In this packed week, we’ve got long reviews of Cult of the Lamb #1, Precious Metals #1, Profane #1, and more. Plus, the Wednesday Comics Team has its usual rundown of the other new #1s, finales and other notable issues from non-Big 2 publishers, all of which you can find below … enjoy!

Beyond The Pale #1

Writer: Christofer Emgard
Artist: Tomas Aira
Letterer: Mauro Mantella
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Review by Clyde Hall

Hetta Sawyer heard all sorts of things about soldiering in Vietnam while covering campus protests stateside. That prompted her to become a war correspondent, one going out with the troops for firsthand experience. Embedded female journalists were rare then, often denied frontline assignments, and forced instead to concentrate on civilian elements or military matters beneath the  notice of reputable news organizations. 

That’s exactly what leads Hetta to Firebase Tartarus, a remote position with allegedly the highest MIA count in country. In the premiere of Beyond the Pale, Christofer Emgård and Tomás Aira quickly establish the harsh reality of life in the field, and that Tartarus’ hellish reputation is less a result of raw recruits or poor discipline, owing more to preternatural things prowling the jungle. In both these aspects, the introductory issue succeeds. 

Having lived through the Vietnam era, I found the dialogue regarding military life and civilian views of the later war years accurate. Hetta’s role as narrator also echoes truths of Vietnam, recalling the extraordinary women who covered that conflict. Journalists like Dickey Chapelle and Frances FitzGerald, who shared the infantry soldier’s risk in pursuit of a story and who didn’t always survive the experience.

The horror element also echoes the early 1970s, a time when very realistic surroundings punched up the supernatural terror of monsters unrestrained by natural laws or physics. Million dollar technologies of war existing alongside eldritch creatures on the periphery of human perception makes a powerfully unsettling contrast in this creative team’s presentation. It mirrors the opposing sides of this war, darkly. 

For readers who love their MCI rations with a Lovecraftian digestif, this is a don’t-miss start to a 4-issue series. It pulls you in fast, establishes connection with its characters, and, especially in Hetta’s case, makes you hope the experience doesn’t leave her emotionally shattered and hopelessly mad.

Verdict: BUY

Cult of the LambCult of Lamb #1

Written by Alex Paknadel
Art by Troy Little
Colored by Nick Filardi
Lettered by Crank
Published by Oni Press

Review by Ricardo Serrano Denis

Explaining the success of the Cult of the Lamb video game isn’t entirely difficult. It’s about an adorable little lamb that is tasked with building a cult for his dark lord while exacting revenge on four bishops that struck out for themselves. Your cult is your design, from decorations to worshipping statues and even to the prisons you build for those who dissent against you and your master “The One Who Waits.” Your benevolence can be as selective as you desire, and cult morale can be manipulated in your favor at any time with an impromptu nude festival filled with drink and carnal indulgence. In other words, what’s not to like?

Translating this unique gaming experience into comics presents an interesting challenge. By its very nature, branching out of the game means taking the element of control away from those who stepped into Cult of the Lamb’s world via the original work first. So, whatever comes from this better be damn good and well-worth putting down the controller to give it a read. Fortunately, Alex Paknadel and Troy Little give more than enough reasons to follow The Lamb in his very own comic.

The first issue of Cult of the Lamb covers the opening of the game itself, and quite faithfully at that. The Lamb, captured and beheaded as a heretic by the bishops’ acolytes, is brought back to life by the “The One Who Waits” to start a cult that’ll work to bring him back. Whereas in the game the Lamb’s personality depends entirely on your playstyle, here we get a more stubborn and revenge-fueled Lamb. Paknadel and Troy inject anger into the Lamb, building up a reluctant Lamb in the early stages.

Paknadel’s script deserves praise. The game’s dialogue is playfully satanic, with lines that wouldn’t be out of place in a black metal song. For the comic, Paknadel strikes a balance between cute and dark that feels like a natural extension of the mood the game establishes. There’s an air of folk horror about the dialogue and how it’s presented that it would be easy to be reminded of old Hammer movies while reading it. It honors the source material, but it alters things here and there to have its own identity.

