Battlecats #1-3 (Mad Cave Studios)

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CREDIT: Mad Cave Studios

Rating: 3.5/5 – A Fun New Fantasy World from a New Publisher.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The team over at Mad Cave Studios sent us the first three issues of Battlecats and I’m glad that they did. I had fun reading these first three issues from this up and coming creative studio.  There’s plenty of digital comics out there and sometimes it can be hard for a new reader to filter through a lot of what’s out there, while at the same time, it can be just as hard for an emerging publisher to find new readers. After reading these first few issues, I’m now looking forward to future issues and watching this up and coming talent grow.

Battle Cats is for fans of fantasy and you can see that movies like Lord of the Rings served as inspiration for the team, writer Mark London and artist Andy King. There are five members of the Battlecats, each with their own unique powers and skill sets. There’s Kaleera the female archer, Mekkar the bard who provides the humor, Kelthan who’s the best designed and leader of the group, Zorien the muscle, and Vaela the mage. This group of “talking lions” are sent on a mission from their king to kill a Dire beast, although they’re not sure why just yet. Meanwhile we’re introduced to a couple villains, the king and a whole lot of soldiers who get violently slaughtered. Each of the three issues does a nice job of giving you a little more information on the character’s powers and personality, but we still haven’t seen any of their origins which could allow the reader to have a more emotional connection to individual members of the team.

The first and second issue’s fight scenes went on a bit too long, but the action and art did keep me entertained as the Battlecats slice, dice and decapitate enemy after enemy. I’m hoping we’re provided with a bit more context and substance to the characters in future issues rather than the quick comments about their past, setting or a locale the team makes, assuming we as the reader have the same understanding as the other characters. For example, in issue two Zorien makes a comment that he has “seen quicksand behave like this in the plains of Il-Shavar”. While it hints at past adventures, I’d rather get more insight into the characters first before hearing about other locales since this place name has no meaning or relevance to me as of yet. The third issue is the strongest of the three and does a nice job of balancing action and character drama while pushing the story forward.

In terms of art, Andy King provides the digital pencils and while his character work is still evolving, he does a solid job of drawing a team of five and giving each of them a signature look. King’s characters have a more animated “manga-like” feel to them and he’s able to create some cool looking locales, I enjoyed the coloring by Alejandro Giraldo, but I will say that the effects found within the art definitely stand out. A lot of times when reading books from young or new publishers, the colors and effects can look cheap and overused. Here, they add to the storytelling. Whether it’s a subtle green glow from the eyes, or purple energy bursting from a magical spell, the effects fit within and seem part of the art.

You can find Battlecats and a couple more titles at Mad Cave Studios’ website, or purchase their books from Amazon, DriveThruComics, or Comixology. There are plenty of digital comics out there, but the quality of the art and writing can be hit or miss. While this may not be the same level of quality as one of the larger publishers, it was an enjoyable read and it’s fun to see new talent trying to make their way in a crowded industry. I’ll definitely be back for issue number four and if you’re looking for something new, give this a shot.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Ipso Facto v1: The Presence (Comixology)

IpsoFacto

CREDIT: Ipso Facto Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Will Magic Aliens Save Earth From Nuclear Disaster?
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

I reviewed the 1st 3 issues of Ipso Facto way back in November of 2013, and after a lengthy gap in publication, they seem to be back on track putting out issues (#4, 5, and 6 came out in March, April, May 2016).  Now you can read the entire 1st 6 issues in a digital trade available on Comixology. This is long-form story-telling though.  After 171 pages in this volume, we still have not hit the end of a story arc.  More like the end of the first act of a much larger piece of fiction.  The main concern I have is be how long it will take for the next arc to be completed, I have confidence that I’ll enjoy it when it is out there, but just when will that be?  Based on the last 3 months, hopefully the team has this back on track and will be publishing on a more regular basis moving forward.

