Best Shots Advance Reviews: DAYS OF HATE #1, ICE CREAM MAN #1, FACTORY #1

Image Comics January 2018 cover
Credit: Image Comics
Credit: Image Comics

Days of Hate #1
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Daniel Zelzej and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by Image Comics
Review by Justin Micallef
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

I read Days of Hate #1 digitally, which meant it shared space with about six or so other tabs on my iPad. It found itself in fitting company with my usual news-soaked social media, full of shared iPhone videos of racially charged police brutality, reports of racism and bloodshed, and angry battlegrounds of political memes. To say Days of Hate is a prophetic book is not only wrong, but ignorant to the new world we already live in - a world that has gone beyond knocking on the door and has instead employed a battering ram. What comprises this new world and what is its language? For Days of Hate, the answer is violence.

What is perhaps most unsettling about Days of Hate is Ales Kot and Daniel Zelzej’s worldbuilding, depicting an eventual fallout of our current Alt-Right-aligned political administration shedding its skin and descending into full-on Nazi-dom. What makes Days of Hate feel vital, and this feels like a conscious choice from both Kot and Zelzej, is how firmly it grounds itself in reality. There are no giant robots, Nazi super weapons, or towering zeppelins but there are certainly patriarchal curfews, internment camps, and secret police. Days of Hate, with both feet planted firmly in the mud and grime, feels like a conductor for all of the awful circulating in the ether, absorbing the lighting and scarring the ground.

In the book, Kot and Zelzej choose a couple of characters to act as protagonist, but Amanda, a member of the resistance, is perhaps the most compelling. Kot seems to inject their own sense of hope into Amanda’s characterization, dedicating a full page to Amanda listlessly dissociating through daydream away from the charred remnants of a hate crime, staring out the window and towards a bird taking flight outside. Amanda’s desensitization to the atrocities she seeks to stomp out is one that I think Kot finds fascinating; what is a resistance fighting for if not hope? Whether this daydream is a distraction or righteous fantasy, the image is both striking and palpable.

Zelzej’s artwork, echoing the work of Michael Gaydos and Jock, has linework like tripwires attached to IEDs — it’s raw and ugly and painful and unsettlingly real. There’s an interrogation sequence, where another protagonist, Huain Xiang, is questioned over her supposed continued sympathies for her ex-wife. Zelzej effortlessly heightens the tension of this sequence, leading to a final reveal that is incredibly earned. This, in conjunction with the muted palette Jordie Bellaire has employed, makes Days of Hate a visual triumph as much as it is a narrative one.

As one who so unabashedly injects themselves into their work, Kot’s output can be criticized for both being so personal and so raw that it skirts the line of abstraction — however, both of these qualities also serve the greater framework of Days of Hate by making it such a sincere book. Make no mistake, Days of Hate is vital, portraying a world where even reading a comic book like it would lead to incredible persecution. While not as easy to escape to as a wondrous daydream, what Ales Kot and Daniel Zelzej have crafted condenses the ugliness of this world into something that both demands and is worth your attention, no matter how violently it rips your head in its direction.

Credit: Image Comics

Ice Cream Man #1
Written by W. Maxwell Prince
Art by Martín Morazzo and Chris O’Halloran
Lettering by Good Old Neon
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

For all of the justifiably kind words that will be heaped on the genre-crossing Ice Cream Man, “unique” is probably the one that gets closest to summing it up. From the mind of W. Maxwell Prince, author of One Week in the Library, comes a new monthly anthology series that taps into the center of the Venn Diagram of our collective nightmares. It’s also a seriously fun mash-up.

You can almost hear the strains of the Mister Softee jingle tinkling out of the opening pages. As the sun sets on suburbia, the enigmatic Ice Cream Man serves up two scoops to a seemingly ordinary kid. We soon discover that he has a unique pet, one that has rendered his parents a little… quieter over the last few weeks. As strange occurrences are reported all over town, from disappearances to monster sighting, a police investigation reveals that they have only just uncovered the tip of the ice cream.

This throwback to the classic days of episodic horror tales in the vein of EC Comics doesn’t go for outright shocks. Instead it leaves us feeling unsettled, instantly normalizing twisted corpses and the deadly spiders that lurk in the shadows. One of the creepiest moments of the issue is when the fate of aforementioned kid’s parents is revealed. It’s a page-stopper of a moment, but the kid barely reacts.

