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1106

God of Comics – Taarna #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 18, 2017

Taarna #1 (Heavy Metal)

Where do I even begin?

We spoke about Heavy Metal Magazine back in our Atomahawk pre/review. From there:

As the Comics Code Authority began to lose power, companies like Dark Horse Comics rose up to tackle mature stories. Marvel and DC both flirted with mature storytelling of their own, but they tended to veer away from anything too graphic. Dark Horse, likewise, kept from going too far from the fold, while Mad and Cracked turned to parody and politics. Only Eerie kept to the base statement of horror, standing alone until 1977.

That’s the year that Heavy Metal Magazine started bucking every trend.

They did high brow science fiction, absurd fantasy, vicious satire, all with an undercurrent of sexuality that was verboten pretty much everywhere else. They published serialized comic stories from wherever they could get them, aiming for weird quality and a feel steeped in metal music aesthetic. It was awesome and hard not to get hooked by this weird mix of, well, everything.

Understand, there was nothing else like this: they did psychologically driven smut and paired it with an illustrated version of Paradise Lost, mingled artists like Walt Simonson and H.R. Giger and Milo Manara.

I’m quoting myself because I need you to have context and I need you to understand: these same people did an animated movie. Released in 1981, it was an anthology that ran the gamut of science fiction to fantasy, touching on everything that made the magazine great. It introduced us to new characters and concepts, climaxing with a short animated story called Taarna.

Taarna is based on a series of wordless comics called Arzach that were originally published in 1975, a good two years before Heavy Metal Magazine would be a thing. They’re worth hunting down and flipping through, full of strange pacing and born of the legendary Jean Giraud, who you might know better as Moebius – a figure who had just as much influence on the medium as the likes of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Arzach is gorgeously rendered, a brooding tale about a warrior riding a strange pterodactyl-thing through the cosmos, righting wrongs, investigating evil, and smiting evil-doers. Taarna had the last of the Arzach warriors called to avenge an atrocity committed by a people twisted by a great evil. She did what was needed, sacrificing herself to destroy that evil – or so she thought.

We’ll come back to that in a moment. First, check out the incredibly NSFW trailer for the Heavy Metal movie and then for the love of Jack, go and see it if you haven’t already:

The device the movie uses to frame itself is that the evil was not destroyed – a small sliver of it escaped and has been haunting a young girl after killing her family. At the end, though, when the evil is preparing to finish what it started, the pterodactyl-thing appears and the girl becomes Taarna, finally vanquishing the evil and riding her beast into space to continue her journey.

And here we are, at the beginning of this comic: an immortal warrior riding a dinosaur through space to avenge injustice. Any of that would get me excited about this, but then you toss in the mad genius writering of Alex de Campi and the deft pencils of Stephane Roux and you’re in for something that cannot and should not be resisted. This is going to be incredible, so whatever you do – do not miss this.

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1192

God of Comics – The Shadow #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 17, 2017

The Shadow #3 (Dynamite Entertainment)

What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

Maniacal laughter ensues, violent lives brought to a violent end.

There’s a thing about looking backward, perhaps, and thinking that life was better and simpler back in the past, when people lived to the ripe old age of died in childbirth and doctors refused to wash their hands because why would they? A gentleman’s hands are always clean was the excuse given, and thousands died while going to doctors. That’s violent, right? A violent bit of nonsense that resulted in full graveyards.

Someone once said that the conservative mindset is rooted in the idea of moral perfection having already been found, and that any challenge to what is has to, therefore, be evil. It’s an arrogance rooted in the belief that we have already come as far as it is possible to come, when any observer could tell you that everything moves, changes, grows. The only still things are dead, and even they are given over to entropy.

Taking this as an idea, it stands to reason that a still morality is going to become entropic: it must decay, fester, turn evil. Hubris and arrogance are the roots of evil, then, the certainty that comes with feeling that one is done growing, done changing, done trying to make the world better.

Objective reality, of course, cares nothing for ideology. When good men step aside and allow evil men to rule, when lies are not called out and become a matter of policy, the innocents that are murdered remain dead. No amount of thoughts and prayers are going to bring them back. No amount of ignoring the problem is going to make climate change any less real, and no military might is going to halt the destruction to come.