Troy Little’s art steals the show, though. If this license ever jumps off into animation, Little should either do all of it or supervise it. The Lamb shines as the lead and is given a firm sense of presence that sets him apart from the other evil animals. Just as the game is violent in a cartoony way, so is the comic. Little finds ways to bring the signature stylings of the game into his work, and it pays off. You’re always aware these animals are made of flesh and blood, and that at any given moment they can be killed and maimed in gory fashion. This ups the stakes, too. Knowing precious cult followers can be violently sacrificed or murdered makes you immediately care for them. It helps that they’re also infinitely cute.

Cult of the Lamb is on its way to be one of the best comic book adaptations of a beloved video game in a while. The love Paknadel and Little have for the source material is evident. If you love the game, then this is an opportunity to spend even more time within its world. If you’re new to it, then you have a unique folk horror comic to get into. Regardless of your point of entry, you’ll want to be indoctrinated by the great Lamb to be among his devout followers.

Verdict: BUY

Godzilla Rivals: Mothra vs. Hedorah #1

Writer: Josh Trujillo
Artist: Joshua Cornillion
Letterer: Jeff Ecklesberry
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review by Jordan Jennings

Synopsis: The story opens with us meeting Ana and her twin grandchildren, Astrid and Aurora as they are helping organize the island’s Mothra festival. It is quickly revealed that the grandmother is dying from (presumably) cancer. She accepts the fate of nature, much to the displeasure of the grandchildren. In contrast, we are introduced to Lawerance Lazek, the self-proclaimed “World’s richest man”, as he fails to accept his cancer prognosis and demands that he is entitled to the finest care. He rejects nature and looks to a recently discovered extra-terrestrial cell (Hedorah cells) to cure his cancer. Events are set in motion leading to a clash between the pollutant alien monster, Hedorah, and the guardian of life, Mothra. 

Godzilla Rivals: Mothra vs Hedorah is a fun comic that pairs off two of familiar Kaiju in a novel way. The vary nature of Mothra contrasts with Hedorah as Mothra looks to save life and protect the earth while Hedorah is a polluting parasite that exists only to destroy. I am surprised these two haven’t faced off all that much before. 

The story from Josh Trujillo is basic in its design, but that is a given by the limitations of the Godzilla Rivals format of continuity-agnostic one-shot stories. Even with larger than average page count, there isn’t a lot of space to tell complex and interwoven plots.  Mothra vs Hedorah does do what most successful Godzilla Rivals comics accomplish and that is focus on the human element. The kaiju are fantastic, but the human story is one I find most engaging. Trujillo delivers an interesting tale of acceptance and defiance of nature. 

Trujillo boils down the kaijus to their essence and their human proxies exemplify these characteristics. Characterization does tend to fall into archetypal territory. Lazek is a threadbare Jeff Bezos analogue. The twins and grandmother represent conflict between tradition and modernity. Even the kaiju, for that matter. Yet, much like the pacing, the limitation of the format encourages characters to be presented in broad strokes. This makes the story easier to follow and less time having to be spent on complex history. 

The art by Joshua Cornillion is delightful and captures a sense of energy. The characters are expressive in their body language and their designs. As for example, the twins are given distinct looks making the trademark Mothra Twins a bit less obvious at first. It is a subtle way to attempt a subversion of the story for a moment, but the pay off once realizing they are actually twins is rewarding for long time fans. 

Cornillion has a strong command of the page and helps make the pacing manageable for this story. The page compositions are varied and the one double page spread is a novel way to convey Hedorah’s phase changes and create a sense of action.

Overall, Godzilla Rivals: Mothra vs Hedorah is solid addition to the Rivals library of stories. The plot, while simple, is effective and engaging. The art serves the story well and is full of delight and action. I found the comic to be an entertaining romp.

