good this week

silver surfer #1 : yee haw, a surfer book by mike allred! a match made in celestial heaven here, as allred and writer dan slott start off on the new adventures of the sentinel of the spaceways. matching cosmic goodness with homey, human elements, allred is smack dab in his wheelhouse here, and i couldn’t be happier to go along for the ride.

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star slammers #1 : walter simonson’s bad to the bone space opera gets rolled out for the 21st century. the art & storytelling are prime simonson. ’nuff said.

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metabarons genesis: castaka : more metabarons mythos in a handsome slip-cased hardcover.

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the adventures of nilson groundthumper and hermy : a delightful forerunner to stan sakai’s beloved USAGI YOJIMBO. great cartooning.

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the glorkian warrior delivers a pizza : james kochalka slings pies.

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sandman overture #2 : better late than never? oh yes. lush, gorgeous stuff.

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–chris stevens

DELUSIONAL by Farel Dalrymple

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Nothing that Farel Dalrymple has ever done feels complete. From the oddball sci-fi drama of OMEGA THE UNKNOWN to the sweet-hearted downbeat whimsy of POP GUN WAR to the inverted stream-of-consciousness high fantasy of IT WILL ALL HURT, it all seems like a glimpse, a skim across the surface. Beneath the warmly inviting illustration style, the raw childlike whimsy tempered by flawless internal storytelling rhythms, each of these books contains undepicted depths and a spectacularly detailed private universe. Farel’s worlds are icebergs, and the comics themselves are just the bit that juts out of the water, the part that sailors can see.

One of his constant visual motifs is connection – his settings tend to crawl with plugs, pipes, wires, tunnels, speakers, drains, cables. And every portal – every manhole, every powerline, every side-door and burrow and off ramp, these conduits and byzantine pathways with which his work is compulsively filled – leads somewhere into some new story, some undiscovered country: a dirty joke, a harrowing secret, a hidden community, another world containing rituals and hieroglyphs and pocket dimensions of its own. Like in a Robert Altman movie or an Thomas Pynchon novel, it’s sometimes hard to follow the central narrative – your attention is always running off in seven directions, chasing some glimmer of questionable magic that flickers across the page and flits out of view.

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DELUSIONAL, then, while theoretically a book of ancillary material, the bits & bobs of a career’s worth of restlessly inventive cartooning, seems to me to be the genuine article, the thing itself – what we talk about when we talk about Farel Dalrymple. It’s his back streets and back pages – his messy, teeming imagination, given outlet over time in sketches and illustrations and strips. The margins, the gutters between the panels – that’s where Farel really lives. And while we can’t really go there with him, we can chart his progress and receive his reports. We can eagerly await his postcards from the edge, which sometimes arrive in art books like this.

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As anyone who follows this site is probably aware, whatever minor success Locust Moon has had is largely due to Farel, who has been a friend and collaborator since day one. From his gorgeous ONCE UPON A TIME MACHINE cover to his sketchbook pages in QUARTER MOON to his back cover blurb in Rob Woods’ 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION, he has been involved in some capacity in every single book we have ever produced. He is a blood brother and feels like as much a part of Locust Moon as my own partners.

When I think of Farel, I always think of the brutally hot Philadelphia summer of 2011, and the first book ever published by Locust Moon. Farel was visiting from Portland, and we (Farel, Chris Stevens, Rob Woods, Jimmy Comey and myself) spent two weeks locked in a huddle in our failing comic shop with its broken AC, blissfully undisturbed by our as-yet-nonexistent customer base, working til all hours of the night on what we creatively entitled THE LOCUST MOON COMIC, a purposeless but joyful tribute to the imaginations of two little girls.

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To be camped out with these brilliant, passionate people breaking down stories, thumbnailing pages, watching a 22 page comic come together before our very eyes – it was not my first experience making comics, but it was the first time I realized that the only way to do it properly was to throw yourself at it, body and soul. It was my first great high – that incandescent thing that addicts always talk about – and I’ve been chasing it ever since.

