Dark Horse Comics

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Issues #5&6: Bride of Blood

grindhouse5-1

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight issues #5 & 6 – Bride of Blood

Writer: Alex de Campi
Artist: Federica Manfredi
Colours: Dorotea Gizzi
Cover artists: Francesco Francavilla (5) & Dan Panosian (6)

The third story in the Doors Open at Midnight series is much different in tone and style of the first two. There is very little fun in any of these pages. Instead of campy gore and witty dialogue, “Bride of Blood” is gritty and almost painful to read.

“Bride of Blood” styles itself as a sort of rape and revenge comic styled after movies like I Spit on Your Grave (Day of the Woman) and Last House on the Left. Just like those films, this is hardly something to enjoy. But this comic puts its own distinct twist on the story: the victim/heroine is Branwyn, a girl who is seeking her revenge, but with sword and chainmail.

Issue 5 sets the story off in a tragic way. Branwyn is betrothed to the Lord Callyreath, who’s spine is weaker than his sword skills. As the wedding begins, the guests and family are slaughtered by the wild reavers. Branwyn is raped and her tongue is cut out, leaving her for dead. She spends her days grieving and recovering up to the burial for her brother. While many thinks she should be grieving, the girl has only revenge on her mind. She steals her late-brother’s armour and takes matters into her own hands.

The following issue switches to the perspective of Lord Callyreath. Readers learn of his terrible plans. All along he had orchestrated a plan to end the lives of Branwyn’s family in order to give himself total control over the lands in the north that she would inherit.

This part was quite interesting because the readers could grow to despise the Lord. But they could also enjoy the full amount of terror he goes through as Branwyn seeks her revenge. It would have been more fun to include more of her story and plot, but it still works to see her as some sort of ghostly figure.

To be completely frank, I don’t know if I would recommend this story as much as the first two. The artwork on the covers got me really excited to read these, but I found it really tough to read. I was never a huge fan of rape/revenge films because they are difficult to handle for me personally.

Out of the entire Grindhouse series, this is probably the weakest title. The story doesn’t always add up completely (like bringing a certain character who was totally dead in issue 5!). But the art is quite nice in these two issues, and the rest of the series has been quite fun so far that it would be a shame to give up without reading the final story, “Flesh Feast of Devil Doll.”

grindhouse5-2

Archie vs Predator issue #1

archie1-1

Archie vs Predator Issue 1 of 4

Script: Alex de Campi
Pencils: Fernando Ruiz
Inks: Rich Kolsowski
Colours: Jason Millet

“Beach games… Party games…. The most dangerous game!”

There are many unlikely pairings that go well together: grilled cheese and jam, Archie and the Predator? Indeed.

Archie and his high school pals have been through a lot of make-overs in the past decade under the rule of Dark Horse. Readers have traveled the afterlife with Archie and even witnessed his death. But this journey may be a little different than the others. This time the group must evade the predator.

The first issues opens with the usual cast of characters gathered outside Riverdale High discussing their plans for spring break. Tubing and the outlet mall are so over done. But before anyone can say “camping” Jughead wins a luxury beach vacation, courtesy of Tayto-Chips.

The gang sets off together to Los Perdidos Resort. As soon as they land, Veronica begins to whine about being bored, clearly unaware of the title for the comic. That night everyone spots what they believe is a shooting star, but is actually an extraterrestrial hunter landing his spaceship. The kids are way too distracted by waffles and popularity fashion shows to realise that they are likely to be the next target for the teeth-face fiend.

Cheryl and Jason aren’t too far away as they are cruising on their own yacht (that cool and still no friends). They stay close enough to make sure they can stir up enough trouble.

And trouble they get.

Cheryl makes sure Betty wins the fashion show, ruining Veronica’s bet at being voted Best Dressed for the yearbook. A girl fight ensues, ending in move of Veronica’s fist to Betty’s nose. The blonde runs off in tears and a broken heart (over Archie. Again. Of course). She comes across a cave that was made to be a shrine for the jaguar goddess. Unknown to her, a dagger from the shrine gets stuck in her skirt.

The kids have enough and head back to Riverdale where they decide home is always the best place to be. But Veronica’s luggage is certainly a lot heavier on the trip home.