Verdict: BUY

Precious Metal #1

Writer: Darcy Van Poelgeest
Pencils/Inks: Ian Bertram
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

Review by D. Morris

How long has it been since Ian Bertam’s pencils and inks graced the interior of a comic? The answer is far too long. Bertram is one of the most iconoclastic artists of his generation. Bertram draws in style definitely inspired by the Moebius/Frank Quitely school of cartooning. Each panel is a visual feast of highly detailed weirdness.

Bertram finally comes back to draw Precious Metal. This is the long awaited follow up to Little Bird, his last collaboration with Darcy Van Poelgeest. Once again Van Poelgeest and Bertram team up to serve psychedelic science fiction weirdness set in a far future world.

Where the last series dealt with rebellions, Precious Metal seems more noir inspired. We follow a courier named Max whose left arm consists mostly of tentacles. There’s a kid with weird psychic powers and various factions who want him.

Once again, Van Poelgeest uses this strange space to make critiques of American imperialism and Christian fundamentalism. Characters flay and blow themselves up in the name of Christ. One character gets disassembled into a bloody crucifix. Being a warrior for Christ seems to only bring blood and death.

Bertram brings Van Poelgeest’s script to life in immense detail. The tentacles that make up Max’s left arm sway and swish. There’s so many textures in this world, from the weird eyeball guy made up almost entirely of viscous looking scales or a black, tempestuous ocean. Bertram is one of those rare artists that turns a panel into an entire world.

But if Bertram also brings an ingenuity to his page designs. Page layouts communicate the story as much as his character acting and individual panel compositions. He has a natural facility for consistently inventive comics storytelling.

Backing him up on visuals are Matt Hollingsworth and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. Hollingsworth is of course a coloring legend and he brings his considerable talents here. He understands the assignment by evoking Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal in the color palette for Precious Metal. There’s a lot of reds and yellows on the pages but nothing is anything overly rendered. That’s what Bertram’s hatching and lifework does.

Otsmane-Elhaou meanwhile color codes dialogue boxes and word balloons. Word balloons get lot of interesting shapes. Max’s internal dialogue box undulate. These unusual shapes compliment the weird shapes and lines that Bertram puts on each page.

Precious Metal is a complete package of great comics. This is a really thought out book on every level but it never looks over labored. It’s a group of folks putting out comics at the highest level.

Verdict: BUY    


Profane #1

Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Raül Fernandez
Colorist: Giada Marchisio
Letterer: Jeff Eckleberry
Publisher: BOOM! Studios 

Review by Steve Baxi

Profane is the kind of story that changes drastically by the last page, recoloring your whole experience. It’s hard to come up with a pitch because this first issue is the pitch. I’ve always loved noir fiction and detective stories, so immediately Peter Milligan’s voice for pulp characters whose names double as adjectives appeals to me. Throw in high contrast, neo-noir art and color work by Raül Fernandez and Giada Marchisio, and you should have a simple recipe for success. But Profane doesn’t go quite the way you expect. I was struck by how jarring, and even simplistic the first few pages felt, like it was riffing on the clichés of a noir rather than committing to telling one. And yet, I soon discovered that was the whole point.

Milligan is walking a line between reality and fiction that will be familiar to those who’ve read his other work like Animal Man, Hellblazer or Shade, the Changing Man. Rather than diving head first into all the prestige and poetry you might expect of his work, Milligan instead opts for very direct and corny dialogue. He sets up a cartoonishly noir protagonist who has a rude awakening about his identity and place in the world. Your own disbelief becomes part of the narrative as you start to doubt the sincerity of what’s presented to you. That skepticism ultimately puts you right into the same headspace as Will Profane.

What really sells this experience is Raül Fernandez’s art, which is wonderfully expressive. Backgrounds are filled with fun noir movie references, which in turn helps solidify the thematic aims of the series of blending reality and fiction. Even when the book is intentionally trying to be predictable, giving you the formula and setting your expectations, Fernandez draws this whole world with a true commitment to the bit. It’s sharp, it’s sexy, and it’s aided wonderfully by Giada Marchisio’s colors which compliment Fernandez’s style.

