Indie Comic Review – Battlecats #1-5 (Mad Cave Studios)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m reviewing the first volume of Battlecats from Mad Cave Studios, which collects the first arc of the series ‘The Hunt for the Dire Beast’ and contains issues #1-5. Battlecats was created and written by Mark London, with art on issues #1-4 by Andy King and on issue #5 by Michael Camelo, colours on issues #1-3 by Alejandro Giraldo and on issues #4-5 by Julian Gonzalez, and lettering and book design by Miguel Zapata.

Battlecats takes place in a fantasy world of anthropomorphic animals, mostly cats, where the titular force of highly trained warriors protect the realm of Valderia on the orders of King Eramad III. He has tasked them with slaying the legendary Dire Beast, so the Battlecats travel to the region of La Marque to fight the monster. But along the way they must deal with the rebellious Darkats, the freezing cold, and a target that may not only be too much for them to handle, but also more than it seems.

Battlecats is a very compelling read. There is a lot here that is fairly well trodden ground, but London manages to tell the tale in a way that it is fresh and original. There is a real 80s cartoon feel, but with a depth of storytelling that was often missing from those shows. London even takes an issue to backtrack and explain the world after setting up the characters and action, which at that point feels necessary rather than expository, before returning to the action. The result is a world that feels brimming with life, leaving the reader wanting more. The only drawback is that the actual Battlecats aren’t given much room to breathe and feel developed yet, but after 5 issues there is still plenty of scope to do this in future stories.

The feeling of 80s cartoon nostalgia continues into the art as well, with big fantasy action, snarling cats and powerful and terrifying monsters all deftly brought to life by King and Camelo. The action is the particular strength is this series in fact, and Giraldo and Gonzalez bring a clarity to the proceedings with their colours, with the variety of garb depending on home nation creating vibrant differences between each Battlecat.

Battlecats surprised me with how quickly I was hooked on the story, and it is well worth your time checking out. Issue #5 was out this week, with the collection of this first arc coming out next month on July 25th.

Indie Comics Review – Packs of the Lowcountry

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he reviews of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

This week I’m reviewing another horror themed comic in honour of the season, this time the original graphic novel Packs of the Low Country (on Kickstarter here). Packs of the Lowcountry is written by John Dudley, with pencils and inks by Don Cardenas, colours by Mark Dale and Kelly Fitzpatrick with colour flats assist from Drew Browne, and lettering from John Westhoff and Don Cardenas.

In a post apocalyptic world, humanity only retains some form of normalcy within walled fortifications. Those unfortunate enough to be  left outside have to try and survive packs of ‘invaders’, monsters of various forms that recently appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and started killing humans wholesale. Bastion is a soldier dropped into the Lowcountry (South Carolina), following up on intel from Agent T regarding the Baker pack, a group of invaders that are essentially werewolves. But Bastion’s superiors haven’t told him the whole truth, and there are other invaders at play in the Lowcountry. He’s about to find out how the invasion started, who started it and make some pretty weird friends along the way.

Packs of the Lowcountry feels like a book very much inspired by 90s comics (and by extension, 80s action films), and as such is a lot of fun while being hugely over the top. Dudley’s characters are well rounded with just enough detail to make them fully realised, without bogging the story down with unnecessary exposition. The plot itself feels like a complete OGN, while the ending and world certainly leave things open for more stories in the world.

The art is expressive and kinetic, but the monster designs are the star of the show here. The wolves and ‘dragons’ are terrifying looking, while ‘The Connect’ has one of the more interesting designs I’ve seen in a long while. The bright colours splashed over the forest environs of the book rounds off the more retro feel of the comic.

Check out Packs of the Lowcountry. It’s a fun action-horror book that is well worth a read. Check out the Kickstarter here.

Comic Review – Modern Testament Vol. 4 (Insane Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m reviewing the fourth and final volume of the Modern Testament: Anthology of the Ethereal series by author and creator Frank Martin. Volume 4 is another collection of three short stories (one split into two parts) published by Insane Comics, each illustrated by a different artist. Each story in Modern Testament takes a biblical or mythological being and places them in the modern world, following how they adapt to our times and how they choose to aid or affect mankind. As Martin says in his letter closing out the book, he saved the big guns for this final volume.