Archie vs Predator plays on several themes. In many ways, the comic evokes a sort of 80s slasher vibe. The audience catches a glimpse at the alien, but the teenagers continue on blissfully unaware of the danger lurking around them. Like the 1987 movie, the teens move around the jungle not knowing they are being stalked by an invisible alien with thermal imaging.

Alex di Campi (Grindhouse) once again captures the a distinct style with her writing. She keeps the dialogue silly and light while letting the art take on an increasingly tense mood. The dynamic between the characters is over-the-top silly. Everything from the fashion show to the wishing on a star/spaceship is so ridiculous, but if the Predator has anything to do with it, things won’t stay that happy for long.

There’s definitely a healthy string of ‘vs’ movies: Alien vs Predator and Freddy vs Jason being the prime examples. Archie vs Predator is different in a few ways. The films make a level playing field. In this comic, it seems a small chance that all the kids will make it out alive. This target seems almost laughably easy for the Predator.

The hunter has just arrived in Riverdale with Archie and his friends blissfully unaware. Can they keep their wits about and hormones under control to survive?

archie1-2

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight issues #3 & 4: Prison Ship Antares

grindhouseissue3-1

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Issues #2 & 3 – Prison Ship Antares

Script: Alex De Campi
Art: Simon Fraser
Colors: Simon Fraser & Victoria Lau
Cover art: Francesco Francavilla

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight first brought alien bee-women to a suburban desert town, now in the second story, “Prison Ship Antares,” women prisoners are sent into space as explorers. The second story in the series is not connected to the first two issues, but it still oozes that shocking grindhouse style.

This particular entry evokes the style of 70s exploitation films like Women in Cages and The Big Doll House – but this story is in space. Alex De Campi has really made a strange creation this time ’round; it’s full of the same kind of colour characters that those movies were built on.

As in many of the “women in prison” films, the comic is filled with dire situations – and plenty of women who are ready to overcome them. De Campi proves her point that society would rather hide away its criminals than face the realities of society. So why not send prisoners off into space?

“Where could we find brave men willing to spend the rest of their lives traversing the cold vacuum of space? Men willing to leave behind bright futures on Earth for the tedium and danger of a cramped spaceship?” 

Some time in the distant future, the spacecraft Antares is headed to the nearest earth-like planet. It is nearly 20 years of travel away – not exactly a trip many would sign up their lives for. So the women prisoners of earth are sent out instead. Unfortunately for the girls, their warden is Kalinka. She’s a brutal bitch who is hellbent on ‘purifying’ the women aboard. And this little plan doesn’t include Bible study.

As the treatment begins to worsen on Antares, it’s up to the prisoners to set aside their differences and ban together to take command of their own lives. Fraser’s panels are fantastic. They’re full of power. During the climax of the story, he makes all the action count.

“Prison Ship” is probably stronger than “Bee Vixens” story wise. The big-budget idea is really fun. The writing is really quick-witted. Although the scenes can be a bit crass, it doesn’t linger too long to feel uncomfortable or forced. That being said, there isn’t any single character in either issue here who is cooler than Officer Garcia. Like “Bee Vixens,” though, this won’t be a story for everyone.

Lady Killer issue #4 review

ladykiller4

Lady Killer Issue #4

Story by: Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Art by: Joëlle Jones
Colours by: Laura Allred

Last time readers saw Josie, she was in a bit of a bind. Not hitting her last target finally put her in big trouble with the big boss – and the price is not just a slap on the wrist. More a ‘bullet in your head’ type. Josie and Peck are not particularly on friendly terms anymore. With a hit on her, Josie is on the run from her former coworker, and the resulting car chases are gripping.

This issue also introduces an important new character, Ruby. She’s as much of a sultry badass as Josie is. Without giving too much away, their new partnership promises to be a really great one. What is done really well in this issue, is the really interesting juxtaposition between the blatant mid-century misogyny and the pure strength of character of these two women. That’s what helps really push this comic to a different place. Jones and Rich give their message, but it never feels preachy – it only enhances the colour and story of each character.

The tone is certainly different than the previous three installments. It’s darker, more of a revenge plot, but it definitely hasn’t forgotten about the thrills. There was a bit less dialogue (and thus less quips, unfortunately) than usual, but this was definitely the most fun issue to look at. Jones’ artwork, as always, was a massive pleasure to enjoy. The action moves quickly and it’s difficult to turn the pages fast enough.

