Best Shots Advance Reviews: BLACK MONDAY MURDERS #1 (10/10), GLITTERBOMB #1 (10/10)

Image Comics September 2016 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Black Monday Murders #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Tomm Coker and Michael Garland
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Some say money is the root of all evil - and if that is true, perhaps no place on Earth is more wicked than the backrooms of New York’s Financial District. But what happens if it’s not just a metaphor? What happens if the One Percent have built their fortune on a truly sinister foundation?

What happens when the Devil comes for his due?

Bringing together an occult-tinged detective story against a powerful backdrop of Wall Street corruption and conspiracy, Black Monday Murders might just be the best thing Jonathan Hickman has written yet. At the minimum, it’s the strongest debut issue the writer has produced, injecting his love of deep conspiracy plots into a plot that’s more resonant than anything he’s written since The Nightly News. Dense and multilayered, Black Monday Murders is certainly a challenging read, but it’s also a book that rewards careful attention and repeat readings.

Clocking in at more than 50 pages, interspersed with redacted text documents and intricate designwork, Black Monday Murders explores the shadowy underbelly of 1929 Wall Street, as a broker begins to experience bizarre symptoms right before the horrific market crash of Black Thursday. It’s through this unsettling introduction that Hickman gives us a glimpse at the real power players behind the U.S. economy, a cabal who coldly trafficks in otherworldly beings and human sacrifice. With his main villains established, Hickman takes what could have been a cliche and gives it new life by simply leaning into it - it’s not enough to say that the bankers and financiers that led the country into financial turmoil were simply reckless, greedy and evil. But by having them bound by ominous blood pacts both amplifies their power and their malevolence - and perhaps most importantly, gives a human face to Hickman’s typically enigmatic antagonists.

But what’s so impressive about Black Monday Murders is that Hickman could have just coasted on the high concept of “the occult on Wall Street” - but that’s only the beginning. Hickman has long been interested in wheels within wheels, these Russian nesting dolls of organizations and hierarchies that wind up spinning off into their own subplots. He seeds them effectively throughout this book with his interludes, with one particularly chilling entry about investors deliberating their own Snopes-style website used to debunk myths - until they want to disseminate lies of their own. But this book also succeeds at being one of Hickman’s most accessible, as later on he introduces a detective with a unique style of methodology - without giving too much away, this lead is the perfect foil for Hickman’s evil businessmen, bringing his own type of intuition to this occult-tinged mystery.

Artist Tomm Coker, meanwhile, proves to be the perfect fit for this book. He has a photorealistic style that evokes artists like David Mack or Michael Lark, but has a certain cleanliness to his inks that evokes someone like Butch Guice. Pairing him with colorist Michael Garland proves to be a stroke of genius, because Black Monday Murders is a downright beautiful-looking book - the sense of mood each scene is strong but never at the cost of a character’s clarity, and there are all sorts of spooky details that Coker drops into his scenes, like a brief panel of an investment banker staring at us with an unsettling whiteness in his eyes. Coker’s sense of design for each of his characters is also really striking - every character looks unique and memorable, and as this script transforms into a generational story, he manages to sneak in characteristics across different characters, such as the eerie glasses that characters Raymond and Alexei both share. Later on, when the script further metamorphosizes into a detective story, Coker smoothly lays out our hero’s keen senses of deduction with a series of insets that help us piece together the secrets behind the crime scene.

As a writer, Jonathan Hickman has never been the easiest to get on board with, with his challenging and convoluted style sometimes falling into the trap of becoming insular and self-indulgent, preaching to the choir rather than bringing in new converts. But I think that Black Monday Murders, intentionally or not, comes across as a concerted effort to bring that hyper-deliberateness to a wider audience, putting all of Hickman’s typical writing signatures on a plot that has more resonance than ever in today’s election cycle. While it remains to be seen if Hickman and Coker can continue their momentum as the plot thickens, you’d be hard-pressed to deny that they absolutely slay with Black Monday Murders #1.

Credit: Image Comics

Glitterbomb #1
Written by Jim Zub
Back Matter by Holly Raychelle Hughes
Art by Djibril Morrissette-Phan and K. Michael Russell
Lettering by Marshall Dillon
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

The horror of Glitterbomb #1 comes from a very real, very dark place.

