The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #1

Written by Roger Langridge

Art by J. Bone and Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by Tom B. Long

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Rocketeer just seems to bring the best out of IDW Publishing, and that's no exception with Cliff Secord's latest adventure, Hollywood Horror. You might have gotten used to Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's take on the title, so seeing Roger Langridge and J. Bone on the credits might throw you for a second. My advice? Just roll with it. While there is undoubtedly a transition here, the end result is still the same: densely paced, high-quality storytelling.

And that's Langridge's main draw as a writer — he flies in the face of today's widescreen storytelling ethos, instead picking his moments smartly and giving you a lot of bang for your buck. If you don't know Cliff's story — his purloined jetpack, his terrible luck, his love of flying and his complicated relationship with his girlfriend Betty — that all gets laid out quickly, but never at the expense of the greater mystery here. Yep, something spooky is afoot, and it reminds me a lot of Scooby-Doo in the fact that it's all family-friendly menacing.

Artist J. Bone actually doubles down on that all-ages atmosphere, and while his exaggerated, cartoony figures are initially a little bit of a leap from Chris Samnee's more controlled lines, it winds up actually inviting a different — and arguably larger — potential demographic. Little moments like Cliff hanging his head as he explains why the world needs a Rocketeer look iconic and animated, and even though he has a lot of panels to work with, J. Bone never skimps on the composition. If you dig Samnee or artists like Darwyn Cooke, think of an all-ages spin and you've got this bright, energetic read.

The one downside I see in this book is one that's common to Rocketeer books — namely bringing that cult character to a more mainstream appeal. What do I mean? Cliff Secord is beloved as a character by diehards, but first-time readers don't really get to know his personality, his drive, instead getting to see him defined by the actions that happen him. Part of that has lent The Rocketeer some real vitality over the years, but there comes a time to make a stand and really sketch out Cliff as more than just a reckless flyboy with girl troubles.

That all said, that complaint seems to be one targeted at The Rocketeer as a concept, rather than solely for Hollywood Horror. Yet this book does feel quite substantial, quite thrilling and quite exciting. Even if you expected some turbulence without Waid and Samnee, feel free to loosen your grip on your seatbelts — Langridge and J. Bone provide some smooth sailing with this latest iteration of The Rocketeer.


Uncanny Skullkickers #1

Written by Jim Zub

Art by Edwin Huang

Colors by Misty Coates

Published by Image Comics

Review by Forrest C. Helvie

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

This issue kicks off the beginning of the fourth story arc for Jim Zub’s fantasy adventure series and represents a new jumping-on point for readers new to Skullkickers. If you’re looking for a light-hearted, fun-filled fantasy romp, this is a series worth checking out. And for readers looking to make a break in world making comics, Zub includes some special “bonus” content as well.

For new readers, the story opens with a two-page overview of the events leading up to Uncanny Skullkickers along with a brief introduction to the two main characters for this story arc—Rex and Kusia. The story then picks up as the shipwrecked adventurers go about making the most of the recovered rum and finding their way about a seemingly abandoned jungle island. These interactions provide readers unfamiliar with Rex and Kusia sufficient context to get a grasp on their characters as the story begins. Admittedly, the storyline does include more exposition and “talking heads”—however, it does serve the purpose of helping catch new readers up to date. But this could be seen as a possible low point for the issue.

But there are a good many strengths Zub brings to the pages of Uncanny Skullkickers #1—most notably the humor! Today’s comics are rife with dark, gritty, and deconstructive re-imaginings of superheroes in dystopian settings of a not-so-distant future. Uncanny Skullkickers, however, provides readers with a much-needed dose of laughter with its mix of self-effacing humor, outlandish scenarios (such as the attack of the devil turtles on the beach) and witty dialogue. While many regular comic readers are accustomed to words used to depict sound on the panel, i.e. “Whoosh!” or “Slam!” it is not often sound is described as “Survivor Smash!” to describe Rex’s punching through a box of supplies or “Turtle Terror! Terror! Terror!” upon the arrival of a band of very angry sea turtles.

