What I bought - ECCC edition!

I got a bunch of comics at the Emerald City Comicon (some I actually bought!), and some of them were single issues, so I figured I'd do like last year and review them all at once. That's fun, right?

ACTION LAB COMICS! Dave Dwonch was nice enough to give these to me, even though I totally swear I would have paid for them! I like getting free comics, because I'm not crazy, but I always feel the tiniest bit uncomfortable about it. Not because I feel I'm beholden to give them good reviews - I hope it doesn't seem that way - but because I love supporting seriously indie comics, and I will gladly pay money for them. But thanks, Dave, if you happen to be reading this. I really do appreciate it!

Anyway, these are all comics from Action Lab's new "Danger Zone" section, which are a bit more aimed at adults rather than kids like their earlier books have been. They still publish stuff like Princeless, but they want to branch out so they're not defined by its success. So these are those comics!

Ehmm Theory #1 (of 4) ("Cat, Quantum & Contrition Part One") by Brockton McKinney (writer), Larkin Ford (artist), and Jason Strutz (colorist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC.

First up is Ehmm Theory, the title of which is some kind of pun on the main character's surname, but I don't know what it is yet. It's the best of the four series, both in writing and artwork, but the others are worth a look, too. McKinney's story is a bit goofy, but he manages to sell it well - Gabriel Ehmm is killed by his girlfriend because she believes he was cheating on her (she found some panties in his apartment), but St. Peter gives him an out: If he does some tasks for Heaven, he'll be able to "move up" the afterlife ladder instead of being stuck. St. Peter doesn't explain much, but he does give him a companion - Mr. Whispers, his cat, who died of starvation after Gabriel was shot and went off to the afterlife with him. St. Peter nicely gives Mr. Whispers the ability to talk, and Gabriel and his cat are returned to Earth, where their first assignment is killed zombie circus little people. Because of course it is!

It's a silly premise, but McKinney does a decent job with it. Gabriel and Mr. Whispers kind of acknowledge the silliness of it all without McKinney hanging a lampshade too blatantly. Meanwhile, McKinney hints around that things are even weirder than they seem - St. Peter lies to Gabriel, St. Peter doesn't seem to know quite what he's doing (which he admits), St. Peter calls Gabriel a "new Adam," which sounds a lot more important than going around killing zombie circus little people, Gabriel's long-lost father is somehow important, and maybe he's not even human anymore? It's a lot of stuff in just one issue, but what makes it work is that McKinney isn't too obvious about it - it comes out more in hints rather than characters simply stating things, so it feels more organic. Gabriel might be a bit dim, but that doesn't mean the readers have to be!

Ford's art is strong, too. He does a perfectly fine job with the gore (see below), but he's also quite good with the facial expressions, which is important. When Stacey confronts Gabriel about his "infidelity," Ford does a good job shifting Gabriel's face from puzzlement to panic as he realizes Stacey is about to kill him. St. Peter is good, too - he doesn't change his expression that much, but he does just enough to let us know that he's not being completely honest with Gabriel. Ford's best work is probably with Mr. Whispers, because it has to be hard to make something look feline but have the personality of a human. Mr. Whispers, however, is very well done. Strutz rounds out the creative team with some very nice shading - when St. Peter reveals himself in "old-school" form, Strutz changes the coloring to make it look more archaic, and when Alyona, the woman who sees Gabriel kicking zombie ass at the end, thinks about Gabriel's father, Strutz shades the panel beautifully to give her a melancholy mien. It's very well done.

So this is a good start. The book is in Previews right now, and will be out in May. Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

This is, I'll point out, the very first page of the book. What a way to begin! This gives you a perfect encapsulation of the comic - a hand rises out of a grave, so we know there are zombies. Then we see that it's a clown, and that he looks somewhat small. So there's some weird humor. And then Gabriel's foot kicks the zombie into gory bits, so we know it's gory horror with some dark humor. Nicely done by McKinney and Ford!

The Final Plague #1 (of 5) ("Death at First Bite Part One") by JD Arnold (writer), Tony Guaraldi-Brown (artist), and Chris Fenoglio (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC.

This is another zombie book (you can never have too many zombie comics, yo!) with an unusual twist - the zombies are animals (rats, mostly) that gradually infect the human population. We get two different threads of the story - in Iowa, a family finds that their house is infested, and they're certainly not sure what's going on. In New Jersey, two scientists are discussing a plague they've developed, and yeah, that's not good. How did the rats get to Iowa? Why are they in New York, as we see in a two-page vignette? Oh, it's very confusing!