The first story, split into parts 1 and 3 in the volume, is ‘Better the Devil You Know… Than the Devil You Don’t’, with both illustrated by San Espina and with colours by Adri Pratama. A spin on the classic deal with the devil story, abusive husband Jack laments his financial situation, screaming at his wife and daughter. The devil appears to him in disguise, offering an extensive contract to trade Jack’s soul for enormous wealth. In part two, the devil comes to collect.

The art in this tale is the strongest in this volume, and the story the most compelling too. There is a solid twist that keeps it fresh, and the devil himself is brilliant and threatening as the lord of the underworld should always be. Espina and Pratama team up to create oppressive and dark looking art that 100% fits the mood.

The second story is ‘God Complex’, with art by Martin Szymanski and colours by Miguel Marques. An eminent and popular scientist calls a press conference to announce that he has discovered the theory of everything, one of the most elusive concepts in modern science. And in response, a bored God (capital ‘G’) applauds from the back of the auditorium, before telling his creations what he really thinks of them.

God Complex is the most depressing of Volume 4, and considering the subject matter it also manages to be the most nihilistic. That makes it immensely enjoyable, if you are a terrible cynic like me. The art boasts some of the more impressive visuals in this volume too, as God takes the scientist Professor Florence on a reality-bending tour.

And the final story finishes out the Horsemen of the Apocalypse theme that has spread across all 4 volumes, drawn by Anthony Pugh and coloured by Julian Dominguez. In ‘At Death’s Door’, Cain visits a depressed and out-of-shape Death, and tries to get him to embrace his role again. But the inevitability of his job, and how little effort it seems to be for him, has made him disillusioned. So Cain must try to get him back into being Death again.

The art in ‘At Death’s Door’ is simple but effective, belying the status of the characters involved. The story itself is a fun end to the theme that has played out across Modern Testament, ensuring that the collection and entire work finishes strong without taking itself too seriously.

Verdict

Modern Testament Volume 4 is a fitting end to a strong series, and is well worth picking up. You can order it online physically or digitally!

Comic Review – Modern Testament Vol. 3 (Insane Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m revisiting the Modern Testament: Anthology of the Ethereal series by author and creator Frank Martin, Volume 2 of which I reviewed a while ago. Volume 3 is another collection of three short stories published by Insane Comics, each illustrated by a different artist. Each story in Modern Testament takes a biblical or mythological being and places them in the modern world, following how they adapt to our times and how they choose to aid or affect mankind.

mt3-1The first story is ‘Shoulder Djinn’, illustrated by Lucas Urrutia and with colours by Ezequiel Dominguez. Tommy struggles with supporting his sick mother and falling behind with paying the bills, while hearing constant advice for what he should do from an evil red djinn on one side, and a good-natured blue djinn on the other. When it comes to breaking a few laws to get the money he needs, or doing the right thing, the two djinn confront each other. But it is down to Tommy as to which one he listens to.

Shoulder Djinn takes the old devil on the shoulder story and gives it a twist. Its a quick yet challenging story that questions the nature of influence and free will, and even brings into question whether Tommy is even hearing the djinn at all. The art is simple but evocative, with strong colour work that washes out when the djinn are talking, with just the two figures taking focus with their bright ethereal colours.

mt3-2‘The Abandoned’ is the shortest of the three tales, drawn by Francesco Conte and coloured by Macarena Cortes. A mother chastises her son over his failing grades, leading to an argument about his absent father for what is clearly not the first time. A transformation in her son leads to questions about how human his father was, while darker questions about the nature of his conception also arise.

