Quick Shot Reviews: Catching up on Graphic Novels

GraphicNovels-201508

Despite the near-total-silence on the graphic novel/comics side of things, I have continued to read a whole bunch of new and old collections. Generally speaking, though, I haven’t been overly impressed. Here are mini-reviews for ten stand-out collections I’ve read recently. [I’ll hopefully do a few more posts like this in the not-too-distant future, as I try to catch up with recent titles.]

Featuring: All-New X-Men, American Vampire, Black Magick, Daredevil, Extraordinary X-Men, Huck, Justice League, Lazarus, Lucifer, Sheriff of Babylon Continue reading

Image Comics Catch-Up (Sci-Fi)

Short-but-sweet reviews of three of Image Comics’ latest Sci-Fi series.

Descender-Vol1DESCENDER, Vol.1 – “Tin Stars”

Writer: Jeff Lemire | Artist: Dustin Nguyen

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic.

Collects: Descender #1-6

This series has received so much love from critics and readers alike, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is Nguyen’s artwork gorgeous, but Lemire’s story and characters are fantastic as well. (Is anyone really surprised by either of those things…? No. Didn’t think so.) It’s an interesting setting and idea, pulled off with skill and deft characterisation. It’s a little unclear where this is headed, but the revelations at the end of the final chapter certainly suggest things are going to get very interesting indeed.

Tim-21 is an interesting character, as are the others he meets on his journey. His innocence is a great foil for the harsh universe he finds himself in, after awakening from years in sleep-mode. Different factions are after him, and this will, I’m sure, ultimately be the story of how he changes those he comes into contact with (as well as some interesting possibilities hinted at regarding A.I., spirituality and so forth).

A really excellent beginning to one of the year’s best new series. I really enjoyed this.

Publisher Page

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InvisibleRepublic-Vol.01INVISIBLE REPUBLIC, Vol.1

Writer: Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Bechko | Artist: Gabriel Hardman & Jordan Boyd

When a reporter unearths the secret history of the recently deposed dictator of a remote colonized moon, he discovers exposing secrets can be deadly.

Collects: Invisible Republic #1-5

The last couple of years have given readers so very many excellent new series (including Descenders, above). Invisible Republic, though, is possibly my favourite new series of the year. The story is told in two different time periods, 42 years apart. In the “current” time-period, a dictatorship has fallen, leaving a moon economically strained, socially unsettled, and politically a mess. Into the mix, a reporter stumbles across what appears to be a diary by the now-deposed dictator’s cousin. It offers an alternative perspective on the official history of the moon — upending the fabricated account the dictator used to solidify his mystique and legendary revolutionary status. It is a present-at-the-creation, type of diary. Naturally, this is explosive material with incredible potential for further disruption and lucrative media possibilities. The second time-line is focused on the months leading up to the coup and installation of the dictatorship.

That’s all pretty vague, but I came into the book knowing nothing about it (at all — didn’t even read the synopsis), and I loved not knowing anything that was to come. The artwork is great, reminiscent of a lot of DMZ and Epting’s Captain America, but by no means a rip-off — it has a distinct character of its own, which brilliantly evokes the characters, their environs and the situations they find themselves in. The dialogue is some of the most natural I’ve read in a comic in a while, and the story is perfectly-paced and gripping.

Really very highly recommended. I can’t wait for book two. Marvellous stuff.

Publisher Page

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RunLoveKill-Vol.01RUNLOVEKILL, Vol.1

Writer: Jonathan Tsuei & Eric Canete | Artist: Eric Canete

The Origami, a mysterious military organization, is on the hunt for one of their former assassins, Rain Oshiro. Their grasp over the city of Prygat is tightening and Rain has less than twenty-four hours to get out before she’s trapped forever. Rain must face the decisions of her past while using everything at her disposal to avoid capture or even worse, death.

Collects: RunLoveKill #1-4

Of the three issues reviewed today, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just very busy. Rain is on the run from actions in her past; Origami agents are after her, and some of them have dino-suits and aren’t above destroying a nightclub packed with innocent bystanders; she has a friend who seems to control a teleportation device, has a lot of money and is clearly in love with her… Oh, and maybe she is special beyond the fact that she did something in the past…? (You find out at the end of the book. Sort-of.)

The pace is relentless, which can be no bad thing, but here it seemed that action and perpetual motion buried the story and context a bit. That the ending is so abrupt was also an interesting decision. I came away from this book not really sure what to think. I’ll certainly be reading volume two, if only to see if they give us a little bit more to go on. An interesting idea, a nice spin on the fugitive/sci-fi story-type. The artwork’s pretty nice, too — interestingly style, colourful, distinct.