Beyond this, the issue is mostly a celebration of the weird. Howling wolf-monsters that have stepped out of the penny dreadfuls of yesteryear, and a pair of cops that are mostly perfunctory in their role of getting the plot from point A to B. It’s about mood over substance for the most part, with no real sense of urgency from one page to the next. This is, of course, precisely the nature of the one-shot story format.

Martín Morazzo’s retro inspired art helps create that style, a Lynchian vision of the horror that lurks beneath the facade of the perfect sheen of the suburbs. Chris O’Halloran’s muted color palette is perfect, almost as if the comic is perpetually on the cusp of light and dark. Fitting with the comic’s groove, the prettiest art comes from the most unlikely of places. After all, what other comic his year is likely to have multiple heroic ice cream shots?

It’s difficult to tell from this opening issue, but the titular Ice Cream Man would appear to function as a kind of Crypt Keeper for the series. In this vein, it seems that his van will travel from place to place, intersecting with the lives of fateful human, and creating minor winking breaches in the fourth wall. It’s a promising start, filled with at least 31 flavors of possibility.

Credit: Statix Press/Titan Comics

Factory #1
Written and Illustrated by Elgo
Translated by Marc Bourbon-Crook
Lettering by Elgo
Published by Statix Press/Titan Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Science fiction, fantasy, and surprisingly prescient politics collide in the brutally beautiful debut of Factory. The latest effort from Titan Comics’ indie-influenced imprint Statix Press finds Jamaican writer and artist Elgo going full-on Heavy Metal with a tale of totalitarian factory that subjugates the local populace, starving them on the words of a dying psychic. But while the commoners waste away, the gluttonous Lord Gucco gorges himself on rich meats and cowers behind his guards as his last mutant precog foretells of an outside force led by a pig-man that will bring down the Factory and its iron grip on the landscape. While Factory is certainly out there and not for the faint of heart, the foundation of Elgo’s script and artwork is blisteringly political, given extra heft by his background as a Jamaican artist and activist. Equal parts epic quest and sci-fi freakout, Factory #1 is a wonderfully weird artistic showcase for a POC creator that should be on every reader’s radar.

Right from the first panel, Elgo lets the audience know just what kind of story they are about to wade into. Beginning with a spine-backed infant floating in a womb of tech, wires and tubes, Factory #1 starts weird and gross and only gets weirder and grosser from there. Rendered in a style reminiscent of that of Andre Lima Araujo and Katushiro Otomo, Elgo’s artwork is heavily inked and detailed as he brings us further and further into this insane and deadly world. From that starting point of the dying psychic baby, Elgo gradually opens his world up to the audience, moving from the metallic and once-gleaming interior of the Factory outward to the dusty, ruined wasteland that it presides over, giving us a real sense of scale and of the hierarchy of the story’s cast.

It is here where Elgo’s politics and the story’s focus on class really starts to come into view. As Lord Gucco panics and frets over the dying precog’s last prophecy, Elgo introduces us to the rest of the cast, which includes an actual pig-man who is traveling with a group of refugees who live in the Factory’s shadow and beg for spoiled scraps of food. While Elgo’s depictions of poverty and starvation are certainly tough to look at, it quickly becomes clear that he has a lot to say about societal power dynamics and the poverty gap that has plagued his country and the world at large. By filtering these ideas through the lens of science fiction, Elgo gets to deliver real-world horrors through his work, and in doing so gives this debut an incendiary energy that makes up for his lack of any real forward momentum plot-wise. Though some readers will likely be turned off by these displays and/or decry its meandering debut story, the politics and point of view of this debut really took me by surprise, especially in a time where comics are not just taking inspiration from the “world outside your window,” but from a larger global tapestry as well.

While the “comics shouldn’t be political” crowd will certainly bristle at all the stuff detailed above, I found Factory’s clear focus on class and poverty soberly refreshing. In a time where comics are starting to tip the scales toward being about something, most still get right up to the line, but never cross it. Thankfully, Factory obliterates the line and wears its ideas and stances right on its sleeve, imploring readers to either get with its narrative or move on with little to no in-between. There is something liberating about that kind of confidence and it is that confidence that puts Elgo and his insane, gross, and gorgeously detailed story at the top of my “to watch” list this month. Mileage may vary with audiences and some may just outright disagree, but the artistry and ideas behind Factory #1 cannot be denied, and the best part is, it won’t let you deny it. At least not without a fight.

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