It's very much a set-up issue, as we see that the mom of the family, Helen, has a very tough time killing the rat, which sets up the horrifying ending, and of course we need to check in on the scientists so we see that this is only going to get worse. Arnold isn't a bad writer, but he doesn't do too much with the characters in this issue - it's basically "decent Iowan farmers" and "idiotic scientists who think infecting rats with a zombie plague is a good idea" - but he gets things going pretty well, and he builds the tension really well in the final scene, when we know someone is going to die but he keeps delaying the inevitable with banalities. At least he gets the atmosphere down, which is kind of crucial in a straight horror book.

Guaraldi-Brown has a bit of a low-rent Greg Ruth look going on (I miss Greg Ruth), which isn't a bad thing. He needs to work on his figure work a bit, but his rough style, combined with the watercolor look of the coloring, makes the book feel gritty and disturbing, which is important. The final page, which needs to land really well, does so, as it's absolutely terrifying even though we know it's coming. Guaraldi-Brown begins the story with brightness and ends it in darkness, which is a nice shift. The book definitely gets more disturbing as it goes along!

I don't love The Final Plague, because despite the twist, it doesn't feel like Arnold is doing enough with the zombie genre ... although he still has time, of course. The first issue doesn't quite grab me as much as Ehmm Theory #1 did, but you might have a different opinion, of course. This is coming out in June, so when it shows up in Previews, I'll remind you about it if you feel like pre-ordering it. Then you can decide for yourself!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Guaraldi-Brown does a nice job with the horror of trying to kill a pest and seeing it ripped in half but refusing to die. The second panel, where the rat looks right at the reader, is well done, and Helen's utter exhaustion after she's been bashing the thing with a shovel is palpable. Her "Die, God damn you" is a bit ironic considering that later in the book she criticizes people for being profane, but it's a nice subtle way for Arnold to show how much this zombie rat affects her.

Ghost Town #1 (of 5) by Dave Dwonch (writer), Justin Greenwood (artist), and Brian Dyck (colorist). $3.99, 18 pgs, FC.

Ghost Town is another comic that's coming out in May, and it has this premise: Terrorists have taken control of the first working time machine and are using it to send bombs into the future to hold the U.S. government hostage - if the president doesn't bring all the troops back from abroad and then resign with his entire cabinet, they'll detonate the bombs. They place one in Las Vegas and one in Washington, D.C., and of course the government doesn't give in, which means Vegas gets blown to smithereens. It's utterly ridiculous on many, many levels, but Dwonch keeps things moving along nicely, and Greenwood's art works better in color, so it's pretty good. The bomb explodes only 48 hours after the terrorists make their demands, so presumably when the world catches up with the events in two days they'll find Vegas already destroyed? I guess that's the way it's going to work, although, you know - time travel. I really don't want to think about it too much.

Dwonch does a couple of interesting things with the story - he introduces us to Emil Harrison, one of the researchers at the lab where they're experimenting with time travel. By beginning the story with Emil, he sets him up as the star of the book, so when Emil turns out to be one of the terrorists (which happens very early, so I hope you don't mind the spoilering), it's a nice turn. Unfortunately, that means we're left with no real interesting characters - Emil isn't dead, but he's not in the book after he helps the terrorists gain control of the machine, and all we have are bland intelligence agents. Presumably once Dwonch gets to the rest of the series, in which agents try to stop the terrorists, we'll get more interesting characters, but in this issue, the most interesting person isn't in it that long and turns out to be evil. Second, Dwonch makes the terrorists strangely compelling yet still vile by making their cause something rather benign: American isolationism - or degrees thereof - is something that, in light of our financial trouble and "entangling alliances," ought to be discussed a bit more seriously, and bringing the troops home is something that Obama has been promising for years (candidates can promise all sorts of shit, and then they get into office and realize that things are a lot more complicated than they thought, man!!!). So while they're evil terrorists, they don't say anything too crazy, and I wonder if Dwonch is going to get into this odd, kind of reasonable first request that the terrorists make (presumably they want Obama - the president in this comic is definitely Obama - and the cabinet to resign because they haven't done enough to bring the troops home) and why they feel they need to blow up a city to get it done.

Greenwood has gotten better as an artist, and Dyck's colors do help quite a bit. When Greenwood was drawing Wasteland, the gray tones didn't help too much, and his line seemed much softer than it does here. His facial expressions work a bit better in this issue, and he uses inks and Dyck's coloring to good effect to create contrasts between the dark of the terrorist leader (whose face we never see) and the goofiness of Vegas right before, you know, it explodes. I'm still not the biggest fan of Greenwood's work, but it's getting better, which is nice to see.