A cautious recommendation, perhaps wait until you can get more issues/volume two as well…?

Publisher Page

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Catching up on Image Comics Collections

Featuring: Jupiter’s Legacy, Rat Queens, Saga, Southern Bastards, StarlightVelvet

JupitersLegacy-Vol.1JUPITER’S LEGACY, Vol.1

Writer: Mark Millar | Artist: Frank Quitely

The children of the world’s greatest superheroes may never be able to fill their parents’ shoes. When the family becomes embattled by infighting, one branch stages an uprising and another goes into hiding. How long can the world survive when one family’s super-powered problems explode onto the global stage? Just in time for the launch of the prequel series JUPITER’S CIRCLE comes this collected edition from storytelling masters Millar and Quitely.

Collects: Jupiter’s Legacy #1-5

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this — I have had very mixed experiences with Millar’s work in the past. Luckily, Jupiter’s Legacy is a pretty interesting take on super-heroes. Specifically, it’s a great look at the legacy of heroes and their families — what happens when later generations have completely different interpretations of the hero’s responsibility and the solution to the world’s problems? It’s fast-paced, nuanced and action-packed in equal measures. It’s not perfect, and there were some strange or clunky moments, but for the main Millar reigns in his… well, Millar tendencies: there was nothing here that suggested Grant Morrison’s influence was still in evidence. The violence is particularly brutal and graphic, true, but it’s not daft or stupid. Recommended for fans of, among others, Mark Waid’s Irredeemable.

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RatQueens-Vol.2RAT QUEENS, Vol.2 – “The Far Reaching Tentacles Of N’Rygoth”

Writer: Kurtis J. Wiebe | Artist: Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Šejić

This booze-soaked second volume of RAT QUEENS reveals a growing menace within the very walls of Palisade. And while Dee may have run from her past, the bloated, blood-feasting sky god N’rygoth never really lets his children stray too far.

Collects: Rat Queens #6-10

The first Rat Queens book was a very pleasant surprise: it mixed up and twisted a whole host of fantasy tropes, creating something both familiar and refreshingly new. It was also wonderfully irreverent, but not to the point where gags overwhelmed the story. In this second collection, Wiebe and Co. up the ante, as the Queens get to the bottom of what’s actually happening to Palisade. It’s a very fast-paced story, with action and humour aplenty. The creative team do a very good job of not letting the story get completely ridiculous, but it’s certainly a grand, fantastical tale with magic and mayhem — playing with tropes in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, while maintaining the sense of wonder and fun that drew oh-so-many people to fantasy in the first place. Highly recommended for all fans of fantasy, great storytelling and humour comics. Excellent.

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Saga-Vol.4SAGA, Vol.4

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan | Artist: Fiona Staples

Visit new planets, meet new adversaries and explore a very new direction, as Hazel becomes a toddler while her family struggles to stay on their feet.

Collects: Saga #19-24

Saga is one of the few ongoing series that I’m still following — at least, beyond the second collection (I often find that it when a series will either sink or swim). This series has been lauded far and wide, so it’s probably no surprise that I, too, absolutely love it. It’s just the right amount of crazy, just the right amount of faithful to the science fiction genre, but also funny, warm and expertly crafted. In this fourth volume, the strain of running and living in hiding gets too much for our couple of protagonists. Meanwhile, Alana is making it in entertainment, Marko is struggling to remain hidden while raising Hazel. Oh, and bounty hunters and crazy TV-headed royals are still after them. So there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Still a superb series, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A must-read.

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SouthernBastards-Vol.2SOUTHERN BASTARDS, Vol.2 – “Gridiron”

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Jason Latour

The hit new crime series SOUTHERN BASTARDS returns for its second volume, and pulls back the curtain on the dark and seedy history of Craw County and its most famous and feared resident, the high school football coach turned backwoods crime lord Euless Boss.

Collects: Southern Bastards #5-9

If HBO developed Friday Night Lights, this could be the result. A grim look at Southern football culture, blended very nicely with small-town secrets and brutality. A worthy follow-up volume to the first, shifting perspective and focus. This is a really interesting series, and highly recommended.

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StarlightSTARLIGHT

Writer: Mark Millar | Artist: Goran Parlov

Forty years ago, Duke McQueen was the space hero who saved the universe. But then he came back home, got married, had kids, and grew old. Now his children have left and his wife has passed away, leaving him alone with nothing except his memories… until a call comes from a distant world asking him back for his final and greatest adventure.

