Review time! with <i>Golgotha</i> plus an added bonus!

I received a nice graphic novel in the mail recently, and with it came a single issue, so I'm going to review both of them. It's two reviews for the price of none! Yeeeee-haaaaa!

Someone at 215 Ink thought I might enjoy these comics, so I got to read Golgotha, a graphic novel, and Beware ... Formula X, a single issue story that's part of a longer series about science run amok and science saving everyone from science run amok. Golgotha is written by Andrew Harrison and drawn by Karl Slominski and costs $14.99, while Beware ... is written by Michael D. Perkins, drawn and lettered by Will Perkins, and colored by Andrew Piccardo. It's $2.99, in case you're wondering.

Beware ... Formula X is part of a series; as the inside cover notes, it "offers a world full of biological experimentation, absurd coincidence, serial danger, and deus ex machina," all of which occurs, apparently, in the same town of Haven Hollows.

Basically, this issue is not unlike a low-budget horror movie, where people do really dumb things, a monster appears, and then the same people have to do smart things to get out of their predicament. That doesn't mean it's not a blast, though, because the Perkins brothers keep everything zipping along, not worrying too much about logic because they're enjoying themselves too much. In this issue, we get a high-school kid named Todd who's experimenting on what looks like an orchid but is actually an ant-attracting fungus. It lures ants in, infects them with spores, and then seals off the colony when the ant takes it back home. The fungus then takes over the colony, killing every ant. This doesn't sound pleasant, and of course bad things are going to happen with said fungus. Todd is invited to an all-night pool party at the school by Heather, who of course thinks he's dreamy while he is oblivious to her charms. Todd says he needs to add small amounts of fertilizer every hour all night, but he quickly decides to think with his dick and leaves to join Heather, but not before he finds "formula X fertilizer," which is, of course, "extra-strength." He adds a tiny drop to the fungus and takes off, but of course the fungus grows out of control and quickly starts killing humans rather than ants. We're pretty sure Todd will stop the fungus, but how? HOW?!?!?

Both the writing and the art on the book is solid. Michael Perkins gives the characters some nice traits that keep the book lively, like Todd's unfortunate penchant for skipping note-taking. He doesn't have a lot of room for character development, but he gets the rhythms of the dialogue quite nicely, so that even while things are going to hell, Todd, Heather, and Todd's friend Adam are interesting to read. Perkins even gets some nice "teenager" moments in, like Todd's first reaction to seeing the fungus and Heather's reaction to Todd "cheating" on his experiment to spend time with her. They're small moments, sure, but they work very nicely.

For a book about "mad" science, Perkins also uses some fascinating science facts (well, at least I assume they're facts) to make Todd's plan more interesting. While the plot stems from pseudo-science, it still feels "real." That's not a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Will Perkins and Piccardo do a solid job with the art. Perkins tells the story well, and he does some interesting things to show the fungus spreading throughout the school as it goes on its murderous rampage. There are a few pages where the layout is a bit confusing, but it only holds us up for a moment. Perkins's loose line works well for the frenetic pace of the issue and the riot of greenery that's running all over the school, and the colors work nicely as well - the greens and purples of the fungus aren't too intense, but they do look weirdly alien against the drabness of the high school.

Beware ... Formula X is an exciting and fun single issue. Apparently there's a trade in the offing of the stories in the series so far, so I'm sure you can check out 215 Ink's web site for that, if you're interested.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Meanwhile, we have Golgotha. This graphic novel takes place in Providence, Rhode Island, and it stars the most unlikable bunch of losers since, I don't know, Clerks? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) The story revolves around the theft of H. P. Lovecraft's skull, which makes everyone a bit squirrely. The main character, Aleister, is a Lovecraft devotee who's also a conceptual artist. He's planning on leaving Providence and heading to New York, but a judge sentences him to a detox program in-state for his many, many drug problems.

When he finds out that Lovecraft's skull has been stolen, he enlists his best friend, Jude, to bust him out of the clinic so they can go hunting for the skull. Along the way, they come across several denizens of Providence's drug scene, including Aleister's ex-girlfriend, Moira, who works in a hospital mainly, it seems, to steal their morphine. During the adventures, Aleister discovers something nasty living in the caves under Providence, he finds the skull in the last place he'd expect to find it, and a few people die and a bunch of others get beaten quite severely. It's rather insane, in the best possible way.

Harrison does a good job with these characters - the book reads like a good sitcom, with some rapid-fire dialogue and lots of good insults and asides. He gives even the minor characters some good personalities, and they all bounce off each other well, even as Aleister gets deeper and deeper into trouble. Aleister himself is a good character - he's certainly not someone you'd like to hang out with, because he seems far too self-absorbed to be anything but a douchebag - but he still has a weird charm, so you can understand how he'd get someone like Moira, at least for a little while. The other characters are stereotypes, sure, but Harrison makes sure we don't dwell on them too much - they work in service of the plot, so we can laugh at them for a while but not worry about them too much.

The plot is convoluted, but Harrison never lets it spin out of control - he always keeps the focus on the skull even when he introduces all these weird characters. Yes, Aleister gets sidetracked a few times, but while the skull is ultimately somewhat of a MacGuffin, Harrison sticks to it through its logical conclusion. I don't want to spoil the reason why the skull is stolen, but it fits nicely into the screwed-up vibe of the entire book. The book becomes a love letter to Providence, more than anything, and Harrison sets that up pretty well throughout the book, even though it seems like Providence is populated completely by drug dealers and users.

Slominski does a marvelous job on the art - it's very Mahfood-esque, if that's your thing. Harrison and Slominski pack the pages, which comes with one drawback - occasionally the art is a bit muddled, as it appears Slominski is trying to get too much into too small a space. But it doesn't happen that often, and for the most part, the art is excellent. (There's another sequence where it appears a person grows, Hulk-like, far too big for a normal person, and I'm not sure if we're supposed to believe he actually grew that big or if the characters see him that way because they're all spaced out on drugs. It's unclear. But it only takes up two pages, so I can deal with it.) Slominski has a nice, cartoony style, so he likes contorting his characters' faces to express all sorts of emotions, and it doesn't look weird because his style suits it.

His attention to detail is wonderful - he pays attention to what characters wear and what they would wear in certain situations, and as we get to know the characters, it's clear that they are wearing clothes that fit their personalities. Everyone looks a little bit healthy for drug users, but I suppose they're young people and haven't gone so far into it that they've started falling apart. Slominski's sense of place is very good, too - he does a nice job with the settings for the scenes, from the cemeteries to the old Masonic temples to the caves under the city. The way he draws Crazy Henry is wonderful - it appears that Henry lives partly in another dimension, as all sorts of strange images seem to flow from his head when he starts speaking. It's a nice device to show just how off-beat he really is. Slominski also does a nice job on the flashbacks - he softens the inks with a brush, giving the panels a more "olde-tyme" feel. Harrison's script requires Slominski to do a lot of crazy, frenetic artwork, but he's always up to the task. He's an artist to watch out for. (I'm not sure who lettered the book, but I did find it humorous that they spelled "Ambrose Bierce" incorrectly - I imagine it was a typo that made it "Amrbose," but it's still unfortunate.)

I'm still not sure why the book is called Golgotha - it comes from the Hebrew for "skull," so that's obvious, but the word is so freighted with that other meaning that it seems a bit of a dodge - but that's okay. Mainly, Golgotha is a violent, funny, exciting, well-drawn comic. It's full of weird characters and it's just a lot of fun to read. I hope to see more from both of these creators, because they seem to know what they're doing.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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