Deadshirt Is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers, and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on a diverse array of comics, from name-brand cape titles to creator-owned books to webcomics.
Joe Stando is reading…
Big Trouble in Little China #1
Written by Eric Powell (story by Powell and John Carpenter)
Art by Brian Churilla and Michael Garland (colors)
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
“You think big, hairy and drooling intimidates me?! I’ve hauled pigs through Kentucky, pal. Kentucky!”
I’m not one to beg for closure at the end of stories. Cliffhangers and ambiguity are parts of what make a lot of stories great, and ultimately whether or not the top stopped spinning in Inception is less important than what we as an audience take away from the film. Still, I have to admit I’ve never been super crazy about the end of Big Trouble in Little China, not only because it’s something of a cliffhanger but because the world of the movie is rich enough that it seems like a shame we never got a sequel. That’s why I jumped on Big Trouble in Little China #1, the first issue in an ongoing series set immediately after the film.
The issue opens with the final scene of the film, as Jack Burton is being threatened by some sort of creature. In an odd twist, it turns out this demon isn’t out to kill Jack at all, but rather has taken to him like a dog after the demise of his master, Lo Pan. It’s an interesting subversion of our expectations, but one that makes sense from The Goon author Eric Powell. He brings that book’s balance of absurdity and menace and captures the tone of the film well. Jack Burton sounds like Jack Burton, to the point that I hear Kurt Russell’s voice in my head as I read the dialogue. Brian Churilla’s art is also fantastic, with a good sense of motion in some of the kung fu sequences and an eye for ornate details. The characters look like exaggerated forms of their movie counterparts, which gives them the elasticity for more elaborate fights and staging. All around, it feels similar enough to the film to hook fans and establish continuity while still being its own thing, like some of the better Saturday morning cartoons of the ’80s and ’90s.
My only complaint with this issue is that it might have pulled too much from the film, at least so far. The reintroduction of Wang, Egg, and Jack’s initial quest feel almost like a retread at times, and jumping back into Little China immediately sort of undermines the resolution of the film. Personally, I’d rather see a series of one-offs and two-parters structured like a road movie. But the story Jack offhandedly tells halfway through the issue about an ex-wife, a luchador biker gang, and a Mexican death cult shows that there’s a lot more to Powell and Churilla’s world that hasn’t been explored yet, and as an ongoing, they’ll hopefully have plenty of time to do it.
Christina Harrington is reading…
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Declan Shalvey
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
“Dreamers are people who travel at night. That is my specialist subject.”
Warren Ellis’ Moon Knight is superhero detective fiction at its weirdest and its sharpest. In this month’s issue, “Sleep”, Moon Knight’s help is requested by Dr. Skelton, a sleep researcher, whose patients have all been having the same dream, which is “driving them insane by inches.” In order to fight this enemy, Moon Knight decides he must experience this shared dream. He’s immediately pulled into a nightmare, filled with fungi and skeletons and vivid color. I won’t spoil anything for you, but while the reveal as to what’s been plaguing the patients is creepy and surprising, the best part of this issue is the coloring.
Jordie Bellaire’s colors are perfect: restrained and muted in hues of brown, the scenes before and after the dream sequence allows those moments within the dream to almost glow. Her use of psychedelic greens, blues, yellows, and pinks heighten the unreality of the dreamscape, allowing Declan Shalvey’s art to shine in all its unnerving glory. And yes, Shalvey’s graphic storytelling is great here; I especially enjoyed the full page in which the sliver of white that is Moon Knight slowly descends onto a giant skull, where blooms of fungus grow from the eye sockets and gaping mouth. This image, though, even works to highlight a coloring detail that continues to make this title for me: Bellaire highlights Moon Knight in white. He glows like a ghost on the page, pure white in his suit and tie, in sharp contrast to whatever background he’s up against. The contrast this coloring creates is striking, and it subconsciously incorporates Moon Knight into the moody surrealism that inhabits every aspect of this book.
While the pacing of this issue feels slow in some places (did we really need that Odinburger scene?) and rushed in others (that’s the end? Really?), the colors are what makes this issue feel meaty and satisfying and is what persuades me to look past these flaws.
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Michael Dialynas
Colors by Josan Gonzalez
Lettered by Ed Dukeshire
“Can’t live in a crazy forest that’s trying to kill you without a top-of-the-line stabbing stick.”
In The Woods, a high school full of students and teachers is transported to an alien moon, which is completely covered in a dense forest and inhabited by all manner of other-worldly animals and monsters. In this second issue, the power struggle between the student government and administration starts to get interesting, as the ideological gorge deepens between the two. Meanwhile, six students continue their journey to the center of the woods, convinced their pilgrimage will send them home.
The Woods has three things that’ll hook me any day of the week: power struggles, survival stories, and horrific creatures. Out of these three, the most effective is the power struggle between students and teachers. The conflict revolves around two people: Principal John Beaumont, and his primary rival, student president Maria Ramirez. While neither have had enough time to become sympathetic to me, I have to admit that I’m intrigued to see where the conflict between the two will go and I’m hoping that it will grow them into more nuanced characters.
While I’m enjoying this thread of the storyline, there is one overwhelming problem that is laced through the book. Namely, the inconsistent tone throughout this issue and the last. The monsters in this forest are supposed to be terrifying and dangerous; after all, a kid was mauled to death by one in the previous issue, in a scene that did not skimp on the gore. But this issue finds the six journeying kids befriending a small creature, going so far as to name it. Even the girl who watched her classmate die lets ‘Doctor Robot’ cuddle with her. It seems to me this story can’t decide if it’s Stephen King-esque horror (with inspiration culled from The Mist and From a Buick 8) or if it’s an all-ages adventure tale. The inconsistent tone upsets the emotional balance of this story, and makes it really hard for me to believe in the stakes. I’m horrified that one of the students has been bitten by an alien bug, but I can’t trust that the outcome of this bite will permanently impact the characters or the story itself. While the tone makes it difficult to trust what the story will do next, I can’t help but be intrigued by the questions these first two issues raise. The questions clearly drive this book. I just hope the tone will be given enough time to level itself out and for these questions to be answered.
Jason Urbanciz is reading…
Written and Lettered by Ryan Ferrier
Art by Valentin Ramon
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Some human genius said that. Something Hasselhoff, or something.”
The end of the world is here. Again. First the robots took over and exterminated the humans, but that was for the best, really. But now shit has really gotten real and aliens are here. Unfortunately, the robots have gotten lazy since winning their war against the humans, leaving exactly one of them equipped to defend them from an invasion, and that guy’s an asshole.
That brings you up to speed on the final issue of D4VE, where our titular hero has to save the world, his family and himself. He fails at most of that, but the fun is the journey, not the destination, and this book is a hell of a lot of fun. D4VE is a shithead who is good at exactly one thing: ripping out aliens’ spines and beating them with it. He is terrible at everything else, and that makes for great entertainment. Writer Ryan Ferrier and artist Valentin Ramon team up to create one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while. Ramon is a real revelation here. His work reminds me of the hyper-detailed art you usually see in European Sci-Fi albums, but it’s got a much brighter palette than you normally see in that kind of work out of Humanoids.
D4VE was an excellent series, if you haven’t been reading, I’d definitely recommend picking it up, especially since buying all five issues will only set you back five bucks. Ferrier has already hinted that there’ll be a sequel, and I’ll be first in line for it.
Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!