Writer Jim Zub delivers gory displays and a vaguely Lovecraftian hook, but his very human story of rejection, self-worth, and the fickle cyclical nature of how Hollywood treats actresses is what allows it to succeed as well as it does. Glitterbomb follows Farrah, an aging actress trying to make ends meet and butting up against obsolescence. However, she is recently imbued with a horrific power that allows her to strike back violently against those who would take advantage of her, whether she wants to or not. This debut, rendered beautifully and bloodily by artists Djibril Morrissette-Phan and K. Michael Russell and given a true-to-life edge by a scathing back matter essay of behind-the-scenes misogyny from writer and film industry veteran Holly Raychelle Hughes, is one that will stay with you long after you finish it, showing that the real monster may be Hollywood itself.

Jim Zub, who is mostly known for his cheeky Skullkickers series, displays a whole new level of skill with this new Image Comics debut. Kicking things off with a shocking cold open, Zub establishes Farrah’s newly acquired powers, but then quickly shifts into the real horror show by flashing back to six hours earlier. In the flashback, Farrah is subjected to a cattle call audition in which she comes face-to-face with her age and place in the industry. “You’re f----ing ancient!” a young up-and-coming starlet laughs in her face when she reveals her age. And, the really sick part is, by Hollywood standards, she isn’t wrong.

Despondent and eager for acceptance, Farrah wanders to the beach and in the water she finds herself becoming the host to some sort of hostile, tentacled creature. But even without the monstrous element, Zub’s script would still be a winner, mainly due to his clear love for Farrah and her plight as a working mother along with his laser focus on the gilded life of a actress. Exploring themes of youth obsession and the sheer toll life in the industry takes, Glitterbomb #1 is a brutally honest look at the struggle women in Hollywood go through and how fleeting it all can be.

Zub’s thesis is given an almost superhuman strength by the back matter essay by Holly Raychelle Hughes, who recounts her own experiences as a production coordinator and woman who experiences things not unlike Farrah does. Entitled “An Oscar Winner Bullied Me So Badly That I Quit The Film Industry,” Hughes presents a stirring and frankly enraging story of her time on set with the unnamed filmmaker in which she endured harassment, verbal abuse and near-constant belittlement, despite her being an experienced hand at many aspects of production. This sharply-written essay coupled with Zub’s grounded and empathetic script culminates in an reading experience that hooks you deep and forces you to address things that are often ignored.

While Zub and Hughes bring a whole heap of emotions to this debut, artists Djibril Morrissette-Phan and K. Michael Russell back up those feelings with emotive artwork and tone bolstering colors. Morrissette-Phan, making his major debut, already looks like a steady hand. His style, which looks like a mixture of Fiona Staples and Greg Capullo, fits in very well with Zub’s grounded script as he renders each character with a clear and expressive style, making them look very much like real people, but with just a dash of comic book exaggeration in order to make them and their feelings pop from the page.

That said, once the blood starts flying, he doesn’t shy away from it. In the scenes where Farrah unleashes her new “guest,” Morrissette-Phan lashes the tentacles across the page in ropy and unnatural ways, giving us full, horrifying looks at just what Farrah in capable of. Colorist K. Michael Russell also helps along in the blood letting, breaking away from the muted shades of Farrah’s humdrum existence to highlight certain scenes depending on the dread it has to convey like the double page splash of her merging with the creature or her first kill. Djibril Morrissette-Phan may be new, but his work here will make you ready to see what he and Russell have in store for us next.

With its creature-feature hook and its blunt focus on the dark things women are subjected to in Hollywood, Glitterbomb #1 is a triumph. While titles like Satellite Sam and The Fade Out take a more genre centric look at the seedy side of entertainment, Jim Zub, Holly Raychelle Hughes, Djibril Morrissette-Phan and K. Michael Russell present their story as straight-faced as possible, warts, misogyny, and all. Real horror comes from a human place, and even with the monsters and the murder, Glitterbomb #1 feels almost too human, and that is what makes it so scary and so scary good.

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