CBLDF Liberty Annual #5

Buying "CBLDF Liberty Annual" #5 will support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and thus comics creators' right to protection under The First Amendment. There's also some actual gems in this anthology of short pieces and previews of longer works; skip to the bottom of this review if you want the short version.

"Which Came First?" by Jonathan Hickman is an illustrated pithy joke or thought, not a story, but Hickman's design and drawing skills are put to good use here.

"Barren Ground," by Andy Diggle and Ben Templesmith is a comic story about cultural adjustment for demons in the face of those crazy kids these days, with their secularism and tolerance. It's a one-note joke, but Diggle's dialogue is sharp and funny, and Templesmith's art has good facial expressions.

"Freedom From," by Howard Chaykin and Sina Grace is a didactic, political piece about American values and the power of the press. It's heavy-handed and humorless, but Grace draws a fun parody of the Monopoly Man.

"Free," by Steven T. Seagle and Marco Cinello is another political piece, but a more successful one because Seagle grounds the political in the specific and personal. On the second page, Cinello's art makes the main character's delight feel true.

"Lumière," by Joe Keatinge and Chynna Clugston-Flores is a slight but sweet family story, focusing not on political freedoms but on identity and how love allows for freedom. Keatinge writes some evocative prose, and Clugston-Flores art has an attractive art-nouveau feel in the curves of her buildings. John Roshell's lettering nicely echoes that aesthetic.

"Hunters," by James Robinson and J. Bone is a prologue to their upcoming creator-owned series, "The Saviors." Robinson and Bone's world-building is rapid and suspenseful in only five pages, and Bone's style lends itself to noir more easily than one might expect. The second page has an excellent building façade of apartment fire escape ladders, with small panels artfully overlaid on top to spotlight predators vs. prey.

"Last Rights," by James Asmus and Takeshi Miyazawa is a before-the-apocalypse story, and it is stunning. It's the best piece in "CBLDF Liberty Annual" #5. I usually don't look to be moved by short shorts, because there is just very little space for a writer or artist to connect, although, as Asmus' three-page story proves, it's possible. "Last Rights" is a remarkable, anonymous first-person narrative, and repeats old truths in a new way. Miyazawa's drawing is gorgeous and his faces carry a lot of emotion. The last, shocking panel is like chili peppers or a shot of whiskey -- first a punch in the mouth, then trailing off into something that lingers in your veins.

"Marineman/Hip Flask," by Richard Starkings and Ian Churchill is a bizarre little piece in which Marineman and Hip Flask punch out some mammoth crabs to the beat of Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill quotes. I don't think this is the kind of martial splendor that Roosevelt and Churchill had in mind, but it's fun.

"Sasquatch," by Chris Roberson and Roger Langridge is Sunday cartoon-style joke piece that mixes Sasquatch with a lyric from "Me and Bobby McGee."

"Common Comic Conversation," by Chris Giarrusso is a humorous gripe about comics readers and their inflexible fixations.

"Storm Dogs: All Freedoms Grow," by David Hine and Doug Braithwaite, is a preview of their upcoming mini-series. Braithwaite's lush art does some world-building, but the piece itself is neither a story nor part of a story, and the text is unfortunately dominated by the preachy, ceremonial tone of the speaker.

"King Kim: Barlartan Revenge," by Brandon Graham is an excerpt. Unfortunately, these two pages are too small a fragment for a new reader to get a sense of the larger story, but Graham's art has its usual grace.

"Just As Real As Yours," by Jim McCann and Janet Lee reads like an advertisement about tolerance and open adoption, because it's driven by those concepts instead of by character or plot. Lee's art defines the setting nicely, though.

"Unleashed," by Kieron Gillen, Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire is a excellent piece. Gillen chooses an unexpected, unorthodox path into the theme of freedom, and it works well, especially with Bellegarde's confident line and sensitive knack for canine expression, enhanced by Bellaire's warm palette.

"Douchebag," by Terry Moore is a cute Sunday-comics-type piece, with a strong "Peanuts" vibes to it.

Lastly, "The Walking Dead," by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard is an exclusive new six-page story starring The Governor. Kirkman's writing has his usual sweep of dramatic tension and shock value, and Adlard's inks and shadows fill the character's faces and the rooms with creepy, beautiful darkness.

Like any anthology, "CBLDF Liberty Annual" #5 has a lot of forgettable pieces, but this year's mix has an unusual number of strong contributions. "Walking Dead" fans will enjoy Kirkman and Adlard's character piece, and Gillen, Bellegarde and Bellaire's "Unleashed" is a quiet gem. "Hunters" has gotten me interested in Robinson and Bone's "The Saviors" project, and Asmus and Miyazawa's superb "Last Rights" by itself makes this anthology something worth reading.

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