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Ever since those nights watching Farel blearily sling watercolors on the couch until 6am, I have been constantly inspired by the full investment with which he approaches his work – giving himself to it completely, refusing to compromise on his bizarre, brilliant vision, sometimes to the detriment of his career, but always to the benefit of his readers and friends. He’s never tried to bring his enormous skills to the marketplace – he’s just tried to find ways to get paid for his inscrutable impulses. The mountain will come to Mohammed. And he’s found an audience that will follow him, marching to the off-beat rhythms of his weird old drum, down alleyways and obscure channels, hoping to trace every wire to its mysterious but self-sustaining power source, searching to see where it all leads.

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DELUSIONAL is a guided tour of this strange & extraordinary imaginative machinery, and we are privileged to watch it work and worry over more than a decade, knotting and unknotting, stringing and contorting itself along ideas and tensions that are never resolved, but return in new forms, speaking with new voices, adapting, vanishing and reappearing down those outlets and burrows that connect page after page. It sometimes reads as compulsion, not intention: there’s an imbalance – too much is going on in this brain and spirit, and it needs release. Farel’s characters aren’t sock puppets that he uses to tell stories, they’re not slotted into plot points – they’re organic, evolving creatures, and sometimes they need to be taken out for some light and air.

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And that, maybe, is the delusion of the title – Farel thinks these people are real. Orson & Smith, Barch & Belf, Almendra Clementine, the Regular – Hollis the pudgy sad-sack superhero, Percival the bespectacled goldfish, Emily the cool-tempered rocker – the space-suited kids with detachable hands, the robotic mice and virtual reality cats, the dorks in helmets, the barbarians with broadaxes, the astronauts in trouble – the creeping Shadowsmen that seem to slither their way into story after story – these and so many others keep returning, swimming into view, weaving in and out of the pages of this book freely, without the strictures of master narrative to pin them in place, changing forms, swapping personalities, appearing in various versions. There is no playing-pretend in these comics about flying fish and talking rats – there is just giving voice to these singular characters and their urgent, muddled messages.

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The sensitivity of this exploration and cartography, the absolute obedience to the internal voices and their various ways of expressing themselves, the willingness to follow rather than lead – that’s the true negative capability required of great artists. Above all, Farel listens, watches, thinks – lets the wind blow through him.

And I’ll be damned if this snazzy little casebound hardcover – appealingly designed by Chris Pitzer with subtly shifting colored paper and a vibrant sky-blue cover – this collection of by-definition non-essential material might not be the best place yet to see Farel’s remarkable imagination at work, absorbing everything, observing itself, processing the world into strange, moving comics and drawings.

Or, as Farel more simply puts it in his detailed, conversational index, “Most of the stuff in this book is stuff that came up out of my own brain.”

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-Josh O’Neill

good this week

stray bullets killers #1 & stray bullets uber alles edition: back with a bang, david lapham’s ‘lost’ masterpiece returns this week with an ‘uber’ edition that collects the original series, an issue that wraps up the original run, and this brand new series. lapham crafts crime stories that read like slice of life tales from the suburbs. he’s a pretty flawless storyteller, and anyone who hasn’t checked out the world he created in STRAY BULLETS is urged to get into it.

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beasts of burden hunters & gatherers : this book is an instant smile whenever it comes out. evan dorkin’s wit and characterizations perfectly inform the watercolor world of animal paranormals that jill thompson paints. down to the distinctive lettering of jason arthur, all the details are in place to immerse you into this charming, sometimes scary world tailor-made for anyone who loves animals or hellboy.

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secret avengers #1 : this reads and looks like an outtake from HAWKEYE & FRIENDS. that’s a good thing. bang-up job establishing the team and tone here by ales kot and michael walsh.

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the fox #5 : haspiel & company go out with a bang, wrapping up the initial arc with all the whimsy, winks, and cartoony punch the series promised. lots of good character beats here that make me look fondly toward the next, just-announced run.

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cannon by wallace wood : the master does comic strips like no one else before or after. a pristine collection of wood’s military journal strips produced as entertainment for those soldiers overseas during the height of the cold war. so, so good.

