Shade, the Changing Girl: Vol. 1 by Cecil Castellucci and Marley Zarcone – A Book Review

If you’re looking for weird, Shade, the Changing Girl is for you.  As part of DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint, author Cecil Castellucci is unafraid to make this book as strange a trip as possible.  However, as odd as it is, at the core, it’s still a story of self-discovery and independent choice.

Fan of previous Shade iterations will recognize several familiar aspects.  For example, Meta is still alive and well, Rac Shade’s persona is very much a part of the book, and the madness coat remains integral.

Things are different this time around, though, in that an alien, birdlike creature named Loma steals the madness coat in an effort to enliven her own existence.  She ends up possessing a brain-damaged young woman on Earth and living this girl’s life.  Unfortunately, she quickly discovers that the original owner of the body  led a dark existence, one Loma doesn’t necessarily want to continue.

The artist, Marley Zarcone, lives up to Castellucci’s bonkers script with equally bonkers art.  Though cartoonish in style, Zarcone delivers surrealistic panels that absolutely maintain an unstable tone.  I think it’s also important to mention Zarcone’s attention to detail.  One panel features an utterly mundane moment – two kids walking along a sidewalk through a residential neighborhood.  Something caught my attention, though.  Zarcone included grass growing between the cracks of the sidewalk.  Though not substantial to the overall story, that sort of nuance really won me over.

Finally, Kelly Fitzpatrick’s colors are the perfect compliment to Castellucci and Zarcone.  Though almost primary in terms of hue, Fitzpatrick makes sure to include interesting patterns in most of her panels.  I don’t know enough about the medium to get specific about the kinds of patterns, but you will rarely see a solid background color in this book.  That small touch adds depth to an already carefully constructed book.

Shade, the Changing Girl is not the stuff of super heroes.  It’s also not full of action or violence, though there is always an atmosphere of potential danger.  However, it bursts with story, mystery, and evolving characters.  If you like that sort of thing with a heavy coating of weird, this book is for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Mother Panic: A Work In Progress by Jody Houser, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Shawn Crystal – A Book Review

The Young Animal imprint intrigued me, so when each of the various first issues debuted, I had to check them out.  If we’re being honest with each other, Mother Panic #1 did not resonate.  I did not much care for Violet Paige, the woman behind Mother Panic’s mask.  I did not understand her motivation, her means, nor her technology.  She struck me as whiny and selfish.  Furthermore, I felt placing her in Gotham City and using Batman appearances as nothing more than a sales tactic.  (Even on this trade cover, the eye is drawn to him well before it is to her.)

However, an opportunity arose to procure a copy of A Work In Progress free of charge through Amazon Vine, and so I took advantage.

I’m so glad I did.

What I like about the Young Animal titles is that they are operating with a big picture mindset.  All of them seem to be going places, and these places cannot quickly be reached.  The disadvantage of such storytelling, however, is the possibility that a title could lose a reader early on if not initially dynamic enough.  Well, I’m here to tell you, if you gave up on Mother Panic after the first issue, it is certainly worth a revisit.

As A Work In Progress, well, progresses, we begin to understand Violet Paige’s past traumas that resulted in her maladjustment.  This is a deeply flawed protagonist.  She has an agenda, and she does not want to be distracted from it.  But, deep within her heart, she allows herself such distractions, especially when saving lives is involved.

Jody Houser, the writer, succeeds in providing a terribly complex character who, with each new issue, reveals more and more of herself.  Paige’s supporting cast grows with each subsequent installment, and they are equally interesting.  (In fact, there is one former bat-villain that specifically delighted me.)  Houser’s plot is multilayered, and we quickly realize that this is not a simple revenge story.  Happily, Houser is careful to keep some things a secret.  I think this is a brilliant move to keep readers coming back.  For example, Mother Panic has powers, but it’s not made completely evident what those powers are.  She also has some very impressive technology, but we have no idea from where that technology derives.  Those two mysteries alone are enough to keep me coming back.

Tommy Lee Edwards depicts the first arc’s artwork, and it suits the tone of the book perfectly.  It is gloomy, rough, and dark, yet the action is clearly conveyed and the figures are rendered well.  Shawn Crystal handles the art duties for the second arc of the book, and though his art is a bit more cartoonish, it still fits both the character and the story very well.  Each artist depicts Mother Panic as a primal, almost monstrous, force of nature, not just a woman wearing a costume.

I think it should be noted that, at no point in the book is the character actually referred to as “Mother Panic.”  It’s a very cool pair of words, though I’m not sure it’s the stuff of a vigilante alias.  I mean, it sounds awesome, but I have trouble picturing the media or criminals choosing it as a moniker.  Does that mean Violet Paige herself assigns the designation?  I guess we’ll wait and see.  Great title for a book, though.

Finally, Mother Panic has a very “Vertigo” vibe to it.  I feel like it would fit in well next to The Sandman, American Vampire, and Fables.  That’s why every time Batman and Batwoman made an appearance, it sort of jarred me.  On the one hand, I liked seeing the Bats interact with a violent costumed vigilante dropping f-bombs.  Felt more accurate to the Gotham environment.  On the other hand, I didn’t feel as though they quite fit in correctly, which made me think they are there just to help sell books.  After reading A Work In Progress, Mother Panic stands just fine on her own.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming – A Book Review

You may remember from last November that I loved Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (click HERE if you want to read that particular review).  Life got in the way of reading subsequent issues, but I made a point to purchase the collected edition of the first six episodes which has been titled “Going Underground.”

