Staff Picks – Week of 25/11/2015

Frankenstein Underground TPB
Mike Mignola (w), Ben Stenbeck (a), Dave Stewart (c)
Dark Horse Comics

Ryan says: Of all the tie-in titles in the Hellboy mythos, this may well be the most bizarre and unexpected, but in the best ways conceivable! Mignola resurrects Mary Shelley’s iconic creation, Frankenstein’s Monster, but uproots him from his Germanic beginnings and brings him to the catacombs of Mexico, where a great supernatural mystery awaits him. In true Mignola fashion, our hero of monstrous origins possesses a noble heart, and willingly battles the forces of darkness in his quest for redemption. Frankenstein Underground makes for a fun and thrilling one-shot read, and I’d highly recommend it as a gift for any fan of classic horror.

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1
Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello (w), Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson (a)
DC Comics

Adam says: To be sure, this book is kinda, like, a big deal. Much has come to light in the week leading up its release, most specifically the revelation from Miller in an interview that he’s had virtually nothing to do with writing this book. It’s highly problematic to say the least, and very possibly downright dishonest on DC’s part. For an in-depth discussion of the book in full context, and taken alongside The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, check out the inaugural Orbiting Pod/Orbital in Conversation crossover special.

As for the book itself…it’s easily the best Batman comic in years. It feels very much like the DKR universe and defiantly, excellently, very fortunately not anything like The New 52. Azzarello has picked up a few outlying details and threads left over from DKSA and appears to be running in a really, really exciting new direction. While it would admittedly be fitting to see Kubert push into new and unexpected territory, better to match the story’s ambition, his work here, as anchored by Mr. Janson, is thoroughly gorgeous. This first issue is brilliant and exceeds expectations at every turn. Bats, as they say, don’t shiv.

Hellboy & the BPRD 1953
Mike Mignola (w) Ben Stenbeck (a)
Dark Horse

Karl says: Mignola continues to mine European folklore, back in merry old England again for these two chilling yarns. Ben Stenbeck returns on art duties the pairs’ second release this week being the magnificent Frankenstein Underground, which is Rian’s pick this week. As always, Dave Stewart’s colouring plunges us straight into the Hellboy universe and a couple of grisly and cracking tales from the younger days of the red guy. The first about a Witch tree featuring some excellent branch to tentacle morphing, the second about a couple of monsters dragged to life in an amusing and unconventional manner. Great stuff !

Transformers: Sins of the Wreckers #1
Nick Roche (w/a), Josh Burcham (c)
IDW Publishing

Chris says: Transformers may not be my usual fare, but like many kids I grew up on the cartoons and toys, so occasionally I’m inclined to check out the comics. I was especially keen to read Nick Roche’s Sins of the Wreckers after hearing him talk about it during our interview earlier this year: http://www.orbitalcomics.com/orbital-in-conversation-episode-122-with-nick-roche-scott-mccloud/. Roche takes the things I enjoy most about Transformers – the mythology, intrigue and soap opera – and packages them together in a way that reads beautifully on its own or as part of the larger Cybertronian canon. At times I find his artwork a little cartoony for my tastes, but the dynamic realism on display here is a sight to behold. His storytelling and layouts are beautiful, and I can easily tell each character apart (which is something I struggle with in the Transformers universe). Of course, that would all fall flat if it weren’t for Josh Burcham’s excellent coloring work and support. Burcham employs a subtle palette that walks the fine line between literal and tonal coloring. I can tell exactly who is who when I need to, but he’s not afraid to use light and shade to convey mood and atmosphere. The result is a fluid partnership between the two that lends an air of believability to an otherwise fantastical cast. This strong opening has made me go and pick up their previous series, Last Stand of the Wreckers (in hardcover no less!) but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for reading this. You’ll probably want to get it, and there’s a lot of great background in there, but if (like me) you’re taking a chance then I’d call this issue a good starting point.

Alias Volume 3
Brian Michael Bendis (w), Michael Gaydos (a)
Marvel Comics

Liz says: This week saw in the debut of Marvel’s latest Netflix original series, A.K.A Jessica Jones, and also the reprinted third volume of its source material, ‘Alias’. ‘Alias’ is the story of troubled private detective Jessica Jones, a former C-list superhero struggling to escape an abusive relationship. Marvel had set the bar high for their Netflix Originals with Daredevil, and A.K.A Jessica Jones doesn’t disappoint; if anything, they’re pulling off something even gutsier here by making this flawed, complicated character their first onscreen female lead. I’d highly recommend anyone left (ahem) jonesing for more Jessica after binge-watching the Netflix series to pick up the books and experience her full story. You’ll be glad you did.

Lafcadio Hearn’s The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan
Sean Michael Wilson (w), Michiru Morikawa (a)
Shambhala Publications

Will says: Cursed mirrors! Faceless ghosts! Shark men! This graphic novel collects short ghost stories originating from traditional Japanese folklore. The adaptations of these stories are particularly eerie, but unsettling in a different way to your run of the mill modern horror story we’re used to. There is no gore or anything to jump out and scare you, but you are left on the edge of your seat from the atmosphere created. Covering themes of vengeance and justice, the morals found at the end of the stories don’t leave you feeling satisfied. As a good horror story should, it leaves you chilled hours after closing the book as your head tries to make sense of the aphorisms the book has left behind. It won’t necessarily ever make sense, these stories being very representative of the time they were written and the culture around them. These stories are intended to spook, which they certainly do. Brought to life by the beautiful illustrations of Michiru Morikawa, her detailed work leaves you with feelings of both awe and terror.

Extra Good Stuff
Dennis P. Eichorn ( w/ a)
Last Gasp

Camila says: Following Eichhorn’s excellent return to comics with ‘Real Good Stuff‘ last year, here’s another collection of autobiographical anecdotes illustrated by some of the best underground cartoonists around at the moment (the likes of Ivan Brunetti, Noah Ban Sciver, Tom Van Deusen and a dozen of others). Unlike a lot of autobiographical works that focus on the everyday, Eichhorn’s stuff is far from ordinary – The man’s either a magnet for weird stuff happening to him, or he’s just giving life to a lot of imaginary situations; either way, he’s a damn good writer and these shorts are incredibly entertaining. Check it out!