Skottie Young and Jorge Corona, the creative team of Middlewest, conceived a Gothic romance about an artist who retreats to an old house to devote time to painting and discovers an otherworldly muse in the haunted house.
Ro is an acclaimed artist, who is taking a break to create new paintings for an upcoming art show. She rents a large Victorian home, although it is rumored to be haunted. She actually hopes it is, thinking it might be an inspiration for her paintings. And soon enough a spirit appears, but we see before she does, that it is malevolent. At first, the spirit seems shapeless, but after time is able to take on a tall dark form, eventually becoming corporeal, as he becomes intimate with Ro in a disturbing moment. While Ro is captivated by the spirit, this spirit becomes obsessed with her, preventing her from leaving the house. Her art agent becomes concerned as Ro has secluded herself away for too long and visits her home to check in. The spirit does not take kindly to the friend’s intrusion, and chaos and horror erupt.
As Young and Corona did with Middlewest, a dark theme is juxtaposed against a cartoony art style, but soon enough the story transcends the art. A moody Gothic vibe is established in the rambling old home with gloomy hues and exaggerated features. As Ro struggles with artist’s block, the evil spirit is able to manipulate her into trusting him and says everything she wants to hear, as he slowly tightens his hold on her life. An evocative scene with the spirit showing her hundreds of old paintings, many of them depicting women, made me wonder how many other women he had seduced in the years prior. Ro clues in late to her lover’s intentions, and another chapter would have been helpful in fleshing out the tale.
After Ro battles for her life, an ambiguous ending concludes the narrative, effectively making you wonder if the spirit lives on, ready to wreak havoc in someone else’s life. This story was an interesting mash-up of toxic relationships and horror, and I found it to be an enjoyably creepy read.
Lewis and Clark…Sacagawea…exploring new lands…meeting new people…the adventure of a lifetime- what could possibly go wrong??? The reimaging of the Lewis and Clark expedition draws to a close as history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together into a unique tale about the Corps of Discovery- taking ten years from the first issue to the last, despite the real expedition only taking two and a half years!
Volume Seven: Talpa Lumbricus & Lepus
The Lewis and Clark expedition finally continues, two years after the last volume came out. I believe the author wishes to speed up the narrative, as volumes five and six had dragged with the motley crew wintering in North Dakota during which time Sacagawea gave birth to her little boy, and in this volume, they break camp and journey quite far towards the Pacific Ocean. Arches always mean danger and indeed that proves true several times, with a tribe of women who become bloodthirsty jackalopes being especially deadly for some foolish men who had other things in mind. Some well-drawn Lovecraftian creatures attack and the crew is winnowed down, but Lewis and Clark adopt a new strategy of just surviving the journey and not putting themselves or the crew in any more danger than necessary. The confusing last pages give us a cliffhanger, but with our current Covid crisis, will this series be once again delayed or even finished? (Review back from 2020)
Volume Eight: Sacrificium & Reditus
Author Chris Dingess brings the story home in this last volume! The sacrifice that has been alluded to the entire series is averted, and the final demon monster they face removes all the other deadly monsters that the Corps of Discovery encountered on their journey. They are finally able to journey back home safely, haunted by what they saw and did. The conclusion was sobering, as it was in real life, with poor Sacagawea and York getting the brunt of misfortune. That Lewis committed suicide a few years after returning, showed the toll the journey took on him. Make sure you read the notes at the end, with letters from Dingess, Roberts and the evocative colorist Owen Gieni. (On a side note- look up the meanings of all the book titles in this series- they are sly ways of hinting at what awaits you in the story!)
I struggled with this series at first, as I found the historical inaccuracies troubling, and I disliked how Sacagawea was sexualized. But I gave it another chance, and from volume two onward, I enjoyed the story (if not the pacing of the narrative). While the story arc might have started out as soldiers on a monster hunting expedition, it was Lewis & Clark, and many of their crew that turned out to be the monsters in how they acted and the choices they made. But to me, it was the art that truly made the series. Matthew Roberts did his research on the era and regions in which they are traveling through. His creatures rival Lovecraft’s with detail and imagination. From the minotaurs, plant zombies, Cthulhu-type frog creatures, Sasquatch, frightful birds and a ghostly conquistador- all were fantastic.