I like this a bit more than The Final Plague, just because Dwonch has a better idea, and while I can't quite wrap my head around it yet, I think it's more interesting than another zombie comic. I do hope he explains the terrorists' plot a bit better, but for now, it's an intriguing beginning. With any serialized fiction, that's all you can ask for!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Dwonch and Greenwood heavy-handedly set up the bomb showing up in downtown Las Vegas, with the three women talking about how great they are and how great their lives are going to be, but it's still effective. The coloring is just weird enough to fit the whole "time travel" thing, and I like the final word balloon, where the woman asks what the thing is and it feels more plaintive because we know she's going to die in about a second. Well done!

Night of the 80s Undead #1 (of 3) by Jason Martin (writer/colorist/letterer) and Bill McKay (artist). $3.99, 22 pgs, semi-FC.

The final Action Lab comic also comes out in June, like The Final Plague, and it's also a zombie comic, but the tone is completely opposite of The Final Plague (and even of Ehmm Theory, which is funny but feels more serious underneath). This is basically an excuse for Martin to make fun of the 1980s - which isn't a bad reason for a comic to exist, but so far, that's pretty much all it is.

The premise is that the Soviets, desperate to destroy the American Way of Life, put a virus into the cocaine supply, and that will turn every celebrity into a zombie-like creature (note that this and The Final Plague aren't exactly "zombie comics," but they're close enough). Sarah and Linda, two typical Valley Girls, end up next door to a party at Tom Selleck's mansion just as all the celebrities turn into flesh-eating crazies, and based on that cover, presumably Sarah ends up killing a whole lot of them. In this first issue, Martin spends his time bashing us over the head with the fact that it's 1986, pointing out all the goofy cultural artifacts that litter the book - Cabbage Patch Kids! Swatches! - and introducing a bunch of celebrities and making jokes about them. I don't mind it all that much - the narration is quite cheeky, which is fine - but that's a lot of this issue. With the benefit of hindsight, Martin is able to make a bunch of jokes at the celebrities' expense - O. J. Simpson hates his wife (a bit tasteless, but so is this comic!), Charlie Sheen talks about how much he hates Jon Cryer, that sort of thing - and he keeps it all fairly light even when the celebrities start slaughtering each other. McKay has a pretty decent, cartoony style with an angular line that fits the angular 1980s, and the only place he isn't quite as sharp is when the celebrities turn on each other, because he makes them look like they're melting more than being torn apart. This might be a function of the book not being colored completely - some of the pages are in black and white exclusively, while others have some color flats but not much else. It appears that Martin is going for a very poppy, day-glo look to the book, which I think will work quite well. Perhaps he'll help out McKay's pencils on the pages that show all the killing.

Night of the 80s Undead is a silly comic, but it's kind of fun. If you're in the mood for these kinds of shenanigans, it's a pleasant enough way to pass the time!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

This is one of the uncolored pages, obviously, but it gives you a good idea of the goofiness of the comic. I do like Panel 3, where Sarah is pointing her finger-gun at her head. It's a really nice facial expression, and weirdly enough, it looks totally 1980s. Why is that?

Eastsiders #0 by Pj Perez (writer/letterer/toner) and António Brandão (artist). $1.99, 8 pgs, BW, Pop! Goes the Icon.

I can't really review Eastsiders, because it's an 8-page teaser, but I thought I'd give it a go, because Perez was nice enough to give it to me for no money. Perez sets the book in the East End of London, and a dude named Jake Peters shows up at a warehouse in which all the workers have been killed and mutilated. The cops show up, but Peters uses some weird electric power that shoots out of his hands to escape. There is, of course, a shadowy organization that wants Jake stopped, plus two other bad dudes who don't think much of him either. So basically, this preview gives us all the primary players. That's not bad for 8 pages.

Perez writes on the inside front cover that the book is about a war in the East End between factions that might not be considered human, and that's perfectly fine. I'm curious why he set the book in that particular place - Perez isn't English, after all, so it's not like he grew up there - and I hope there's a good reason for it. But it's not a bad way to start the series, and Brandão's art is pretty decent and looks good in black and white. I'm not sure what else to say about it!!!

Rating: Incomplete, I suppose. Probably about 6 stars?

