Beauty in Chaos: Cleave

Cleave

Comic by Fletch Helle
Davide Pozzoni, Ken Reynolds, and DC Alonso

Crows know

Cleave is an unexpected twist to a predictable story. That feeling that happens when calling out to a friend in the distance who turns out to be a stranger, but then just turns Cleaveout to be another cool friend.

Art

Fletch found a solid ally. The art in Cleave sticks with the pace of the comic. The color palette is a bit drab, but chosen well. The palette itself expands and shrinks as does the ebb and flow of the comic. Reading through, an Easter egg will poke out. Then another. One thing leads to another before realizing the whole comic has these details and quips that bring it together. It’s worth looking back to appreciate and find ’em all.

Comprehensibility

The comic itself is well interconnected. An explanation of how smart crows are leads into the mundane life of Erik. Which turns into the not-so-mundane life of Erik. Not once does one feel lost reading through these pages. Each character has a name and personality, and even through their transitions, they stay faithful to their identities.

Almost everything makes sense, but then a few things don’t. Like, how come these two characters were affected, but not this one? The color palette brightens up at the end, but doesn’t make a lot of sense why; and who’s the guy with the glasses and tie?

Cohesion

This comic is super fun. Everything connects back to itself. While not immediately evident, it feels good to look back through the pages and find those connections. Little details start poking out that weren’t there before, and the whole thing comes to a cohesive existence. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, but it’s just kind of there. Sure, there’s a want to know who the guy is, but not because he’s interesting. Rather, he just kind of popped up out of nowhere. Looking back through the pages, there’s just nothing relating back to him, and it’s troublesome. More details will probably show up in the second issue. Sooner than later when supporting Fletch through his Patreon.

I love this comic,
but who’s the guy with the glasses and tie?

All Winner Society

19543_142036bAll Winner Society

Staff: Rodney Lockett, Joe DeSantos, Lawrenz Lano

Overview:

Generic characters, doing generic things, spouting generic lines, for generic reasons.

Review:

So today I got my teeth on the “All Winners Society” by Iron Gate Comics. I like superhero stories and I dig team ups. So the name of this comic reminded me of All-Winners Squad, an obscure comic team made in the late 40s so I figured I’d give it a read. The cover looks schlocky and a little low budget so I’m expecting great and/or terrible things from this one so I’m going in excited for one of those two.

Art:

So let’s get this out of the way- the art is on the low end. It’s decent enough, but the graphic design work on this comic is just downright terrible. The cover has difference clouds rendered by Photoshop for the background, the names of characters are hard to read over stuff, generic fonts are used, and everything looks like it was laid out by a 1st year graphic design student. I don’t normally comment on coloring in particular but they just decided to slap one color on characters and add shading via their lines. Not a single use of complex colors is in this comic and they make liberal use of high contrast primaries- which is just ugly looking. Heck- on page 9 they just have a character who is entirely colored one color (and later color them more complexly).

I’m also not entirely convinced some of these images were not just traced. The poses seem stilted, expressions awkward, and nothing seems to cohesively bind a scene together. And that’s unfortunate- because some panels are much better set up. This comic is obviously a throwback to golden age comics but it’s really not picking from the best parts of it. I don’t think the low-budget art was a “design choice” but a matter forced on them. There are issues with perspective (page 12 is a good example), with consistent proportions, backgrounds, the sequence of actions, and a whole host of other things. Most of the character designs are clearly just pastiches of other mainstream characters or just uninspired. I really went into this comic expecting good things but it was just a nightmare.
The lettering is as bad as the artwork. It’s cramped, small-texted, and shoved right up against the edges. You’d think the letterer had never heard of smallcaps for their text layout and every dialogue balloon is laid out using the rounded corner shape creator from Illustrator.

Writing / Story:

Our setup is as generic as the artwork. We get a hefty dump of exposition dropped on us on the first page. It is 1944, the NAZIs have time travel, it is being testing, team has to stop them. The dialogue is painful, most spoken dialogue is expolistional, you can predict every action, the attempts at character development are superficial, and it all just falls flat.

