Curb Stomp #1
Written by Ryan Ferrier
Art by Devaki Neogi and Neil Lalonde
Lettering by Colin Bell
Published by BOOM! Studios
Reviewed by Kelly Richards
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Set in the not so distant future of a world very much like our own, Curb Stomp #1 gives the reader neon ultraviolence as a background for a book seeking to tackle issues of equality, gender and social class. With three rival gangs - the Fever, the Wrath, and the Bayside Five - constantly caught in turf wars that dictate the safety of the three essentially lawless outer boroughs, we see what can happen when someone breaks the rules and how far people are willing to go to defend their home and protect the ones they love.
Our heroines - or possibly anti-heroines - the Fever, run Old Beach, a blemish on the outskirts of the city, ignored by the wealth, and left to fend for itself. Standing apart from their rival gangs, The Fever is the only gang comprised entirely of women and Ferrier has likened their dynamic to that of a family. Though not related by blood their devotion to each other is clear and can be seen throughout the book. They have their fists and they have each other, and for the Fever, that is enough.
The story is original and although this book covers a lot of material it does not fall into the same trap as many other first issues and feel heavy with exposition or rushed. Influenced by punk and seemingly filtered through a ’70s exploitation movie, Ryan Ferrier’s dialogue is as witty as it is tongue in cheek. The Fever are punk down to their bones, whether spitting out Black Flag lyrics or telling their families that they love them. Machete Betty’s internal monologue provides the reader with an insight into the dystopian world of which she is a part and just enough exposition to set the scene, especially by opening on her daydream of the future, “Jetpacks and diversity and world peace and Uhura.”
Newcomer Devaki Neogi’s line work treads the line between elegant and gritty. In addition to some incredibly effective, yet undeniably bleak, world-building, she has created a vastly diverse cast of leads with the Fever. Her expressive pencils imbue each character a sense of vulnerability that works to highlight their hard edges and harder lives. Each personality shining through via the little details such as the variations in posture and her line-up of the Fever below the ever so apt FUBAR graffiti exhibits this perfectly.
Neil Lalonde’s colors are as subtle as a baseball bat to the face and when paired with Neogi’s work create something of a spectacle. With a palette built on neon marker pens and back alley graffiti, visually Curb Stomp is as vibrant as it is obnoxious and it is clear that Lalonde has been able take every aspect of punk that permeates this book and set in stone. At times the colors look as if they have been ripped directly from a cut and paste club flyer with the over-saturated pinks and blues playing off against the jet black, to a somewhat nostalgic effect with the scene where Betty first encounters The Wrath on her turf being particularly indicative of this.
Though parallels have been drawn between this and ’70s cult classic The Warriors, the only real similarity between the two is that they both are about gangs. Curb Stomp bypasses camp for something far more realistic and should it stay on course it looks to be one of the more interesting series of 2015. Although the violence may prove too much for some readers and the title may be a little off putting it is not unfair to say that with a unique take on gang dynamics, turf warfare, and an emphasis on the issues associated with gender, equality and social class, Ferrier and Neogi are creating another platform for which to hold discussion about representation and diversity within the comic’s community in the most badass way I can think of.
The Black Hood #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Michael Gaydos and Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettering by Rachel Deering
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
If you haven’t noticed, Archie Comics have gotten a wee bit sinister of late. Between Afterlife With Archie and Sabrina, the body count has gotten a little higher in Riverdale, With the Dark Circle revival series, things are about to get even inkier. Actually, The Black Hood is no stranger to Archie, a revival of a character first introduced in 1940 but reworked and rebooted several times over the years, including Archie’s own Red Circle line and a licensed set of those characters turning up in DC Comics a few years back. Yet while this Black Hood may come with a significant history behind him, it puts no burden on the reader in catching up, coming to the party with a fresh yarn that drips with 1970s grit.
The origin story of this issue feels both ripped from the headlines, and pulsing with a rich vein of modern noir. When motorcycle cop Greg Hettinger attempts to stop a gunfight, his face is mutilated by a shotgun, forcing him to fire blind. Having now killed a man, he asks himself whether or not the new visage he sees in the mirror is one he can face on a daily basis, and if he can return to his old life. Addicted to painkiller drugs, he dons a black hood initially to hide from the world, and ultimately to find a new purposes in it. It’s a classic story of the birth of a vigilante, filled with loss and suffering, but at this early stage we must still question whether the new Black Hood is a hero.
The Black Hood gives us no specific details as to its time, but the setting is Philadelphia, perhaps during the height of crime families that ran the city for decades. Indeed, crime writer Dennis Tafoya (who has written extensively on the mean streets of Philadelphia) cites the “corrupt and contented” attitude of the city in the back matter of this issue. Yet it almost doesn’t matter, Duane Swierczynski’s focus being the inner cogs of Hettinger’s brain, the growing darkness that comes with severe injury and post-traumatic stress. It’s a slow boil, much like the work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, or some of the pieces in the original Marvel MAX line. Grounded in reality, the violence hits hard and fast when it comes, ad the whole book moves at a pace despite the measured nature of the narrative.
