Reluctant Oracle #1
Once again I’m reviewing a book before it even hits the creator’s website, so clearly this is THE place to be for new comic reviews. This makes maybe a half dozen times already this year! OK, granted, several websites post updates daily, and they’re dedicated to everything new that’s coming out, and… hey, look over there! This is another tale set in the Hyperverse, as William has put together a stealth universe all his own. It starts off wonderfully, as a great and powerful oracle has been beheaded and left for dead. The only times he regains consciousness is when a group of local rats powers him up and asks advice about their crops, which is not a subject that holds a great deal of interest for him. Eventually the Floating Crystal Witch finds him and makes him an offer he can’t refuse (you may have guessed from that cover that it involves getting a working body for him). She’s not entirely truthful in her offer, and he’s not entirely truthful in his response, so who’s going to come out on top? As always with one of Will’s comics, this one is absolutely gorgeous, and the full color spread really brings his comics up another level. He’s a master at drawing things that obviously couldn’t belong in this world or any other, but if you squint at them just right, don’t they look a little… familiar? It’s difficult to describe, and it’s possible that my brain just isn’t like other brains to elicit this response. Probable, even. Still, one of these days I want to gather all of his comics together and see how well it holds up as an epic. He clearly has a bigger plan in mind (and he did label this one as #1 after all), but since they come out so infrequently I’m curious how well the whole thing holds up. Until then, this is still a damned solid issue all by itself. I only wish he’d spent more time with the rats, because that stuff was comedy gold. $12
Sometimes I wonder what would happen to me if I gathered all the William Cardini comics I’ve picked up over the years, took an afternoon and read them all in a row. I’m honestly not sure what that would do to a person. I mean that in the best possible way, of course; comic-induced madness always seemed like a likely fate for me. This is the story of… you know what? I’m cheating on this one. Here’s the description lifted from his website: ” The Miizzzard descends into the Urscape and gets slabbed. Take a psychedelic, enigmatic journey with the Miizzz through 20 pages of textural, intricate drawings at the speed of one panel per page.” Yep! Trying to read one of his books quickly, without taking some time on each page to soak in everything that’s happening, is really a waste of an amazing comic. Can you describe it to a friend over lunch? Not coherently, no. But reading his comics tweaks that certain something in your brain that’s convinced that other worlds and realities are always there, just out of the corner of your eye. If you’re interested in a peek into that world, this guy is one of the few people out there who seems able to see it clearly. Give it a look, see if you still perceive the world entirely the same way when you’re done. $6
How is it possible that I missed yet another artist at CXC last year (2017)? I’ll get to the review in a second, but William mentioned that in the letter with this comic, and I clearly need a new plan for actually meeting the people who are at conventions. Do I need a checklist? Gah, I swear I must have missed an entire room full of artists. Anyway! That’s not your problem, it’s mine. Isn’t there a comic I’m supposed to be talking about? Why yes, there is! This is the story of a gigantic space being who ruins a planet with his excessive pyramids. He removes the eye from his body (which apparently carries his consciousness) and escapes the planet entirely. But he can’t resist taking a look back at what he’s done, which leads to some dire consequences for the planet. Or are they fantastic consequences? Welcome to the world of William Cardini! If you’ve never read one of this comics, you may have a bit of an adjustment period. I love the fact that William has been living in this Hypercastle world for roughly a decade now, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Or of making his work more “commercial,” although I have no idea what that would look like in this universe. I literally cannot picture a Hypercastle cartoon or action figures. But yes, the point of this review is that this is another fine entry in that world, and another peek into what makes the whole thing tick. $5