Next month’s issue #5 is the last, and it has definitely gone by way too fast. The story line was probably a bit too much to have in just five quick issues. Hopefully this won’t be the last anyone sees of Josie because this story has been a whole lot of fun. The concluding issue can’t come soon enough.

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Issue #1: Bee Vixens from Mars

beevixens1-2

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Issue #1 – Bee Vixens from Mars

Script: Alex De Campi
Art: Chris Peterson 
Colors: Nolan Woodard
Cover art: Francesco Francavilla

This weekend Dark Horse had a “women in comics” sale where women-created or women-centric comics were all 99 cents. So of course I went mad and bought the entire series of Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight. I’ve long been a fan of the gruesome and gory. And what this first issue delivers is definitely gruesome. The entire series is eight-issues long, split into several different stories arcs.

The first issue opens with a series of…voluptuous drawings by Chris Peterson. The honey and bee motif is definitely strong throughout the panels. It’s over the top and dripping with sensuality.

The story follows police officers Jimmy and his eye-patch wearing, motorcycle-riding partner Garcia as they investigate a dead body they found in a car by the road. The boy’s body is torn apart by something, or rather, someone and not much of him is left other than some suspicious lipstick marks. While investigating the scene, Jimmy is attacked by what appears to be a giant bee-woman. Although he survives the attack, Jimmy goes missing later that night and neither his wife or partner know where he’s gone.

grindhouseissue1-1

There are police protocols to be followed, but Garcia isn’t a woman to sit around and wait. Garcia decides to take matters into her own hands, taking the hive out herself, but will she survive the wrath of the killer bees?

Grindhouse theatres usually showed exploitation films, and in the 70s that often meant slasher films. That is what this Dark Horse series captures, and with plenty of style. It feels like an old school horror film with explicit yet cool visuals. This is a niche comic that will likely only appeal to fans of the genre (or those at least curious about B-moves).

Garcia is definitely a cool character, and this is a great first book when it comes to suspense – not much is given away as to the villain yet but there are not-too-subtle hints being dropped about what’s going in the hive. But thankfully this is just a short-form horror comic because there isn’t enough to love to keep it going beyond four issues. If possible, get Officer Garcia her own comic – now. Because eye-patches and motorcycles are cool.

The story is not terribly cutting edge, but it’s definitely fun for those who really dig this specific style. A word of warning: not to be picked up by the faint of heart.

Lady Killer Issue #3 review

IMG_0683

Lady Killer Issue #3

Story by: Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Art by: Joëlle Jones
Colours by: Laura Allred

In issue #3, it seems as though Josie’s biggest foe just might be her mother-in-law, the always-terrifying Mother Shuller. She’s the one onto Josie’s other life – if she can really make out what is really happening. At a party at the Shuller home, the two come head to head, and it feels like a lot of what is going on in Josie’s life is about to come undone.

One thing that Jones really excels at (and she certainly excels at a lot), is making Josie stand out. She’s the sole focus of several busy scenes in both issue 2 and 3. No matter how interesting and beautifully detailed the rest of the panel is, all that matters is Josie. The story is as compelling as always, but the art is so spectacular and interesting it’s often the art that one goes back to study instead of the story. The opening party scene is still filled with that excellent dark humor that flits in and out of every issue (“I didn’t say you looked bad, Susan. All I said was that yellow is a difficult color to pull off.”).

IMG_0684

 

Outside of the party, Josie is being closely watched by her boss Mr Stenholm and fellow hitman Peck. The two men are discussing the future of the operative. And by the sounds of it, it isn’t a future where she grow old or watches her children graduate. It’s an interesting discussion to read as it is a sound reminder of how little women had a say in their lives in the early 60s. Josie, as strong of a heroine as she is, is also a pawn for the people she works for. She is a liability instead of a human. It’s still a man’s world and she’s just killing in it.

Things really aren’t going well for Josie. This issue’s attack scene is heart-breaking in many ways (without giving too much away). Her life may be unraveling, but as the story ends there’s one hell of a literal cliff hanger. This is definitely the most exciting and well-developed of the series so far. The writers really got into the psyche of Josie, creating a real page-turner.

