Actually a mix of the 16th and the 9th, as I was out of town and missed a week. So, some stuff from both piles! The theme of this week is surpassing expectations of source material. Here’s some very strong gems for you!
Afterlife with Archie #1
Those crazy kids at Archie Comics. While other publishers are continually struggling against their creators on ideas that are outside of their comfort zone, Archie – known primarily as a kids and young adult publisher – just goes for it with this title.
There’s no mistaking what you’re in for from page one. First is the art, which is dark, moody, and beautiful in a goth kind of way. And then there’s the content. On a rainy day, just before Halloween, Jughead’s beloved dog, Hot Dog, has been struck by a car. Desperate, he goes to Sabrina, whom we all know is a teenage witch, for help. Her aunts forbid it, but she sneaks out with the Necronomicon anyway. If this is a real horror title, this is a very bad idea.
Well, guess what? This is a real horror title. There’s nothing cutesy here. Hot Dog does indeed rise from his grave – but not as the loveable fuzzball we all know and love. Jughead is bit, and makes his way to the big Halloween party, with a costume to die for.
Part of what makes this particularly effective, beyond top notch execution, is that we know these characters. Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, Jughead, Mr. Weatherbee – we’re invested, at least in some level, in their lives. I care a lot more that bad things are happening to them than some random teenagers I met 15 minutes ago. And there’s no doubt, this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
This is not a silly Halloween story where Sabrina gets them into trouble for 30 minutes and they all learn a valuable lesson. This is hardcore, bloody horror done with sophistication and style. Seriously, zombie fans and Archie fans alike – buy this.
Adventure Time #21
In a lot of ways, licensed titles are trickier than original works to get right. You do have the advantage that its easier to get people to sample the title if they like the source material, but the vast majority of them, particularly ones derivative from words with a very strong voice, are pale imitations.
There are exceptions, however, and one of the best examples is Adventure Time written by Ryan North.
I like Adventure Time, the TV series. It’s inventive and weird and a little crazy. But the comic is just as weird, and with even stronger character moments and wittier dialogue. I could just quote bits at you in lieu of a real review, so I will:
Finn: How old was that Voicemail?
BMO: Finn, do you seriously think that I memorize the complete metadata of every single messge I record just in case there’s the slightest chance of you asking me about it? Because I totally do! Yaaaay BMO!
Yaay, BMO indeed. Oh, there’s a plot involving some renegade bubblegum goo monster, and stuff. But it’s constant, hilarious dialogue like this that pushes this into the must read comedy title on the shelves today.
This issue starts out with just some dynamite dialogue between Luke and Wedge, both having infiltrated the imperial fleet:
Wedge: The stats are pretty sobering — you fly combat, your life expectancy drops fast. In this war? Most of us can expect to live maybe six weeks. And there are battles like Yavin… where you lose everyone you know… and you regret, really regret, not making a connection when you had the chance.
They’re, of course, talking about romantic possibilities, in this case Luke and a fellow pilot, Prathi. But the context of this does something remarkable. It takes a battle that we all know inside and out, the climax of the first Star Wars movie, and makes it real. We tend to think of the Battle of Yavin as a heroic victory, the stunning upset of the rebellion. But it’s simultaneously a horror, where most of the pilots of the fleet die, and people like Wedge take a heavy emotional loss. In this comic, for the first time I’ve ever seen, the rebellion is a real war, with real human costs.
The rest of the issue is pretty great too, with Han Solo and Boba Fett, Leia in the asteroid field that was once Alderaan, Vader starting to track down his long lost son, an imminent major battle, and lots of great art. But those first few pages, man, they pack a punch that I didn’t see coming. J.J. Abrams, take note: Brian Wood is the guy you want to be studying, if you want a Star Wars story with impact.