It occurs to me that might be the most horrifying thing about being the Shadow – the Shadow knows that evil. The Shadow has to be able to see the cause, the course, the inevitable ripple effects that result in trauma, pain, more evil. Violence cycling down, tarnishing everything noble with entropy, convincing people to destroy what they believe their god created so that their god will come back and save them. From the everything that they themselves destroyed.

Here’s the truth: we’re all going to die. Sooner or later. There may be a heaven or a hell, but within the context of his own mythos the Shadow will live on. He can be hurt, butchered, crippled, and killed but the killing never takes. He heals and returns, heals and returns, heals and returns because when you know evil like he does you cannot turn away from it, cannot do anything other than fight it with everything in you.

Si Spurrier and Dan Watters are exactly the sort of writers that get this, a sliver of that knowing taking root in their souls. It’s enough to grow into a tale where the Shadow is forced to confront the root causes of the symptoms he has spent a century fighting. Here, we get him burnt and helpless, recovering from wounds that should have killed him but, again, death just doesn’t take.

The stories of the Shadow in that world, though, have inspired copycats that miss the point, because they don’t know. His nurse, meanwhile, is a woman he rescued from a school shooting and she’s trying to do him a solid, keeping him hidden and safe from the many evils that threaten him… all while trying to heal the mind and body, delving into the dark sins that drive one who knows.

Daniel HDR handles art, setting tones, lines, and colors that differentiate flashbacks, time periods, eras, mythologies; it’s a strange confidence that lets him experiment with form and create various styles that work well to build a cohesive whole.

And as good as the individual pieces are, the whole is better still. Do not miss this.

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1154

God of Comics – Maestros #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 16, 2017

Maestros #1 (Image Comics)

Millennials get a bad rap.

We’re the most educated and hardworking generation in the history of the planet. We’ve been trained, programmed, bullied, and finally enslaved by older generations, working for nothing or not enough to live on, forced into debt and squalor and then blamed for economic policies we had nothing to do with and the death of industries we can’t afford. Trying to explain this to older generations, though, falls on deaf ears.

It’s tough out there,” quoth they, “but I worked hard and made it and so can you.”

They don’t want to hear that the socialist policies that made that possible for them were dismantled by them when they were done with them. Not that it matters: the same people that ignore scientists while accepting the innovation science provides are treating the environment with the same care and consideration they gave the economy, the point of no return passed years ago.

We can’t fix this. Our generation keeps trying but the idiots that came before keep repeating the same mistakes and letting the worst of us make decisions that influence the world and have long-running consequences that those idiots don’t want to understand. This is the future we’re looking at – the forty or fifty years of it that remain, if we’re lucky.

The dreams of the millennial are typically not much more than pay off debt. Now, Steve Skroce is taking the browbeaten mindset of the last generation and giving it the magic everyone wants and no one believes in.

Steve, for those wondering, is very much the person you want doing this. He’s one of the storyboard artists from the Matrix and one of the writers of We Stand on Guard, someone who is very capable of conveying the grim meat-hook realities of the modern world while also looking at the fantastic possibilities that reality has to offer. He’s a master of his craft, someone whom the title of this comic would apply to in real life.

And the concept he’s come up with here?

One of ours – the downtrodden, the beaten, the demoralized and demonized – is contacted by an unexpected source. He’s an exile, the banished son of someone foreign, and the news he receives is this: his family is dead. All of his relatives have been assassinated and the kingdom they ran falls to the only member of the royal family left – him.

So, yes, he’s an exiled prince. Neat. He’s also an exiled prince from another dimension, banished to Earth and raised in Florida, where the ambient weirdness of the location would disguise whatever ambient weirdness leaks off of him. It’s a good place to hide someone from a magical kingdom, really, but now it’s time to go home and claim something called the Wizard King’s Throne and a spell that will make him a living God.

Maybe even one that can save not one but two worlds?

There are enemies everywhere, of course. The ones that have swords in their hands, sure, but also debt and fear and despair, the terrors of the modern world that are grinding humanity into dust.

Bottom line? Steve Skroce has an important story to tell and he has the grit and determination to see it told properly. This is the single issue we’re most looking forward to this week, and we cannot recommend it enough. Do not miss this.