The problem with a team-up book is that you don’t get a chance to connect with characters. You have over a dozen characters running around with little or no  introduction (mostly the latter). They are generic characters, doing generic things, spouting generic lines, for generic reasons. It lacks any sense of subtlety or complexity- even by Golden Aged standards .

The overall plot is really just one big fight scene- the generic good guys vs the generic bad guys. (We don’t know WHY one group is evil. Just that they decided it was) That might have been interesting but we don’t know (and are not told) what the character’s powers are thus we have no idea of the stakes. If one character can take bullets to the chest (like we see on page 13), should we be scared when someone else is shot at? Hell- by the end of it I wasn’t even sure who was on what team. The scenes just flip between timelines with no heads up and with so many characters you just met- you just have to try to keep track of who is doing what to who is what timeline. Sometimes they remember to mark it (see page 4 and 20) but other times they just skip it entirely (like why wasn’t it on page 7 during the establishing shot of the “modern” team. Only learned the date on page 23) It’s a total mess.
I will note that it was a nice touch to see some characters from other publishers (changed enough for legal reasons) on page 21. Always a fan of Black Terror for some reason. Not sure it adds much here- it’s a bizarre choice to have a “Ga! I know that guy! He is supposed to be Cat Man!” moment during a somber scene. Kind of a tonal disconnect.

Overall:

The end of this comic notes that “This project started out as a bunch of strangers playing Cities of Heroes and having a common interest in golden age heroes.” and that REALLY shows. It’s a super-generic slugfest with characters we have no emotional attachment to that someone REALLY wanted to make. This comic suffers from the all too common “generic hero comic” syndrome. They think putting together the same tropes that they see in superhero comics makes it a good comic and it always lacks it. At least superhero comics like iHero TRY to do something new (even if they totally fail at doing it). Now I’ve reviewed comics that use this premise and have a lot of fun with it. One of my favorite comics like this was The Misadventures of Electrolyte and The Justice Purveyors and you can DO the campy pulp-era aesthetic well, even if your art isn’t outstanding (see Crunch: Revenge) so long as you know what you are doing. This is an amature effort- a novice playing with concepts they’ve seen rather than inherently understand. The creative process has to generate these tropes- the tropes should not dictate the creative process.

Metrics:

Art: 3/10 [Not good.]

Lettering: 4/10 [Legible.]

Plot: 2/10 [Generic, uninteresting, slugfest.]

Novelty: 1/10 [Everything is generic.]

Overall: 2.25/10

Link to Product

The Ultimate Alliance

The Ultimate Alliance

Staff: Joey Haas and Megan Rosa

Overview:

I got to use the line, “The writing reminds me of a fart joke.” in this review.

Review:

Ever sit around with your friend and make stupid jokes that only you find funny but laugh yourself silly over? That’s pretty much what we’ve got today- except someone took the time and effort to draw it out as a comic. Love it or hate it- it’ll be an interesting ride. So strap in kiddies we are jumping into “The Ultimate Alliance” by JH Publishing.

Art:

So let’s get this out of the way- this art could have been drawn by a talented 7 year old. It’s not good and I get the idea that it’s not trying to be good. This is a fun passion project and I can’t give them shit over the fact that they are not professional artists. Hell- I don’t know if having professional quality art would have improved it. If anything it kind of accents the kind of low-budget schlock-comic ascetic. Intentional or not, it kind of works. It almost approaches the level of being “so bad it’s good” but I can’t bestow that moniker to it because I’m only like 75% sure that’s really what they were going for.

 

One thing of note for this is that, while the artwork is not great- I’m never confused about what is going on. It’s simple, gets the point across, and ties into the written aspect of the comic. Sure the artist might have a boiling hatred for the art of correct perspective, proportions, and consistency but at least I knew what the hell was going on. Some comics, particularly more artsy ones, often have dark and confusing scenes in them.

 

It’s a full color comic and it’s light and cartoony and the lettering matches. The dialogue boxes are rough squares with vibrant stock colors behind them. While it never gets to the point where it’s hard to read it’s not exactly stellar. However, see the above paragraph for my thoughts on the quality of artistic elements of this comic.