It was no surprise that Michael Gaydos is the artist on this book, as it could co-exist in the same world as his work on Brian Michael Bendis’s Alias series. Noir gets bandied about far too much to be effective in describing the street-level grime that this art so effectively conveys, but the world is a lived-in one, full of shadows and light, even if viewed through some other era’s lens. Hettinger’s shooting is a wonderful example of tight visual storytelling, as is the slow reveal of Greg’s scarred face. The eventual descent into becoming the Black Hood is cinematically framed, a horror story laid out in single panels. Like Francesco Francavilla’s gloriously macabre art on Afterlife With Archie, it’s infused with a particularly pulp set of color choices - faded purples, blues, and earthy tones - steeping it in that indeterminate era of ‘retro’. The few literal rays of light in the series come from Jessie, Greg’s occupational speech therapist, who he sees as the only person being kind to him.
Literally killing off original Black Hood “Kip” Burland in the process, The Black Hood might look backwards in its aesthetic, but is determined to reinvent a pulp era character. Unlike DC’s comparable revival of the Charlton characters, it’s a series that both thoroughly modern and rich with its own history. Coupled with outstanding artwork, it marks the start of a new era for Archie Comics, one that promises to change perceptions even further.
Mister X: Razed #1
Written by Dean Motter
Art by Dean Motter
Lettering by Dean Motter
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Some readers might not remember the Dark Horse Comics boom of the early ‘90s, a boom that gave us new Hellboy arcs, Ghost, and their take on Judge Dredd. This explosion of quality comics also gave us Dean Motter’s Mister X, the mysterious architect of a city tearing itself apart due to madness emanating from its very stonework. Now, Mister X is back in a big way with Mister X: Razed #1, a new Mister X title from its original creator. This series welcomes new readers into the cold embrace of Radiant City with two tales of retro intrigue with just enough face time with the title character to please longtime fans and a neo-noir sensibility that is sure to get new readers in the gate and keep them there. Mister X: Razed #1 is atmospheric, direct and gorgeous to behold, just like noir should be.
While Mister X: Razed #1 is technically another Mister X reboot, creator Dean Motter smartly distances it from the various titles that came become, opting instead of kick things off with a curt, yet inclusive “Previously On” before presenting the readers with the two tales held within the amazing Ty Templeton cover. Mister X’s name might be on that cover, but Motter opts instead to follow two of the persistent side characters of the series instead: Rosetta Stone, a reporter who is investigating a recent rash of stabbings involving people of the Jewish faith during the week of Hanukkah, and Mercedes, a shop-girl once romantically tied to X who is dealing with a conspiracy of her own as she wraps gifts for the approaching holiday. Both of these tales operate separately, but then beautifully dovetail into one as the comic treads to its conclusion. While not technically an anthology issue, it still achieves one of the great feats of anthology storytelling in that both tales could very well stand apart from each other as separate tales, but both slot into each other in a satisfying way; this speaks to Dean Motter’s ability as a writer and his innate understanding of the citizens of Radiant City and their relationships to each other.
While Motter’s script is dripping with all sorts of chilly noir troupes and characters agency and everything to lose, it is Motter’s art that truly pushes Mister X: Razed from simply a good comic, to a great comic. Motter’s Darwyn Cooke-like attention to period detail and panel construction give Razed the look of some bizarro Dick Tracy strip filtered through the eyes of Fritz Lang. Motter subtly scatters the retro-futurism of Radiant City throughout each page, never letting the design of the city outshine the design of the characters, who always fill the frame aside from a few amazing hero shots of the city, like Rosetta’s waiting for her father at a train station fit for Andrew Ryan of Rapture and the opening establishing shot of a blood and snow covered Radiant City street. Motter’s Radiant City is a character all its own, but in Razed he seems more concerned with showcasing his female leads and the ancillary characters as they inhabit this wonderous city, which is a welcome departure from other entries in the Mister X canon which seemed preoccupied with architecture than the people who tread its streets.
Design, of course, has always been a major selling point of Mister X. Motter’s use of the color red in this issue is really something to behold this time around. Most of the issue is set in deep grays, blacks, as well as brimming with negative space within panels in the form of stark snow whites, but the only pervasive color choice that Motter makes is his deployment of the color red when the scene calls for it; wielding crimson like a fine blade. For example, we first see the color red in the wounds of the newest victim and in the passing Santa suit of Henry, Rosetta’s gentile friend. These examples are the only use of a bolder color on the page for the opening and it makes their inclusion all the more striking. As the comic goes on, Motter uses it more and more, allowing certain things and costumes to pop from the page, like Mercedes’ store uniform, Rosetta’s trademark coat, Mister X’s skinny tie, and the background of a muted holiday party. It is quite a feat to color your book in only four major color choices and still have it look gorgeous but Dean Motter makes it look easy from beginning to end in Mister X: Razed #1.
Orson Welles once said that an audience hardly remembers a lead character, but if those lead characters keep discussing a character that never makes an appearance until the few minutes before the first act break, the audience will say that actor who simply walked across the stage before curtain is the greatest actor that they have ever seen. It’s all because of making a dramatic cross. That is the best possible analogy for how good Mister X: Razed #1 is. The titular character makes only a handful of appearances but still makes an impact, even if he isn’t a fully active participant in the stories detailed. Dean Motter makes the most of this reintroduction of Radiant City and its citizens by side-lining the main character and allowing the design and noir sensibilities to take center stage all contained in a beautiful Art Deco package. Mister X is back and Dark Horse Comics is all the better for it.