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1198

God of Comics – Genius Cartel #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 13, 2017

Genius Cartel #3 (Image Comics)

And one of the most vicious political comics being published today continues to do its thing.

Destiny is a young African American woman with a gift for strategy and tactics, a genius who taught herself how to take over a country from the poor books left to rot in underfunded American ghettos. She learned the history of her people, how they were taken from their homes by ignorant and greedy savages and forced to work building a country they’ve been slaves in ever since, and she was more than a little angry.

Years before cops being a problem entered the public consciousness, writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman had Destiny fight the police who have been killing her people and ruining their lives for decades because that is what they are trained to do. Destiny has both the systematic racism and the oppressive sexism of the toxic culture around her to fight, and she’s doing it and winning using the tools that would be used to keep her in chains.

Here’s where things get even more interesting: at the end of the first series she surrendered. She did it knowing full well that her enemies should execute her but knowing that while American think tanks demonize her people and denigrate her sex, they also are used to seeing both as a commodity. She’s taken advantage of the fact that the American psyche is used to thinking of her race and sex as being of service to get what she wants.

And what does she want?

Simple access.

Destiny wanted access to the resources and information that both her gender and her skin color denied her in modern America. Because the white people around her thought they could take advantage of her skill and they could mollify her into compliance, they gave her what she wanted. They shuffled her off and away and put her through school with other hopefuls and were surprised when she didn’t perform as well as they wanted.

Now, they’ve secretly killed the one person she thought to be friends with and then sent her on her first field operation: they wanted her to take a team in and assassinate the leader of a drug cartel, but she knows that the same people thinking to command her are the ones that created the conditions that the cartels thrive in and the cartels themselves. The soldiers she was given were also not happy about taking orders from a teenage black girl, and things looked to go off the rails pretty quickly.

Right up until everyone remembered that Destiny was never working for some nebulous lie of an American ideal – she was working for herself and the betterment of her people. Her own research had shown her that the cartel was moving a host of women as part of a sex-trade operation and she’s decided she’s going to free them.

Problem is, she now has her own unit to contend with, in addition to the forces of the cartel and the American brain trust far from the frontlines that still think of her as their property. She’s fifteen thousand miles from the American border, looking to free herself and the slaves she’s rescued from the various forces that are circling her like vultures.

It’s an intriguing story with a lot going on and artist Rosi Kampe is doing an incredible job bringing it all to life. It’s impressive, given how busy and layered the story is, that she manages to capture all the nuance that this story needs to work. Destiny is hard, yes, but also young and vulnerable. The people around her are tough and fragile and working through their own desires, and Rosi manages to capture a sense of them in fine line work and careful color work.

This is one of our favorite stories going through comics right now. Pick it up and find out why.

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1206

God of Comics – Songs for the Dead #3

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 12, 2017

Songs for the Dead #3 (Necromancer Press)

We start these reviews off by talking about how necromancers get a bad rap. We do it because it’s thematically important to understand this comic and the driving force behind it, that of a necromancer trying to be good and reminding people that no school of magic is inherently evil, but people can be and magic gives people the ability to do evil on a much larger scale than they might otherwise be able to.

So, why single out necromancers among all magicians as being especially bad? Well, one answer might be that necromancy plays around with death – the one force that people never feel comfortable with and are afraid of because sooner or later, every single one of us is going to die.

Another might be that so much of western culture comes from various mistranslations of the Hebrew Bible, and that book calls out necromancy specifically as being bad (it also calls out soothsayers, but people like to know the future and consider that more of a game).

But let’s talk about that for a moment: the first biblical figure to go on an actual crusade against witches and necromancers and soothsayers was King Saul, who is generally not looked upon as either the smartest or kindest figures in the Old Testament. He’s kind of a dick, really, and when push comes to shove and his life starts falling apart because of his dickishness, he disguises himself and goes to a necromancer for aid.

Now, he lies to her about his identity and makes her raise the prophet Samuel, which she didn’t want to do and advises him against doing. There’s wisdom to her – she’s using her power responsibly, but Saul is a dick and he mangles himself badly because of his own actions, yet there’s still some blame that gets thrown on the necromancer who did nothing wrong.

