What I ... okay, what I got for free in the mail - Radical Comics!

Usually, I fold the stuff I get for free into my weekly posts. But the fine folk at Radical Comics (most likely Gianluca Glazer, 'cause he's swell) sent me a whole bunch o' comics, so I figured they deserved their own post! So let's get to 'em!

After Dark #1 (of 3) by Peter Milligan (writer), Jeff Nentrup (artist), Sara Biddle (additional artist), and Clayton Clowes (letterer). $4.99, 50 pgs, FC.

As you might know, the biggest problem I have with Radical's books is the digital painting style they use in many of their books, which, along with murky coloring, occasionally makes it impossible to tell what's going on. When you name a comic "After Dark" and set it in a near future where pollution has almost blotted out the sun, that's going to be a problem. There are a few pages in this comic set inside a brightly-lit room, but most of it is set in dark alleys, dark rooms, and dark spaceship, and a dark landscape where dark things fly out of the dark to attack humans. It's, needless to say, dark. The problem is that the colors (or, you know, lack thereof) seem to be used to cover up the fact that with this kind of art, everyone looks air-brushed and vaguely androgynous - some of the men look masculine solely because they have beards and/or mustaches, and when that's the only way to tell someone's gender, it's not a good sign. In some panels, when I knew a man was speaking, I had to remind myself that he suddenly didn't turn into a woman. What this kind of art does is make everything look stiffer than it needs to be, which isn't a problem when you're dealing with non-human scenes - the architecture of Solar City and the spaceship look very nice in this book - but breaks down when you start playing your characters off each other. I've looked at some of the web sites of these artists, and some of them do beautiful work - in posed situations. There's a difference between posing a character and making them move through a book, and that's where Radical's book often fail. There are exceptions, of course - when they launched with the King Arthur in the Old West book, Caliber, the action wasn't bad - but too often, it gets in the way of what could be a decent comic.

And this, while it's not a great comic, features some interesting things. Milligan, even when he's toiling away on mid-level Marvel properties (as he's done in the past), always comes up with something interesting, and here he does that too. I don't know how much of this was in place by Antoine Fuqua and Wesley Snipes, who created this, and Milligan is just filling in blanks, but there's some odd, Milligan-esque stuff in this. The bigger plot is standard action/science fiction stuff - the world is dying, a guy assembles a ragtag team of soldiers and criminals to bring back a strange woman they believe can fix things, everything goes FUBAR fairly quickly - but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. I'm mildly impressed there's no obvious person modeled on Snipes, which is weirdly modest of him. I just wish that Milligan had been able to cut loose a bit more - we get blind bugs that attack humans, which is a bit interesting (although due to the coloring, we don't actually see them, which is disappointing) - because a story like this needs all the weirdness it can get. Let's move on!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hotwire: Deep Cut #1 (of 3) ("Bad Dogs Get the Pipe Wrench") by Steve Pugh (writer/artist/letterer). $3.50, 25 pgs, FC.

So far, the best Radical comic has been Steve Pugh's mini-series, Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead (review here), so it's nice that there's a sequel. Pugh picks up the story six months after the first story ended, with Alice Hotwire, everyone's favorite detective exorcist, still on leave because she's a bit traumatized by the events of the mini-series. In her absence, a doofus named Rantz has been handling the ghosts (okay, blue-lights) his own excessive way - by shooting them with guns that disrupt electrical signals. Unfortunately, his goons use it on a freeway, which disrupts all the remote-controlled cars, causing a big pile-up. Alice decides it's time to come back.

She's been dealing with bad things on her end, though. At the end of the last series, Pugh implied that her dead mother would be haunting her, but he changes it up and haunts her with someone else. We get a flashback to her pre-police, post-adolescent days, when she doped herself to lower her IQ, and we see an incident that probably won't lead to anything good. And Rantz figures out that she's been drinking, so he arrests her. Man, it's a bad day for Alice, ain't it?

Pugh's art remains as stunning as ever. Like most of the Radical comics, he's painting this, but unlike many of them, he uses bright colors to highlight the weirdness of the world he's created and, of course, he's really good, so his painting is a step up from most. His people look like people, and the painting allows his mechanical constructs to look like actual metal, while his ghosts are a creepy mix of skeletons and electrical energy. These comics look great, and they really help immerse in this strange place (I mean, it's London, but it's still strange) where Alice lives.

If you're going to buy a Radical comic this week, buy this one. There's another one down on this list here that's not bad, but this is the best one. It came out last week, so it should be sitting there on your comic shop's shelf begging to be purchased!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Rising #0 by E. Max Frye (writer), J. P. Targete (artist), and John J. Hill (letterer). $1.00, 24 pgs, FC.

This is another book that suffers because of the art. Again, Targete has some skill, and this book is slightly "rougher" than the other two comics in this post that rely on digital painting and aren't by Steve Pugh, so it looks a bit more "real." That is, until the very end, when prisoners working on a chain gang look like they're about to compete in a gay beauty pageant - they're that clean and shaven.

This is a "teaser" issue, meaning we just a general sense of the story (I don't know if these pages will be reprinted as part of issue #1 - probably, as that's what Radical has done in the past). Soldiers are fighting on an alien planet and they appear to be suffering from some kind of virus. They fight some creatures, one (let's call him Sam) gets separated from his decimated unit, he meets a native (let's call her Zoe), hooks up with her, and then watches as her beautiful culture is destroyed by the same aliens he's battling. He's captured, and then we learn that the Earth has made peace with those aliens. Dang! And Sam's brother is a mover and shaker who liaises with the aliens! Double dang! So we end at a prison, where a reverend has some interesting things to say about God and there's a fight to the death. Super fun!

