction). The dialogue comes off as natural and does a great job handling such a weird premise.

When compared to the overall direction thus far- the worldbuilding is the shining gem. The premise works and is used to great effect. We are immersed in the world of the reality-hopping Nick Morgan and his sidekick, a computer program named Atlas.The various universes we get to see showcase the powerful imagination (both in an artistic and worldbuilding sense) that this team can bring. We see megalithic vehicles, crazy alien designs, mushroom forests, . They do rely on “science as magic” a bit heavily and kind of ham-handedly in the narrative sense (a “nanopatches fix everything” kind of setup) but I think it was done to keep the focus of the comic on the premise rather than the minor details. We get a slow-ish start with the real plot kicking in about half way through the first issue and don’t really get a full understanding of it until about 10 pages before the end. That’s not to say there is a pacing issue, more that they handle it pretty well. There is a bit of tonal shift near the end that I wasn’t so fond of, but it looks like it will set up some interesting character dynamics in later issues.

 

Overall

Overall, I dig it. It’s a solid premise with a lot of mileage in its premise. The first issue does a great job of setting up a lot of issues to come. This comic is about as professional as indies get- great art and some solid writing. I’m on-board with this one.

 

Metrics

Art: 8/10 (Downright professional)

Lettering: 8/10 (Above and beyond)

Plot: 6/10 (Solid across the board)

Novelty: 10/10 (Gotta love this premise and the way they handle it!)

Overall: 8/10

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(They also have some other Parallel Man media like games and stuff on the site- totally worth a look.)