And it’s relevant here because we have an order of religious nutjobs who move into a town and start torturing innocent people for no reason other than their religious dogma. They get people to turn on one another, using a necromancer themselves because they are – like all dogmatic zealots – hypocrites. In between mangling people for standing up to them or asking questions or doing anything other than waiting for their turn to be tortured, the actual necromancer moves back into town reminds these townfolk of their history.

She defeats the forces of ignorance and evil not with magic, but knowledge and reminding people of their inherent decency and history of standing up against tyranny.

Yes, it’s that kind of comic. You really should be reading this.

The deft wordplay and storytelling is all done by series creators Michael Christopher Heron and Andrea Fort, while cover art is done by Nick Robles and interior art is all Sam Beck. The whole package is a lot of fun and the trilogy has been a blast to read. If you’d like to give it a spin, you can head over Necromancer Press and check it out for yourself by clicking here.

It’s good times. You should do the thing.

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1287

God of Comics – The Woods #36

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 11, 2017

The Woods #36 (BOOM! Studios)

It’s funny. This comic started at about the same time I started doing God of Comics, I think. It’s been a journey – a good one, a tragic one, a path that has let those who walked it be and do many things. Secrets were revealed, possibilities explored. And now – like all the best stories – it’s coming to an end.

We’ve talked before about how good this series is. We’ve done individual issues and the series as a whole, done podcasts, articles, even live events where we’ve spoken about how cool the Woods is and why you should read it.

So, one more time: the Woods is the creation of writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas. It’s about a high school in the middle of the American wasteland being transported to some place other, a fantastic alien landscape that they have tried to navigate. The kids quickly realized that the adults in their lives did not hold the answers and that if they were to find salvation they were going to have to do it themselves.

Which is not to say that this has been easy. People have died. One of the faculty tried to enforce martial law. One of the students made deals with nations he didn’t understand and learned how small he was and how vicious he wasn’t. A genius learned the limits of his intelligence and the price of loneliness.

And one person – one single child – fought to do right by everyone, driven by guilt and fear and eventually by understanding. She’s become the hero of this piece in a way no one would have thought possible in the beginning, but the real trick for her will be going home. How does one walk out of the woods when one has been changed by them so dramatically?

The answer is a simple one: not alone.

If you look at any single issue of this comic you can see the groundwork for everything that came after it, every bit of writing James Tynion has done since. It’s emotional gut-punch after emotional gut-punch, but it also realizes that nothing ever ends. We get glimpses of story, glimpses of people – aftermath is sometimes not the end and cannot be, because what could possibly follow what came before the moment of release?

There’s no aftercare here. There is only an ending, and it is enough.

Michael Dialynas’ art was superb, a collection of weirdness that felt cohesive and ran on a logic that could be grasped if one took the time to notice all the small details. And they are worth noticing, the nuance of expression and direction of eyes, the subtle cues of body language for characters and shading in the world around them. He brought this story and everyone in it to life, gave us an entire world that was like nothing any of us could have ever expected.

Bravo, both of you. Every single issue has been a genuine pleasure.

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1266

God of Comics – Ragman #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 10, 2017

Ragman #1 (DC Comics)

Gotham is… not a good place. There’ve been whole stories speaking of Gotham being stepped in evil, and the city itself has sometimes been the villain in better Batman stories (City of Crime comes immediately to mind).

There’re rumors in Gotham. The Batman is not a known quantity, and most people living in Gotham will never see a supervillain or on the darkling vigilantes that try to hold back that darkness. Those people are the rumors ordinary people whisper to one another, but those whispers circle around again: the villains and heroes sometimes whisper of a figure called the Ragman.

Ragman, real name Rory Regan, is a Jewish hero based in the Golem myth. He’s a good man who wore a costume of rags to do good works in, but that changed when tragedy struck and the rags started absorbing the souls of evildoers. Rory could then access the skills, attributes, and abilities of those so absorbed, and in the process he learned about and became skilled in the art of magic.

Cool, right? He did some stuff in the occult underground lurking along the corners of the DCU, even fighting the Spectre at one point and walking away to tell the tale. He vanished during the nu52, because even the grimdark tone of that world couldn’t handle the actual grim and dark that is the heart of this character.