I was impressed by Jason Badower’s art back in 2013 and remain just as impressed today.  He’s got a style that I really like, and his storytelling is solid.  That said, he could work on making his page design more interesting, there are a lot of rectangular panels in a mostly standard grid layout with the standard variations.  He switched it up a bit in issue 6 with a really interesting page where the character Willen is standing on the side of a cliff face, seeing more pages like this and more frequent experimentation with panels that are not squares or rectangles would make the book more visually interesting.

J.R. Rothenberg’s story focuses on the presence of the Fula, a secret alien race that has had 52,001 members living on Earth for a really long time and who suddenly begin a mass exodus off the planet, the impetus being a satellite designed to neutralize nuclear fallout launched by the powerful Tryum Corporation.  While ostensibly a sci-fi story; because, you know, aliens… this leans a bit more to the fantastical side of the sci-fi spectrum given the vast unexplained powers some of the Fula seem to be exhibiting.  They seem more magical than scientific, though here we would invoke Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law that states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Volume 1 of Ipso Facto is called “The Presence”.  An apt name.  This volume explores the presence of the Fula on Earth and really sets up the story to come.  We’re introduced to the main players and there are hints at motives for what is going on, but nothing seems to be concretely spelled out in this volume. Additionally, while I’m no Bible scholar and not particularly religious, I seemed to see quite a few biblical allusions.  The story has set the ball rolling towards nuclear Armageddon, and seeing the specific role the Fula are going to play both enabling and trying to prevent this is something I want to see.  There’s a shock-value scene at the end of this volume that left me with a sense of “WHAAAAAT?”  So I definitely want to come back to see what happens next.  Hopefully it won’t be a very long wait until we get the next installment.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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The Walking Dead: Alien (Panel Syndicate)

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CREDIT: Robert Kirkman, LLC

Rating: 5/5 – The Early Days of the Outbreak…in Spain!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

** SPOILER FREE REVIEW ** Robert Kirkman has given Brian K. Vaughan & Marcos Martin permission to play in his sandbox!  I believe this is the first non-Kirkman written comic story, though plenty of other writers have had a hand in writing episodes of the AMC TV series.  And what a story it is!  We meet a new character, Claudia, and also a character that had only been referenced by name in a very early issue of the Walking Dead comic series.

The story takes place in Barcelona, Spain, which also happens to be the hometown of artist Marcos Martin.  The first few pages are also something best read with Google Translate handy, unless you speak Somali & Catalan.  For the benefit of those who don’t want to do the translation, I’ll provide the details here (they don’t spoil anything about the story):
The young Somali boy is saying “fadlan i caawi” which translates to “please help me”.  When Claudia shows up she says (in Catalan) “Arise”, then (roughly) “He no longer moves, but you can.”  From there the dialogue switches to English.

If you want to read this story, it’s available as a “pay what you want” digital download.  You can give Vaughan & Martin anything from $0.00 on up to any amount you can afford or feel is reasonable.  It’s a very cool payment model that has been working for these 2 for their previous digital series “Private Eye“, their current series “Barrier”, as well as the series “Universe!” by creator Albert Monteys.  I’d love to see this “pay what you want” model become a standard.  While I don’t personally like paying $3.99 for a digital comic, I don’t mind paying a buck… and that all goes to the creators with no fees other than the credit card/paypal processing fee taken by any intermediaries like a digital platform provider, publisher, or distributor.

The title “Alien” refers to the American, Jeff, in Spain.  Not to space aliens or anything exotic like that.  It was interesting to get a view of Europe where things seem to be following a roughly similar trajectory to what we’ve seen in the United States, confirming what I had assumed all along, that this is a global pandemic.  Still no insights into the cause of the zombie outbreak, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story by Brian K. Vaughan, one of my favorite writers currently active in comics.  I consider this a must-read for any hard-core fan of the Walking Dead comics, buy your digital download today!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Monsters (Hivemindedness)

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CREDIT: Hivemindedness

Rating: 4/5 – Perfect for Parents of Kids Who Have Monster Issues
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Monsters is a collection of short stories ideal for parent to read with their children.  Most of the stories will help children work through issues related to fear.  Fear of being different or not fitting in.  Fear of things unknown, or sometimes known, that are strange to them and hard for them to process.  A few are just fun monster stories.