One totally Airwolf page:

This is a pretty exciting page - the dudes come crashing through the wall/window, and Jake fires up his electric powers. Brandão does a decent job, and Perez lets him. That's always good!

Murder Book #1 and 2 by Ed Brisson (writer/letterer), Simon Roy (artist, issue #1, "Catching Up" and "Skimming the Till"), Vic Malhotra (artist, issue #2, "Trickle"), and Michael Walsh (artist, issue #2, "Settling Up"). $4.00 each, 28 and 19 pgs, BW.

Brisson has done three of these volumes, but I reviewed #3 last year, so this year, let's check out #1 and #2, shall we? If you've read any of Brisson's "Murder Book" stories (notably in the back of Jay Faerber's Near Death), you know that they're ridiculously bleak stories featuring ... well, murder. I can think of only one that has a relatively happy ending, but otherwise, they're about horrible things happening to all kinds of people. The cleverness comes from the way Brisson tells the stories, because some of them are quite clever.

In volume 1, the first story features Don, a portly schlub, who spots his old friend Ken in a bar. Ken apparently left town a few years earlier and Don's amazed to see him. The two reminisce about things, but because this is a "murder book," we're just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It does, but Brisson confounds our expectations - he hints at other ways this could play out, but when it does play out, it's very clever. In the second story, a proprietor of a failing business is robbed by two meth heads, but he decides that he can use them to pull a heist of his own. It all goes well, except the dude forgets the Golden Rule of Crime: Never turn your back on a frustrated meth head! Well, if that's not the Golden Rule of Crime, it ought to be. This is an interesting story because the proprietor, Jordan, doesn't seem like a bad guy, but Brisson shows that he's just enough in a moral gray zone that robbery wouldn't be too repugnant to him.

In volume 2, a low-level drug smuggler named Glen is confronted by his immediate supervisor, Sandra, about Glen's skimming from the shipments. Once again, we know that there's something else going on here, but Brisson lets it play out like we expect before revealing what's really going on, and it's a pretty clever twist. The lesson is: If you're going to go into crime, go big or go home. Glen just isn't a big enough figure in the crime world, man! Finally, the last story is about an ex-cop (interestingly enough, the only way we know this is because the back cover tells us) whose friend happens to find the guy who shot him and put him in a wheelchair and is now giving the ex-cop a chance for revenge. The twist in this story isn't too clever, but Brisson does a nice job exposing the ex-cop for the shitheel he is without making him a really evil dude - he's just a guy who uses excuses too much. It's a nice tense drama that ends the only way it could, but is still gripping.

Brisson gets some good artists to work on the book, too. Roy has been getting better every time he draws something, and his two stories are nicely done. Malhotra has a sharper line, but his figures tend to be a bit stiffer. Still, he does a nice job inking his story, creating a dark mood for Glen's interrogation. Walsh is a bit looser with his work, but that makes the violence in his story a bit more raw and crazed. Each artist fits the stories quite well, and it's pretty cool that Brisson could write stories that seem to suit them.

I wouldn't call any story in Murder Book "pleasant," exactly, but Brisson knows how to get to the heart of the story really quickly and well, and he even creates interesting characters in little space. You don't read Murder Book because you want light-hearted tales, you read them to admire the craft of Brisson and the artists, telling these nasty little stories and making us actually care what happens to the people in them.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Roy does a nice job with the layout here. The second panel opens up a bit to direct our eyes toward the - what the heck is that thing called? - weapon under the cash register, which makes the third panel smaller in that corner, drawing our eye back to Jordan smacking Robbie across the face. The right side of the panel isn't important, so it doesn't matter if it's funneled toward a point. The violence keeps our eye on that side of the page, easily pushing us downward to Panel 4. Well done, Mr. Roy!

Outfoxed by Dylan Meconis (writer/artist). $10, 21 pgs, RW.

I'm awfully nervous whenever I read something by the delightful Ms. Meconis, given that I'm not shy about telling everyone she's one of my two favorite people in comics. Luckily, she's supremely talented as well as awesome, so that really isn't too big a problem, but I still get nervous. What if I hate her latest comic? How will I write a bad review when she's so very excellent?

That day will have to wait, because Outfoxed is tremendous. Meconis had it on-line for a while, so I'm sure some of you already know how tremendous it is, but I live in fear of digital comics, so I waited until she printed this on old-fashioned, all-American paper, damn it! I'm glad I did, because the quality of this comic is really nice - the paper is good, thick stock, and I don't know if the digital version had the fancy frontispiece, but this does, and it's pretty neat. But what is it about, right?