But DC returned to its roots with Rebirth and they’ve been slowly revisiting old concepts and the world – our world, the real one – needs representation. Thanks to Marvel we’ve lost Captain America to the Nazis, so writer Ray Fawkes is bringing back one of the strangest heroes with his nuanced eye. This is the guy that wrote Gotham by Midnight and worked on the awe-inspiring Mnemovore. The character is in good hands.

His idea is that a war veteran failed to raid a tomb in the Israeli desert and lost all of his partners in the process. He heads back home to Gotham, followed by whatever was in that tomb and the power it wants to give him… for a price. His mission upset things older than the nation Rory lives in, see, and along with the thing that wants to give him power is a person who wants everything that thing has to offer.

Did we mention Inaki Miranda is doing the art? Because Inaki Miranda is doing art. Inaki is a DC Comics mainstay, having worked on everything from Coffin Hill (and for the love of every god you can name, go read Coffin Hill), Catwoman, Birds of Prey, Fables, House of Mystery… look, he’s good at illustrating horror, romance, the whole breadth of human emotion.

This is going to be amazing stuff. Don’t miss out.

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1336

God of Comics – Atomahawk

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 9, 2017

Atomahawk #0 (Image Comics)

You know Heavy Metal Magazine, right?

Back before older conservatives could blame video games or smartphones for their kids not being what they wanted them to be, they blamed comics. This resulted in the creation of the Comics Code Authority and Marvel and DC Comics veering more towards a PG rating for decades. Some publications – notably Mad, Cracked, and Eerie, turned black and white and re-billed themselves as magazines, to greater or lesser success.

As the Comics Code Authority began to lose power, companies like Dark Horse Comics rose up to tackle mature stories. Marvel and DC both flirted with mature storytelling of their own, but they tended to veer away from anything too graphic. Dark Horse, likewise, kept from going too far from the fold, while Mad and Cracked turned to parody and politics. Only Eerie kept to the base statement of horror, standing alone until 1977.

That’s the year that Heavy Metal Magazine started bucking every trend.

They did high brow science fiction, absurd fantasy, vicious satire, all with an undercurrent of sexuality that was verboten pretty much everywhere else. They published serialized comic stories from wherever they could get them, aiming for weird quality and a feel steeped in metal music aesthetic. It was awesome and hard not to get hooked by this weird mix of, well, everything.

Understand, there was nothing else like this: they did psychologically driven smut and paired it with an illustrated version of Paradise Lost, mingled artists like Walt Simonson and H.R. Giger and Milo Manara.

Since then they’ve done movies, video games, and helped produce collected versions of the best serials to come out of their magazine – small runs that didn’t get near the attention that they deserved.

That is about to change.

Image Comics is collecting and releasing high-quality prints of Atomahawk, the story of a space barbarian named Cyberzerker who happens to have an atomic-powered tomahawk because the world needed that story told at that time and writer Donny Cates delivered. Cyberzerker is on a quest to free his imprisoned god from forces known and unknown and the whole thing feels like Jack Kirby ripped himself from the grave and moved through Donny’s mind like a screaming vortex of what.

Such insanity needs a high-end artist to try and capture the mania and madness, and Ian Bederman was tasked with doing the deed and he succeeded. The whole thing feels and reads like a favor dream, a prayer to some ancient and forgotten thing that cannot be reasoned with and cannot be put down – it must be devoured whole.

If you want to see what unbridled imagination looks like, this is what you need. What you crave. What you must possess. Here’s hoping Image keeps going with this because there are some collected stories from Heavy Metal that I would kill to get my hands on.

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1370

God of Comics – Songs for the Dead #2

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 6, 2017

Songs for the Dead #2 (Necromancer Press)

When dungeon masters and players go out for drinks, you’ll sometimes hear stories about old campaigns. The classics, the funny, the horror stories, the ambitious. We’re all a bit hammy and we like to share, but it’s moments like these that give birth to legends: Old Man Henderson, Los Tiburon, and even today’s recounting.