Before I get into any of the content, I just want to point out that this is one of the most beautifully colored books that I’ve ever seen. Granted, a lot of small press anthologies are in black and white, but every story in this collection is colored beautifully, up to and including the collages by Josh Burggraf. So hey, what about the content? This is a collection of science fiction stories on a variety of different themes. Some (but by no means all) of my favorites included Vincent Giard’s tale on perspective in movement and meaning, Jason Murphy’s conceptual struggle, Lala Albert’s piece on mutations caused by a certain type of water and what people do with said mutations, a lengthy wordless piece by Alex Degen about virtual reality and the consequences of dreaming, William Cardini’s depiction of the death of a planet and the aftermath, Pat Aulisio playing around in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with mad dogs and killer lizards, Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms showing the lingering effect of ads on the environment (even long after humanity is gone), and Anuj Shreshta’s story on the increasing ease of blocking out all bad thoughts and opinions and the consequences of those actions. Aside from being just damned pretty, this is also one of the more thoughtful science fiction comics I’ve read in ages. The last two stories I mentioned alone had several comments and images in each of them that made me stop and think or examine an assumption I’d had from a different angle, which is always welcome. No anthology is ever going to be perfect for everybody, but if you can’t find several stories in here to love then maybe the fault is on your end. $18
Coldheat Special #10
It’s been too long since I’ve gotten a chance to read a William Cardini fever dream (otherwise known as a “comic”). As always, it’s hard to talk too much about it without giving too much away, but luckily it’s impossible to give away how you’re going to feel looking at those visuals, so in that way it’s impossible to spoil. The gist of this seems to be the story of a man on a quest to kill a minotaur. Or maybe he’s just trying to get through a maze and the minotaur is a guard? Anyway, even that isn’t clear on the first page (clearly getting ahead of myself), as the first thing we see is an enigmatic creature with three eyes shifting into a large spider. From there we join our hero as he tries to track down the minotaur, until he eventually finds the already deceased creature. Which would be the end of things in a normal comic, but in this case our hero sees something wriggling around in the belly of the minotaur, and that’s when things really get rolling. This is jsut a touch less abstract than some of William’s other comics, but don’t worry, the last three pages will satisfy any cravings you have in that regard. And for the people who genuinely wonder about such things, I saw no indication that there were 9 previous issues of this series, but it’s still listed as a #10. Check it out, see what that spider thing is all about! $5
You know, as much as I love a coherent story, I have to admit that there’s a great deal of fun to be had whenever William gets the space to let his imagination run wild. And this story actually ended up making plenty of sense before it was all said and done, but there’s a lengthy setup that would have blown a hole through the brain of anybody reading this as their first issue of this series. Eh, better take a step back and get to analyzing. He does have a nice, concise recap to start things off, which is downright essential in a series like this. Just in case you haven’t read the other issues but are for some reason reading the review for this one, I’ll sum up: The Miizzzard has agreed to help free the Vortex, who are a race of shape-shifting enslaved berserkers. To do that he has to survive something called the dreamscape, and this is where William gets to go nuts. There are trials and dangers, all against the background of The Miizzzard not being entirely sure of what’s real and what’s all in his head. It’s a beautiful mind fuck of a book, and pardon my language if kids are reading this, but that one word will do far less to mess with your head than this issue will. He was nice enough to send along the next issue in the series, but so far things have been moving along really well and I’d say that this series is well worth checking out. And oh, to live in a world where this man had the money/backing to do a full color comic… $6
You should have a pretty easy time knowing whether or not you’d be inclined to like this book from the title alone, and I’m happy to tell you that the contents more than live up to it. Emi has been doing mini comics on this theme for a few years now, and she took her chance to edit this anthology and ran with it, doing a really fantastic job of picking out/accepting these stories. I should say up front that I have no patience for those stupid “ghost hunting” shows with the shaky cams and the loud noises and won’t believe that aliens have visited us until I see solid proof (which is not the same thing as declaring that no other life exists in the universe), but overall this isn’t that type of book. These are all, as Emi says in the introduction, unsolved mysteries, so the reader doesn’t get the satisfaction of getting the story neatly tied up in a bow by the end. Instead you’re left wondering what the hell happened for these 32 stories. If you’re a naturally curious person and/or at all interested in the weird and bizarre then you’ve probably already stopped