 

Writing / Story:

The writing reminds me of a fart joke. Everyone considers it really crude, laughs in their head about it, but is too polite to laugh out loud. Is it good? Not really. Is it entertaining? Sure, why not. I mean we’ve all got that stupid idea bounding around our head that when you tell your friend about it they laugh. Does that mean it should go into a comic for widestream consumption? Probably not. The comic is filled with in-jokes you probably won’t get, simplistic (even crude) humor, and a complete detachment from the expectations you have about a good comic. It kind of reminds me of those little golden-age humor comics that were basically all about slapstick humor and bawdy jokes.  I’ll admit- I chuckled once or twice but I wouldn’t call it ‘good’ per se.

 

I will give it some points however. It does some things right that a lot of indie comics don’t. Obviously there is the tone- a lot of indie superhero comics straddle the line between wanting to be serious and wanting to make fun of comics. When that happens it kind of ends up in this weird middle ground where it’s not funny and it’s not really serious either. This comic commits the to “screw it- let’s just make bad puns and fly around in an ox-copter” end of the spectrum and I can respect that. However clumsily it does it, it also does something kind of brilliant with its pacing. It takes a few pages to set up the characters (in their civilian identity) than just does straight up “information” page on them once they become their alter egos. It works better than you’d think. I mean they are one note characters, but at least they introduce them right. None of this “EXPOSITION DUMP” that a lot of indie hero comics are so fond of putting in their comics. Short, sweet, and to the point- even if handled like a mad ape.

 

Overall:

Ultimately this is a weird, very personally motivated, in-joke of a humor comic. It’s one of those things that I couldn’t avoid reviewing- it brings me back to my roots. I LIKE to review comics with bad elements to them and shout about the good parts. This one was a perfect fit. It is REALLY dumb and has pretty solidly bad art but it was clearly a labor of love and it knew what it wanted to be. I’m not going to recommend it or give it high praise but, you know what, it’s better than you’ll think it is when you look at the first page.

 

Metrics:

Art: 2/10 [Let’s say it’s not great]

Lettering: 4/10 [I mean it’s legible.]

Plot: 5/10 [Honestly? Not bad for humor comic.]

Novelty: 6/10 [It’s half in jokes but at least it tried]

Overall: 4.25/10

Link to Website

The Dredger

dredger-coverThe Dredger

Staff: Jeremy Wilfinger, Crizam Zamora, Natalia Marques

Overview:

The Dredger is a well-written, well-illustrated, clearly-loved, comic that fails to excite with its premise.

Review:

Hey guys, ready for the next round of reviews? We’ve got two new writers (Kayla and Thomas) coming on board soon at Indie Comic Review (in addition to yours truly) so get excited for that! Anyway today we’ve got “The Dredger” so let’s jump on in!

Art:

Art looks downright professional grade, but not on like the “high art” end of the spectrum. Looks like a typical comics circa 2000-2010 in terms of style. A brighter palette and while things are not perfect- they are a cut above the rest. There are some really nice little bits of details that bring the world to life. This is particularly true when you see some of Ben’s photographs near the end and it’s a really solid use of the visual medium of comics.

Lettering, the hallmark of a professional comic, is on point. I could see a handful of instances where the text was probably too close to the edge of the balloons but only a critic would notice such things (see the lower right panel of page 25 for an example).

Writing / Story:

Linguistically I don’t know if heavy accents were the right choice. On the one hand they do add to the notion of diverse people thrown together into a common situation but, on the other hand, it makes it a little hard to read sometimes. There were a few well delivered lines that made me chuckle, which is a sign that the writer knows what they were doing.

In terms of plot it’s an authoritarian future where a weaponized virus has been released into a major population center. I gotta say- I get where they are going with a comic like this but… it’s honestly kind of boring. Like I kept finding myself waiting for the “big reveal” and it never came. It was kind of a let down. We have some really big build up and decent writing for what amounts to a “the government is kinda evil” story. I was getting a bit of a 28 days later vibe from it towards the middle but the premise just didn’t grab me. Maybe it picks up and evolves into something more interesting later but right now? I don’t think I’d read issue two to find out what it was.

