Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Pulls: Inkblot, Stargazer, Die, and More

Welcome to The Pulls, my new weekly spotlight on comics in stores now. My previous comic review series, This Week In Comics, exclusively focused on advance reviews of new releases. But I read so much more than just what I get for review from publishers. And sometimes it takes me a while to get to review copies. The Pulls will features a blend of advance reviews as well as reviews of any comics, new or old, that I've been reading throughout the week. Let's get on with the show!

Disclaimer: Advance review copies are provided courtesy of their individual publishers.
Opinions are my own.

Inkblot #1 (Image Comics)
Rusty Gladd, Emma Kubert

Third-generation comic artist Emma Kubert partners with up-and-coming creator Rusty Gladd to deliver a high-fantasy epic! This new ongoing series follows a powerful sorceress attempting to correct her greatest mistake—the creation of a magical cat that can travel through time, space, and reality. The cat threatens to unravel the fabric of the universe, doesn’t care, and just won’t listen!

This is an interesting debut and one that is totally up my ally. The series begins with some exposition to set the stage for this fantasy tale. Our nameless sorceress has spent a millennia recording every magical adventure her siblings have ever had, all while never having a quest of her own.

After falling asleep at her desk, she accidentally uses magical ink to summon a mysterious cat. And that is where her story begins.

Inkblot is my kind of fantasy comic. Right off the bat we're given deep lore and rich worldbuilding, creating a universe I want to see explored in this series for years to come - and that's just the first page. Not only is this world fun and exciting, it's also different.

I've said my peace before about fantasy stories that pull from the same tired tropes from The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. Inkblot blends familiar concepts with new, original ideas to create an imaginative world that feels new.

The interior artwork from these newcomers - who seem to be sharing dual duties as co-writers and co-artists - is also very impressive. Every panel is full of detail and personality. I'm also a huge fan of the design of this cat. Inkblot's true star is colored with a shadeless, black void that perfectly evokes it's mystical origins. Its only other features are its two big Disney eyes, always open and expressionless. Not sure if I am supposed to pet it or kill it.

Inkblot is a fantastic debut that wonderfully executes its premise. I highly recommend it to book fans and anyone who dreams of adventure. Head to your local comic shop on September 2nd to pick up the first issue.

Stargazer #1 (Mad Cave Studios)
Anthony Cleveland, Antonio Fuso, Stefano Simeone, Justin Birch

Years ago Shae, her brother Kenny, and two childhood friends experienced a traumatic, unexplainable event that left Kenny scarred for life. Kenny commits himself to the belief that what they experienced was an alien abduction. Twenty years later and the friends have since drifted apart, but the sudden, mysterious disappearance of Kenny leads the group to reunite and discover the truth of what took place all those years ago.

I was captivated by this series the moment I first saw the cover and the title, but I was a bit turned off after reading the premise.  One thing I rarely talk about on this blog is that I'm the type to binge creepy unsolved mysteries like they're reruns of The Office and then complain that random noises keep up awake at night. In short: Stargazer scared the hell out of me. No way in hell was I bringing that into my home.

I'm glad I eventually gave this a shot. Stargazer is a bit unsettling and creepy, but it's not quite full on horror. This also barely scratched my unsolved mysteries itch. Instead it just feels like a normal sci-fi mystery comic. Luckily for me: I love those!

There's not a lot to say about Stargazer at this point. This issue felt more like a prologue than a first chapter. We're given a few mysteries like what's up with the random whale in the middle of the Sahara? Is Shae's wife dead or did they just get divorced? What happened to the other kids? And, obviously, what happened to them all back in the 90s? There's just not enough clues for us to start speculating beyond... like, there are probably aliens.

Stargazer draws obvious parallels to Die. A group of kids met one night in the 1990s, discussed a game, have a traumatic and unexplainable experience, then get spat out with irreversible damage that haunts them into adulthood.

But did I mention that Stargazer is pretty as hell? Fuso and Simeone have created a beautiful aesthetic that uses a limited, cooler color palette. Panels and page layouts in the past are chaotic and allover the place while stiff and rigid in the present. All of this comes together to set a tone and atmosphere that creeps across every page.

I'm not entirely sure what Stargazer is just yet, but I'm sure that as the pieces start to fall into place we'll start to see a brilliant series forming. So definitely check this one out! The first issue is beaming down to your local comic shop on September 9th.

Die #13 (Image Comics)
Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans

Each arc in this series features one chapter that brings an unexpected, real world literary legend into its dark and magnificent role-playing game. First we got a story of Tolkien's time at war, then learned how the Brontรซ siblings childhood imaginations influenced the world.

