Best Shots Extra Reviews: EVIL ERNIE, THE ASCENDANT


Evil Ernie #1

Written by Jesse Blaze Snider

Art by Jason Craig, Marcio Menyz and Adriano Augusto

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Deniz Cordell

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Evil Ernie has plenty of guts on display, but very little glory — which is just as well, as the mere concept of "glory" would seem to be anathema to much of its cast. The book is filled to overflowing with unrepentant violence, viscous viscera, and a tone that veers from the ironic and knowing to unremittingly bleak. Its horrors are on full display, but the real terrors of the book lie in its corners and shadows, with the small details of everyday life and human sympathy that are summarily crushed by the progression of the storyline. Broadly, the issue follows the life of Ernest Fairchild, from just before his birth to his execution by electric chair. Born under tragic circumstances (his family dies in a mysterious car crash), we are not given to see much of Ernie's life until the moments after he makes an irrevocable, life-altering decision.

Writer Jesse Blaze Snider and his collaborators have created an odd beast of a book which serves as both a love letter to the evolution of the horror comic book, while forging its own path. The broadest brushstrokes of story's hook (man sees people as terrifying hellspawn, declares they must die) reminded me slightly of Chrisopher Yost's Killer of Demons, but Snider ultimately takes this idea to a different place - whereas Yost's book was more firmly entrenched in satire and psychological mischief, Snider envelops his concept in dread and contemporary grand guignol imagery. Snider knows how to build tension and character through careful pacing, and despite the fact that about ninety percent of this issue takes place in one location, it never feels decompressed or painfully slow. I must also commend him on his use of caption boxes, which provide fine counterpoint to the action, and florid turns of phrase emblematic of the EC horror heyday. Exposition is doled out through the time honored use of a reporter, but even then, it's done in a fairly elliptical fashion, giving it the rhythm of real dialogue, while sneaking in little tidbits that provide payoff to events that occur before and after.

The art by Jason Craig, colored by the team of Marcio Menyz and Adriano Augusto can best be described — for the most part — as '60s psychedelica by way of Hieronymus Bosch. Their depictions of devils and demons are gruesome constructions, and there's a particularly impressive page which depicts objective and subjective reality through diagonal panels - the effect is well-done, and serves to create a layer of ambiguity around much of the proceedings. Facial expressions are varied enough to create appropriate emotional responses, and Ernie's foster father - also imprisoned - is depicted as a particularly odious creature in his human form. The page layouts are of particular interest - emphasizing two-page spreads instead of keeping the story self-contained in a more straightforward fashion. This simple decision also helps open up the somewhat restricted action. They also sneak in some subtle (and not-so-subtle) homages to comic iconography — with a particularly famous bit of Watchmen-iana getting a prominent reference that helps define the odd tone of the work. Menyz and Augusto work in distinctive color palettes for each setting and area, ensuring that clarity is maintained.

Special mention must be made of letterer Troy Peteri, who shines in his choices of typeface - the decision to use the same font that magazines like Tales from the Crypt used in their caption boxes helps tie the book in to the greater history of the genre, and his sound effects straddle the line between the more subtle contemporary work, and the over-the-top, operatic effects of yore. My particular favorite of the latter is a dripping "Blllrrrcchhh!" which supports one of the more gruesome images in the book.

There are questions, to be sure ± such as what precisely happened to Ernie's father in the prologue, and what Evil Ernie's ultimate goal is — but these are clearly things to be resolved in future issues. For horror aficionados, Snider, Craig, and their crack team, have crafted a horror story that offers subtle shadings of characterization, an inexorable pace that makes it all compelling, and some gentle moments of humanity (which remain my favorite elements of the book - Ernie's conversation with the prison guard "Mac," is an unexpected moment of reality and warmth) amidst the shocks, gore, and occasional bit of gallows humor - and they'd be very well-served to give the book a look-see. More importantly, the final captions and images work together to create a terrific cliffhanger, leaving even me — not the world's most avid horror reader — to wonder what will happen next month. Well done.


The Ascendant #1

Written by Mark C. Frankel

Art by Christopher Hanchey, Michael Kellar and Rich Cardoso

Lettering by Cary Kelley

Published by Aegis

Review by Jeff Marsick

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

I'm always fascinated with the demon-hunting-down-other-demons conceit that comics creators love to run with (you never see stories about angels getting fed up with Heaven and setting out to get dirty or defiled). They collectively highlight in big bold letters that Satan is the world's worst general manager, since he keeps employing help that don't know the meaning of loyalty to the cause, that are always looking for salvation or redemption. The Ascendant, by the creative team of Frankel and Hanchey, takes a walk down that familiar path, tweaking the trope slightly as they do.

Cail's an aristocratic-looking Duke of Hell who stalks our mortal plane, dishing out to roaming demons return tickets to the hot house. A little of his backstory reveals that while he's originally from Hell, he saw the Light (literally) and climbed (a la Bruce Wayne in Dark Knight Rises) to freedom. The why of it, though, isn't explained so much as teased at, which lends an intriguing pathos to the character and draws me in to want to know more. His pal and comic relief up here is none other than Faustus, but Cail doesn't have a beef with him so long as Faustus minds his own and doesn't dust up any problems. What the deal is with Faustus is another mystery I'm curious to solve. Cail and Faustus is a pairing that portends a sort of Mulder and Scully type of relationship (if, y'know, Scully was a guy) going forward, which could be fun.

As a debut issue from a self-publishing duo, it's a fun book. Mark C. Frankel's script is actually surprisingly light on narrative, something that's typically over-used in an indie book. He knows how to let the artwork tell the story and gives just enough for the reader to fill in the space between panels. I'd have preferred more consistency, however, between Cail's dialogue and his voice-overs: he may talk like Bruce Willis, but he clearly thinks in Shakespeare.

Art-wise, The Ascendant is reminiscent of old Dagger Comics like Mavericks or Scorpion Corps, a serious book with something of a cartoony look that lends to that overall impression of a fun comic. Minimalism in each panel keeps the action at the fore and free of clutter; again, a pitfall avoided that many rookie self-pubs fall into. While the colors are in places so dark as to wash all detail from the panel, for the most part they pair well with story to establish the right tone and mood. The best part is that the pacing never slows or judders, so there is a smooth flow from start to finish, just as a comic book should be. A little more attention to faces and anatomical reference and this could be a killer-looking book.

The Ascendant #1 is making its debut at NYCC this weekend (booth W16 in Artist's Alley) and if you're looking for something a little different in the demon-seeking-redemption genre, this is a very good place to start.  

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