Writer Karen Beilharz works with a variety of artists to bring a the stories to life and like with any anthology, the art is a mixed bag.  On the plus side, since art appreciation is a strange and wonderful thing, unique to each individual, there should be stories in here that are visually appealing to each reader.  I found the variety of art styles appealing and on par with those found in books targeted at children, who are the ultimate audience of the stories, which are meant to be read to or with your child by parents.

There are 11 stories in the collection, all written by Beilharz, as well as a series of monster drawings by 5 to 8 years olds that are utterly charming.  10 of the stories can be read on the web right now (go have a look!)  I think each reader will have their own favorites, mine are:
Monster Hunter, illustrated by Mike Barry, in which a mother teaches her daughter to stand up to the monsters.
The Dark, illustrated by Peter Fairfax, in which a little girl conquers her fear of the dark with the advice from an unlikely source.  Someone who would easily be cast in a far different role in another story.
Here Be Dragons, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings, mostly because I just love maps.
My Mummy the Monster, illustrated by Rene Pfitzner, which was my favorite of the bunch because it was just so charming.  This one could be a standalone children’s book.

My own kids are a bit outside the target demographic (they are 21 and 25).  They haven’t been afraid of monsters for a couple of years now… but this set of stories would have been great to have had when they were much younger.  Have a look at the stories on the web at Hivemindedness.com, most of the stories can be read online, but if you would like to get a hardcopy to read with your child, you’re in luck.  They are running a crowdsourcing campaign right now via Pozible that is being run out of Australia, but ships worldwide.  Well worth the time for any parent of small children to have a look at.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Bearmageddon Vol. 1 (Ethan Nicolle/Comixology)

Bearmageddon

CREDIT: Ethan Nicolle / Comixology

Rating: 4.5/5 – Tips on Surviving the Coming Ursine Apocalypse!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I first ran across Ethan Nicolle’s work in his debut comics work Chumble Spuzz (from Slave Labor Graphics in 2008, nominated for an Eisner Award in 2009).  I interviewed him on an episode of the Comic Book Page podcast that I was co-hosting at the time and I’ve been hooked on his sense of humor ever since.  A lot more people are probably familiar with him from the insanely popular Axe Cop which has been a webcomic, a cartoon on Fox & FXX, and a comic published by Dark Horse.  Now Nicolle turns his razor-sharp wit to a topic we should all be concerned about:  What if every bear on the planet suddenly decided that they wanted to kill every human on the planet?

This hefty tome (those electrons are HEAVY) is 171 pages of bear vs. human mayhem, collecting the webcomic from Bearmageddon.com and available on Comixology.  You can still read the 1st 67 pages on the site, but need to purchase the full volume to get the latter 100+ pages if that taste leaves you wanting more….and believe me, the action in that last half is well worth it.  The material still online shows the initial confrontations between our intrepid band of survivors and the bears out in the woods.  The action is taken up a few notches when the bears get into the local town and our heroes follow along, hoping to meet up with family members.

Volume 1 of Bearmageddon teases us with the reasons behind the bears deciding to eradicate humankind, and only scratches the surface on the various bear hybrids that are promised in the back-matter and this interior title image:

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An octo-bear is pulled out of a sewer and we see a “flying squirrel bear” that can glide down on unsuspecting people from trees or tall buildings.  But what about the BearBat, BearCrab, BearGator, Bearmadillo, Beardvark, Grizzly Boar, and many more…  Something to look forward to in Volume 2, I hope, which will be serialized on the web-site starting in May 2016.

But wait, there’s more!