This was an intriguing series, and I am so glad it made it to the finish line. I assume that Dingess and Roberts had other commitments they needed to tend to pay the bills that delayed some of the later volumes, in addition to the Covid crisis. This passion project of theirs was worth the wait, and I will never look at an arch in the same way!
“What do you get when you crossbreed Silence of the Lambs with All Dogs Go To Heaven? Well, you get Stray Dogs” (Forbes). Yes, what a perfect description of this dark tail (tale)!
Sophie is a new dog in a house full of dogs but she senses something is off. Where is her beloved female owner? Unfortunately, dogs have faulty, short-term memories so she can’t quite remember what happened, but she knows something bad occurred. The man who brought her to the home wraps her in a scarf with the scent of her previous owner, and suddenly Sophie remembers this man is a killer. She frantically tells the other dogs but they dismiss her allegations, as they too have forgotten their previous owners and the tragedy that brought them to this new remote house in the country. But eventually, it becomes evident that each dog is a trophy of a killing, and the other dogs help her search for answers. You will gasp and have to contain your tears when you later witness a certain trophy case. Despite all this, most of the killing is implied and off-page, so the story is remarkably bloodless.
The art style is based on the Don Bluth style of animation, showcased in classic children’s movies like the aforementioned All Dogs Go To Heaven, plus An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and The Secret of NIMH. You will fall in love with each heroic dog, but then because of that, be devastated when some dogs don’t survive. Make sure you check out the cover art from the back of the book and look at the covers from each issue. They are inspired- leaning into the horror genre- by paying homage to famous movie posters.
While some people, especially dog lovers, might not enjoy this wicked thriller, I believe the juxtaposition of cutesy art and a deadly storyline make it a graphic novel not to be missed!
A trio of witches take over the rural Florida town of Redlands, and play both victim and villain as the years go by.
Volume One: Sisters By Blood
The story opens in 1977 when the corrupt Redlands police force are trapped inside their police station when a lynching of the witch coven goes sideways. The three witches- Alice, Ro and Bridget- demand sacrifice to remain strong and many officers are killed. Skip to modern-day, and the women are masquerading as police detectives who are dealing with a magical serial killer who seems to be on to them. There are some additional flashbacks to 1984 and a sex trade cartel that Bridgit is trying to infiltrate. I was rather confused at the end because it seems as if the soul of a teen prostitute long-dead inhabits Bridget’s body and wants revenge years later. In the midst of this, there are lots of sexual encounters and violence, but the idea of these flawed witches trying to right some wrongs was enough to capture my attention and wonder where the story will go next.
I am familiar with the author, Jordie Bellaire, as a colorist on many of my graphic novel reads, so it was interesting to have her in another role. She mixes together an intriguing horror and feminist vibe, reminiscent of Hex Wives that I read recently. The artwork is very sketchy, which I’ve noticed more of lately, and isn’t always a very attractive look. The women are drawn with a realistic but seductive look, as the female artist, Vanesa Del Rey, understands the feminine body. The coloring is dark to represent the swampy bayous of the region and the murky narrative.
Volume Two: Water On The Fire
After finding volume one intriguing, I looked up volume two to reserve but, but when I saw the cover there was no way I was going to order a copy through inter-library loan for my co-workers to see! Luckily, I found a copy through the online service Hoopla to read. While I am no prude, I was disappointed the cover is so very gratuitous.
This volume begins with a visit to the past- the way-back past! We find Alice in ancient Egypt (why would she be named Alice back then??), Ro in Viking era Ireland, Bridget during the Salem Witch Trial time period and their “Father” in all three eras who turned them all into witches and demands obedience. We learn more about Bridget’s police partner Casper (who is a ghost, hence the name), Ro’s adopted clairvoyant daughter Itsy, Bridget’s sometimes lover Laurent, and the revenge-seeking teen prostitute Nancy who is still inhabiting Bridget’s body- and it is becoming difficult to keep all the details straight.