Everything I adored about the first issue continues with each additional installment.  Yes, this title gets weirder and weirder (which is a total compliment), but it also gets funnier, more sentimental, and even more full of action.

Way and Rivera pack this volume full of everything a reader could want.  There’s melancholy and loss regarding Cave’s wife, Eileen.  There’s science fiction and mystery regarding his cybernetic eye.  There’s a family dynamic and father/daughter tension regarding his college-aged daughter, Chloe.  There’s intrigue and corporate turmoil regarding his former employer, EBX.  There’s fantasy and philosophical conflict regarding the underground kingdom known as Muldroog.  And there’s lots and lots of gunfire regarding Cave’s unlikely friend and obscure blast from the past, Wild Dog (a personal favorite of mine).

But, even with all of these different things going on, Way and Rivera deliver a cohesive story that seems to be going somewhere specific.  I won’t lie — this book travels to some strange places and doesn’t always make obvious sense.  That’s part of what I love about it.  However, the authors have revealed enough to make me trust their vision and skill.  I suspect this will be an epic story that unfolds slowly amidst more immediate action, and that’s just the way I like it.  Best of all?  There is a dark humor always present, one that is sometimes delightful, sometimes disturbing, but always funny.

Michael Avon Oeming’s art suits this story perfectly.  At times, this book gets really, really violent.  Oeming’s art is a little on the cartoonish side, so it’s always shocking when he depicts one of those intense moments.  However, even though his art has a simplified look, his characters are always in motion, his panels flow smoothly, and the implied movement is always conveyed interestingly.  In other words, he’s very good at this medium.  I particularly enjoy the angles he chooses and his creative use of space upon the page.  At times he employs the traditional panel grid, but he is also unafraid to subvert that convention and do something more experimental.

We can’t appreciate Michael Avon Oeming without also crediting Nick Filardi’s coloring.  There are certain teams in the industry that enhance each other’s talents to create something incredibly special.  Oeming and Filardi are such a duo.  Filardi’s colors in this book are subdued yet extreme, strange yet beautiful, traditional yet innovative.  His use of the dot matrix looks customary but feels revolutionary, which is probably a great way to describe Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye as a whole.

It’s also a great way to describe another element of this book — Tom Scioli’s Super Powers.  Allow me to take a trip down memory lane … Once upon a time, I enjoyed a cartoon called Super Friends.   The Super Friends had a few kid members, particularly Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  That cartoon eventually evolved into Super Powers, which also had a comic book and a toy line that I still revere to this day.  Finally, comic books used to have backup stories featuring less popular characters that couldn’t always support their own series.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye features such a backup story called Super Powers by Tom Scioli that features Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  It is absolutely bonkers and marvelous.  It embraces beloved elements and designs of that era, yet it also undermines those elements to create something mutinous and captivating.  It is unorthodox, daring, and strangely charming.  In an industry where we seem to keep getting the same stories over and over, Super Powers defies established methodology.

By now you’ve probably guessed this, but I highly recommend you add Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye: Going Underground to your bookshelves.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Bug! The Adventures Of Forager – A (Comic) Book Review

This issue is so gloriously weird and so masterfully executed that you have to experience it.  It’s seriously a  must-read book for any comic lover out there.

As part of the Young Animal imprint (which is a division of DC Comics and, apparently, somehow connected to the mainstream content), Bug! The Adventures Of Forager utilizes several of Jack Kirby’s DC contributions, most notably Bug and Sandman.

Let that last sentence sink in a moment …

The first installment of this series is so strange. Bug wakes up after apparently breaking out of a cocoon.  He’s in a basement.  He’s flashing back to Cosmic Odyssey – you may need to “Google” that one.  A ghost girl appears along with a talking teddy bear.  This may be my favorite paragraph ever.

I won’t spoil it further, but if you loved Jack Kirby’s trippy Fourth World, this book is just as  nuts if not more so!  That’s not to say it isn’t well-constructed, though.  Lee and Michael Allred definitely seem to be headed somewhere.  There is a great deal of foreshadowing, and there are also several references to the past — we’re talking before Rebirth, before The New 52, even before Zero Hour — that raise very interesting questions not just about this title in particular but about the Young Animal imprint as a whole.

So along with a wild story and appearances by several revered Fourth World characters, you also have the most beautiful sequential art you will ever see.  Michael Allred is a very special talent.  Every single panel in this book is magnificent.  Not only is he a master of anatomy, but Allred is also able to do something many artists are not — he is able to convey body language and facial expressions that progress the story.  There are no superhero poses in this book.  His characters put actual weight on a single leg while standing, their fingers are never clenched into a superhero fist, and their faces convey actual emotion.  It is wonderful to behold.

Let’s not forget Laura Allred’s colors.  Michael Allred’s pencils and inks are gorgeous, but Laura’s colors amplify them exponentially.  It’s hard to pull of pink, red, and bright yellow in a single panel, but Laura does it and makes it all look perfectly complimentary.  Amazing.

Does this issue make any sense at all as a standalone?  Not really, no.  But, it absolutely lays solid groundwork for what seems to be a focused direction, and the wonderful art, Kirby character appearances, oddness, and general sense of fun make it a must-read issue.  Enjoy!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)