Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews

Cass, Caitlin – The Once Great Auk

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The Once Great Auk

Want to get depressed about humanity? One easy way to do it is to learn in detail about how an animal was hunted completely to extinction. Granted, these days there are some basic protections and people actively fighting back against that sort of thing from happening, but back in the 1800’s, boy howdy were people stupid about it. The Great Auk would have been fiercely protected today too, that much is obvious. It’s goofy, harmless and adorable, which would get the letter writing/political campaigns really going. They were roughly three feet tall, couldn’t fly and could barely walk (Caitlin doesn’t state this explicitly but I got the impression that it was named for the noise it made as it was stumbling around). These Auks didn’t have any defenses against humanity and never really had a chance against them. I won’t ruin the depressing tale of how the last few Great Auks in the world died, but I will marvel once again that humanity has managed to survive this long, seemingly in spite of our best efforts. This is a grim story, but hey, where else are you going to be able to see Great Auks doing their thing? And who knows, maybe if enough people read stories like this we really will collectively learn from our mistakes and stop doing stupid shit all the time. A guy can dream… $3

Nall, Alex – Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

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Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours

Do kids still know about Mr. Rogers? I don’t think that was addressed in Alex’s latest installment of “Teaching Comics,” but I’m curious. He passed away in 2003, and the final episode was in 2001. Meaning that people who are turning 18, unless reruns are still airing somewhere, might have no clue who this guy was. I’m going to assume that somebody somewhere is still showing reruns, mostly because I don’t like to think of a world with no connection to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood. Anyway, isn’t there a comic here that I should be talking about? This starts off with a new school year and Alex being increasingly beaten down by his students and his job. We also see the perspective of his partner Keri, and to a lesser extent a teacher friend in Italy. Keri is having an even rougher time with students and seems to be constantly on the verge of giving up entirely. Both of them have nightmares about class, and the only place that Alex gets refuge when he can’t sleep is by watching old episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. If it is completely unfamiliar to you, there really was nothing else like it: his kindness and decency shone through, and it seems universally agreed upon even today when people tell their stories of working with him. I didn’t know most of his history so it was fascinating to watch it unfold here, from his earliest days trying to get a show together to stories from other people who worked for him. He wasn’t perfect, at least not in modern terms; he had a cast member who came out to him as gay in the 70’s and Mr. Rogers asked him to keep it to himself, as he didn’t think audiences were ready for such a thing yet. That sounds bad today, and it’s possible that if he had taken a step to support it back then that things could have turned out differently. It’s easy to say that in 2017! A far more likely possibility is that he would have gotten banned from television. Nobody knows for sure, and nobody ever will. This book is worth checking out for the history lesson alone, but wait, there’s more! Alex getting through to the kids in his class is a constant struggle, and it’s frankly baffling and impressive to me that he has the strength to keep trying. It’s not all losses, as things end on a pretty great note (finally getting through to a pretty big troublemaker), but I can see why he takes refuge in the calming glow of Mr. Rogers. I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and hope that Alex has the strength to continue for years to come. That being said, if the final volume of this series is titled “That’s All I Can Stand And I Can’t Stand No More!”, I’ll completely understand. No price listed yet, but contact Alex through his website, he’ll be able to get you a copy…

Collins, Stephen – The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

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The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