This volume ends in a cliff-hanger of sorts- the witch’s evil father is pulling strings and setting the three women up to be on opposite sides of a crisis that only can result in bloodshed. It has been over two years since this volume with no more issues on the horizon, so my guess is the series was dropped. No loss- while it started out promisingly the narrative threads became too convoluted for me to understand or really care about. The artwork didn’t help, for it was often too scratchy and dark to pick up on details that might have helped carry the story. I hope that Bellaire keeps on writing, she just needs to streamline her stories.
In the town of Stillwater, nobody dies. That’s not just a promise…it’s a threat.
Ne’er-do-well, Daniel, who has recently been fired and beat up by a bouncer when he was a jerk at a bar, receives a letter telling him that a great aunt has died. Hoping for an inheritance, he heads to the small town of Stillwater with his best friend Tony to investigate. The town is off the beaten track and a police officer stops them on the outskirts, warning the two men to behave. While there they witness a boy being pushed off a building and with no townspeople reacting to his fall. They are flabbergasted when the boy recovers quickly and runs away, revealing the secret of the town to the two men. Tony is killed by the formally affable police officer, but it is revealed that Daniel was a former resident of the town who was smuggled out as a toddler, so his life is spared.
Daniel, who was known as Tommy as a child, meets his mother Laura who had made the sacrifice of secretly sending him away so he could grow up and not be eternally caught in the body of a small child. No explanation is given as to why suddenly the town inhabitants stopped aging and miraculously heal from accidents. They are naturally afraid of outsiders finding out and the government swooping in to do experiments on them, so they remove themselves from society, and iron-clad rules are established to keep them safe. But this isn’t natural, and people are struggling as the decades go by. There are now some splinter groups who want to rebel and leave town, and of course, Daniel is chaffing at being a prisoner in a toxic community he doesn’t remember. Warped by power, leaders will do anything it takes to stay in control, and some plot threads are left open to build on.
The art establishes a realistic small-town atmosphere. All the characters are unique in looks and personalities, with a good artistic representation of the different walks of life within the town’s inhabitants. I enjoyed the panel configurations, there was a nice variety of small and large panels that pushed the action forward. The coloring is subdued and fits the narrative of immortality dragging on, with no new experiences or people livening their lives up.
The book reminded me of the sci-fi book Pines by Blake Crouch, in that people are trapped in a seemingly idealistic town, but a secret is rotting the town from within and the graphic novel series Revival by Tim Seely and Mike Norton in which a strange phenomenon changes a town forever. I enjoyed this first volume in this new series, and want to tune in to see how Daniel, Laura, and all the other townspeople cope with the so-called gift of eternal life.
This is it! There are some spoilers in this review, but frankly if you have read this far, then you are familiar with the Invincible series and can properly geek out with me over the reveals in these concluding volumes.
Mark and Eve have settled somewhat uneasily into life on the planet Talescria, and when he and Oliver are helping keep Thragg and his soldier children at bay, Mark is sucked into a deep cave and meets a strange entity. In a deus ex machina plot device, he is thrown back into his past on Earth as a teen but with his current memories. With his hard-won knowledge, he is able to keep his father from killing the Guardians of the Globe and helps the various heroes (good to see Rex Splode again!) prevent mishaps that save millions of lives. However, he knows by remaining in this timeline, he will never have his baby girl Terra so he makes the hard decision to return to his original life, erasing all the good he was able to do in the past. Going between dimensions, the timelines don’t sync and he returns five years later finding Terra a child. Just wanting to reunite with his family he declines to help Allen fight Thragg, but Thragg and his children don’t care what Mark wants. More battles, more betrayals, and then a devastating death that I felt was unnecessary.
This volume has Ottley do the art in the first half, and Walker in a more cartoony format illustrates the second half. I’ve noticed that Kirkman and Ottley are always ego-boosting Walker in the sketchbooks that conclude each book, so I wonder what was going on behind the scenes between them all. But I am looking forward to seeing how the three of them conclude this entire series in the next volume!
