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The Disappearance of Charlie Butters

Zach Worton. Conundrum, $15 (128p) ISBN 978-1-894994-92-7

An unpleasant wannabe death metal trio discovers an abandoned cabin in the woods that changes the life of one of its members in a tale that's all too familiar. After overusing homophobic references to establish how terrible the characters are, Worton (The Klondike) puts band member Travis on a quest to learn more about Charlie Butters, a mentally disturbed artist who left his wife and the city behind to hide out in the forest. Soon Travis quits the band and gets the girl, while the worst member of the trio is shown ranting and drunk. The art style has a strong similarity to Kevin Huizenga's but with looser, more exaggerated lines. The contrasts between Travis's life and Butters's escape are shown via flowing trees and branches clashing against the straight lines of the city. The central mystery offers intrigue, but Worton just doesn't bring much more to the well-worn table of "aimless man discovers himself" stories. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon

Satoshi Kon. Vertical, $24.95 (520p) ISBN 978-1941220245

The late Kon (1963-2010), a film director, is known for his award-winning existential animated films (Tokyo Godfathers; Paprika) that question the nature of reality and fantasy through female leads, but these 16 short comics—averaging 20–30 pages each—focus on the lives of young men in a straightforward, realistic storytelling style aimed at adults. From tales of baseball clubs and drinking groups to medieval war stories, most of the comics deal with high school and college students as they navigate social expectations, life milestones, and interactions with girls. Light-hearted innocence and ubiquitous hope infuse each charming story, and an impressive range of true-to-life characters keeps things fresh. Some American-style lettering conventions confuse speakers from time to time, but each successive story improves upon the last. The collection is far approachable than his previous book, Opus, in part because it's fully finished, but also because of the mastery of literary craft that shown in these tight-knit stories. (May)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Black River

Josh Simmons. . Fantagraphics, $18.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60699-833-5

A band of women struggles to survive a dangerous, dying world in an amazing depiction of bleakness that manipulates familiar post-apocalyptic tropes. Simmons (The Furry Trap) is no stranger to creating atmospheric horror, using dense black-and-white linework for vivid depictions of destroyed cities and people with nothing left to lose. Dead, angular trees, plain, grimy clothing, and eyes that range from burnt-out to sheer insanity mix with swirling, angry backgrounds, setting a scene better than any horror movie could. The women, who are physically and emotionally varied, literally walk through set pieces designed to show how hellish the world has become. This culminates in their capture by a male gang, and unfortunately, Simmons opts to go for the easy path of sexual violence as the traumatic capstone. Though it's handled tastefully—the worst of the situation is implied—this is an unnecessary storytelling shortcut in an otherwise brilliant story that shows where true horror lies: not in monsters, but in our own fear and desperation. (June)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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High Crimes

Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. Dark Horse, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1616554729

Following a disgraceful wipeout during competition, former Olympic snowboarder Zan Jensen makes a living as a guide on Mount Everest, with a sideline in retrieving and identifying the bodies of climbers who met their fate on the unforgiving mountain. When her elder partner unwittingly identifies the body of a long-missing and sought-after espionage operative, a clandestine group of "strange agents" is dispatched to recover the corpse and the dead spy's journal of volatile secrets, and eliminate anyone possessing knowledge of both. Utterly relentless, and unhindered by a conscience, the agents have Zan in their crosshairs, so she flees to the mountain. In this taut and riveting exercise in cinematic storytelling on the page, Sebela's tense script and Moustafa's clean, detailed art dramatize the action perfectly. This is must-read stuff that Hollywood would be advised to adapt as an alternative to the glut of superhero cinema. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gotham by Midnight, Vol. 1: We Do Not Sleep

Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith . DC Comics, $14.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-4012-5473-5

The X-Files meets Constantine inside Arkham Asylum in this offshoot from last year's Batman Eternal series. Jim Corrigan, aka the Spectre, is one of the not-quite-normal officers assigned by Commissioner Gordon to Gotham City PD's Detailed Case Task Force. The group is an off-the-books operation charged with fighting evil of a supernatural nature, including a number of child disappearances that point to sinister activities afoot in Gotham. Even Batman (who appears in cameos) can't handle this job. This collection doesn't stint on either the atmosphere or the action. The former is present in the gothic tonalities from various artists, including Templesmith, that darken every gloomy page. The latter is kicked swiftly into high gear once it becomes clear that Corrigan's Spectre side can't exactly be contained. Fawkes's careful assembly of his motley crew of misfits is slowed when they spend far too much time gaping in terror at the Lovecraftian evil exploding all around. With a more organic pace, this could develop into a worthwhile series. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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