The Lady Killer series has been overwhelmingly popular. Both issues one and two have already had second (and already sold out) printings. Jones and Rich have really nailed something on the head with their special protagonist. The two have already said the story was thought out well in advance, but hopefully that leaves the promise of future issues. This is a story that is meant to be picked up and read, and certainly not forgotten about.

Lady Killer Issue #2

ladykiller2

 

Lady Killer Issue #2

Story by: Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Art by: Joëlle Jones
Colours by: Laura Allred

Last month hit-woman Josie Schuller was taking out Russians as a Avon representative and taking on motherhood in the suburbs. This issue’s killing does not disappoint. She’s just as strong and snarky as before and it is spectacular to read. Each panel is filled with fantastic action and illustrations. But while cleaning up the kill with Peck (her partner of sorts who readers first met in the first issue), she’s told that she needs to report to headquarters, which sounds about as much fun as being sent to the principal’s office.

IMG_0682

She meets with her boss, known as Stenholm – a big man with a face that would make Reagan cry, and has to sit through a bit of a chewing out. This issue, readers are given a little more insight to the Josie’s past, and it is revealed that she has been a hit-woman for 15 years, quite a long time according to boss man. But Stenholm isn’t pleased that her personal life is beginning to seep a little too much into her work. He demands more out of her work. This including beginning to clear out her timetable. Pressure on Josie is beginning to mount and things are beginning to look a bit suspicious (especially to the also-suspicious mother-in-law).

The next target on the list might be a little more painful than taking out a useless, sexist thug.

Jones’ drawings of Josie are breath-takingly spectacular. Even dressed as a Playboy bunny-type in a pussy cat get up at the Kitty Cat Club, she still looks strong and unbreakable. But as the series continues on, the question becomes just how strong is she? It’s difficult at times to balance a home life and a normal career, let alone one as a secret hitman. Will it have to come down to a choice?

There’s something dark coming Josie’s way and it’s a bit unsettling, but whatever happens next, it will sure be exciting.

Lady Killer Issue #1

IMG_0521

Lady Killer Issue #1

Story by: Joëlle Jones & Jamie S. Rich
Art by: Joëlle Jones
Colours by: Laura Allred

Ah, the early 60s. A time before the sexual revolution, still resting in a world of post-war fears and communism. A world of the perfect housewife who had long-forgotten the freedoms from the second World War. And in the new Dark Horse comic, Lady Killer, it is also a  world where a woman assassin would also make the perfect wife.

Meet Josie Schuller, assassin. She kills Russian spies and still makes time to put dinner on the table. Frequent collaborators Joëlle Jones (known best for her work on the supernatural viking story Helheim) and co-writer Jamie S. Rich have created a main character that somehow has forged a balance between the familiar stereotype of a house-bound wife and a woman liberated through a secret.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Lady Killer will only be running for five issues at the moment. This is especially disappointing considering issue #1 doesn’t seem to give much away in means of plot-line. This makes it both intriguing, but with plenty to be wishing for. Instead, readers are given a brief introduction to Josie and her double-life. The story opens with her visit as an Avon Lady to the house of a Ms Roman.

Mr Roman, or Romanov, is a spy and the next target of Josie. The dramatic angles of the art and funny quips make it quite the opening scene. That’s not to say that the home-life of our assassin isn’t also intriguing. She lives with her husband and two daughters and her intolerable German mother-in-law. The contrast between the two worlds also makes a subtle political statement, begging to ask the question what it meant to truly have the American Dream. Is it really all it seems to be?

The story is a fun rump that is just as the tagline promises, “Betty Draper meets Hannibal!” The plot remains to be smart while also giving the readers plenty of gore.

It will be interesting to see how much of Josie’s life will be shown to the readers in this first arc. The first issue has certainly given a taste that makes the story intriguing.  The story is plenty of fun, hopefully more of the story arc is to come in the future. It seems as though Dark Horse will be behind the project if it does well enough. Josie is a heroine just too cool not to explore further – she’s one heck of a killer.
IMG_0527Joelle Jones has fantastic faux-ads that tie in with the comics. They are hilarious and totally worth checking out. You can find them here and in this interview with the two writers.