If there is any justice left in the world (and that’s debatable, based on recent historical events (it’s 2017 right now, future readers)), The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil will still be read and remembered decades from now as one of the best children’s books of all time. It’s also not necessarily for children, or at least it’s certainly not exclusively for children. It’s been ages since a book charmed me this completely, and I say that as somebody who has read some damned good graphic novels recently. But every part of this, from Stephen’s innovative use of panels and dialogue, to his willingness to let giant inky blackness speak for itself, to the reactions of civilians as things spiral out of control, is just about perfect. This is the story of a man who is in Here. This book also has a fantastic map: there’s Here, The Sea, The Edge of the Sea, and There. Our hero lives in Here, and it’s the only place he’s ever known. Everything is ordered, everything is neat, and everybody knows exactly what’s expected of them. Oh, and everybody is terrified of There. Our hero is hairless except for his eyebrows and one stray hair on his face that can’t be shaved down or plucked without immediately growing back. He works, along with lots of other people in Here, at a giant corporation, doing something with charts that he’s not completely sure means anything at all. But he likes his life, his time spent sketching people while listening to one Bangles song over and over again. Until one day, the charts at his job all look different, and he’s forced to give a presentation on why that’s the case. On that day, something snaps in our hero, and his beard starts to grow. Quickly, violently, and completely out of control. I want to leave as much as possible of what’s left for the reader to discover, because this was a joy throughout, but the cascading effects on the rest of the citizens of Here was expertly done. Buy this book, share it with friends, have them do the same. This deserves to be seen as widely as possible. $20

Gauld, Tom – Goliath

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Goliath

Goliath! That’s bound to conjure a mental image in your mind, probably complete with the idea of him being a raving, unstoppable beast. I mean, you don’t have to be religious at all to know the story of Goliath and how David took him down with a simple sling. But when you get right down to it, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about the temperament of Goliath, or how he spent his days. That gives Tom a lot of room to play with, and he takes full advantage of it here. The Goliath of this story is in the Philistine army, sure, but he prefers admin work to anything to do with war. He’s just trying to live as simple a life as he can under the circumstances, which is that the two armies are at an impasse. So somebody in the Philistine hierarchy comes up with the idea of a champion vs. champion battle to settle the war, and Goliath sure looks like anybody’s idea of a champion. It takes some arm twisting, but they eventually talk him into it, mostly because he agrees that anybody from the opposing army who sees him will be so terrified that they’ll surrender without a fight. The bulk of the back half of the book is Goliath (and his shield bearer) issuing his challenge and waiting to see if anybody will take him up on it that day. Everybody knows what’s coming, but Tom manages to make that ending funny and sad all at once. And then very quickly gross, but I’ll leave that bit a surprise for anybody who doesn’t remember the gory details of the end of the battle. Check it out, gain a new perspective on one of the oldest battles of the world! That’s almost certainly fake, but still… $16.95

Kyle, Patrick – Night Door

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Night Door

Have you ever read a comic that oozes? I seriously don’t know a better way to describe this one. From the start it feels like shapes are barely staying solid, that they’re constantly on the verge of blowing apart. Not a violent blowing apart like an explosion, more like a strong gust of wind that blows through a smoke cloud. Oh hi, I’m supposed to give an informed opinion about this book now, right? Well, it’s the story of a… dog man? Who is looking for a night door (OK, that I just know because of the title). This dog man finds what seems to be the entrance, or at least an entrance. But inside it’s all dark, and it drags the dog man down, although he doesn’t seem to mind that much. And just when it seems like he’s on the verge of finding something out, a new character is introduced. Is he friend or foe? Benevolent, malevolent or indifferent? Read the comic to find out, because I’m not going to tell you. $4

Cass, Caitlin – Ivy Lee: Founder of Public Relations

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Ivy Lee: Founder of Public Relations

Quick, who out there knows that the Rockefeller name used to be dogshit, in terms or general public opinion? That probably comes as a shock to most of you, as these days “Rockefeller” is mostly synonymous with “ridiculously rich.” Well, that’s mostly because one man was hired to improve his image back in the early 1900’s, and that man was very good at his job. The world would be a better place if he had never existed, or if people with his “skill set” had never come into contact with modern society, but here we are, stuck living in this world. Caitlin takes us through a (brief but dense) history of his work, how he used the son to help convince striking miners that the Rockefellers had their best interests at heart. Well, “striking” is maybe too tame a word, as the workers were in a full blown guerilla war after most of their wives and children died in a fire. Anyway, the younger Rockefeller got them to stand down, which led to a lot of them getting killed through poor safety regulations. Yep, American history is rough. Ivy’s history after this incident is complex, as he managed to introduce the Red Cross to the public, but he was also accused of making propaganda for the Nazi’s. Caitlin has a knack for making minor historical characters fascinating, and she continues that trend here. $3

