Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
I’m starting to wonder whether we need to reconsider how we use the old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ I mean, sure, it still applies to people and - in most cases - books. But it definitely doesn’t work for comics. Ignoring that adage allowed me to stumble upon Rich Tommaso’s Spy Seal series.
I was strolling through Mile High Comics in August, hoping to scratch the itch for a new series to follow. I was growing tired of following the same heroes and the same universes. I wanted to find something different, something unlike what I typically read. I scanned the rack of new releases and instantly found just that. Bright colors, amazing design, fun characters, a compelling title. Judging it solely by the cover, Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix seemed to be among the most incredible comic books I had ever seen.
I’m not sure which aspect of the cover drew me in first: the exuberant colors or the title character. Either way, I was sold! Who doesn’t want to read a story about an anthropomorphic seal leading a life of espionage?? Immediately upon cracking the cover, I knew I made the right choice about picking it up. The story begins with a conversation between the titular protagonist, a seal by the name of Malcolm Warner, and his bird friend Sylvia. They discuss current events and the struggles of the oppressed working class in their country. The juxtaposition of cartoonish animals discussing high-level politics was unexpected, but I found it hilarious. It set the tone for the spy tale that was to come.
Between assassination attempts, chase scenes, gadgets, and hand-to-hand combat, Spy Seal presents an exhilarating spy story. Tommaso alternates between stretches that are very dialogue-rich and multiple shorter panels with no words and all action. The text-based panels tend to be a bit wordier than what you might typically expect from a comic, but they read smoothly and the story flows well.
I also truly loved Tommaso’s art and coloring. His artistic style is reminiscent of European comics, often appearing as a dead ringer for The Adventures of Tintin. The vibrant pastels made each cover and page pop. (My personal favorite was the cover for issue 003; a train rolling through a snowy mountain pass.) Even the inside covers feature unique and delightful patterns. In addition to the crisp characters and landscapes, I credit Tommaso for his attention to detail in each and every scene. Everything from paintings in the background of an art gallery to city skylines draws the reader’s eye, thanks to the nuances in each panel.
Rich Tommaso is currently at work on the next chapter in Malcolm Warner’s life: Spy Seal: The Flight of the Golden Bells. In the meantime, I wholly recommend giving Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix a read. The four-part series, labeled 001 through 004 in true spy fashion, is available today in a trade paperback collection. And not just a normal TPB either. The collection comes in an oversized ‘French album size’ book. Tommaso wrote, illustrated, colored, and lettered the entire work himself, a grand feat made all the more impressive by the quality of the series. Head to your local comic book shop or bookstore today to pick up the Spy Seal series, not only to find out why it made a number of ‘Top Comics of 2017’ lists, but to support a solid all-around comic artist.
Written by Joel T. Lewis
At the conclusion of last month’s issue of Moon Knight, I was left wondering what had happened to Bushman that caused him to become the pudgy sweat-pants wearing drug dealer that Jacen Burrows brought to life on that final page. Max Bemis wastes no time in answering that question: Moon Knight happened. Bemis paints an almost pitiful picture of the once mighty Raoul Bushman, acknowledging his stint as an African Warlord in the 1989 Marc Spector: Moon Knight series, confirming that he was murdered and had his face removed by Spector in 2006’s Huston Run, and that he was resurrected and had his face reattached in 2009’s ‘Vengeance of the Moon Knight’ series.
Bemis’ Bushman bears all of the trauma that the different stewards of the Moon Knight mythos have put him through and the pudgy damaged man that remains is unique among the villains of the comic book world. Bushman is terrified of Marc Spector. He tells us so himself in issue 190. And I have to be honest, as I read his stirring and emotional speech to his army of Spector’s victims (a horde of street hoods left disabled and maimed by Moon Knight over the years) my first instinct was to sneer and turn up my nose. I actually thought, ‘Well that’s just a complete misunderstanding of the character.’
I don’t know what gives me the right to think something like that. The fact of the matter is that until Bemis came along, Bushman was a one-dimensional figure of terror. Ruthless, bloodthirsty, and cold. When Marc finally killed him in 2006, though the image was disturbing, I relished that the monster had been given a fitting end. Bemis on the other hand has given us a Bushman who’s just as damaged as Marc is, perhaps even more so as his resurrection came at the hands of a villain called the Hood who used the powers of Dormammu (probably the result of a bargain of some sort…pauses for laughter), a force more sinister than that of Khonshu. Bushman is still a monster, but he’s now a more relatable, fractured monster and that’s a breath of fresh air. Bemis is great at throwing our preconceived notions about our favorite jet and silver avenger out the window, especially when he shows us the multitude of street hoods missing limbs, eyes, and fingers courtesy of old Moonie.
When reading a Moon Knight Comic, you don’t really stop to think about the maimed and abused ‘thugs’ that Spector leaves in his wake, you just revel, as he does, in the brutal violence Khonshu requires as tribute from his priest. Bemis reminds us all that Spector cuts a more gruesome path through the New York City Underworld than Spidey, Daredevil, or even the Punisher. Moon Knight’s victims (at least since Huston’s run in 2006) bear the brunt of Marc’s vigilante Justice with crippled limbs, missing eyes, limps, stumps, and scars. This reminder reframes the beloved carnage that has been associated with Moon Knight as even more cruel and poignant than ever before.