The end of all things! We open with Oliver’s funeral…I am still salty about this. We’ve had some hard deaths in the past, especially Rex Splode, but this death hurt. We find out Allen had him spying on Thragg and pretending to betray Mark, because I didn’t believe for a minute Oliver would have gone to the dark side. But that left me hating on Allen, who used the philosophy of sacrificing the one for the many. Mark even understood this, but still. (Aside: The Viltrumite genes are supposed to be so strong than any child will look humanoid despite the alien species they are mating with. But it was a big stretch that insectoid Thraxan mothers would not pass down any of their characteristics to their children- like Oliver and then all of Thragg’s offspring. I could even accept that, but when Oliver has children with a lobster-looking alien, his twin children still look like him!)
Thragg and Mark have their final battle, but at a great cost to Thragg’s children. At one time he seems almost loving to his twin daughter Ursaal, but then he reveals his true colors as he admits he has bred his children to be fodder in battle. He views them as inferior and doesn’t care they are dying by the thousands for him. Mark’s last fight with him was very talky, as Mark is explaining how his cause is better, and thus he has more to fight for. While Omni-Man survives the battle, he takes a hit that proves to be too much for him. He is able to have some last poignant words with Mark, but I was very upset that Debbie was a few minutes too late to be with him. As a wife and mother myself, that upset me, because I have really bonded with her character. (Another aside: I have enjoyed getting to know many of the heros and villains that dip in and out of stories over the course of the twelve volumes. But where did Tech Jacket and Wolf-Man disappear to?)
With Thragg dead, now Mark can finally deal with Rex. Rex has had absolute power, but that power has absolutely corrupted him. He was given a pass for far too long, with Nolan even accepting him, but Mark knows the good can’t last. Finally the two of them have it out, and Mark is able to neutralize Rex but still harness his intellect. The story can now conclude, as Mark steps up to lead the Viltrumites and meets Annissa’s son, Markus. We see Markus and Terra age (Terra is such a brat!) with Debbie as a loving Grandma. A few threads are left open if the story is ever continued with Mark or with his children, but the series is brought to a close in a neat bow.
Invincible has been an amazing series! It took familiar superhero tropes and twisted them in unusual and bloody ways. Kirkman, Walker and Ottley told a story from beginning to end and were able to offer fresh commentary on issues going on in our own world but adapted into the Invincible universe. I am amazed that Kirkman was creating and writing about The Walking Dead at the same time, with a fifteen year overlap. In fact, as much as TWD has been heralded, I feel Kirkman’s Invincible was the better of the two. And in a graphic novel the art work is as important as the writing, if not more, and both Walker and Ottley contributed mightily to the series. Their illustrations defined the books. I’m loving the animated series, and look forward to many years of watching future episodes, and seeing how similar or dissimilar it will be to these graphic novels, so I’m happy that I have more Invincible in my future!
I’m nearing the end of the series, with only two volumes to go after these two, and the action, humor and pathos never stops!
In the first half, Mark regains his powers, so he checks in with Dinosaurus who he left unsupervised. Big mistake! This dinosaurus plotline fell flat for me- it was just so talky about right vs wrong just for Mark to learn a lesson about understanding Cecil’s decisions better. So it’s ok that a million people died, so long as Mark realizes life is not always black or white. Plus, it has bothered me to no end that we never learned what turned mild mannered David into an insane dino/human hybrid. At least there was some amazing artwork with some very cool one or two-page spreads, as the various heroes dealt with the chaos that Dinosaurus caused, with all the faces of characters reacting to Mark’s “death” being a favorite. Another significant plot was that Nolan was revealed to be the Viltrumite royal heir and all of a sudden Thragg is overthrown. Eve reveals she is pregnant and won’t be able to use her powers as it could hurt the baby. A little joke with Mark attending a comic-con about hitting the 100 issues is appreciated, as Invincible was hitting 100 issue at this time IRL.
Angstrom Levy pops up again and he and his multi-verses of different Invincibles worries Mark, and despite Eve seemingly talking sense into Levy after he threatens them, Mark is concerned about what Levy could do in the future. We also get worrisome windows into what Battle Beast, Rex and Doctor Seismic are up to. Rex, especially, is unraveling and reveals his true nature to Mark.