Additionally, Uncanny Skullkickers is filled with other laugh inducing voice-overs such as “Turtle Soup!” to let us know that Rex and Kusia vanquished their enemies-in-a-half-shell. The intentional goofiness of it allows readers to not take this issue too seriously, but in doing so, Zub and company allow the audience to relax and enjoy a good laugh at their expense. The punchline of Uncanny Skullkickers comes in perhaps the subtlest presentation of a fairly static image of the drowned dwarf. I’ll leave it at that. But for fans who can appreciate a joke that slowly incubates over an extended period, this one certainly landed for me.

If I had to sum this issue up in one sentence, I would describe it as a Mountain Dew-fueled Saturday night around the kitchen table playing Dungeons & Dragons wrapped up into 22 pages of highly polished comic fun. Readers familiar with table top role playing games will certainly enjoy the little “Easter eggs” embedded in the dialogue and mannerisms of the characters here as they are delivered not in the all-too familiar backhanded approach, but instead, a more light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek tone.

It’s also important to give credit to the artistic talents behind this issue. The linework is polished, the colors are well-rendered, and the panel composition works well at directing the reader’s eye to the most important elements of the picture. Put simply: it’s not a hard book to look at, and yet, the style is completely appropriate to the tone and mood of the story (and jokes) Zub tells. And while it is not in the same category as recent high fantasy works like Ron Marz’s ambitious , it also makes no such pretension. Uncanny Skullkickers #1 sets itself on a course of camp and laughs, and it in this regard, it is successful.

It’s also worth pointing out that this issue provides readers with a look “behind the curtain,” so to speak as Zub includes a four-page selection from the script for this issue along with notes explaining elements of the script in addition to running commentary explaining, in part, his creative process. While that creative process often differs from one creator to the next, it’s clear this is one that helped land Zub a number of successes in comics, and there is plenty within this “bonus content” section that up-and-coming creators will likely find of interest.


Deathmatch #3

Written by Paul Jenkins

Art by Carlos Magno and Michael Garland

Lettering by Ed Dukeshire

Published by BOOM! Studios

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Third issue in and Deathmatch feels its first bump on the road, but recovers quickly. Chalk that up to Paul Jenkins reeling me in at the last page because it definitely changes the game.

Jenkins has a formula to the book so far and while it's we see a fight, somebody dies, the tournament moves on, and another cliffhanger. Here we're treated to more revelation than simple banter between characters; we get a better idea of the super hero world that's being established right in front of us. We get a bigger idea of what could be at play, but not an absolute and so the mystery continues. I had thought for a second Jenkins was just going to give it all away halfway through, but the hosts of the tournament remain a mystery, and his use of Professor Higgins is a nice play. There's just something unsettling about a guy who still dresses up in Victorian garb.

The main setback here is that it feels like it's too much being thrown at you. While the indexes in the back are fun and keeps readers in the loop about this universe's mythos and characters, the characters themselves become more than basic analogs this time around. With the actions of the Superman-like Meridian, everybody becomes something you weren't expecting. It's a nice surprise and keep things moving, but with the high action and amount of dialogue, things sort of get lost in the mix. It feels cluttered at times with Jenkins having to explain all the detail of the characters, which is odd given the index is right there. I don't feel the need to double up on that unless necessary.

Carlos Magno has a handle of keeping the pages interesting with various angles and lots of action if need be. He certainly has no problem handling the more graphic imagery as he shows somebody getting plain ole eviscerated. His art is similar to classic superhero types ranging from George Pérez to Phil Jimenez, leaning more towards the latter. With Michael Garland's colors in tow, I can't help but think an actual inker would be beneficial to overall look of the book, especially when you have more than six characters in a panel, just to give it a sleeker look if anything. Garland's colors are soft and go over Magno's art well, but I just think something is mixing from the recipe. Given the nature of the book, I'm surprised they didn't go with a more extreme palette, but it works as is to an extent.

Deathmatch #3 isn't without flaws, but also not without its merits. The concept as a whole is captivating and with the last page being one hell of a doozy, it'll be interesting to see where Jenkins and company can go from here. 

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