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east of west #10 : onwards with one of the best monthly series in years.

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manifest destiny #5 : continually entertaining. a nice change of pace book.

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ff volume 2 tpb : wrapping up matt fraction & mike allred’s run on one of the best things to come out of MARVEL NOW.

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–chris stevens

good this week

moon knight #1 : warren ellis steps in with a fresh take on a difficult character, and declan shalvey takes his game to a new level with killer pacing, characterizations, and design. and a swanky new look for our crazy hero.

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turok #2 : this is an inventive new spin on a classic character, with sensitive, imaginative writing from greg pak and fine art from mirko colak.

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batman/superman annual #1 : a straight forward superhero romp graced by the exquisite art of jae lee and june chung.

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uncanny x-men #18 : marco rudy, fresh off a bang up stint on marvel knights spider-man, weaves and winds through this issue with some of the most interesting layouts in a long time.

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afterlife with archie #4 : a powerful issue that hits you with a punch. this book is just getting better, somehow.

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jupiter’s legacy #4 : the best issue of this series so far, with some enjoyable character moments and peak frank quitely art.

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she hulk #2 : the first issue was no fluke. charles soule and javier pulido (and THE PRIVATE EYE’s muntsa vicente!) are on to something special here.

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starlight #1 : i hope this is the breakout book goran parlov so richly deserves. this is a gorgeous comic with impeccable design and storytelling on parlov’s part, and mark millar has a fun concept lined up.

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wolverine and the x-men #1 : summer school kicks off at the jean grey school, and the kids are in good hands with jason latour, who slides right into jason aaron’s place with enough of his own voice to make things feel fresh, and mahmud asrar, who’s come a long way from his digital webbing days.

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velvet #4 : top-notch spy thriller from brubaker and epting. this series is really finding its groove.

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trillium #7 : we’re nearing the end of this fantastic mini series.

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–chris stevens

The LOCUST MOON TOP 40: February 2014

40. UNDERTOW

With an intriguing premise from Steve Orlando and moody, expressive artwork from Artyom Trakhanov, we can’t wait to see where this new Image title takes us.

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39. SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN

Following Hawkeye’s mix of humor, character-driven realism, and gleeful formal experimentation, SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN has quietly become one of Marvel’s very best books. Don’t let the secret out, but it almost seems like somebody over at the House of Ideas got it in their head that superhero comics are supposed to be fun…

38. This Shirt

Yeah, what if??

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37. THE BUS

We detect some of the spirit of Winsor McCay in Paul Kirchner’s quietly masterful surrealist comic strip.

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36. B + F

We were pleased to play host to Greg Benton and his huge, beautiful nightmare of a graphic novel. Greg is one of our favorite cartoonists and one of comics’ most righteous dudes, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.

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35. INSECT BATH

True to its title, this new alt-zine style anthology series feels like a submersion in the creepy, underfoot world.

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34. SPRING TRAINING

Baseball beckons, and with it a world made new.

Continue reading

good this week

deadly class #2 : a strong issue that cements my hopes for this series. we get into the whole school aspect of things, and it’s a lot of fun meeting the various cliques. wes craig kills every aspect of the art–design, character, layout.

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hawkeye #15 : it feels like things are coming to a head for clint and his building. any time david aja drops in to draw an issue it elevates an already good book. this run is going to be an evergreen.

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batman/superman #9 : JAE LEE.

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elephantmen #54 : a killer cliffhanger for one of the very best serial reads there is.

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black science #4 : after a couple of issues that, while still excellent, felt like they were racing to keep up with the explosive debut issue, this feels like it’s leading us out of the fire and into the frying pan.

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sock monkey treasury : a gorgeous new collection of one of the more idiosyncratic cartoonist’s most accessible work.

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wolverine and the x-men #42 : jason aaron, nick bradshaw, chris bachalo and company wrap up their run on what has been one of the most fun books of the last few years. and they do it in style, with a touching, chuckling read that feels just right.

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miracleman #3 : you can argue with the way marvel has rolled this out, but you can’t argue with the material. this issue leads us into the truly masterful work alan moore does the rest of the way.

