I’ve spoken about my love of Black Hammer, as I’ve read almost every issue in the expanded universe, but one thing I haven’t said about it is that it’s one of the more curious superhero universes I’ve dived into. For instance, in the main story, certain characters fall into an incredibly meta aspect of this universe, which makes it possible for pretty much anything to happen. With that in mind, most all of the other stories have played within the boundaries of the said universe as opposed to going bonkers, filling in a rich history with an alternate timeline of superhero world events, but also filling in the already rich lives of our heroes. It has remained, above all things, incredibly human. In this issue of Black Hammer: Visions, Chip Zdarsky and Johnnie Christmas bring us a tale of an aging Abraham Slam and all of the existential crises that come with it.
With a vampiric villain introduced in issue 2 of Young Hellboy: the Hidden Land, there’s no doubt that there will be a conflict between our heroes and this new, terrible villain. And things go from bad, to worse, to far worse in this issue.
I’m going to be honest: When I first saw Tyler and Hillary Jenkins’ work some years ago (the artists on Fear Case), it didn’t connect with me. That has all changed, and let me preach to you right now: They are brilliant. They have found a way to portray tone that captures the soul of the series they’re working on like few artists have. When I read Fear Case, the imagery, textures, colors, and their choices don’t just show you what you’re looking at, but they invest you in a very specific world. You can feel the Southern California night air around our two Secret Service agents. You walk through the neighborhoods with them. You feel something encroaching, even when there’s nothing there. This is pulp horror noir at its best.
Beasts of Burden brings me great joy, and Occupied Territory is tickling the release of the same endorphins that the first handful of volumes did. This is a world in which animals use magic, in this case pooches (a.k.a. doggos) - man’s best friend. Here, they are known as Wise Dogs. What kid who owned a dog didn’t think their pet was magical? I certainly did. These good pups protect their neighborhood, but after the harrowing events of the last story, they’re taking a little down time and listening to a story from one of the dogs that’s eternal: Emrys, a shaggy-haired Wise Dog.
Science fiction is my favorite genre, and immediately underneath that is noir. There are so many types of noir, from hard-boiled to neo noir, to small town crime. What I love about these two genres is that they are able to approach the human condition in very curious and insightful ways. Dead Dog’s Bite, like Twin Peaks, Fargo, and Brick before it, is small-town noir. A curious teenager named Josephine - sorry, Joe - is dedicated to finding her friend that went missing. Her friend’s name is Cormac Guffin. Get it? That’s the level of intelligence and dry wit this comic works on. Cormac is a lovely blonde in the vein of Laura Palmer that, so far, we’ve only seen in photos, and so far, no one else seem to be all that concerned about. ‘Cept for Joe.
I love that there is simply an agreed-upon look for the undead in the Hellboy universe. It doesn’t matter who’s drawing it, you immediately know which world you’re involved with. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe is iconic in so many ways, this just being one of them. He’s pulled from so many inspirations and mythologies, from Lovecraftian horrors to Russian folklore, and in Young Hellboy: The Hidden Land, he and co-writer Thomas Sniegoski draw from someplace new and yet classic: that of the Ray Harryhausen era of filmmaking. Perfect for the time and era in which The Hidden Land exists.
I’ve lost a pet before. It was a grueling ten days. I often sat back and imagined what was happening from my cat’s perspective, and it always broke my heart. It had a happy ending. For the owners of the dogs in Stray Dogs, the beginnings aren’t so happy, and we’re getting that story from the perspective of the dogs.
Oh, “Chip Zdarsky.” I thought to myself. “I like him a lot.” So, I decided to take a look at Stillwater to write a review. I was sure I had seen the name of the series before, but didn’t know anything about it. I assumed Stillwater would be interesting and weird - ya know, amusing - like much of Zdarsky’s other stuff. Well, it’s terribly interesting. It’s just weird enough; however, Zdarsky - along with co-creator Ramón K Perez - have got some serious stuff going on here, and then underneath that, even more serious stuff.
James Stokoe is a monster of a creator: a creator’s creator. His artwork is tremendous and detailed, and his stories are strange and epic. Orphan and the Five Beasts is exactly those things while paying heavy homage to the manga and anime from the era of Fist of the North Star.