Bradford, Rick (Poopsheet Foundation, editor, with various artists) – Wag Rag #1

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Wag Rag #1

For you comics whippersnappers out there, Poopsheet has been an ongoing online comics library for over a decade now, and if you ever want to buy a pile of mini comics, that should be the first place you stop. Rick Bradford (the head honcho over there) has started up a monthly comics service, meaning every month he publishes another comic (or two, like this month) and they’re delivered to your door. There’s a $5 monthly fee, and he’s using the proceeds to continue working on a mammoth online mini comic and fanzine database, which is a damned worthy cause. So now that all the specifics are out of the way, how about the comic itself? It’s a short anthology and the stories deal with misunderstanding Shakespeare (Roger Langridge), taking us all on a psychodelic journey (Caesar Meadows), and a brief saga about assault and card playing. Sort of, anyway. It’s an eclectic mix, and a solid start for this project. For what it’s worth, I’m all for this idea. Paying a monthly fee to help support a giant comics database like that is itself a ridiculously worthy cause, and you get monthly comics out of it to boot! What’s not to like? $5 (monthly, I assume you can buy these individually as well)

Androutsopoulos, Evangelos – Eviction

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Eviction

The nature of reality seems to be a recurring theme in the current batch of mini kus books (they usually send them to me four at a time). Last time it was a lost dog and how it was perceived, this time around it’s a story that was told to a young man about a camp of refugees. He doesn’t know what to believe about the story, which deals with a man from the area who goes to see what’s happening in the camp. He learns the stories of the refugees, details some of the hardships they have to deal with, and goes over the story of the one night when things got violent. Still, it was a calm enough place overall, and the man telling the story was a native, so he could come and go as he pleased. He doesn’t know how the story ends, as he was out of the camp when it got shut down, which is what leads our hero to check out the camp himself. That’s when he sees something, but what am I leaving for you to discover if I tell you what it was? $6

Magan, Andres – A Friend

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A Friend

Who’s a good boy! This one is about a man and his dog. Or a man and his lost dog, to be more precise. Or a man, his lost dog, perception and reality, to be even more precise. Things start off with our hero asking an authority figure for help in finding his dog, and he gives the man a description to help. Once our hero makes his way back to his apartment, his sense of reality fray, and we see concern from various members of his family along with a happy reunion. Or is it? This comic will take you around in circles, and I’m still not completely sure on what was and wasn’t real, but the sentiment was fascinating. We do see our pets as family members, and we’re often willing to refer to them as such without concern that we might be thought of as crazy people by the rest of the world. Still, leave the phrase “he’s my best friend” out there to hang while talking about your dog. No friendly nod from the person you’re talking to, no quick assent and a comment about their pet, just let the awkwardness of that sentiment hang in the air. That awkwardness is this comic, and it’s delightful. $6

Budel, Michiel – Francine

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Francine

One of the trickiest aspects of reviewing comics is trying to describe something when I come across a style that is completely new. Oh, woe is me, I know, I know. But Francine is one of those books where things didn’t really start clicking for me until I was maybe halfway through the book, and when it did all start coming together I was blown away. The style has some hints of Dave Kiersh and Katie Skelly, a little, but it’s all very clearly Michiel’s own thing. It’s easy to think that this is all entirely innocent, that those flashed panties here and there are accidental. Then you start seeing the weird dynamics between the various characters in the books and how it all seems to come back to sex and attraction, and it puts everything that’s come before in a different light. There’s 8 different sections here, with mostly the same characters and often similar themes throughout. I just flipped through the book again to try and come up with some way to tell you all about it, and if anything I’m more confused than before. The sheer number of hilarious asides, the deftness of the humor, might not hit you right away. This book has confidence but it’s still somehow awkward. deeply important while focused on the little things in life. I genuinely don’t know how to encapsulate it, and feel like it would be an insult to the artist to keep trying. It’s something that you really have to see for yourself. His website has all sorts of free samples, take a few minutes and read a handful of his strips. You’ll get it. $17.95