Bemis is having a lot of fun with the tenuous team-up of Bushman and the Sun King, and the way those two interact with each other is really interesting and entertaining. Bushman doesn’t buy into the Sun King’s literal door-to-door evangelism and plays down his partner’s crazed pontificating but at the same time Sun King reins Bushman in when he starts monologue-ing. The two do a great job of interrupting each other when they start to descend into tired comic book villain tropes and that’s a really subtle and clever nuance to Bemis’ writing that really impressed me this issue.
In this issue, Sun King and Bushman recruit an army of Moon Knight’s former victims and plan to use Marlene as bait in a trap for Marc Spector. When they arrive at Marlene’s suburban home they quickly discover they have a lot more leverage than they thought. Meanwhile, Marc quite literally wrestles with himself within his mind as he struggles to reason with his Jake Lockley personality and discover the awful secret that the Truth had seen in the previous issue. This sequence is a lot of fun to read as artist Jacen Burrows gets his first crack at the inside of Spector’s head, shifting between scenery, color, and tone effortlessly. These internal glimpses are punctuated by panels depicting Spector calmly mediating in central park, and then shouting at himself. This frightens an elderly lady walking her dog near Marc and the effect is really fun and lighthearted.
Marlene, who has been estranged from Marc for about 5 years at this time, is forced to invite him back into her life as Bushman and the Sun King lie in wait. Spector arrives, springs the trap, and the Sun King reveals that not only does he have Marlene held hostage, but he also knows Lockley’s secret, and it’s really messed up. Turns out that Jake Lockley has been seeing Marlene behind Marc’s back for about 5 years. And pretty early into that 5 years Marlene had a child. A child that Lockley and Marlene have been raising in secret behind Marc Spector’s back. That’s right: Moonie’s got a five-year-old girl that he had no conscious knowledge about. I had not fully grasped how literal Bemis’ title of ‘Crazy Runs in the Family’ was going to be until I reached this final page reveal and boy did it throw me for a loop. What a great way to shatter the illusion of conscious harmony in Marc’s head and redefine the relationship between Marc and Marlene in one page! With one swift motion Bemis has linked these two characters together with a bond that is so much more nuanced, complicated, and realistic than has ever been written between them before.
This creative team continues to blow me away with their balance of poignant and playful moments and Bemis in particular is just making Moonie dance by shaking up the formula and reframing his relationships and rogue’s gallery. I can’t wait for the next issue! Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
In a comic that feels one-part Preacher one-part urban dystopia, Jeff Lemire brings his mastery of small town settings and bizarre supernatural elements to haunting fruition with the first issue of Image’s new Horror series Gideon Falls. Partnering again after their 20-issue tenure on Old Man Logan, Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino masterfully pair meticulously rendered texture with an eerie foreboding tone.
Following the story of the newly appointed Gideon Falls Priest Father Wilfred, who steps in after his predecessor was mysteriously killed, and that of the mysterious junk collector Norton who scours a crumbling cityscape for artifacts that seem to be imbued with strange significance, Lemire and Sorrentino balance two very different settings. Norton’s cityscape, his barricaded apartment, and even his therapist’s office seem dystopically derelict and as he moves through the gaps between the skyscrapers donning his surgical mask, Norton’s surroundings seem to weigh on him as heavily as his clear neuroses seem to. And while Sorrentino’s vision of the rural town of Gideon Falls has a bright crisp aesthetic, courtesy of some exceptional color work by Dave Stewart, the little town shares the same sense of crumbling decay, perhaps not as visible but there’s certainly something under the surface of the chapel and the dried out paint of the school bus that Father Wilfred passes on his way into town.
Lemire is no stranger to the supernaturally bizarre small town setting. Royal City, Essex County, and Underwater Welder all dealt with this mysterious tight-knit type of community with its own intricacies and mystery. But by substituting a more sinister, rather than Lemire’s signature melancholy, supernatural element and interjecting Norton’s urban collector psychosis between the pages set in Gideon Falls, what emerges is very unique and innovative. An extension and perhaps a skilled variation on the theme of the supernaturally coded rural community, Gideon Falls could have felt as if Lemire was reluctant to leave his comfort zone. Those of us familiar with the breadth of Lemire’s body of work from Moon Knight, Descender, Trillium, Sweet Tooth, and a multitude of others know that that’s not the case and this series feels fresh and exciting.
Sorrentino’s artwork, it’s texture, the way he designs his panels; it’s all exceptional. It’s particularly exciting to see that after his work on a character with as much design potential as Wolverine that he brings the same care, severity, and detail to elevate the grounded human characters of this new book. His splash pages are gorgeous and it’s astounding to see the juxtaposition of his rural and urban panels one after another each playing off and inverting the one that came before.
Gideon Falls is haunting, gorgeous, mysterious, and perfectly positioned to join the ranks of the growing number of successful Horror titles coming from Image Comics. Until next time, Geek On!
Special Thanks goes out to Jeff Lemire for providing Nerds That Geek with an Advanced Copy of Gideon Falls #1!