There’s the apocryphal tale of a dungeon master who was running two campaigns. The second was a classic group of adventurers following in the wake of a necromancer who was overthrowing kingdoms with his army of the dead, deposing kings and destroying nations. Their mission was to undo the damage caused by the necromancer, to restore old kings to their thrones, execute those the necromancer had put into power, and show those they were helping how to protect themselves from necromancers in the future.

Pretty standard stuff, right?

Assuming the necromancer is evil.

That was the trick: the dungeon master’s first campaign was a solo adventure where a necromancer was overthrowing corrupt regimes, educating people and letting them form their own governments, lending them the protection of the dead for the betterment of the living. The final part of both campaigns was the heroes catching up to the necromancer as he was getting ready to die; although he had the power and knew the rite to become a lich, he was choosing to die knowing he had lived a good life.

But then he looked out on the world, wanting one last look at his good works before death. He saw the corrupt nobles he had overthrown back in power and the good people he had liberated being executed, tortured, and imprisoned. The corpses he had lent the good people put down and interred in such a way that they would never rise again. Everything he had done – all he had worked on to make the world better – undone by people who assumed he was evil because he was a necromancer.

When the “heroes” finally caught up with him they expected a massive battle, a thrilling climax. Instead, they found an embittered old man, weeping for what the world had lost and the evil those heroes had put back in place.

I wish I knew the dungeon master that had run these campaigns. I want to shake his or her hand.

Last week we reviewed the first issue of the indie comic Songs for the Dead. We really liked it so we kept reading, with the cute naive necromancer pretending to be a bard and the more worldly warrior/rogue friend she’s made. This issue sees them looking for a secret group of necromancers that have removed themselves from society precisely because people think they’re evil, all while being pursued by a group of religious zealots that like to execute necromancers because they think they’re evil.

It is almost impossible for us not to like this comic. Created and written by Michael Christopher Heron and Andrea Fort, whose dialogue and pacing are spot on. Art by Sam Beck, who has an eye for keeping his inks and colors grounded until the magic enters and then cuts loose. And, of course. The rather lovely cover art of one Nick Robles. This one is going to be tricky to find, but if you are interested you should click here and nab yourself a copy. It’s well worth your time and cash.

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493

God of Comics – Shadowman / Rae Sremmurd #1

God Of Comics, Reviews

October 5, 2017

Shadowman / Rae Sremmurd #1 (Valiant)

Okay. This is just… weird. I mean, what?

There’s a fine old tradition of celebrities crossing over with comic books: William Shatner was in some old science fiction books as himself, Eminem guest starred in some Punisher comics, like, the precedent is there and it sometimes works but is most often forgettable. This might be different.

Rae Sremmurd is the hip-hop working name of two brothers that go by Slim Jxmmi and Swag Lee. They’ve been working at this for a while now, starting their own label out of their basement and hitting it big a couple years ago with the album StremmLife and following that up last year with StremmLife2. Their hook is haunting vocals and subtle instrumentals that work towards a high-impact sound that stays with you and keeps with you.

Here, take a listen for yourself:

Oh, yes, and like the very best hip-hop acts, they are deadly political.

It’s interesting that the two brothers and their label have such a spiritual bent and thus can weave themselves into Shadowman without effort. Shatner’s presence was jarring and Eminem’s appearance was trite because they had only a passing association with the comics they were guest starring in – given the heavy questions that Rae Sremmurd asks and the deep introspection that Shadowman is capable of, this has the potential to be much more engaging.

The plan here, story-wise, is for Rae Sremmurd to hop over to New Orleans for a show and slip on close to the Deadside borderlands, that twilight world that Shadowman is the keeper of. Rae Sremmurd often feels like a quest for meaning and origin, both concepts that Shadowman is tied to, and the history of both should intermingle nicely in the strange places where the latter dwells.

I expect Shadowman to change more from this than Rae Sremmurd will, but we’ll see how this goes. Writer Eliot Rahal is the one responsible for tying these powers together, and he’s done some great work for Valiant and Dark Horse that should lend itself well to the story here. Presumably, Slim Jxmmi and Swag Lee will also be adding their input, which should make their presence much stronger. Renato Guedes is on art, and he’s worked with Eliot at Valiant before and flirted throughout the Super-books over at DC with strong line work and dark shading.

This is going to be very pretty and might end up stronger than the sum of its parts. Check it out for that reason alone.

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