Well, it's a fable about a fox. A laundress is strolling through the woods carrying a load of clothes when a fox bursts out of the woods and begs her to hide him from the hunters and their dogs. She's impressed that the fox can talk, but before we can get an explanation, the hunters show up. Luckily, they don't search her, and after they leave, she finds out that the fox simply wished it could talk, and it could. So it wishes to be a man, and it is. Then things get really weird.

Obviously, this is a fable, so we accept things like wishing foxes, but Meconis goes to a really dark place with it, taking it to its logical conclusion. This is "appropriate for ages 8+," so it's not like things get too dark, but Meconis is able to keep the tone appropriate for kids while still turning the story more disturbing than we think it will be. The fox learns quickly how to be a man, which isn't necessarily a good thing, and Meconis makes some obvious but important points about the nature of humanity and their place in the universe. The final few pages are pretty scary, frankly, but that's what makes this so good. Meconis is a student of history, so she knows how to delve into the kind of fables that people told back when they were really trying to scare the crap out of people. Despite the fact that this remains something I could let my daughter read, the subtext is very disturbing, and that's why it's so good for both kids and adults.

Meconis is a fine artist, too. Her character design is simple yet effective, and the way the fox/man subtly changes over the course of the story is wonderful. She shifts easily from the simple cleverness of the laundress to the openness of the new man, and then, as he becomes more "experienced," his face changes wonderfully and darkly. Meconis has always had a fine eye for details, so the clothing of the characters is perfect, as the fox becomes more worldly and realizes the kind of man he "needs" to become. She uses really nice page layouts to heighten the tension of the book, beautiful two-toned coloring to make it feel more "olde-tyme," and brilliant lettering to change the tone of each word. Seriously - this is one of the best-lettered comics I've read in a long time. Everyone loves good lettering, right?

I'm sure if you go to Meconis's web site, she'll be more than happy to sell this to you. Then, when Meconis is co-ruling the world (with Erika Moen, of course), you can bring this out to prove that you deserve to live in her utopia! It's totally going to happen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

This is a really nice page - the hunter dominates it, standing outside the confines of the panel borders and looking down on the laundress even in the bottom row, where she's situated almost directly beneath him. The lack of eyeballs on both the hunter and his horse make them look eerie and otherworldly, and his fancy hat ("Mein Hut der hat drei Ecken!") acts as a keystone for the entire page. And look at that inking and coloring on his face when he's trying to decide whether she's telling the truth. And look at that lettering. This isn't even the best example of the lettering, and it's still amazing!

Pilgrim by David Gaffney (writer/story), Simon Roy (artist/story), and Ed Brisson (letterer). Some amount of money (I can't recall how much!), 10 pgs, BW.

Gaffney and Roy write an "elevator pitch" in the front of this comic, and it's a not a bad idea - a French knight in the Crusades becomes "more than a man" thanks to a sorceress and has adventures that reveal "ages old conflicts between man, monsters, and ancient gods." Plus, his best friend is a middle-aged Hercules. That's not a bad framework to hang a series on, and this brief preview is pretty enjoyable, although I wonder how far into the story we are - Gaffney and Roy begin in media res, but will they ever reveal more about our nameless hero? Specifically, they claim he had a choice between joining the "first crusade" or spending the rest of his life in gaol - spell it correctly, Britishers! - and then an "insidious agent of the Church" tried to murder him. Again, that's fine, but this issue takes place in 1176, which is 77 years after the end of the First Crusade, so I wonder if somehow the knight is able to live pretty much forever. This remains unexplained in this issue. I mean, I can accept that he's functionally immortal - his best friend is Hercules, after all - but I'd like to know that instead of finding out that Gaffney and Roy simply got their dates wrong.

Anyway, some dudes steal a weird jewel from "Saladin's secret reliquary" in the Valley of the Kings, and Saladin asks "Pilgrim" for help. While on the road, they meet an old dude in the desert who takes them home to meet his hot nieces. Of course, nothing is what it seems, and Pilgrim and Hercules have to fight their way out. But they do recover the jewel, so all's well that ends well!

It's another little teaser to a longer comic, I imagine, and it's pretty good. Gaffney has a decent handle on the main characters, and Roy's gritty style works well with the desert setting of the 12th-century Levant. There's not a lot of information on the web site about the book going forward, but I'm certainly curious. There's a nice goofy dynamic between the ultra-serious Pilgrim and Hercules, who likes doing Hercules-type stuff, and there's a lot of potential in the comic. It would be nice to see them do more work with it!