Collects: Starlight #1-5

Once again, I was surprised by a Millar book — this one is a nostalgic look at golden-era heroes and sci-fi like John Carter of Mars. The nostalgia lies not only in the setting, but the story itself — Duke McQueen is getting old, he’s buried his wife, and is feeling lost and alone. His family don’t believe him about his earlier adventures. Now, though, the planet he saved decades ago has been conquered by a brutal race of… well, sadists. Called back to help, Duke gets to relive his glory days and, hopefully, do some more good. I really enjoyed this — much more than I expected. Highly recommended for long-time fans of super-heroes and classic science fiction fantasy.

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Velvet-Vol.2VELVET, Vol.2 – “The Secret Lives of Dead Men”

Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Steve Epting & Elizabeth Breitweiser

Everything Velvet Templeton ever believed about the worst night of her life has turned out to be a lie, and now she’s coming back to London, taking the hunt back to the hunters, to find the truth or die trying. Don’t miss the second volume in the adventures of comics’ favorite new super-spy!

Collects: Velvet #6-10

Brubaker and Epting worked on my favourite Captain America storylines (Winter Soldier and Red Menace), so I was very much looking forward to Velvet, when it was first announced. The first collection was a great introduction to the characters and the start of Velvet’s investigation into the situation with her husband. In this second book, there’s action and espionage aplenty, while never stinting on the character development and story itself. It’s a fantastic series, frankly. As the book progresses, we learn just a little bit more about Velvet’s goals, not to mention a rather excellent switch-up at the end. Very highly recommended, this is a must for all fans of spy stories and thrillers. Easily one of the best ongoing series at the moment.

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Quick Reviews: EGOs, THE FUSE, NAILBITER, SHUTTER, SOUTHERN BASTARDS, UMBRAL (Image)

EGOs-Vol.01EGOs, Vol.1 — “Quintessence”

Writer: Stuart Moore | Artist: Gus Storms

Far-future action meets midlife crises as an aging hero rebuilds his former team. But to do so, he must cross a line with his wife that cannot be uncrossed.

 

Collects: EGOs #0-4

This was an interesting comic. It has a lot going for it — big space action, some humour, quirky artwork and design. The colour scheme is, well, very much as you can see on the cover — soft, pastel shades. It’s a big story, touching upon nostalgia (the readers’ and also the characters’) and mashing together super-heroes and space opera. It dragged a bit at times, and the momentum was a little uneven throughout. But, it’s also an out-of-retirement origin story of sorts. By the time the book ends, everything and everyone is in place for a larger, continuing story. I’ll come back for volume two, I’m sure, but of the books reviewed in this post, it was not my favourite.

Still. If you like space opera, weird science and super-heroes, then it’s well worth checking out. There’s a bit of an older Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to it, too.

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Fuse-Vol.01THE FUSE, Vol.1 — “The Russia Shift”

Writer: Antony Johnson | Art & Cover: Justin Greenwood

22,000 MILES UP, THERE IS NO BACKUP.

Working homicide on an orbiting energy platform, in a five mile long jury-rigged steel city stuffed with a half million people, and no help from your so-called colleagues back on earth, is more than tough… it’s murder.

Colletcs: The Fuse #1-6

A crime thriller in space! I rather enjoyed this. It took a little while to sink into the story, however, but once I did I really started to dig the premise and location of the story. It’s Law & Order: Orbital Unit. The detectives are cool and varied (one is a near-retirement woman, which certainly is not your usual protagonist for comic series, regardless of sub-genre). The eventual solution was not what I’d expected. Perhaps a shade over-the-top and implausible,  but it nevertheless is successfully executed. A great blend of sci-fi and crime thriller that really works. There’s political and social commentary, and very well-paced storytelling. Definitely recommended.

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Nailbiter-Vol.01NAILBITER, Vol.1 — “There Will Be Blood”

Writer: Joshua Williamson | Art & Cover: Mike Henderson

“Where do serial killers come from?” and why has Buckaroo, Oregon given birth to sixteen of the most vile serial killers in the world? NSA Agent Nicholas Finch needs to solve that mystery in order to save his friend, and he’ll have to team up with the infamous Edward “Nailbiter” Warren to do it.

Collects: Nailbiter #1-5

I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this series. What I found, though, was superb. A town that has produced a surprisingly high number of serial killers, and an investigating copy has become obsessed with uncovering the mystery of Buckaroo. After he disappears, Finch rolls into town, makes an impression, and starts digging. The most recent, infamous murderer gets drawn into the investigation, as does the local sheriff. Excellent pacing, great storytelling, some wonderfully atmospheric, moody artwork… Nailbiter is really quite excellent. The book ends with some surprises, and some superb promise for the future. Very highly recommended.