Although Ottley is credited for all the art in this volume it seemed off. Eve and Debbie’s faces seemed different, and I double-checked that Walker wasn’t part of the art team in this volume. Speaking of art teams I should mention that Rathburn (inks) and Rauch (colors) always hit it out of the park.
Often in the Marvel & DC comics, heroes make decisions that are always for the best, but in this series Mark is always making mistakes. He often learns and grows from them, but chaos and death often follow him. His determination to kill Levy drives a wedge between him and Eve, and he has to figure out how to get out of a dimension that Rex stranded him in. Months go by, and Eve is nearing the birth of her child when he returns. Mark tries to warn people that Rex has gone insanely evil, but his pleas come too late, and Rex attacks all the heroes resulting in many of their deaths. In the midst of all this, the Viltrumite Anissa assaults Mark, demanding he father a child with her. She rapes him in a very uncomfortable scene. He understandably is reeling from her attack, and it throws him off his game while he deals with all that is happening around him. That his and Eve’s baby daughter is born is a bright spot in this grim volume.
Battle Beast and Thragg get into a fight to the death when they encounter one another, as Thragg has settled down on a familiar planet and has worked VERY diligently at increasing the Viltrumite ranks. The planet he picked is actually brilliant and his children will be ready soldiers in no time. Speaking of other planets, Mark & Eve with their baby daughter Terra leave Earth as they can’t cope with Rex’s betrayals and how everyone is looking past his choices. They meet up with Oliver, who due to his mother’s bloodline, has aged rapidly and they are now are about the same age. We meet Oliver’s girlfriend, Haluma, who looks like a giant lobster but turns Oliver on (love the mandibles joke).
As we now move towards the conclusion, some threads are being tidied up. We see Mark’s first girlfriend with a new boyfriend, and some bow ties are added to Art the superhero’s tailor, Eve’s parents and William & Rick’s character arcs. This was a more poignant story than usual, although you can’t have an Invincible volume without battle scenes throughout. The last page was a gut punch for what it symbolized, and in the enjoyable sketchbooks at the end of each book, artist Ottley said it was rough to draw.
I’m now ready to head into the last two volumes and see how everything gets wrapped up!
Invincible remains strong in these middle volumes! Sometimes a series can get wobbly in the middle, but instead, I feel the plot threads are tightening up as we move closer to the conclusion.
The first half dealt with the Viltrumite War and took place almost exclusively off-Earth. Nolan reveals himself to Debbie and Oliver, and while Oliver is thrilled to see his father, Debbie is justifiably distraught to see the man who betrayed her. Nolan takes his two sons to fight his kin and there is a funny Star Trek: TNG joke (although at their expensense- please don’t mock my beloved TNG!) and soon enough they encounter the Viltrumites. Epic war scenes that had six awesome two-page spreads to convey the chaos of space fighting. They finally reach a stale-mate as the two sides can’t seem to win- but the Viltrumite retreat does not mean Invincible and his allies won. A Sophie’s-choice is made in the end to Mark’s sorrow. But they are alive, ready to battle another day…
Now that the Viltrumite invasion is on the back-burner Nolan tries to reconcile with his estranged wife, whose heart he broke and Debbie seems open to it, so they both leave for outer space to see if they can salvage their relationship and also to visit Oliver who is recovering from the war. This leaves Mark & Eve to work through their issues after Mark’s long absence, and Mark learns of a hard decision that Eve had to make while he was gone. Mark had previously been furious at Cecil for making hard morally-grey decisions, but now he too makes certain choices with villains that may pay off in the long-term, even if it doesn’t look good in the short-term.
Robot (now called Rex) and Monster Girl return from the Flaxans dimension they transported to and come back grown up and are obviously reeling from some trauma that occured to them while there. Mark & Eve visit married couple Immortal and Kate who are now parents, and I have to say Kate is a b*tch! What does Immortal see in her? There is an odd side plot about Eve gaining weight and we find out that William and Rick are now dating.