Bearmageddon isn’t simply a bear vs. human throwdown for the domination of planet Earth.  In addition to fighting bears, we get: Working in retail, video games, environmentalism, lessons in social responsibility, and what it means to be a responsible adult looking out for family, friends, and even people we don’t know…just because it’s the right thing to do.  Nicolle packs a lot into this book and like some of the educational shows you watched as a kid, be careful or you might learn something while you’re being entertained (including how to turn a propane tank into a flame thrower, but I would NOT recommend trying that one at home).

The core to any successful story for me is having people I like and can relate to, Nicolle provides that with a number of the main characters. Just like real people, some of them I immediately liked and sympathized with, others I took a dislike to.  But that’s what makes them feel real.  Give the beginning a read on the Bearmageddon site and if you like it head on over to Comixology and buy the entire 1st Volume.  If you like the sample, I think you’ll be glad you read the whole thing!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Orcs! #1 (The Larsen Project/Comixology)

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CREDIT: The Larsen Project

Rating: 4/5 – Laugh Out Loud Dialogue and an Epic Squirrel Fight!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I’m a sucker for fantasy comics, both serious and humorous.  Orcs! falls firmly into the humorous category and creator/writer/artist Christine Larsen has a gift for whimsy, wisecracks, and wit that hits my funnybone just right; particularly with dialogue and naming of things.  We get places like Eerieasallhell Forest (that the elves call Dapplelight Wood) and lines like orc Pez saying ‘Elves that will make holes in us faster than you can say “Ah! There’s a hole in me!”‘.  I’m all in!

And Maps!!!  I love fantasy books, comics, etc. that have maps of the “known world”.  We get not one but two in this issue, as chronicled by intrepid orc Drod One-Eye (and illuminated by scribe Christine Larsen).  Larsen’s art is also top notch, definitely stylized, but it works perfectly for the humorous world we’re getting a view into.  My sole complaint is the excessive use of zip-a-tone like shading patterns used to add texture on most of the pages in the main story, it kept hitting me with a moiré pattern feeling that was really distracting, though maybe it was the fault of my hardware.   She used this shading a lot less in the backup story and it looked visually crisper and more inviting to me.

If you’re a fan of fantasy humor, or just plain funny comics, you should check out Orcs!  I’d say if you like Marvel’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl or BOOM!’s Lumberjanes, this should be right up your alley.  It’s available on Comixology and is 32 pages of fun.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Inferno #1 (Wendigo Comics/Comixology)

Inferno1

CREDIT: Wendigo Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Heart Wrenching Tale of the 1941 Jedwabne Pogrom
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Writer Gilad Levine tells the story of the massacre of at least 340 Jews by their Polish neighbors in 1941 Jewdwabne, Poland.  It is a heart wrenching tale that Levine attempts to deconstruct and in some way understand the reasons behind this terrible actions that occurred in this historical World War II tale.

Levine, a former ComicSpectrum reviewer, passed this by me to read in its early stages of development so I’ve read both the script and the final comic, released a couple of weeks ago on Comixology.  I thought his choice of mixing first person narration to set some historical context and then jumping to normal person-to-person interaction for scenes showing the lives of the Jewish residents of Jedwabne in the days before the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Nazis was an effective way to get the story across and begin to make me start caring for these people who I know will have a horrible and untimely end.  Unfortunately, the art does not do justice to the subject matter here.  Pramit Santra’s art has a flat feel and lacks fine detail.  The body language of the people is very stiff and the panel and page compositions unimaginative.  I felt the art held back the storytelling in this issue.

Ultimately, this series promises to explore the reasons behind the decision of the Polish residents of Jedwabne to kill the Jewish neighbors they had lived alongside in peace for years.  There is a complex dynamic between the Polish residents and the opposing German and Soviet forces that both occupied the area at various points that it will be interesting to see explored.  Levine only scratches the surface of these complex issues in this first issue that sets the stage and mostly takes place prior to the start of the war.   I’ll be interested to see how he handles the interactions between all the factions involved as the series progresses.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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