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Oni Press

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THE ANNOTATED NORTHWEST PASSAGE: VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Scott Chantler

Canada, 1755. The British and French crowns each clam land that will eventually become our extra-large neighbor to the north. Tensions are high, but everyone seems to be able to co-exist, even the Cree who have to deal with the white men who have come to their lands. But hat changes when a Frenchman named Montglave decides the time has come to forcibly remove the British from the area. So as English legend Charles Lord prepares to retire from running Fort Newcastle on Hudson Bay and return to his roots as an adventurer, he’s about to have his plans derailed. There are prisoners left alive that he cannot leave behind, and one way or another, a huge amount of blood is going to be spilled.

The first three volumes of Scott Chantler’s excellent piece of historical fiction are collected here, and that alone would be enough for me to recommend the book. NORTHWEST PASSAGE is an excellent work, deftly combining fascinating characters, high-action, and historical inspiration. It also helps that Chantler is a very gifted artist, which is why he got the plum assignment of drawing Stephen Colbert’s TEK JANSEN. However, this book goes far beyond just collecting the first three episodes of this epic, and for that, it becomes a must-buy.

As the title offers, this is an annotated edition, and those annotations are very thorough. In fact, there are twenty-nine pages of remarks, notes on characters, discussions of layouts, historical facts, etc. to be found here. Throw in a gorgeous hardcover presentation (kudos must be given to Keith Wood, the designer) and a $20 price point, and this turns out to be one the best books to zip out of Oni’s Oregon offices in quite some time. Highly recommended.

Marc Mason

 

THE LAST CALL VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Vasilis Lolos

Sam and Alec are your typical teenaged metal heads. Alec has stolen his mother’s car so that the boys can go hell raising. Sam has stolen his father’s cigarettes. Together with a mix tape of dark metal tunes, they drive off into the midnight hour looking for good times. But when the car breaks down, the boys find themselves in the middle of some sort of phenomenon that sends them to a train unlike any on Earth. It’s full of bizarre creatures, including a talking shadow, a woman with multiple mouths and sets of teeth, and a porter bent on killing anyone caught without a ticket… especially the two human boys. But things begin truly taking a bad turn once a series of murders begins, and Sam and Alec are separated… in more ways than either could imagine.

There’s so much about this book that really works. The visual design of the train and its inhabitants really looks terrific. Lolos’ other series, PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND, has been a huge disappointment to me; his human characters, to a person, look like they need a telethon to fix whatever has left them looking that way. But here, that works to Lolos’ advantage. They fit in to the story’s scenario perfectly. The mystery elements are also put together nicely, setting up a huge picture for the reader. The characters themselves also satisfy nicely, and they add to the intrigue and enjoyment.

However, some elements don’t quite play. Alec isn’t named until we’re way too far into the story. And to play fair with the reader, we need at least some sort of hint about what the train really is or how it works. But absolutely no answers are forthcoming in that area; instead, more questions are added, particularly at the end of this volume. I don’t want to see something this interesting run into a scenario like we have with LOST, for instance.

Still, this is the best work we’ve seen from Lolos yet, and I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here. Should be quite a ride.

Marc Mason

BLACK METAL VOL.1
Written by Rick Spears and Drawn by Chuck BB

Shawn and Sam Stronghold are your classic, misfit twins. They’ve been bouncing from foster home to foster home and school to school, their allegiance to dark heavy metal casting them as outsiders wherever they’ve gone. Everywhere, that is, except their current home with the very kind and understanding lady they refer to as “The Woman.” But their lives take a wild turn one day when they listen to the debut album of a band called Frost Axe. They listen to its tale of a war in Hell and a magic sword, and then they play it backwards… which summons a demon that informs them that they are the reincarnation of one of those demons, and that the sword is theirs. As is a mission to reclaim part of the underworld for themselves.

BLACK METAL is something of a “Bill and Ted” for this generation, though one with a darker tint to its heart. While the boys have a very tough and dangerous journey ahead of them, they also take along the requisite female love interest and The Woman’s baby son. It actually plays as somewhat tonally inconsistent, as the stakes are very high, but you never quite take them as seriously as you should, because you never quite believe that Spears is going to let the danger destroy the baby boy.

Still, the book is a fun bit of entertainment. The characters are amusing, the concepts are slyly structured… and there’s obviously a sequel on the way. There’s nothing deep about it, but BLACK METAL is a solid way to shut it down and enjoy a decent read for a while.

Marc Mason

THE DAMNED VOL.1
Written by Cullen Bunn and Drawn by Brian Hurtt

Eddie is not a good guy. In fact, he’d barely qualify as anything but self-interested. But in this alternate reality, he’s an amazing quantity. What’s so different about this world? It’s Prohibition Era, but instead of the local gangs being run by folks like Capone, the world’s crime syndicates are mostly run by honest-to-God demons. And what makes Eddie so special? He’s been saddled with a curse. Every time he dies, it isn’t for long- as soon as a living person touches his body, they take his place in the great dirt nap, and Eddie comes back to life. You can see how demons might make use of someone with that talent. In fact, as the two biggest demon gangs approach a truce, Eddie is brought back to be of service once more. A third party is trying to derail the détente, and now Eddie must navigate the world of backrooms, barflies, and femme fatales again, with the promise of a final death within his grasp.

I reviewed issue one here a long time ago, and it’s nice to see how the story played itself out. Bunn and Hurtt manage to deliver a story worthy of its opening chapter, keeping the story moving along at a quick pace, introducing fun and interesting characters that fill the standard genre roles, and offering solid action and intrigue with the central mystery. THE DAMNED is good entertainment, and the way the duo meld two wildly different sets of genre tropes is surprising and elegant. They really make you believe in their world.

The potential for a sequel lingers after the final pages, but I’d almost hate to see it. Everything wraps in very tidy fashion, and I felt very satisfied. It’d take something very special to top this effort.

Marc Mason

BORROWED TIME VOL.1-2
Written by Neil Shaffer and Drawn by Joe Infurnari

Taylor Devlin is a journalist leading a pretty happy existence. He’s got a girlfriend he loves, gets to travel… not too much to complain about. But then he goes off on his newest assignment and it all goes south. Devlin hops a freighter and sails through the Bermuda Triangle for a story meant to discuss and perhaps debunk the myth surrounding the area. Unfortunately, after a freak storm, he discovers a fate that’s all too real: he’s been shunted “sideways”, just out of synch with his reality and into a parallel one. The new reality is full of people displaced in exactly the same manner, and they all tell him the same thing: there’s no way to get back to his “world” and that he’ll get used to the new place in time. But he doesn’t give up so easily… does he?

BORROWED TIME smartly plays on a number of fears that we all experience, particularly in the post-9/11 world. Loss of home. Loss of innocence. Loss of love. Displacement. Adjustment. The fear of going forward when your life has crumbled around you. And smartly, Shaffer’s script doesn’t ignore Taylor’s girlfriend left behind- she’s going through much of the same things, adding to the pathos of the story.

These two volumes draw you in nicely, giving you an emotional stake in the characters and their fate. Devlin reacts much the same way you’d assume you would as well: with a sense of anger, frustration, and refusal to accept the circumstances now ahead of him. Yet he is also smart enough not to push himself into any corners he can’t escape from: there is a nagging sense in his head that he must adapt and survive, as that may be the only strand of hope he has left for his life in either world.

Well-written and sharply drawn, BORROWED TIME is a very solid effort. I don’t know how many volumes remain to finish the story, but I’ll be reading.

Marc Mason


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