Overall:

Ultimately this is a well-written, well-illustrated, clearly-loved, comic that was written as a message (see the Frederick Douglass quote up front if you somehow missed it). However, it fails to excite. It is one of those slow build comics that never really builds to anything groundbreaking. Now, never every comic needs to be high-octane action packed into every panel (I’ve liked some slow) but this one just kind of never gets anywhere. Sure things happens and the story progresses but I didn’t feel engaged by the premise. Like I said- it’s got all the right ingredients other than the premises’ engagement to me personally- so give it a read. Maybe it’ll have a profound impact on you.

Metrics:

Art: 7/10 [Pro level]

Lettering: 6/10 [Decent]

Plot: 5/10 [Solid dialogue]

Novelty: 3/10 [Just didn’t grab me at all.]

Overall: 5.25/10

Link to Website

Adamant

7df7888f16cbde1ceca544dc734da085-_sx360_ql80_ttd_Adamant

Staff: Mike Exner III, D.C. Stuelpner, Ian Waryanto, Josh Jensen, Micah Myers

Overview:

A beautiful, hilarious, superhero comic that does it all right.

Review:

The next course on our indie comic buffet is “Adamant”, a comic from Loophole Comics. The author described it to me as his love letter to the superhero comics he grew up with as a kid. Cover caught my eye- real bizarre and had some interesting color choice so I’m going to give it a read.

Art:

First things first the art top notch art- seriously best in the business. Something that didn’t sit super well with me off the bat was that there was an artist listed for page 1-7 and an entirely separate one listed for 8-20. I wasn’t really sure what to make of that but seems hinky at first. After reading it however- it’s apparent why they did this and it’s actually pretty clever. I only bring this up because it means I have to review the art twice.

The first 7 pages or so are they very stylized, thick-stroked, cartoonish, style that bring to mind some Disney stuff. Post page 8 we have a more 80s influenced comic style that keeps a similar color pallet. Both are just beautiful. This is straight up some of the best artwork I’ve come across as of late and that’ saying something. Very polished and a very good use of color across the entire thing. I wish the big publisher would put this much love into their products.

Other than that, the lettering is a little weird- the dialogue balloons are fine but some of the font choices for the narration/information boxes are a little weird. The robot dialogue font is a little hard to read at times. Overall it was readable and did it’s job.

Writing / Story:

So- this review contains a minor spoiler (it’s kind of the premise) so you’ve been warned. A few pages in the main character, a superhero named Adamant, gets thrown through time into the future (hence the artist switch). It goes from a very super-cheesy, stock, campy, superhero story (complete with a monocled evil genius villain) to a comedy set in the future. It’s kind of great and I absolutely love it. The campy hero is faced with lingo and situations commonplace in the future but it’s world he’s comically lost in. I laughed more than once reading it and I think Pogo is bloody hilarious (he’s a frog man who has all sorts of froggy lingo- kind of genius). The plot is accented nicely with some great line delivery, courtesy of a skilled writer.

Overall:

Overall… I liked it. It’s a great little comic, introduced a lot of the good stuff and has some great art. It’s a fun revitalization of a golden age character and EXACTLY the sort of thing the public domain was intended for. The comic can be a little slow at time and I’m still not sold on the main character’s boy scout personality (to the point even superman would call him too altruistic and clean) but it’s damn well worth a read!

Metrics:

Art: 10/10 [Best in the business- TWICE]

Lettering: 4/10 [Decent with a few minor missteps]

Plot: 7/10 [Damn good. Great dialogue/premise.]

Novelty: 7/10 [Uses cliches to make a very new and interesting plot.]

Overall: 7/10

Link to Product

Atomic Thunderbolt (TJ Comics)

at_covercolor_txtless-662x1024Atomic Thunderbolt

Staff: Kevin Powers, Matt Gaudio, Donna Gregory

Overview:

A golden-age revival for the ages!

Review:

Today we’re reading the Atomic Thunderbolt by TJ comic. Cover’s super gold age retro and I know exactly why! The Atomic Thunderbolt is a 1946 comic character published by the Regor Company and, unless I’m wildly off base, this comic is a revitalization of him! See, a lot of characters have fallen into the public domain (Check out the Public Domain Superhero Wiki for more on that) and creators can do their own take on them. There was a beautiful effort done by Dynamite Entertainment back in 2008 called “Project Superpowers” with gorgeous art by Alex Ross himself. I am a huge proponent of the Public Domain (and trying to solve all the issues it has) so I jumped at the chance to review this comic. The cover itself is a straight up homage to the original cover, though some with modern sensibilities. I’ll be honest- I am super jealous, I’ve wanted to do something like this for years. Let’s see how it worked out for them!

