Three for Thursday: Independent Comic Reviews: What Caught My Eye This Week


Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King #2 (of 5)
Writer: Mignola, Mike
Artist: Bergting, Peter
Cover Artist: Stenbeck, Ben
Published by Dark Horse

As noted in last month’s review of the first issue of this miniseries, I saw a lot of similarities to Mignola’s more famous group of monster hunters, B.P.R.D., in this Lord Baltimore run. Which is not to say there is anything wrong with that. I could use more Mignola-inspired work. The sense of foreboding he brings to a story is consistent and masterful, and the creative teams he surrounds himself with perfectly match up to his visions of horror and adventure. The second issue of Baltimore: Cult of the Red King gives us more, in fact, than what we are used to. Mignola and his team are at the top of their creative powers.

The last we saw Lord Baltimore and his group, their ship was trapped in ice. As this issue takes up, we see them

making their way, on foot, to St. Petersburg and (hopefully) closer to the Red King and his cult. It was this scene that got me to look at this title as unique and strong in its own right compared to Mignola’s other creations. The dialog and interactions between the characters strengthened them in a way that the first issue did not seem to accomplish. While the first issue introduced us to these people, the second gives us texture. Lord Baltimore has surrounded himself with a diverse group of monster hunters, and it was nice to see some of what motivates and drives them in their individual reasons.

This second issue also gives much more time to a secondary thread that was introduced in the first issue. A second group of monster hunters, led by Captain Aischros, is also on the trail of the Red King and his followers. Chances are he is associated with Lord Baltimore in some way (not having read earlier volumes of this title, it is hard for me to say to say who knows who), but as he and his group were given little attention in the first issue, we as readers were left wondering where this secondary thread was going. Now we know. Where Lord Baltimore is following up on a lead that takes him to St. Petersburg, Aischros and his team end up in Tunisia. They are looking for the origins of the Cult of the Red King and they do indeed find … something. Great action and growth of the overall story come out of this secondary thread.

Within the main thread, Lord Baltimore finds St. Petersburg to be almost deserted. “Occult forces,” as he calls them, have frozen in the city and keep people off the streets. More, one of his best men begins to act oddly, and the group begins to think that these occult forces might be nearer to them than they imagined. The issue ends with more questions. Unlike the first issue though, the creative team behind the title has built up enough of a world to make you care about those questions. Through the pacing and art, solid character and world building, they make us look forward to the next issue.

From the publisher:

"Lord Baltimore’s search for the Red King continues, but an ancient evil that threatens the world has its grip on Baltimore’s closest friends. Will they be able to survive its wrath?"

The Phantom #3
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Sal Velluto
Cover Artist: Sal Velluto
Published by Hermes Press

Talk about a headache. The Phantom #3 was not on my pull list for the week. I was planning on picking up Justice Inc. The Avenger #1, but there were shipping issues (dozens of comics were damaged in shipping this week as they were on their way to my comic shop). Also, there was not a lot of selection from which to choose independent titles, so I went with The Phantom #3. And heck, the comic had the iconic man jumping out of an airplane cover same as the Justice Inc. cover. Maybe it was fate.

After reading the comic, I cannot speak to fate. But I can speak to the continued legacy of one of our older and more established heroes, The Phantom. I am a minor comic book historian and have some knowledge of the character (and the horrible movie from 1996), but I never followed him and his adventures. The character had not been accessible to me mainly because I did not see many of the comics on shelves, or more, hear anyone talking about them. There was also a sense that the character was dated. All of this continues to be true. But after immersing myself in the world of The Phantom for the first time of any consequence, I am happy to report that there is a lot to be said for a dated, inaccessible super hero.

For one, there are a lot worse aesthetics to choose from than those of 1930s and 40s serial adventures. Stories move along at a quick clip, characters are straight-faced in their over the top nature, and any time is a good time to freshen up with a highball or three. Peter David has taken that “dated” aesthetic and reinvigorated it with sharp dialog and smooth plotting. More, his artist partner, Sal Velutto, did a magnificent job with his layouts and panel arrangements, giving the comic a modern and snappy feel. The world that these two have created feels open and bulging with possibilities. So often a comic universe can feel heavy under the weight of too many characters, too many comics, too many stories and histories. If you are like me and a new reader to this universe, you do not ever get that sense of claustrophobia that so often goes hand in

hand with super hero comics (I am looking at you, Big Two publishers). The story, while as formulaic as anything done in an adventure story for the past 100 years, is done in a quick and open way, very cinematic in style, and it leaves you wanting more.

I may have not planned on picking up The Phantom #3 at the comic shop yesterday, but I am glad that I did. Not only did I get a blast from the past, but I enjoyed a type of adventure story that the comic industry would be wise in producing more of.

(Note: Finding out information about this run of The Phantom and its publisher, Hermes Press, was hard to come by. Hermes Press mentions the run on its website, but not the particulars of release dates. Issue 1, I discovered, was released in December of last year, so the fact that we are seeing #3 only now gives you some indication as to how their schedule is unfolding. At this rate, #4 should be available sometime in the fall.)

From the publisher:

"The saga of the original Ghost Who Walks continues with issue #3 of this 6 part mini-series written by Peter David with art by Sal Velluto. En route to the ancient fabled city of Gold with Diana and his new allies the Phantom’s plane is hit and damaged throwing him out to certain death at the hands of a Singh Pirate. Will he survive to stop the Singh! You’ll have to read this issue to find out!"

D4VE #5 (of 5)
Writer: Ferrier, Ryan
Artist: Ramon, Valentin
Cover Artist: Ramon, Valentin
Published by Image

And finally for today, I would like to share my thoughts on D4VE #5

The first of which is that if you are a fan of sci-fi comics, you have to catch up on this book. I have not followed this title, and I feel like a pretender in having let it slip. This is some of the smartest, most exciting science fiction story telling I have seen in a good long while. I found myself comparing it to Image’s two titles, Saga and Prophet, in just how juicy a sci-fi comic can be. And while my head spun in picking up the story and getting a feel for the universe, it did not take long to get comfortable. The writer, Ryan Ferrier, and his artist, Valentin Ramon, have created an accessible, robot-filled world. No humans exist in this story, and the humanoid robots that do fill its pages are sharp-tongued, funny and competent.

D4VE #5 places the reader in the end stages of an alien invasion of this robot-filled Earth. While any comic reader worth her salt has experienced countless alien invasions, this iteration feels fresh and unexpected. Having robots act as the heroes is part of that newness, but it is more than that. Ferrier and Ramon offer up violence and scenes of horror, but they never seem over the top. They give us kinetic action sequences, but it all seems normal. The images and scenes are so fantastically out of this world, but they are handled with a wink and an intimacy that gives it the feel of a 30-minute sitcom.

Another stylistic point that drives D4VE is its use of language, how the robots talk to one another. It is a combination of text speak, urban slang, and robot consciousness (“I am way over my CPU on this one”). It is smart and sometimes hilarious. Throw in the fact that a lot of this weirdly fun dialog is often going on simultaneously with horrible violence, and it made me, as a reader, want to laugh even more. The creative team behind D4VE has unlocked a stunning approach to storytelling and the sci-fi genre, and I hope for more of the same when the next volume in the series begins in the fall.

It has been a long time since I went looking for back issues of a comic. But if the trade paperback does not hurry up and get out to my comic shop, I may be forced, happily, to hunt for the first four issues of D4VE.

From the publisher:

"THIS IS THE END. Without power or hope, the robots fall at the hands of the K’laar empire and only one lone cubicle-jockey can save the robot race. In this shocking conclusion, D4VE must become the man he needs to be to save everything he’s ever loved."