This time, a new master of words has come to Die, and his name is Herbert George Wells.

Die is often a slow series, but this issue was packed with a lot! The H. G. Wells story was fascinating both for its fantastical implications on the world of Die as well as its legitimately interesting history. Gillen's use of historical authors in his worldbuilding keeps getting better and here it manages to tie roleplaying games into the mix in ways I'd never imagined. 

Since the party is still split, there's a second major storyline this issue that focuses on Angela and the others meeting the Fair, the tech elves who grant her her cyberpunk powers. All of a sudden we're given a huge dump of info about the world of Die. We learn how it works, what it's purpose is, and even its inevitable future. It's a real gamechanger and has me excited for the second half of the series to come.

Scenes with the Fair also use a brighter, pink and cyan color palette unusual for the dark and grim series. It was a great way of communicating how fantastical the Fair are in the already fantasy world of Die. The last pages also give us a glimpse at another side of the d20-shaped planet. I wish there was more time to explore the rest of this world. I'd love to get some Black Hammer style "World of Die" spin-offs down the line.

The third volume of Die is heating up. Pick up this issue at your local comic shop on September 2nd. Or click here to start from the beginning with the first collected volume.

Spy x Family Vol. 2 (Viz Media)
Tatsuya Endo

This series follows Twilight, a spy ordered to create a false family to infiltrate an elite private school. The assignment is bad enough for the usually solo spy. To make matters worse, the wife he’s chosen is an assassin and the child he’s adopted is a telepath! This complex situation makes for a unique manga series that's both hilarious and exciting. Every chapter is just a delight.

Volume 2 sees the family struggle with simply getting the daughter, Anya, into the prestigious academy. After reading her new father's mind, she knows that her new father's mission hinges on her admittance. But still. She's five.

She doesn't fully understand half of Twilight's thoughts, which is the source of much of the series' funniest moments and easily some of it's best writing.

What this series does so well is shifting from its three main genres - spy thriller, assassin action, and gag comedy. Sometimes an entire chapter is devoted to one of these, other times the genre changes as quickly as the turn of the page. I could easily read this series for another hundred volumes.

You can read the series in Viz Media's official Shonen Jump app, but if you're interested in collecting the physical releases click here to get your copy of Spy x Family Vol. 2 and click here to get caught up with the first volume.

Modern Fantasy (Dark Horse Comics)
Rafer Roberts, Kristen Gudsnuk

A young Ranger woman moved to the city with dreams of  questing adventure. With a drug-dealing reptilian wizard, a barbarian coworker, and her waitress Dwarf BFF, they embark on a quest to save the world while struggling to keep their crappy day jobs and pay off their student loans.

Imagine a fantasy world of monsters and magic that isn't stuck in medieval times and you've got Modern Fantasy. This is a great little story about seeking excitement in a mundane world. The entire cast and everyone in the background is a walking fantasy trope, but they're living in a world that looks more like our own.

I have always been interested in the "fantasy in a modern setting" premise, but I think Bright scared people away. I also like how it's channeling some Scott Pilgrim, post-college quarter-life crisis vibes.

One thing Modern Fantasy does well is comedic world-building. The story takes us to multiple corners of the city and each character's different workplace helps showcase what present-day Middle Earth would actually be like. Almost every page is filled with little background gags that had me pausing and zooming in on almost every panel.

Modern Fantasy is a hilariously fun story that every fantasy fan should check out. Click here to get a copy for yourself.

Big Girls #1 (Image Comics)
Jason Howard

Scientists accidentally create a birth defect that causes little boys to transform into giant monsters while little girls simply become... big girls - and they’re the best defense against man’s greatest mistake. The result is a kaiju story that puts our hero right in the action while keeping the drama grounded and down to Earth. Never has slaying a giant monster felt so heartbreaking. Howard is the sole creative behind the series and he clearly put his all into this one. The world feels real and lived in and the colors make every panel a joy to look at. Issue #1 is available now.

Shadow Service #1 (Vault Comics)
Cavan Scott, Corin Howell, Triona Farell, Andworld Design

Tinker Tailor Soldier Witch. That’s the tagline that drew me in to this black ops urban fantasy series. Imagine if Jessica Jones ditched her super strength and picked up a few tricks from Doctor Strange. In Shadow Service Private Investigator Gina Meyers picks up whatever job she can, whether it’s a missing person or a missing ghost. I like this kind of blending genres and it’s done pretty well here and there’s some really cool and unusual magic stuff beyond the typical potions and magic words.  I could easily see this one going on for a while.  Issue #1 is available now.

So that's what I've been reading lately, how about you? What are you picking up this week?