Word of TKO Studios broke Friday—New publisher alert—with a launch announcement and first wave of titles featuring star creators like Garth Ennis, Steve Epting, and Dan McDaid, among others. TKO Studios noted it was based in LA, but gave little info past that. And you know what? I kind of shrugged. I mean, TKO wasn’t even the first new publisher setting out to redefine comics this year (see Ahoy), and between AfterShock, Black Mask, Vault…the market has felt plenty saturated with new ambitions of late.
My level of interest in TKO, however, changed Monday in the course of one blistering Twitter thread, wherein TKO basically calls its shot: “At TKO we want to be the first modern comic book company. So, we’ll be doing things a bit differently…”
That’s great PR speak, but the thread then goes on to explain TKO’s innovative concept: all books released in six-issue arcs, first issues online for free, the other five for immediate purchase in three formats: digital, floppies with a special box, and trade…sent direct to readers without distributor or retailer. Reading on, TKO also announced more comics for 2019 from big name creators Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and…wait for this one…Roxane Gay.
TKO basically went from best of luck with that to who are these people and what does their model mean for comics? Plenty of other questions remain—chief among them, who is funding TKO—but the easiest to answer is are these comics any good?
So, I tore through the first issues last night and have quick thoughts to share about each.
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letterer: Rob Stern
NAZI OCCUPIED RUSSIA, 1942.
DON’T LET THEM TAKE YOU ALIVE.
A team of female Russian snipers beat back the Nazi invaders on the WW2 Eastern Front.
Quick Thoughts: Holy wow is this a good-looking comic. Epting is a massive talent, and he goes all out here drawing this World War II-era story of an all-female Russian sniper squad. The outward conflict is, of course, Russians versus Nazis, but there’s maybe a more compelling inward struggle brewing between self and allegiance to country. At least, that’s what I hope and expect to see moving forward.
Of the four titles, this one left me least motivated to move on. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. To be clear, this is a strong comic, powered by artwork in that is in equal parts gorgeous and photo-realistic. I do have a little World War II fatigue (and have for about a decade). If you’re a WWII buff, or just someone who likes well-told historical fiction, go ahead and buy with impunity. Same goes for readers who love a good Garth Ennis war comic. This book has a lot to offer, even if the first chapter feels a little light.
7 Deadly Sins #1
Writer: Tze Chun
Artist: Artyom Trakhanov
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
SEVEN DEADLY SINS.
ONE DEADLY MISSION.
1857 Texas. A group of death row criminals is recruited by a Mexican priest for a suicide mission into Comancheria.
Quick Thoughts: Fans of Scalped and Preacher (that Venn diagram is near a perfect circle) rejoice—it’s been a minute but a new spiritual successor to those stories has arrived. Set in a Blood Meridian-styled 1800s Texas, this is a kinetic and sharply-drawn comic, where the action is clear and characters defined. It’s a whopping 40 pages, and for all its violence does drag a bit in parts, bouncing between action sequences while dropping in dialogue and character moments that make the whole affair alternately bleak and hilarious.
I’m likely to continue reading this story, although I should note I lived in Texas for the better part of a decade recently and as a result am endlessly fascinated with Cormac McCarthy-esque meditations (weird word for a comic this violent) about the region’s inherent savagery, especially during the times in which it was lawless. This comic could certainly have used some of the striking and poetic prose that marks McCarthy’s works (get in line), but the rich artwork from Artyom Trakhanov and Giulia Brusco lends this story’s visuals a sort of graceful recklessness, well suited for its narrative.
Goodnight Paradise #1
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Alberto Ponticelli
Colorist: Giulia Brusco
Letterer: Steve Wands
VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIA
SUN. SURF. SEX. MONEY. MURDER.
After finding the body of a murdered teenage runaway, a homeless man vows to bring her killer to justice.
Quick Thoughts: Joshua Dysart’s writing here is strong, make these characters relatable and sympathetic without ever sugarcoating the street lives of the homeless or under-housed. It’s all here: threats, substance abuse, struggle, the list goes on…juxtaposed with the paradisaical beauty of Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. It’s poignant and timely stuff, as California (where I currently reside) continues to struggle with a massive housing crisis. Rather than continuing to rush by street encampments, this comic seeks to capture the reality of them with empathy.
If you have a taste at all for quieter character-driven comics (as I do), proceed here. I know I will be. This book isn’t all understated, though; there’s a murder mystery at its heart, too. You can, however, find plenty of murder mysteries elsewhere in comics (one is playing out right now in high profile fashion at the Big 2). What sets this comic apart is the time its characters spend feeling free on benches or agonizing over how their lives affect their far-flung kids. The art is maybe more of an acquired taste than the other books in the roster, but, simply put, this comic is as compassionate a portrayal of the homeless as any medium has seen in recent years, right up there alongside Jess Walter’s fantastic piece of short fiction, Anything Helps.
The Fearless Doctor Fang #1
Writer: Tze Chun & Mike Weiss
Artist: Dan McDaid
Colorist: Daniela Miwa
Letterer: Steve Wands
NOTHING TO FEAR…
BUT FANG HIMSELF!
In this globe-trotting adventure, a San Francisco cop and a treasure hunter pursue a Chinese criminal mastermind who is not what he appears to be.
Quick Thoughts: The pulpiest pulp throwback comic I’ve read in some time, The Fearless Doctor Fang is a sublimely-rendered and well-executed bit of comics nostalgia, another murder mystery, albeit one that couldn’t be more different than Goodnight Paradise. With a fraternal relationship between two hot shot cops at its center, this book alludes to wide-spread ancient conspiracies. Of TKO’s first titles, this book is right up there with 7 Deadly Sins for its striking action sequences.
This one gets the least complicated recommendation from me. I’m a huge mark for Dan McDaid’s artwork, huge, and he’s in full form here, blasting through a rapid fire sequence of kinetic set pieces that mark the beginning, middle, and end of this story. The story itself is a pretty traditional adventure, dime store novel-esque, incorporating treasure hunting, cat burglary, and soap operatic misdirection.