In an episode of alarming synchronicity I’m able to review a Denver-local indie comic debuting at Denver Comic Con on the day the con opens. If you can’t be in Denver to pick up a copy of WICKED AWESOME TALES in person, fear not, there are links that will enable you to attain a copy. What we have here is a volume anthologizing five comic shorts with a definitive pulp homage flair, from its painterly cover by Felippe Ecchevaria to its interior artwork and themes. Each carves out a corner of the pulp tradition universe with its own original accents in tact. Pulp themes, characters, and even styles, are becoming more and more prominent in Image and Dark Horse comics, but here we have an indie comic from a creator-owned imprint, Nasty Wolf Comics, local to Denver itself, and it’s exciting to dig in and see what comics folks are up to throughout the country during our current surge of indie production.
WICKED AWESOME’s five tales include “The Paranormal Consultant”, “Starcrosser”, “The Smuggler’s Lament”, “Dad 2.0”, and “Thunder Monkey”. The titles give a hint about what genre traditions they display, from weird tales to speculative fiction and sci-fi genre-mixing. The concepts in the anthology alone are appealing, but the artwork is especially strong, each story grounded in its own firmly argued aesthetic.
“The Paranormal Consultant”, written by Todd Jones, with art by Jeremy McHugh and lettering by James Gaubatz is a fresh take on the gentleman exorcist a la John Constantine, infused with plenty of humor and the complications of modern life. The artwork is graceful, just a notch above minimalist, and establishes a sense of reality matched by the plot, from its diner setting to its Twin-Peaksy obsession with apple pie.
“Starcrosser” is also written by Todd Jones, drawn by Bill Thompson, and lettered by Gaubatz, and features the “intergalactic marshall” Ian Hatfield who brings the tropes of the old west into an alien bar to right some wrongs. “Starcrosser” feels like something out of 2000AD both in energetic lines with richly brushed inking and in its blending of sci-fi with a central indomitable figure with tech on his side.
“The Smuggler’s Lament”, written by Ron Fortier, with art by Chris McQuaid, and lettering by Brian Level, is a gorgeously rendered short tale, with a grey-scale wash of tones and an excellent eye toward sci-fi detail. It’s also appealing to find a female protagonist, the space smuggler Marlee, pitting her wits against the authorities who attempt to bring her down. It’s a well-balanced vignette in tone and style and crystallizes some of the appeal of WICKED AWESOME, a confident handling of entertaining stories and strong art.
“Dad 2.0” written by Todd Jones, with art by Chad Blakely, has got a very strong, simple premise going for it that develops clear-cut humor, the idea of a robot being programmed to undertake parenting duties. A lot of the humor comes from the schema-like commands rendered by a robot Dad and the pros and cons of handling family units in a mechanical way. Blakely’s robot, with a homage to old-style sci-fi designs also contributes greatly to the off-beat humor.
“Thunder Monkey”, (or as it’s more fully titles “Night of the Beast: Starring Thunder Monkey”) is written and drawn by Lee Oaks! and combines superhero features, the elements of a monster tale, and even the sub-genre of animal hero stories with a little of a Hellboy take on the grim and gritty of keeping the world safe. Oaks’ panels are packed with attention to mood and creature-creepy detail. The “starring” aspect is another reminder of the serialized heroes of the pulps, but also of the early short narrative combinations of the golden age of comics.
WICKED AWESOME TALES brings a high degree of professionalism to an indie anthology format and has a lot to say about the carnivalesque history of comics genres available to creators today. It’s a lively collection of imaginative tales that all feature the unique triumph of protagonists through unusual insights or abilities, often at the expense of a lesser-witted foe. For that reason, it’s a celebration of the triumph of the hero through many lenses, and does this in concise, quickly moving and attractive stories. Chalk one up for indie comics in Denver- they are certainly keeping the intrinsic strengths of the comics medium alive.
Title: WICKED AWESOME TALES
Publisher: Nasty Wolf Comics
Creative Team: Todd Jones, Ron Fortier, Lee Oaks!, writers/
Jeremy McHugh, Bill Thompson, Chris McQuaid, Chad Blakely Lee Oaks!, artists/
James Gaubatz, Brian Level, letterers/Felippe Ecchevaria, cover
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.