The second story in this volume was an effective tale, if a little heavy handed, looking at abuse, its long term effects and how people deal with them. Of all these stories so far, The Abandoned is the clearest example of using the mythological creatures to tell a story that could easily be told with regular people, making it that much more engaging. The art feels claustrophobic and heavy, with the brief transformation of the son taking on a hint of body horror before quickly receding, which made the story beat all the more effective.

mt3-3Finally, following on from the theme in the final story in Volume 2, the third tale in this collection was ‘Down With the Sickness’, drawn by Joaquin GR and coloured by Matej Stasko, was about another Horseman of the Apocalypse – Pestilence. As with the story of War, this was again perhaps the most light-hearted story. Adam Prescott, CEO of the Apollo company, is dying. And to public outcry, he devotes all of the resources of his company to saving his own life. But his final doctor, Pestilence, has a few uncomfortable truths to reveal to Prescott about the nature of life and death.

The inevitability of the message behind Down With the Sickness was very strong, if pretty depressing. Of the three tales in Volume 3 this was the most entertaining, with razor sharp dialogue and wit. The art was low on action but the bold line work and skillful facial work made it stand out.

Verdict

Modern Testament Volume 3 is another fun read with more strong dialogue from Martin and three interesting stories each with a morality to its core. All three art teams turn in very strong work, while remaining distinct and appropriate for the story too.  You can check out Martin’s Facebook page here, or order Modern Testament direct from Insane Comics either physically or digitally.

Indie Comic Review – Cognition #0

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“Still…. It’s better the devil you know.” Sigma

I’m picking up another review this week while Adam focuses on his PhD. I thought I’d mix things up a bit with another indie comic review – I decided to check out Cognition, published after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

  • Script and Lettering – Ken Reynolds
  • Art – Sam Bentley
  • Editor – David Haliwood

As with many indie comics a small creative team put Cognition together. The story follows Silas Pope – a spy working on behalf of B.O.S.S., the British Occult Secret Service, Hattie Griggs – an agent working under Silas, Calibre 507 (Cal) – a steam powered automaton inhabited by a displaced human soul and Sigma – a mouse inhabited by the spirit of a demon. The comic jumps right in with its first of three introductory stories. We get to see typical cases investigated by B.O.S.S., the supernatural horrors they’re up against and what happens when Sigma is let loose to do his thing.

One of the small issues I’d flag with this comic, as it jumps right in with the plot I did spend a bit of my first read through wondering who exactly was who and especially what was up with the mouse and automaton. There are useful character bios on the final few pages though, which helped fill in the blanks. Being critical it would have been useful to have a bit more exposition during the stories themselves to understand who’s who in this story.

9aefab5c7fe1a55521f39db4292532c9_originalThe art has been done entirely in black and white, which helps set the Victorian era tone of the comic. Sam Bentley did a very good job, using shadow effects and contrasting black and white where need be to create the right atmosphere and add a sense of the supernatural to the occult threats. Ken Reynolds does a fantastic job with the lettering throughout the issue. I was very impressed with this. Different fonts are used to add to the intimidation of the demonic forces and the speech bubbles skilfully lead the readers eye across the pages.

The real question though, Sam Bentley’s art has impressed, but is his hand drawing skills up to scratch? Out of the three stories told throughout the issue hands are only really shown during the first, even then due to the nature of the character interactions they don’t appear in any sense of detail too often. They look good when they’re on panel, though even then contrasting art styles, where the characters are often shaded completely black limits the detail of the hands you can see. 7/10 for hand drawing skills!

Final Verdict

It’s a very solid first issue, a little more exposition to who the characters were would have been useful, though the concept to the story is very cool. The art is very impressive as well. That in itself is enough for me to check out the next issue. I definitely recommend picking this up if you want something a little different. You can check out Cognition here.

Score: 7.75 Soul Fragments out of 10

 

Indie Comics Review – Land of the Rats

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he reviews of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

_1613385_origLand of the Rats is a series from writer and artist Mark Nasso, published by The Underground Forest, and it follows the story of Jack Natari as he traverses the Great Southern Vastness of Blask. Jack is a rat-man from the Kingdom of Raelak, miles from his home in Rat City. I read the first two stories from Land of the Rats, ‘Gastrolithicus’ and ‘The Woman from Iltharra’, which follow Jack as he winds his way home.