reading this and ordered a copy. For those of who are too polite to quit reading in the middle of the review (and it’s OK if you do, I’ll never know), subjects include a mysterious gelatinous goo that rained down on a town, the monster with 21 faces, an unexplained shower of meat from the sky, an arcade game that quickly came and went in 1981 under mysterious circumstances, a tumor that was bigger than the carrier, Gef (of which I will say no more but this may have been the most intriguing tale in the book), that weird hum in the air that some people can hear all the time, the Nain Rouge and his continuing destruction of Detroit, the money pit of Oak Island (which some bored billionaire should look into), creepy kids with black eyes trying to enter homes, the Leatherman and theories of who he might have been, unsolved murders at a campsite, the former Prime Minister of Australia vanishing while swimming, the missing body of Addie Mae Collins, why 9 campers in Siberia ran from the safety of their tent (sometimes barefoot) and why they never went back to it, two bodies and their lead masks, Rasputin (an oldie but a goodie), Frederick Valentich and the UFO that seemed to by toying with him, D.B. Cooper and his disappearance (it’s an ever funnier story to anybody who watched Justified this season), a bridge where 600 dogs have committed suicide, the Axeman, and a serious skeleton in the closet of Orson Welles (possibly). DC comics used to do a series of “Big Books” on various subjects, and after seeing this I’d suggest that they start it up again and put Emi in charge. Not every story was perfect, granted, but good luck not having several of these stories haunt your dreams. Also good luck on not taking to the internet to learn more about them, as I already know how I’m spending the rest of my afternoon. And look at that pile of talent in the tags section! Why would you possibly need any more convincing to check this out? $12
Huzzah for a second issue of this series! What can I say, at this point I’ve been conditioned to never fully expect a second issue of a series, even when it’s a “to be continued” situation. This one starts off with a nice recap of the previous issue (which is always welcome and, in a series like this, mandatory), then we get to see what a bad idea it was for our hero Miizzard to have swallowed that guy’s head in the last issue. Things remain surprisingly peaceful after that, even if it seems to me like having a swallowed head rip through your stomach and form an entire creature would put you in a bit of a mood. Miizzard follows the guy to his leader, who explains why they lured him to the planet in the first place, and we get some very solid descriptions of what we’re dealing with. And then something very alarming happens and the comic is over. Actually, this comic may have had more words in it than all of the previous comics I’ve read from this man combined, which is necessary when you’re trying to establish the rules for your universe. Once again the art is amazing, as there are all kinds of creatures and objects floating around that are just begging for a more detailed description, and the story is picking up steam nicely. I’m curious to see what happens next, as it was left in a very interesting spot. On to #3! $6
Glade & Mark in: “Rocky Mountain Chomp”
You know what I didn’t think through in my request for online comics to review yesterday? The fact that I still wouldn’t have sample images for the reviews, as images for online comics are gigantic and I lack the means here to shrink them. Oh sure, there’s probably some easy way to do it for people who are less stupid than me, but this is the brain you folks are stuck with on this site. Anyway, Mark was nice enough to send along a few online comics, and I didn’t even click on the second one after seeing this. This was the comic that Mark put out for his wedding (Glade is apparently now his wife, or he picked a fake name for his wife in his wedding comic, which makes no sense), and it’s very different from his usual stuff in that, well, people can read it. I don’t mean that in a bad way, although that’s probably how it’s going to sound, as this is still as delightfully fucked up as most of Mark’s comics. It just has a clear narrative arc for all to see, while some of his other comics may take a little more work to decipher. This is the story of Glade and Mark’s battle with a giant monster that’s trying to eat the Rocky Mountains. As you might have guessed from that title, or maybe your natural instinct isn’t to see that title and automatically jump to “oh, it’s clearly about a giant monster eating the Rockies.” Anyway, they get a call from the President and set off to save the day, and even a big old monster can’t stand up against a serious shrinking. From there it gets downright cute, as a wedding comic should, but this is one case where you can click on that link and read the whole thing for yourself. It’s relatively short and you’re probably just killing time at work anyway, so go for it. And congrats to the happy couple!