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–chris stevens

memory lane

i’ve got a couple of boxes of books from my personal collection here at the shop, and i went through them for the first time in ages today.  these books still hold such wonder for me. stuff like…

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on the surface it’s just about the goofiest book ever, but i must have read this 500 times. there’s the great paul smith cover and a script from j.m. dematteis that felt so real and relatable to my 8 or 9 year old self.

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when i was a kid i felt like the x-men was my own private soap opera, and issues like this one were a big reason why.

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these issues of gi joe that really built the snake-eyes/storm shadow relationship were so filled with mystery and excitement. to this day two of the coolest costume designs in comics.

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batman & Ethe outsiders was probably my favorite super hero book outside of x-men when i was a little kid. frank miller, doing mike barr a favor i’m guessing, set the tone here with a great cover, and inside we get a classic old school confrontation between the team and a group of government-led goons called, yes, the force of july. glorious stuff.

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i could probably write a 1000 words on how much i loved, and still love, the two gumby books arthur adams did in the 80’s. here arthur employs a slightly less ornate style than usual for him at the time, and the result is a delightfully pure cartoony look. even the little odds & ends arthur drew here–a bio pic of him as a scarecrow, a pin-up of gumby & pokey riding a dinosaur–are fantastic. these should be reprinted in a proper edition, not the sad shit show of a book like the digest version that came out a few years back.

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practically forgotten today, atari force was a better book than it had any right to be. 30 years later it holds up as a fine read, particularly the first dozen or so issues penciled by the great jose luis garcia lopez. this issue, filled with all kinds of interesting critters, was a favorite.

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my love of this little guy is well known amongst my pals. true story: my mom’s dad was an alcoholic ww2 vet who i saw in alternatingly sweet and scary visits. one of the last times i saw him before his suicide i stole $5 off his dresser drawer top. i bought this comic with it.

–chris stevens

good this week

the white suits #1 : this is a down and dirty crime book, with an intriguing high concept, and that’s all well & good. what sets this book apart though is the work of toby cypress. his hyperkinetic lines flow like muhammad ali punches in his prime.

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we’re pleased as punch to have toby at the shop, come get in on this runaway train of a book.

https://www.facebook.com/events/508391562607039/

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zero volume #1 : ales kot’s CHANGES, the first work i read from him, was a hot mess, and i wouldn’t have guessed the same writer would turn around in under a year and produce this lean, mean, absolutely tight & intelligent spyworld masterpiece. here’s to being surprised.

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alex + ada #4 : this issue gets us to the beginning of what i imagine will be the meat of the story. if you haven’t checked this book out you’re missing a surprisingly sweet and sophisticated love story.

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and that’s it this week, folks. UPS delivered the goods way late and i only had time to read a handful of books. these are the ones that stood out. my apologies to anyone i might have missed.

–chris stevens

LOCKE & KEY by Hill & Rodriguez

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I was worried, for a while there, that LOCKE & KEY had lost its way. The incredibly taut character drama with its ingeniously parceled out bits of mystery and revelation that kept us hungry, baffled and grasping had given way to some soap-opera plot lines and fun but extraneous formal experiments. Take its much-lauded CALVIN & HOBBES issue, for instance — while it was in and of itself a fine & charming piece of comic-craft, it seemed to have no legitimate reason for being. It didn’t serve the plot, or underline any of the larger themes of the story. It didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, and it could have been easily cut out with no real impact on the larger picture. It seemed to exist only because its authors wanted to pay tribute to Bill Watterson — a noble cause, to be certain, but also a sure sign of the diminishing returns of a series that used to be perhaps the most riveting, magnetic thing on the stands.

And now that they’ve proven me wrong, sticking a flawless landing with neither a bow nor flourish, I find myself wishing they had done a little more dicking around, just so I could have stayed in the beautiful, frightening, richly layered and realized world that they created for a little while longer.