As a teaser, it's not bad. If we read the subtext, there's a lot of anti-foreigner stuff being bandied about by one of the prisoners, which might be interesting if Frye goes anywhere with it. Targete is best in the alien jungle, where we get some cool scenes of battle and the alien culture even though his layouts aren't great. I can't really judge too much about the book, because even though it's 24 pages and therefore longer than your usual Big Two comic, it's still definitely a teaser, so while there are some interesting ideas in the comic, I'm sure issue #1 will contain a lot more that will flesh out the story a bit more. Nice battle scenes, though!

Fun fact: Frye wrote Something Wild with Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, and Ray Liotta, directed by Jonathan Demme. That's a really good movie.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ryder on the Storm #0 by David Hine (writer), Wayne Nichols (artist), Feigian Chong (colorist), Sansan Saw (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $1.00, 17 pgs, FC.

This is another teaser issue, and because I like noir detective stories more than I like alien wars, I like this a bit more than The Rising. David Hine is pretty good at horror, too, which this seems to be, so I'm a bit more inclined to like this. Detective Ryder, who lives in a fairly standard science fiction/pulp city, gets a call from a young lady named Katrina, who has hooked up with a rich dude and then walked in on him after he had drilled several holes in his head. That ain't good. Ryder shows up at the crime scene, finds some hallucinogens, learns that Katrina and the victim were making movies of their activities, and steals a crumpled-up piece of paper from the victim's hand. We don't see what's on it, but Katrina had delivered the victim's journal to Ryder before she called him, and he discovers an ancient piece of parchment inside that seems to indicate this case has to do with demons. Oh dear.

Hine does a good job setting up the characters, their relationships with each other (hey, Ryder doesn't get along with the cops - fancy that!) and the town in which they live. People are being dragged out of the water, which may or may not have something to do with the suicide victim and demons. We'll see. It's only 17 pages long, after all, so we can't get too much information!

Nichols also does the digital painting thing, but with a bit more nuance than the other two above. It's smoother than Targete's art, which is a shame because this is obviously a noir story, but the city looks weird and dank, which is not a bad look. The coloring is brighter than many Radical books, which is nice, and Chong and Saw even make the exteriors a cooler blue and the interior of Katrina's room a warmer brown, which is a good contrast. The figures are still a bit stiff, but it's not terrible art. And Hine's story helps, because the characters don't have to do too, too much.

As this is another teaser, it's hard to judge what Hine is doing with it. But it's a fairly interesting beginning, at least.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Time Bomb #1 (of 3) by Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Justin Gray (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist), Charles Yoakum (additional inker), Rain Beredo (colorist), and John J. Hill (letterer). $4.99, 51 pgs, FC.

Your appreciation of this comic will probably depend largely on whether you like Gulacy or not. I understand why people don't like his art - the similarity of his faces, his lack of flow in action scenes - but I like his old-school approach, drawing each neck just a bit longer than it needs to be, weirdly making it look like his characters never blink (a tough thing to do in a static medium), and meticulously drawing every bead of sweat. I also like that you can instantly tell it's a Gulacy comic - he's not fooling anyone, you know! And that, except for the advances in drawing instruments and paper technology, he could be drawing this in 1975. You might not enjoy that, but there's some comfort for me in the fact that Gulacy found a style and stuck with it. If you don't like it, fine. But it's GULACY, damn it!!!!!!

I've been kind of looking forward to this since Palmiotti told me about it a year ago, and I'm glad it's out, because it's a neat, weird story (involving time travel, which means it should hurt my head, and maybe it still will, but we've just started the time travel in this issue, so it's fine for now!). In 2012, a Berlin construction team finds an underground Nazi citadel, and when the gub'mint sends a group in there to find out what's what, they accidentally shoot off a missile loaded with a super-virus that, when it explodes, instantly starts killing everyone. There's no cure!!!!!! So the "New World Order" (which is an actual group in this book and not a Republicans' worst nightmare ... well, worst nightmare except for those sex dreams about Barbra Streisand - she's so liberal but so hawt!) assembles a team of four (including a man and a woman whose divorce has just been finalized) to ... go back in time! Yes, they've managed to create a time machine that can send the group back a few days, when they can stop the people from going into the Nazi citadel and firing off the missile. Easy-peasy! Except ... the group gets sent back to World War II. Um, yeah, that can't be good. And they're right near a concentration camp. And they decide to start shooting the joint up. Haven't they read Ray Bradbury, damn it?!?!?!?

Palmiotti and Gray don't do a ton with the characters - they give us enough to differentiate them, and the fact that one of them is a woman and another a black man makes the time when they landed interesting. But they set up a nice scenario and then go nuts with the faux-science, and I'm cool with that. This is a less egregious form of time travel in that the team is just sent back to a different time and left alone - if Palmiotti and Gray start switching between that and the "present" it might get shifty. But right now they're just going to debate whether they should shoot up a concentration camp and if it's a good idea, because what if they accidentally kill someone's grandfather? Oh, the moral quandary!

As this issue is a good chunk of the story, features art you can see and that is actually drawn, and has a good hook, it's the second Radical book I'd look for if you've already picked up Hotwire. Palmiotti and Gray are pretty good at doing the genre thing, and who doesn't love killing Nazis? Other Nazis, that's who! (And they probably secretly enjoy it.)

One totally Airwolf panel:

So that's the Radical books I got in the mail. As always, I'd like to thank them for firing them off to me. I don't love them all, but I appreciate that they're trying so many different things. And when they publish a gem, it's a doozy! So if you're in the mood for something a bit different, keep these in mind.

I'll be back later today (or tomorrow, possibly) with the comics I actually paid for this week!

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