You know, generally speaking pseudonyms make more sense when your real name is a secret, not when you list both names in every publication. Hey, whatever works for him is fine with me. Mark’s work has occasionally baffled me in the past (and long time readers know that I usually mean that in a good way), but this one made perfect sense to me. Whether that should be worrying or a good sign I’ll leave up to you. Things start off with a big old cosmic figure who is searching for a “tranz force” and notices a signal coming from an uninhabited planet. He/she/it goes down to the surface and meets a life form. This life form slowly (over the course of pages) reveals that this was a trap set for the original life form, as they knew that it would come to investigate the tranz force sooner or later. A brief battle ensues, the original entity is cut in half, and that’s when things start to get interesting. Mark has a nice intro in this comic that explains this universe a bit, but it’s best to read such a thing for yourself instead of having me summarize it. The battle of these two creatures was suitably majestic , which also gave the reader the sense that we were seeing a fraction of everything that was happening. I also liked his choice to take as many pages as he did showing this battle, as something between two cosmic beings like this should be big and dramatic. I always hated how some Marvel comics would have some big cosmic entity like Galactus getting punched out, as if that was the extent of something that could happen in a battle with a guy who ate planets. Ah, I’m wandering now, but if you liked any of Mark’s previous comics then you’re sure to love this, and if you never gave them a chance then this is as coherent a starting point as you’re likely to find. $5
Secret Prison #2
Here’s hoping it’s still OK to use images from the internets for the review, as it’s impossible for me to scan the newspaper sized stuff.Â And if you agree with me that Benjamin Marra is tearing shit up with that cover, you should see the back cover by Pat Aulisio.Â I’m also not entirely sure if it’s possible for any old schmuck online to get a copy of this, as I think it’s only available at cons, but that’s a damned shame for a pile of great strips like this.Â Share it with the world!Â If I’m not mistaken (and I probably am) this one is even longer than the last issue, and it’s one of those rare anthologies with no really weak pieces.Â Sure, some things are better than others, whatever that means, but everything in here has something going for it.Â Strips in here (and they are strips, nothing is longer than 2 pages) include Pat’s tale of deliciously sorrowful soul, Luke Pearson’s absolutely brilliant “How to Exist For a Day,” Ian’s silent cubed spy story, Josh Burggraf’s text message-a-rific story of need, Cody Pickrodt with some true confessions, Bob Pistilli going a long way for a great ending, Box Brown and his experience with an exotic “delicacy,” the story behind that ridiculously good cover by Benjamin Marra, Art Baxter loving the summer, Simon Gardenfors getting the most out of his page with a series of mishaps involving a round dude wearing underwear, Kelly Phillips wondering if there’s a line cardiologists should not cross, Cyn Why with a tale for the ages, Steve Teare going to heaven, Doug Slack with a pile of funnies, and Jose Mochove & Rusty Rowley using photos to destroy us with reality.Â I skipped a few to leave some surprises for people who manage to find an actual copy of this, not that I spoiled too much for the other stories, but everybody likes surprises, right?Â Seriously, show this to the world, you guys!Â A working table of contents, a huge pile of talent, this should not be kept away from the world at large.Â Unless it isn’t, and I’m wrong, in which case let me know and I’ll tell people here how to buy it.