GG – Valley

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Valley

Well, kudos to GG. I figured I would have an impossible time finding contact information for him or her online, but it came right up. Who would have thought? This is a comic that’s almost entirely about mood, so it’s inherently difficult to review. A woman gets a message from a group of her friends who have gone camping that they’ve run out of food and they’re hoping that she’ll be willing to drive more food to their location. She’s miffed, as she would have liked to have been invited initially, but she gets over it and decides to help them out. But this is all in the wilderness, so communication and cell phone service is unreliable at best. She ends up getting lost herself, but in a warm area with fog and what looks like a natural hot spring. She eventually hears back from them that they’ve decided to go home, but she’s in a state of bliss, so… what’s the rush? It’s more quiet and understated than that, but that message is beautiful. We should all be required to get lost at least a few times a year to keep our heads on straight. Oh, if only I was the ruler of the world. Anyway, this book is beautiful, so give it a look.

Contrary, Carrie Q. – Hot Dork Love #1

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Hot Dork Love #1

There’s naked people and some fucking in this comic, so if such a thing is a dealbreaker for you, watch out for this comic! How anybody could live their daily lives in this current (the hellscape of 2017, future readers) mess and have nudity be a bridge too far is beyond me, but what do I know. Now that all the puritans are gone, what’s in this comic for the rest of us? There are a few stories in here, involving sex in one way or another. The first bit is about a young lady who wanders into a Dungeons and Dragons game and finds herself turned on by the dungeon master. It takes awhile to clear the room, but they get to business eventually. Spoiler alert? Does that count in porn? Internet pedants, discuss. Other stories involve enjoying the shower a little too much, letting your mid get away from you while focusing on a nude male model, and trying to figure out the best speed to seduce a first date without scaring him away for being too aggressive. Sure, there’s plenty of sexiness here, but Carrie throws in plenty of funny lines as well. The punchline on the artist story was hilarious, as were the troubles of the woman who couldn’t seem to find the right pace for her dates. So yeah, this is definitely worth checking out. There’s more here than just sex, but if that’s all you’re after there’s plenty of it as well. $4

Cass, Caitlin – Burning Rivers

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Burning Rivers

For those of you who are too young to remember it (myself included), the title of this comic refers to a real thing. There were a few rivers, particularly in the 50’s and  60’s, that were so polluted that they would sometimes burst into flames. Yes, really! This comic briefly details the history of the Cuyahoga River, Chicago River, the River Rouge in Detroit, and the Buffalo River. These rivers were spectacularly disgusting, the the Buffalo River being so bad that some fishermen would intentionally take their boats through the water because it was so acidic that it would burn the barnacles right off the hull. See, and people say that pollution is harmful. Caitlin really packs a lot of information into this comic, as is her way, and once again I learned a lot that I didn’t know/had no idea existed. Each city had their own ways of dealing with the problem, with the Chicago River still being over a decade away from being really fixed. The reactions of the locals was also fascinating, as the man in the street seemed more worried about the perception of them being seen as dummies for letting their rivers get this bad more than anything else. Hey, whatever works, and shame is a potent weapon against dummies. Not always immediately (the words “President Trump” spring to mind), but it eventually catches up to ever the most thick-headed of people. This is well worth checking out, so go buy it from her! Buy as many of her other comics as you can while you’re there too. Eventually she’ll have enough of these books that there could be a whole college class dedicated to expanding on her findings in these books. $4