If you're interested, you can head over to the web site and ask one of them about buying it. I'm sure they'd be happy to do so!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

There's some nice work by Roy on this page, but I just love Saladin's concubine - this is her only panel in the book, and she tells the ruler of Egypt and Syria where to stick his request. "I'll be your love slave, but you can send your own damn messenger, Sal!" Gaffney might be a bit anachronistic in this comic, but it's all in good fun.

True Believer by Lucy Bellwood (writer/artist). $10, 31 pgs, BlW.

I became aware of Lucy Bellwood's existence at Emerald City, discovered that she works on tall ship replicas when she's not cartooning, bought her comic, and now there's another goddamned talented comics person I need to pay attention to. Damn it, talented comics people! Would you knock it the fuck off? Can't you all just suck already?

I was a bit wary about True Believer, because it's autobiographical, and we all know how I feel about autobiographical comics, right? But the art was very nice, and the actual physical product is very cool - more good paper stock, and very professionally done - and Bellwood was super nice to talk to, so of course I wanted to read her work. Then I started into it, and I was a bit trepidatious. As nicely as it's drawn, it does seem like it's about Bellwood kind of going about her regular life, which isn't terribly dramatic. Her friend, Nate, shows up and tells her about a girl he fell in love with but who rejected him because he wasn't a Christian. She thinks that's bullshit because he's so spiritual, and he tells her that she's spiritual, too, but about her art. Okay. So far, so ... okay, but it's a bit too obvious. Then, she writes about taking classes at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, where she has a great instructor, Dylan Williams. This book is a bit of a tribute to Dylan, who died of leukemia in 2011, but Bellwood manages to make his death touching rather than hackneyed, which is harder to do than it looks. (This is why I hate reviewing autobiographical comics - Williams's death in real life is obviously not hackneyed at all, and he was a great promoter of independent comics, publishing them through Sparkplug Comics, which has produced some very cool comics over the years. I hate writing stuff like what I just did, because when a fictional character dies, it often becomes too maudlin, and it's hard to get across the emotions people who knew Williams felt when he died in just a few pages. It can become hackneyed, the way a writer approaches it, but Bellwood manages to let the emotions come out without going too far and getting into mawkishness. Williams's death was terrible for the people who knew and loved him, I'm sure, and Bellwood manages to show us his impact on their lives and how they deal with his death quite well. That's what I meant!) As we move through the book, it becomes more intense and more personal, in a way that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. Early on, Bellwood was a bit too on-the-nose, but as she deals with Williams's death and understands what his message really is, Nate's statements in the beginning take on a more epic feeling, and the final few pages are really brilliant. Bellwood the writer begins to trust Bellwood the artist a bit, and while she slides a bit at the end - we know Nate was right! - it's still impressive to see how well she incorporates so many different ways to illuminate a theme. The title takes on several meanings, and it's pretty cool that Bellwood is able to get there through the course of the comic.

Meanwhile, her art is really good. She has a wonderful command of her characters, from their facial expressions to their body language. We get a really good sense that these people are truly comfortable around each other, so they're showing their "real" faces to each other, and Bellwood nails them. Bellwood can go very "realistic" if she wants to, and the page where she finds out that Dylan has died is brilliantly and powerfully drawn. Then, when she's riding home from the funeral and realizing what Dylan's life stood for, she gives us a series of amazing pages, as she recommits to her life with gripping fervor. Almost as impressive are her page layouts, as she is able to cram a lot onto certain pages but lead the eye very well across it. When she uses splash pages, the effect is more powerful because she's been putting so much onto each page. It's a really well laid-out comic book.

True Believer is an intense work that has a lot going on in it, and Bellwood transitions easily between many different moods. I look forward to reading more of Bellwood's stuff, because she's obviously very talented. Damn it, talented cartoonists!!!!

(I imagine Bellwood will sell this to you if you get in touch with her. She'll probably even sell you some other comics, too!)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

[caption id="attachment_134944" align="alignnone" width="620"]

I love the layout of this page, with Dylan in the center, very tiny but still the dominating image, as all his friends swirl around him. Notice, too, how well Bellwood places the narrative boxes to move our eye in a circle around Williams. She also does a fine job getting a lot of panels onto the page but it never feels cluttered. Nicely done!

So that's another bunch of groovy indie books that you might not find at your local comics shoppe. Get thee to yon Internet, comics fans! You have nothing to lose but your ignorance of all the cool stuff that's out there!

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