For the audience that I know will gravitate towards this book, noir heads and Milligan fans, there’s a lot of promise setup in this first issue. The book moves quickly and gets us invested in the mystery by calling attention to the classic noir checklist and playing with our expectations of what should happen and when. By the end, all that gets thrown out the window and you’re eager to find out what this whole adventure is about.

I really enjoyed this start and I’m eagerly awaiting where the series will go from here.

Verdict: BUY

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Alpha #1

Writers: Jason Aaron and Tom Waltz
Artists: Chris Burnham and Gavin Smith
Colorists: Brian Reber and Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Nathan Widick
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review by Tim Rooney

It’s a new era for IDW Publishing’s Ninja Turtles line as writer Jason Aaron makes his debut in this teaser issue. Aaron is joined by artist Chris Burnham, colorist Brian Reber, and letterer Nathan Widick. After fifty issues of writer Sophie Campbell’s run and more than 100 from Tom Waltz, it’s refreshing to have a new voice on the series. Aaron’s take picks up on the status quo left by Campbell after, which saw New York City grappling with an influx of mutated human animal hybrids. The idea of the Turtles as public figures, not singular outcasts hiding in the shadows, continues to be a tough pill for me to swallow, but Jason Aaron’s script pulls in these new developments with an old school Mirage Studios grit and melodrama. The story sees Donatello captured and left to fight for survival and to protect other mutants in a genuinely upsetting bloodsport. 
Campbell’s run was highly focused on the interpersonal lives of the brothers and their expanding cast. At times it was more a slice of life book than a typical action story. Our first hints of Jason Aaron’s work here  is much more interested in exploring the Turtles through their first language: hardboiled violence. Through that, we see Donatello, here addled and clinging to his sanity, express his core character traits: his cleverness and his heroism. Given how focused Campbell’s final arc was on Donatello specifically, the jarring shift in his situation is a compelling narrative hook. 
Chris Burnham’s art is superb. His rubbery faces and sense of motion and dynamic layouts all fit perfectly for the  bloody mutant battle. There’s something classic about his take on Donatello, with his domed head and rounded body, that evokes the cartoonish energy of the most familiar takes on the characters. His loose lines and heavy hatching combined with those more exaggerated figures has the underground comix of the 80s. The muddy colors from Reber add to the dark and grimy aesthetic. 
After an extended run that I was not wild about, I am jazzed to see a new direction and to read more of Jason Aaron’s TMNT after this strong debut. It’s exciting to see IDW put some real investment into the creators for this 40th anniversary year. 
Rounding out the issue is an extended backup  with a creative team more familiar to longtime IDW TMNT readers, writer Tom Waltz, artist Gavin Smith, and colorist Ronda Pattison. It’s a solid horror story that teases another book in the line, “Mutant Nation,” with rotating creators exploring the larger Turtles universe. 

This Alpha issue should please longtime fans and perhaps soothe concerns that the previous work is being thrown away. It raises tons of questions for us die hards to dig into, but it is also a clean jumping on point that gives you pretty much everything you need to know about the state of the larger TMNT universe.