LOCKE & KEY is a horror series from IDW with an elegantly simple if somewhat cliched premise: after the shocking & unexpected murder of Adrian Locke, his survivors — grieving wife Nina, surly eldest son Tyler, sensitive daughter Kinsey and six-year-old dynamo Bode — return to live in Keyhouse, the creepy old New England family manse. There’s a dark presence in the spooky manor, some spectral thing that wishes them harm. Their only weapons are the mysterious keys that they keep finding, which grant their users terrible & wondrous powers, with unpredictable consequences.

I am trying to keep all of this vague for the benefit of new readers, but there is one moment in particular when I fell in love with this book, when I realized that it was much more than merely the well-wrought horror series I had taken it for, and to describe it requires a minor spoiler: the Locke children discover a key that opens up the tops of people’s heads. But what you find inside isn’t a mass of grey tissue — it’s their thoughts, visually depicted. A nightmare might be a demon, or a mad dog. Hope, to echo Emily Dickinson, might literally be a thing with feathers.

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It takes an artist of the caliber of Gabriel Rodriguez to take a concept this preposterous and clever and make it work on the page. He has an enormous capacity for abstraction, for drawing demons in the bubbling thousand-eyed darkness of a Lovecraftian void, but he restrains himself admirably. His greatest strength is the matter-of-factness that sells the wild magic of Joe Hill’s story, the kids who grow to 100 feet tall and pop their skulls open, the shadows that grasp and bite. He establishes a rock-solid cinematic style, and finds just as much magic in the facial expressions of his characters as he does in the special effects of the keys. He repeatedly uses one of my least favorite tropes of modern comics: the static shot that is repeated, panel after panel, to create the beats of a film sequence. Usually it just seems lazy on behalf of artist and writer — the artist only has to draw one background, and the writer can think like a scriptwriter instead of engaging with his chosen medium. But in the hands of Rodriguez, it becomes a potent tool — it allows us to see the subtly variations of expression, to watch these richly layered characters while their faces move and they give themselves away.

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And that, really, is what makes LOCKE & KEY such a profoundly wonderful comic: its rich, generous humanity, its subtle & empathic treatment of its characters. Though the plot is executed with the ruthless, hypnotic efficiency of a John Grisham pot-boiler, the characters are treated with the sensitivity and psychological depth of a literary novel. Nina, for instance, is an alcoholic who we often find drunk and self-pitying when the horrors come for her children. That the book finds this a forgivably tragic character flaw, that your heart breaks for Nina as you watch her try and fail to get her shit together, that you understand the bottomlessness of the grief that has broken her and rendered her useless to the people that need her most, speaks to the huge hearts of the storytellers at work here.

Which I think is why you just want to stay in this world a little while longer, which is not something you normally say about a horror story. In its essence, this comic is about learning forgiveness, for yourself and others. It denies none of the darkness, the selfishness and hard-heartedness and grief of its characters, but it finds ways to redeem them all. The story itself is pure pulp, but the characters are shaded & complex, good souls shrouded in shadow and cold hearts woken by love. It portrays a world as contradictory, as hopeful and as fallen as the one we live in. For all the talk of demons and dark magic, nothing in LOCKE & KEY is black & white.

locke play– Josh O’Neill

 

good this week

the mercenary sea #1 : this throwback adventure book is all high seas and searches for lost islands. toss in a nod to king kong and some animation cel style art that makes great use of blacks and i’m on-board for the next issue.

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she-hulk #1 : this book surprised me. it has a kinda HAWKEYE feel, and that’s a good thing. if they can keep it up we’ve got a good book here.

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the fuse #1 : a cop show set in space, this book sets up its two main characters in a way that makes the veteran/rookie pairing that’s a staple of this kind of thing feel fresh. let’s see where it goes.

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prophet volume #3 : brandon graham and company continue their trippy journey through the prophetverse, and this volume is all decked out in a brand new cover from farel dalrymple.

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invisibles deluxe edition volume #1 : one of the all time great series gets the hardcover treatment. grant morrison’s wildly imaginative counterculture spy saga drips with blood, intelligence, and heart. highly recommended.

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spongebob comics #29 : sandy the squirrel takes center stage. spongebob and squirrels. yee haw!

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–chris stevens