Shaman Thunder (with Josh Burggraf)
You know what I’ve always hated about any sort of wizard on wizard battle in the movies?Â Or shamans, or any sort of people who were supposed to have all sorts of bizarre and unknowable mystical powers?Â How stupid it always ends up being.Â More often than not it turns into a typical physical slugfest, either due to a lack of imagination or a lack of budget, and it always drags me out of whatever willing suspension of disbelief I was going through.Â Yes, in case you were wondering, there is a a point to all this: those two floating heads you see on the cover belong to two shaman, and their battle in this issue is exactly like this sort of thing should be.Â Meaning that it only has the barest appearance of a conventional fight to us normal folk, but there’s clearly all sorts of things going on beneath the surface.Â This issue starts off simply enough, as one shaman returns home and discovers that his thunder-root is missing.Â He tracks down the thief (using magic, of course), but this leads him to believe another shaman (a disillusioned shaman who’s standing near the actual thief) is the thief, which leads to an absolutely awesome battle.Â Go ahead, embiggen that sample below.Â If you’re not impressed with that you’ve clearly never spent even a second of your life imagining what an actual shaman fight would look like.Â The rest of the issue deals with the two shamans teaming up to fight the actual thief, but shamans never get along for long.Â As for the art, William/Mark and Josh mostly draw alternating pages, and it’s seamless.Â Sometimes it’s tough to say who would enjoy a particular mini and who wouldn’t, but this one is easy.Â If you’re enough of a dork to want to see a thoroughly ridiculous though oddly realistic fight between two shamans, it’s never been done better to my knowledge.Â If you consider yourself above such things, lucky for you there are many other mini comics in the world for you to choose from.Â No price again, so I’m going with $2.50.
If anybody out there has a better guess at the title than that, let me know.Â I’m just guessing based on the first word, and then it starts melting, so who knows?Â This is a mini by William Cardini aka Mark Hensel, but the website listed (which is not actually his website but will connect you with his wide array of blogs) has a comic done by both William Cardini AND Mark Hensel and no, I have no idea what that means.Â I’m stalling the actual review here because, in fitting with the general theme of confusion going on here, I have no idea what to make of it.Â This is a series of one page strips with various creatures and items melting, meditating, growing or blooming, with a three page extravaganza dedicated to an utterly indescribable creature replicating.Â In each of these stories the creature/item starts off normally enough, then progressively devolves as the short strip goes on.Â Everything looks great and William/Mark is certainly not short on imagination, I guess I’m just more old fashioned in my comics reading, what with my general preference for linear stories and all.Â Still, there’s a lot to be said with the “where the hell is this going to go from here?” school of making comics, and I’m all kinds of intrigued to see what he does next and what he’s already done that might or might not be more accessible than this to the common folk.Â If you have a decent sense of artistic adventure this is worth checking out, but I’d recommend checking around that website and getting a look around first.Â $2.50
UPDATE: The title is Tranz.Â Yeah, I can kind of see that…
Quick, what’s going on in that cover?Â If you don’t have it sitting in front of you you’re out of luck, as it continues on the back cover.Â Froghead is sitting in front of an empty bottle of booze, and an old man (who you may remember from the last issue) is passed out nearby.Â It’s a nice cover; I’d sample it but the size would either screw up the page or, if I shrunk it down enough, it would lose its impact anyway.Â So how about the comic?Â The old man wakes up and is surprised to see a serenely smug frog head, as he has little recollection of the previous night.Â He tosses out the frog head (and I just love how it never changes expression), freshens up and starts to remember things, like how he ran into a shaman at the bar, invited him back to his house and beat his at Dr. Mario.Â Satisfied, the old man decides to leave to get some food and finds the frog head where he tossed it… but grown to a ridiculous size.Â Anything else I say is ruining the awesome, awesome ending, and I just won’t do it.Â I’ll just say that any ambivalence I had about the last issue is gone with this one, as this is a pile of fun.Â Those frog eyes will haunt you if you’re not careful, if you read this you’ll see what I mean.Â Check it out already.Â If this is what William can do when he’s rushed for a con, I say he never has to take his time on a comic again.Â Since the last one was $2.50, let’s just say this one is the same price.