Art:

So TJ Comics kept the character design of William ‘Willy the Wharf Rat’ Burns and it’s a design HEAVILY steeped in golden aged sensibilities and I kind of dig that. Internally the art is damn impressive. It’s something I’d expect to see in a major publisher’s release. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that. The credit page left a lot to be desired and I thought I was in for a stinker. Just a weird jump in quality. Anyway, it’s full color and beautifully rendered. There are a few times I would have chosen a different texture or something but that doesn’t detract from the art of this comic. There are some excellent uses of perspective and visual movement cues. There are occasional anatomy/scaling issues and the occasional odd facial expression, but nothing distracting (and still better than some mainstreams). See the top of page 27 for what I’m talking about.

If there is a weakness in this comic’s visuals it’s the lettering. The dialogue balloons are fine but the narration boxes occasionally are a bit crowded and the choice to go with some vibrant, stock, colors as backgrounds for them in a few scenes where most things are super desaturated while in flashback is really out of place. Otherwise it’s fine.

Writing / Story:

It was a bold choice for the comic to set itself in the late 1940s (post WWII) like the original Atomic Thunderbolt. It’s a bit of a double edge sword for this comic because it is a very fun time period/aesthetic to play with but it also means they are re-treading a lot of the original Atomic Thunderbolt material (not that anyone read it).

I thought it was a clever little detail that they brought up Archie Masters, the American Crusader, at one point- he was another golden age (now public domain) superhero. I looked into TJ comics and found that they actually had not only a modern reboot of the American Crusader but also a modern equivalent to the Atomic Thunderbolt in their “ExtraOrdinary” comic line. That, honestly, take a little of the “umph” out of this comic for me but it’s also kind of nice to know that they are really dedicated to the premise so it evens out in the end.

The comic’s laid out in a few thoughtful way- we have people talking about the Atomic Flash for a large part of the comic and, other than the cover, we don’t see him in a good clear shot for a long time. There is a lot of thinly veiled exposition dumps in the beginning but it’s actually set up in a fun enough way, even being aware of it, it didn’t detract from it. Some of the dialogue, couched in a very 1940s style, is a bit heavy on the lingo- even more so than before (like “We was workin’ a job fer the chief. Guy broke da boss’ jaw and send him up tha river.”). It’s not super distracting and if I didn’t get at least a little of that in a 1940s comic I think I’d have been disappointed but it’s something that caught my eye once or twice.

As a side note, I always find it funny when publishers of superhero comics come up with words to describe them other than “suphero” or “superhuman”. I get there are trademarks on metahuman and stuff but I’ve come across like ubermensch and whatnot. Today’s new verity of it is “extrahuman”. What, did god give them two scoops of human when they were born?

The pacing is a bit off honestly. The beginning was very fast paced but then I had to slog though a just painful stretch of dialogue between two men talking about the Atomic Lightning’s background in excruciating detail. It should have probably been summed up in about a page, but instead we get about 4 text heavy pages where we are told (rather than shown) the protagonist’s personality and background.

Once the plot gets going it’s pretty solid. I’m not in love with the Atomic Thunderbolt’s ridiculously corny, straight-out-of-a-comic-book, ultra altruistic, dialogue/personality. I get they are trying to subvert it but no one acts like that- not even in comics. That was bad writing back in the golden age and it’s bad writing here. They do kind of use it to a good end plot wise but it just seems like he is supposed to be this perfect mimicry of a golden age hero and it’s a little distracting.

As a fun aside- this comic includes two high res (or as high resolution as they could get) comics at the end; the only two actual Atomic Thunderbolt comics ever made. After reading them I realized they slipped the two bumbling doctors and their raven into the main comic as a flashback and chuckled a bit at it- pretty clever.