Verdict: BUY

Wednesday Comics Reviews

  • Falling In Love On The Path To Hell #1 (Image Comics): Samurais of feudal Japan and gunslingers of the American Old West have long inspired stories about one another for decades, be it film, literature, and comics. Falling in Love on the Path to Hell brings both together in a twist on the classic romance set in the afterlife all warriors expect to see when their time on Earth is up. Writer Gerry Duggan crafts a tale that from the double-size first issue, you can just tell this is a story he’s been waiting to tell and seems fit as the one to do so. The art by Garry Brown switches between the visuals of the dying Old West and the end of the samurai in Japan, where both settings are given the utmost respect to their respective histories. Brown’s art is brought to life by the ever-mesmerizing colors by Chris O’Halloran, whose ability to light a scene brings the final touch to the main characters’ final moments. Letters and Logo/design by Joe Sabino and Elliott Gray respectively round out the book. The SFX ever associated with the gun battles of the Old West blend with the twang of a sword across the world in Japan to show both characters are within a pivotal time in history. With logo and book design by Gray, the book is given its key to its look as something special meant to blend two warrior cultures. —Bryan Reheil
  • The Mammoth #1 (Mad Cave Studios): This is a deeply human first issue that sits with grief after a chaotic and gruesome opening sequence. After the ground shakes beneath these characters, writer Paul Tobin slows things down and lets characters reflect, letting us know someone who we are introduced to in their death. And the way we get to know this character is through the reflections of their friends, it’s about connection while something supernatural creeps at the edges of the Broke Tree Valley forest. The art of Arjuna Susini has a quality that both makes the characters feel very real while at the same time making the moments of the supernatural and of carnage and destruction feel haunting and heavy. The gruesome opening is pretty unsettling and the colors of Pippa Bowland really push that feeling as gore is complemented by other shades of red in the panels. There’s a moodiness, a somberness that the art very clearly gets across as we move from place to place across the span of days and while given reprieve from gore, are invited through the writing and the art to sit with these characters and feel their loss with them. Lettered by Charles Pritchett, this an affecting first issue that again, is very human, very empathetic and so excellently encapsulates the feeling of grief and of loss, where those feelings are equally or more haunting than spirits lurking in the forest. —Khalid Johnson
  • Scarlett #1 (Image Comics): Details. It’s all in the details. A secret message. An obscure friends-only communication system. Tape on a door. All details that alter a simple spy book into a complex spy book. Sure, detail-oriented espionage has its own set of clichés, but Kelly Thompson doesn’t flood a book with clichéd details as much as uses them to reinforce the narrative and themes page after page. Similar to brother G.I. Joe title, Duke, Scarlett sets out on a mission for a friend. Duke handles action friendship in a hyper-masculine way– a dead friend in need of violent revenge. Scarlett however handles action friendship by extracting a friend in deep-cover– a tale of camaraderie and communication that establishes a relationship beyond “war buddies.” By reusing panels and ingraining a wave of secret messages between our two main characters, Marco Ferrari rewards hawkeyed readers and/or helps foster a creator-reader communication system of its own subtly pushing readers to go reread over what they’ve read. Though widescreen panels can flatten and reduce the impact of Ferrari’s lithe action scenes, Lee Loughridge amplifies Ferrari’s flashback scenes into an emotionally effective embrace. With rose-tinted sepia and textured edges, Loughridge’s color choice visually reinforces Scarlett’s view of the relationship before we’ve read a word; should be interesting to see if this color mood evolves as the mini continues. Hell, even Rus Wooton chooses an off-pink for the flashback balloons to imperceptibly immerse the reader into a past tense. Wooton’s sfx are hit or miss for me here as earlier pages do better in quieter layouts whereas the ending feels overtaken by sfx louder than Ferrari’s action. Again, just a wonderful pilot journey full of details that signal a brilliant espionage adventure. What more can we ask for? —Beau Q.

The Prog Report

  • 2000AD Prog 2385 (Rebellion Publishing): This week’s Prog saw the conclusion of Blue Skies Over Deadwick. This story is one of Tharg’s 3rillers, which as the name suggests is inherently a three-part story. This one is written by David Baillie with art by Nick Brokenshire and letterer Annie Parkhouse. Essentially, it’s a kaiju story played out in a distant post-apocalyptic future. That’s a good combo, and such a great pairing that I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen it before (or rather, haven’t seen it more frequently). This story had a cool concept with twists, great art, and a satisfying ending. It’s a great example of why I’ve been enjoying keeping up with the Prog weekly this year, a story I definitely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. As always, you can nab a digital copy of this week’s Prog here. —Zack Quaintance

Read more entries in the weekly Wednesday Comics reviews series!