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Shutter-Vol.01SHUTTER, Vol.1 — “Wanderlost”

Writer: Joe Keatinge | Art & Cover: Leila Del Duca & Owen Gieni

Kate Kristopher, once the most famous explorer of an Earth far more fantastic than the one we know, is forced to return to the adventurous life she left behind when a family secret threatens to destroy everything she spent her life protecting.

Collects: Shutter #1-6

This was… a bit of a disappointment, sadly. It’s a riot of urban fantastical and weird elements, which while very creative and ambitious, is also a bit of a mess. There’s a lot to love about it — the lead character is interesting and the mystery about her father and family is certainly interesting. There are cool secondary characters (Harrington, for example), but there’s so much thrown at the reader that it’s difficult to know what to expect. I’ll check back for volume two, but it’s not a high priority. Maybe this will end up being like Vertigo’s Hinterkind: a disappointing establishing volume, followed by a stellar second collection?

If you like your comics zany and filled with the mad and clashing fantastic, then Shutter should appeal. I usually do, but I think this just goes that little bit too far.

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SouthernBastards-Vol.01SOUTHERN BASTARDS, Vol.1 — “Here Was A Man”

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artist: Jason LaTour

Welcome to Craw County, Alabama, home of Boss BBQ, the state champion Runnin’ Rebs football team… and more bastards than you’ve ever seen. When you’re an angry old man like Earl Tubb, the only way to survive a place like this… is to carry a really big stick.

Collects: Southern Bastards #1-4

This is a pretty grim and gritty series. It’s brutal, gripping, frightening, and absolutely not a tourist pamphlet for the American south… The town is dominated by the high school football coach, who rules with an iron fist and seems to keep crime under control (and profitable for him). When Earl Tubb returns to clear out his recently passed father’s home, he gets tangled up in the injustices of small-town southern America. It does not end on a happy note. It’s a strangely uncomfortable read, in some respects, but it’s good — brutally honest, unvarnished. The artwork is appropriate — at least, that’s how it feels, fits the story and tone very well.

Recommended if you like your comics based more on reality than the fantastical.

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Umbral-Vol.01UMBRAL, Vol.1 — “Out of the Shadows”

Writer: Antony Johnston | Artist & Cover: Christopher Mitten

The young thief called Rascal witnesses the horrific and brutal murder of the royal family— now the world’s dark legends will be relived, and only Rascal even knows it’s happening!

Collects: Umbral #1-6

This was an interesting book. The tone is interesting — there’s a mix of adventure, action, conspiracy, and some amusing, poking-of-fun at the genre. The humour is gentle and there are a fair number of chuckle-worthy asides and quips. The premise is pretty interesting, and the story flows quite well. That being said, I think it started to lose steam towards the end of the collection. There are some surprises, nicely revealed, but also some things that just didn’t progress enough. The world-building is interesting and well-done. The artwork is very good, too — especially for the Umbral (which are nicely creepy and weird).

An opening act, to be sure, with plenty going on. I am interested enough to return for the second collection.

Quick Reviews: C.O.W.L., MERCENARY SEA, UNDERTOW, WICKED + DIVINE (Image)

COWL-Vol.01C.O.W.L., Vol.1 — “Principles of Power”

Writers: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel | Artist: Rod Reis | Cover: Trevor McCarthy

Welcome to the “Chicago Organized Workers League” — the world’s first Super-Hero Labor Union!

While C.O.W.L. once stood as a beacon of hope against an epidemic of organized crime and an unbeatable “brotherhood” of Super-Villains, the union now faces its fiercest foe yet — a disillusioned public. In targeting the last of the great villains, C.O.W.L. attempts to prove its value to the world and to each other, while staving off villainy from both outside and inside its offices.

In 1962, the union faces a disillusioned public, scandal, and a new era of threats.

Collects: C.O.W.L. #1-5

This was a pretty good start to a new series. Set in Chicago, we get a melange of noir super-hero/detective action, local labour politics, and internal tensions. The story has everything to make it attractive to a large swathe of the comics readership. The artwork is rough, but that suits the story perfectly. It’s pretty slow-moving, though, and “Principles of Power” is very much setting up what I assume will be a large story arc: pieces are maneuvered into position, political and social realities exert pressures on the corrupt and idealistic alike. Obstacles are removed. I think this could end up becoming a classic. Definitely recommended.