Overall:

Overall… I liked it. It’s a great little comic, introduced a lot of the good stuff and has some great art. It’s a fun revitalization of a golden age character and EXACTLY the sort of thing the public domain was intended for. The comic can be a little slow at time and I’m still not sold on the main character’s boy scout personality (to the point even superman would call him too altruistic and clean) but it’s damn well worth a read!

Metrics:

Art: 8/10 [Professional grade]

Lettering: 4/10 [Decent with a few minor missteps]

Plot: 6/10 [Good introduction]

Novelty: 6/10 [Great use of public domain and setting, relies too heavily on existing plot elements to be really unique]

Overall: 6/10

Link to Product

Bram the Yacoi

Bram the Yacoi

Staff: Jose Pallares and Muguel Caceres

 

Overview:

So today we have some straight up barbarian porn (like… schlocky barbarian stuff, not actual porn) from Jose Pallares and Muguel Caceres in the form of “Bram the Yacoi”. This part is subtitled “The Last Eden”. This is the first issue (as I only do first issues) and it kind of stood out from the cesspool of “gritty, dark, horror comics” I keep getting (hence why there hasn’t be a review in a bit) so I’m going to give it a shot. Let’s see how it pans out.
Note: This comic is not PG-13. Probably a decent R (lots of blood, little nudity, etc). Nothing you wouldn’t see on late night TV though.

Art:

The art is nothing shy of awesome. Miguel, the artist, uses a monochromatic (black, white, and a single color) color scheme to great effect. Even on the first page of the comic we have a fantastic display of his ability to convey motion and create dynamic poses as well as establish a good use of panel structure for artist purposes. And the detail this guy puts into stuff! Hot damn! There is also the matter of him giving very distinctive character designs. In the midst of a brawl, I can tell characters apart thanks to his very easily identifiable character designs. That is to say, no two characters look the same, even at a distance. And that’s a very hard thing to do with people who you want to visually share similar elements (like a culture, team, or other group). Still, he manages to pull it off.

 

Writing / Story:

Jose’s writing matches Miguel’s art in tone. The narration panels are very poetic, dramatic, and grandiose while the choice of dialogue is much more guttural and concise. It reads like a good Hyborian adventure comic (Conan the Barbarian and borrows more than a little from it. It borrows a lot from it, maybe more than it should. Bram might as well be Conan and is largely interchangeable with any number of generic barbarians. I didn’t get a lot of characterization from him other than “is really good at fighting” and “will take revenge”. He uses the plot to give us set pieces however and that’s not a terrible way to use it. That having been said… Jose does a fantastic job of capturing that tone/style of character and I really enjoyed it. He is one of the few writers who I’ve run across whose mastery of languages improves upon the narrative rather than hinders it. In fact, the plot is largely pretty generic and ignorable (guy betrays guy, guy gets revenge) but his dialogue is so good you kind of don’t notice.

 

Layout:

As I mentioned in the art section of this book, Miguel uses the panel layout to his advantage artistically. He lets things protrude from them, chances the shape of overlay panels to accentuate the action. That is the hallmark of real skill and a creative use of them that helps create a cohesive aesthetic. There are a few times where this works against it however (see page 5 of the PDF) when artistic liberties with the panel placement makes it a little difficult to tell what action is happening first (but it looks quite sexy…).

 

Overall:

So I’m a sucker for 80s pulpy stuff (as you guys know). This comic scratches that itch in a big way. It is pulpy, schlocky, barbarian-flavored wonderfulness. The dialogue is great but the protagonist’s characterization and overall plot leave something to be desired. That being said- it is backed up by one of the best indy artist’s I’ve reviewed- a guy who GETS what it means to establish and maintain a cohesive aesthetic. So my verdict? If conan style stuff is your bag- buy it even if it costs you the blood from your arm to do so. If not, it is still something you should pick up for the fun it brings and the art (seriously- I would love an artbook of Miguel’s work).

 

Metrics:

Art: 9/10 [Marvel, DC- eat your hearts out]

Lettering/Layout: 8/10 [Creative use of layout]

Plot: 8/10 [Set piece driven plot but outstanding use of language]

Novelty: 5/10 [It’s schlock Conan stuff. Does just enough new to avoid  being stale]

Overall: 7.5/10

Link to Product