Allen the Alien is now the leader of the Coalition of Planets and wants to take a hard line with the remaining Viltrumites on Earth, much to Nolan and Mark’s dismay. Oliver, who feels no love for Earth, sides with Allen but everything comes to a stalemate when Thragg learns of their mission. But Mark gets hurt in the melee and has his powers dissipate which then ties into Bulletproof having to wear Mark’s costume to keep up appearances on Earth. Mark utilizes Dinosaurus in some long-range plans but underestimates how they can truly work together. Nolan and Debbie have reconciled, and they reconcile over & over & over again if you get my drift. Poor Oliver gets an earful one night and there is a funny visual of him covering his ears the way Nolan had to in a previous book when staying at Allen’s.
However, the most epic storyline is Robot and Monster Girl’s as we finally find out what happened to the duo when they went through the portal during one of the semi-regular invasions by the Flaxans. On Earth, they were only missing a few months, but in the Flaxans dimension, they were there 700 years and led a coup against the corrupt government there. When they came back they told team members they were there 12 years, but so very much happened while there including love, betrayal and trauma. A nasty surprise is revealed during the next Flaxans invasion on Earth, surprising the pair who thought they left the planet in a peaceful state. But that surprise is nothing compared to the last page that divulges an ugly secret and what you thought about one character’s motives is completely upended.
Ottley’s and Walker’s art is better melded in this book, as Ottley draws the Earth scenes while Walker drew the Flaxans scenes. Amanda (Monster Girl) has a cool Queen Amidala vibe going, with elaborate hairdos and outfits while she is the Queen Consort with Rex. Awesomely drawn fight scenes and weird monsters, villains and aliens remain a strong suit in this series.
I’m half-way through the entire Invincible series! Mark has proved to be a flawed but very appealing superhero and the action never stops!
This fifth volume has the theme of- who can you trust- as Mark grapples with Cecil Stedman, the leader of the Global Defense Agency. Mark has always followed Cecil’s commands, but Cecil’s use of the Reanimen and the looking past of Darkwing’s murderous past, show that he is morally corrupt. Another example is when Mark teams with the Wolf Man who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and Cecil won’t help out, because he feels he can not gain anything from him like he can from Darkwing. During this time Mark’s younger brother Oliver has acquired his powers and wants to start fighting villains, so Mark steps up to teach him how to utilize them, but Oliver himself makes questionable decisions, as he admits that he is not human and not subject to their morality. A bright spot is his deepening relationship with Eve and that the former Teen Team sides with him as they too realize that Cecil can’t be trusted. And in a parallel story, Allen the Alien and Omni-Man team up to break free of the spaceship they are imprisoned in and a secret is revealed about the Viltrumites. But what is Angstrom Levy planning…
Artist Ryan Ottley has really hit his stride with the illustrations. I liked the costume change (although the yellow was iconic) so he wouldn’t clash with Oliver’s new costume, which paid homage to Robin’s (DC) costume. Loved the 16-panel grid showing Invincible’s look in other multi-universes!
I am now halfway through this series, and it has hit its stride- Mark is no longer a new superhero, instead, he is an established warrior grappling with moral decisions of whether it is right to kill a villain or not. Levy sends dozens of Invincibles from other dimensions to attack Mark and the entire globe so every single Image hero is called into action to combat them. Two important heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to fight them, and cities across the world are left in ruins with millions of innocent bystanders killed during these battles. If that’s not bad enough, the Viltrumite Empire sends one of their deadliest soldiers, Conquest, after Mark. Their fight was excessively long and bloody. In another part of the universe Allen and Omni-Man team together after their escape and make plans to prepare weapons and allies for the impending war with the Viltrumites who want to take over Earth and breed with them to strengthen their dwindling numbers. In the aftermath of the two earlier battles the little pink aliens from Mars are planning their own conquest- poor Earth is just always under siege!
The illustrations style shifted a bit in the last half of the book, as original artist Walker drew parts of the story, but I have to admit I much prefer Ottley’s work now. Walker’s Omni Man and Eve’s faces were especially different and not to my liking. This series pulls together so many different plot threads and themes- it can be a bit much. It can veer between gore, campy fun and poignant emotional moments in just a few pages or even panels, giving me whiplash sometimes. Nevertheless, this first half of the series has been a romp and I look forward to the last half.