Katz, Keren – The Academic Hour

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The Academic Hour

Longtime readers of this website know that I occasionally have nothing to say about a book. Or at least nothing coherent and/or remotely insightful, but I usually bluster through it by offering a series of impressions or apologies about my deficiencies. And… here we are again! This is a remarkable book, all angles and ideas, thoughts about impossibilities and how to get over them (if they can be overcome), and a doomed love affair that never seems all that passionate. Most of the images look they were finished by an act of will; Keren could have just kept going with some of them until they filled the page, or spilled through the pages onto the rest of the book, or drawn onto and even into you if you sat still long enough. I rarely flip back through a book immediately after finishing it, but I did that here, taking time to ignore some of the captions just to see if I could get where she was going with the images alone. In most cases I could! Or at least I could get to where I thought she was trying to go, imperfect though my thoughts might be. It makes quite an impression, there’s no denying that. Subjects in here include a trapped horse and how to get him down, polishing bones with your moustache, whether or not the planned buried railroad cars exist, telling stories to get the person to fall in love with you, a young lover wondering when and if her teacher was watching her, and the watching witch. This book reminded me, above all else, of the feeling people sometimes gets that everything and nothing are both just a little bit off to the side, out of reach but not impossibly so. It’s all right there, if you tilt your head just right, angle your arms just so that they can slip through that veil and grab a bit of what’s on the other side. If you angle too far you’ll slide right through and never return, and if you don’t angle them enough you’ll never see a thing. Get yourself and your mind into exactly the right position, take a deep breath and dive right in. $19.95

O’Brien, Keith (and Various Artists) – Samurai Slate in Punch Drunk or Bowl Me Over

Website (for Tom Cherry, can’t find one for Keith)

Samurai Slate in Punch Drunk or Bowl Me Over

So what exactly is your tolerance level for word puns? If it’s your favorite thing in the world, boy howdy do I ever have a comic for you! If you can barely stand them, you might want to save yourself some time and move on to the next review. Keith wrote these stories, all either one or two pages, and they all feature a comedic theme based on a specific type of wordplay. The strip I sampled (where the story works in using every day of the week) is the clearest example of it, but other stories in here use puns based on books, punctuation, cows, India, chess and minerals. If your eyes naturally roll to the back of your head every time you/read hear a pun, this book might just kill you. If not, there are some genuinely funny bits here and there, and just seeing how they manage to work all these words into each story can be interesting. So… get this with your eyes wide open. I doubt there will be much middle ground for an opinion here, but you might just love it. No price listed, but I’m guessing it’s a buck or two…

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #13

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Ruffians #13

OK, one thing first, just to make sure you get it: I’m going to talk about spoilers here, because this is the last issue of a series so of course I’m going to talk spoilers, either read the series before reading this or don’t read the series ever, in which case spoilers will never effect your life. But it’s a fun series overall, so you might want to read it. Anyway! My main conclusion after reading this last issue, ambiguous Soprano’s-style ending notwithstanding? Scar might be an immortal. Sure, he’s a three foot tall blue bear, so the rules for his existence were never clearly defined, so maybe that’s on me? But he was shot eight times in the back (and arm) in the last issue, and it is never mentioned or addressed in this issue. Thanks to Erin, he manages to escape what seems to be certain death in that nightclub, not seeming to be slowed down in the least, and then goes to a diner to get some food and talk some more to his dead friend Black Jack. So are we to assume that he was hit with a paint gun? That he had body armor that covered his back? Which wouldn’t do a thing to explain those 8 bloody bullet holes we see in the last issue. If it seems like I’m focusing too much on this aspect, hey, maybe you’re right! But if you or I were shot eight times in the back, maybe we could get a burst of adrenaline off long enough to take a few more assassins out (in real life we’d almost certainly just be dead), but once the adrenaline wore off that would be it. It seems like Brian sacrificed the natural flow of the story for a more dramatic gunfight in the last issue, and considering the care he took with the rest of the series, it strikes me as a misstep. Still, putting aside that one aspect (with great difficulty, obviously), we do get a final battle with Scar and Malt, we get to see him confront Cypris, and we finally get the real answer of what happened to Black Jack. I was wrong in my guess, which is always gratifying as a reader. And I’d still recommend this series as a whole. There’s intrigue, betrayals, an overarching mystery… a lot to love here. There were a couple of missteps here and there, but there’s more than enough good here to overshadow those things. $3.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #12