In ‘Gastrolithicus’ Jack escapes from prison, only to be captured and enslaved by the mysterious South Men. While trying to run away, he runs afoul of the monstrous Gastrolithicus that dwells near the territory of the South Men. In ‘The Woman from Iltharra’, he loses two people he was protecting to a woman hailing from a state at constant war with his homeland. He confronts this murderous barbarian, and a vicious battle ensues.

One of the strengths of Land of the Rats is Nasso’s world-building. Blask feels lived in and complete, with plenty of potential for hundreds of stories taking place there. While at times it gets a little heavy on the exposition, the mystery of the world that Jack interacts with works well. The stories themselves are well written and interesting, although there are a few instances where the dialogue feels a little out of place, with phrases like ‘ass-kicking’ interrupting the flow of the otherwise standard fantasy-style dialogue.

_317087_origThe other real strong point in these comics is Nasso’s art. The heavy and bold lines and shading create a unique and stylised black and white book that is a real pleasure to look at, despite the subject matter largely being fairly grotesque. The most striking example of this is the titular Gastrolithicus from the first book, which is terrifying to behold but wholly original and striking.

Land of the Rats is well worth checking out for the art alone, but Nasso’s world is full of potential and these stories are compelling. The first four, including Gastrolithicus and The Woman from Iltharra, are collected in Land of the Rats IV which can be found here. All the comics can be found on Comixology. You can also find more information over at theundergroundforest.com.

 

Comic Review – Modern Testament Vol. 2 (Insane Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m reviewing Modern Testament Volume 2 – a collection of three short stories published by Insane Comics that was sent to me last month by the author and creator Frank Martin, with each tale illustrated by a different artist or art team. Each takes a biblical being struggling to fit in and adjust to the modern world, as they try to find meaning or remain relevant.

schoolyard monsterThe first tale is ‘Schoolyard Monster’, illustrated by Adrian Crasmaru. Joey has a common schoolyard problem – bullies. Specifically another kid named Rudy, who is seemingly the ringleader for all the other children. But after being pushed down in the mud again after school, the mud around Joey starts to coalesce into a silent and stoic golem. And the next time Rudy hassles Joey, he is in for an unwelcome surprise.

Schoolyard Monster is an engaging tale with a framing device that plays up the ‘careful what you wish for’ story beat. The art was scratchy and rough (in a good way!), with detailed and heavily expressive facial work and an almost watercolour palette, that gave an overall feel that reminded me of Jeff Lemire’s work.

 

great huntThe Great Hunt’ was drawn by Igor Chakal and coloured by Stanislav Leanov, and tells the story of two big game hunters heading out on safari to bring down a beast of unimaginable power – a behemoth. Despite warnings from the reserve warden, the pair head out to seek the monster they have heard so many rumours about. And obviously that all works out fine for them.

This second story was probably my favourite of the three. It was simple, it had strong and natural dialogue, and I do enjoy a tale of idiotic hubris. The art was especially good too, with nice renderings of a savanna environment and a really oppressive and claustrophobic edge as darkness falls. The behemoth itself was terrifying to behold, and the ensuing action was fantastically brutal.

 

warFinally ‘What is He Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)’, drawn by Noreus Teves and coloured by Laura Ruggeri, was perhaps the most light-hearted yet chilling story. An injured war veteran relaxes aboard a cruise ship, his family somewhere else on deck, and he is approached by a mysterious stranger. This man hands over his business card ‘War – Horseman of the Apocalypse’, and shows he isn’t joking by showing visions of the savagery he has had a hand in over the years. Having been content to sit back and let humanity do most of his work for him, he has now come up with a plan to speed up his end of the apocalypse. And it involves the cruise ship.

This final tale was entertainingly bleak, with an arrogance behind War that was a lot of fun to read. The art was bright and laid back and light on action, with the vibrant ‘vision’ page to the right accounting for most in the story. instead focusing more on body language and facial expressions with some fairly heavy line work that worked well.

Verdict

Modern Testament Volume 2 is a fun, quick read with strong dialogue and three intriguing tales that show a lot of potential in the writer. The art in each is distinct and suits the story, as well as being great to look at. You can check out Martin’s Facebook page here, or order Modern Testament direct from Insane Comics either physically or digitally.