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MercenarySea-Vol.01THE MERCENARY SEA, Vol.1

Writer: Kel Symons | Artist: Mathew Reynolds

Action and adventure set in 1938 — The South Seas. Japan has invaded China. War in Europe is imminent. Ex-bootlegger Jack Harper captains The Venture, a refitted German U-Boat, with a crew of expats, mercenaries and treasure hunters. They do whatever it takes to stay afloat, often running up against pirates, headhunters, spies, and soldiers. They’re always one step away from the greatest score of their lives… or their certain demise.

Collects: The Mercenary Sea #1-6

This series pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin: high adventure, action and shenanigans in the late ’30s. It does a rather good job, too, and was a fun read. It didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly enjoyable. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a break from super-heroes, but not a break from action and adventure. The artwork is rather simple, not bad, but not always great. Blocky colouring means it’s not as nuanced as many other comic, but it’s an interesting and eye-catching style. Recommended.

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Undertow-Vol.01UNDERTOW, Vol.1 — “Boatman’s Call”

Writer: Steve Orlando | Artist: Artyom Trakhanov

Atlantis is the world superpower, and Redum Anshargal is its worst enemy. If you want to break free of the system, he can offer you a place at his side, exploring the wild surface world in his watertight city barge The Deliverer. He and his hostage-protege Ukinnu Alal hunt the Amphibian, a legend that could be the key to an air-breathing life on land. But as they become the hunted, can Anshargal’s team survive long enough to turn the tables on the godlike beast they set out for? A brand new pulp monster adventure with Ray Harryhausen at its heart and a look at Atlantis like never before.

Collects: Undertow #1-6

This was an interesting book. It took a bit longer than I usually like to get stuck into the story, but I think it’s pretty cool. I enjoyed the reversal of power and fortune — Atlantis as the dominant power, and the exploration of dry land from under the sea, rather than the usual opposite. The artwork is rough and interesting, but also rather psychedelically coloured. I didn’t love the series, but I think it’s a decent start to a new series. I’ll be back for volume two, but I won’t necessarily be rushing to buy and read it. Worth reading if you’re a fan of science fiction comics with a twist.

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WickedAndDivine-Vol.01THE WICKED + DIVINE, Vol.1 — “The Faust Act”

Writer: Kieron Gillen | Art & Cover: Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5

This was frankly marvellous. It starts well and just gets better and better. Gillen et al manage to pack in a lot into these first five issues — the scene is set, the mythology explained (elegantly — there’s no clunky info-dumping), the characters established. Lucifer (“Luci” for short) is awesome, and probably my favourite, although the Underground-dwelling Morrigan was also delightfully twisted. The artwork is clear and sharp, brilliantly coloured (alternately atmospheric and vivid). The writing is excellent, never cliche and always engaging. I do love the mash-up of urban fantasy, the divine, and celebrity culture.

Very highly recommended, I can’t wait for volume two.

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Mini-Review: BLACK SCIENCE, Vol.1 – “How To Fall” (Image)

BlackScience-Vol.01A fascinating, strange, and engaging science fiction series

Writer: Rick Remender | Artists: Matteo Scalera & Dean White

Grant McKay has done the impossible! Using the Pillar, he has punched a hole through the barriers between dimensions, allowing travel to all possible universes. But now Grant and his team are trapped in the folds of infinity, the Pillar sending them careening through a million universes of unimaginable adventure, sanity-flaying danger and no way home…

Collects: Black Science #1-6

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Black Science. It received a healthy amount of pre-publication buzz – not surprising, given that it’s written by Remender (Deadly Class, Low, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers). Things move pretty quickly in this book, as readers are thrown straight into the action, which never lets up. The series includes everything you might want from a multi-dimensional action/adventure: strange and dangerous situations, back-stabbing, a larger conspiracy, weird and wonderful fauna, interesting technology. It also has everything we have come to expect from Remender: excellent story-telling and well-rounded, diverse characters. The story builds quite excellently over the course of the book, and I felt myself sink in as it took hold completely.

I want to avoid going into too much detail, as things move very fast. Grant is an interesting character, and readers will become invested in his quest and fate, just as they will for the fates of his companions. (Spoiler: not everyone’s going to get out of this one alive…)

Scalera’s artwork is a little strange, quite angular, but by no means unattractive. He does a great job of giving Remender’s story life, merging the weird and scientific excellently. It’s an eye-catching book, certainly.

Overall, then, a highly recommended new series for every fan of science fiction, sci-fi comics, and interdimensional story-telling. This was a lot of fun. I really can’t wait for volume two!