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Ruffians #12

It’s the penultimate (I love being able to use that word and have it fit) issue in the series, so you can be sure that there’s a lot of gunplay going on in this one. Brian doesn’t waste any time with it either; our hero tosses back a few more drinks, gets warned off one more time by the ghost of Black Jack, then puts a gun to the head of Cypris. Unfortunately his mustache disguise fell off during those drinks, so now all the assassins at this party recognize him. It’s one of the more baffling aspects of this story, the fact that that disguise worked so well, but it’s not much of a stretch to think of most of these assassins as not being all that bright. Oh, and Erin (Scar’s lawyer/lover) is there as well, and she’s armed, so she also gets a few murders in, although I lost track of her in all the chaos. Things take a turn towards the end of the issue, as Scar is finally tagged with some gunfire. 8 bullets in the back to be exact, which seems like enough to murder just about anybody. But who kills off the hero before the last issue? So Scar is still standing, if just barely, as he tries to summon the strength to find and kill Cypris (who ran away in all the confusion). One issue left to go, then I’ll have some thoughts about the whole series to wrap it all up. If you’re a weirdo who only buys one issue of a series and doesn’t care about the larger story but loves guns, this would be the one to get. $2.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #11

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Ruffians #11

Boy, Brian has really picked up the pace on his release schedule as the end is in sight (says the guy who is reading the last half dozen issues in a chunk). This one came out in March 2016 and #10 came out in February of the same year. In small press comics that is lightning fast! Things start off this time around with Scar having a drunken/hallucinating conversation with Black Jack, who he pictures as the bartender. During that conversation we learn that Scar really doesn’t want to have to kill the man who raised him, and that the ghost of Black Jack (as imagined by Scar) doesn’t want Scar to get himself killed trying. Our hero makes his way to the bathroom, where we learn that he is definitely drunk, and his washing his face to try to sober himself up ends up making his terrible disguise fall off. Oh, and one of the hitmen is also in the bathroom, and was apparently completely fooled by said disguise. A pretty brutal fight follows, and Scar gets out of the bathroom just in time for Cypris to get introduced. Two issues left in this story, and I’m guessing they’re going to be bloody messes, but this relatively quiet issue was a good chance to get in Scar’s head one last time before everything falls apart. Or unless everybody gets a happy ending, which is not something I’d bet any money on. $2.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #10

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Ruffians #10

Scar has one very immediate problem to take care at the start of this issue: who sold him out during his escape in the last issue? He uses some casually psychotic methods to get to the bottom of it, but he gets there: it was Cypris, biggest crime boss in the city, and the guy in charge of all the hitmen. Oh, and the guy who more or less raised Scar. So this is a problem! Scar manages to come up with one of the worst disguises I’ve ever seen (how do you hide a three foot tall blue bear?), gains access to the birthday party for Cypris, and tries his best to blend in. As of the close of this issue (back in dicey spoiler territory here, I know), the disguise is still working, but Scar comes across a familiar face tending bar. This is probably the closest this series has come to slowing things down a bit, as only one person gets killed (granted, it’s not a pleasant death), and there’s not even a cliffhanger to speak of. Catch your breath here, as I’m guessing our hero being in at a birthday party, surrounded by hitmen on all sides, is not something that’s going to work itself out peacefully. Just a hunch! $2.99

Canini, Brian – Ruffians #9

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Ruffians #9

When we closed out the last issue, our hero was getting stabbed at the end of a prison riot. As we open up the new issue, our hero is getting zipped up into a body bag. I’d say that things were looking a little grim for him, but luckily he still has a few friends out in the world. And one of them had a master plan for getting him out of prison that (spoiler alert, I guess, which is a tricky concept when I’m reviewing an entire series in two weeks) actually involved him getting stabbed by somebody on the inside who knew how to make it look good without killing him, so it’s all fine. Some smart writing from Brian and some great work keeping the tension high. After Scar regains consciousness he gets the whole story from his lady lawyer friend and her two accomplices, right before someone starts shooting up the ambulance that he’s escaping in. Hey, why make things easy on the guy? The rest of the issue involves a whole lot of gunplay, a few people getting shot and some solid suspicions of betrayal, which keeps the story moving right along.  No time to waste, I have more comics to read! $2.99