REVIEW: Hard Melody (2021)

A graphic novel by Lu Ming

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Nearing forty years old myself, its easy to look back at the last twenty years or so, and look at every bit of missed opportunity I had, every bit of wasted potential, and every misstep. It’s important to move forward with one’s life to avoid falling into a trap of a mid-life crisis at best, crippling depression at worst. For the book Hard Melody, we see three guys in exactly the same predicament – having the potential to have been big Chinese Rockstars in the past, their lives have moved on leaving their dreams behind.

Three thirty-year-old friends reunite in Beijing after nearly 10 years apart. They used to be free-wheeling rock-and-rollers without a care in the world, but now, after tasting their own variation of freedom in new China, they are tormented by how unforgiving and unglamorous life had become. Nothing at all like the fame and fortune they dreamed about as kids.

This book is fairly tough due to its subject matter, and there was a bit of Chinese cultural stuff that I was unsure of, but between the mature storyline and the artwork (which is amazing) I was hooked. As a stand alone, this is a great book, and stands as both a societal look at Chinese culture, as well as a way for the reader to think about how they plan to move on with their lives. Many peak far too young, and their later life suffers due to it, hopefully nobody suffers the same tragedy as seen here.

REVIEW – Elle(s) (2021)

A graphic Novel by Kid Toussain & art by Aveline Stokart

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

When I first started this, I wasn’t too sure what to expect – the art style and setting made me worry I was about getting into a twee book for teenagers, but I was definitely wrong. While the premise may sound somewhat similar to the recent Disney movie Inside Out, only a superficial likeness is there – Elle(s) adds the extra layer of being about mental health issues, and what it means to love somebody with mental health issues into the mix, which makes this so much more. The depiction of “split personalities” is on par when accounts I’ve heard on various TV shows and podcasts – i.e. dominant personality controls everything and person sees everything in third person view – so that was interesting. It would interesting to see somewhen in the clinical psychology field review this.

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

While volume one leaves this chapter as an unfinished mystery, and could easily turn into something supernatural and weird, I’m hoping it stays as grounded as volume one – as it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed it.

Europe Comics continues its trend of quality comics that always seem to surprise me. I will definitely need to seek out the next volume upon publication to see where this story ends up going. Don’t let the cover fool you into thinking this is something other than what it is, and give it a try – It’s good stuff.

REVIEW: Elecboy Book 1 (2021)

A graphic novel by Jaouen Salaün

One part Mad Max, and one part Blame!, Elecboy takes some of the better tropes from dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction and makes it something of its very own. Europe Comics has done a fine job of introducing me to many comics and creators that I have not been familiar with, and this is yet another entry that has caught my attention.

“In a devastated cityscape, a lone man fights off creatures of fearsome power: white, winged, serenely impassive, and capable of terrifying transformations… Decades later, in a desolate American southwest, a meager colony of human survivors ekes out a precarious existence between dwindling water supplies and magnetic shields that screen them from roving bands of aerial attackers. An ancestral upper class presides, while in the lower city, laborers do the hazardous work of keeping everyone alive. But all that may be about to change when the mysterious Joshua comes of age…”

Jaouen Salaün is a French writer and artist that has apparently been trying to bring the pages of Elecboy into life for over 18 years. Good news is, the story is fairly good, and more importantly the art is absolutely GORGEOUS, I want to see more of this guys creature designs more than anything. They remind me a bit of Tsutomu Nihei a tad, it would be interesting to see if that was one of his influences in any way.

This book is part one in a series, and tells a fairly compelling story until a cliffhanger ending made me sad that I don’t have more to read. I’ll have to keep checking back with the publisher to see when more of this is released. To be honest, I have come to the conclusion that I’m fairly confused as to why Europe comics isn’t bigger than what it is. They consistently have better content than other companies that feature a lot of European comics such as Heavy Metal – here’s hoping they take off at some point in the future.

REVIEW: Michel Vaillant: In the Name of the Son (2021)

A graphic novel by Denis Lapière, Philippe Graton – Art by Marc Bourgne, Benjamin Benéteau

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Time to jump out of my comfort zone, and read something different than my normal diet of Manga, dark comics, and occasional superhero comics. I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic based on racing in any way, so this is a bit of a new one for me. A new comic from Europe Comics, Michel Vaillant is coming soon to an eBook reader of your choice.

“Michel Vaillant is the star of all the biggest international auto racing circuits, and he’s revving up for a whole lot more than just a spin around the block. The Vaillant team finds itself up against new technological innovations, as well as some disconcerting changes in the world of auto racing. The fate of the Vaillant dynasty is in the hands of three generations of men and women. The first challenge is to fight their way to the top on the race track, with their sights set on Formula 1. The second is to try to keep the family together, despite increasingly differing points of views. And it will be up to Michel to ensure their success on both fronts.”

I was on a bit of a Tintin kick a few months ago and read a whole bunch of Belgian and French comics like Blake and Mortimer and Freddy Lombard, so the style of this comic immediately reminded me of those. I went back and did a bit of research and discovered that this was, in fact, an older comic that did indeed feature in the very same magazine. It’s funny when you can spot the tonal differences between some of these publications and their comics.

Despite not really being too much into racing, though I did watch Top Gear religiously in the past, I actually enjoyed this. Its probably because it wasn’t bogged down with laborious car racing descriptions and relied on the human drama to tell the story, the technical aspects were just there to spice it up.

The linework in this comic’s art is incredible, especially in backgrounds and technical aspects of the cars and other machines. Half of the time I spent reading this, was be looking around the pages taking in the gorgeous old-school art-style. Comics have sometimes veered towards a more cartoonish look as of late, and art styles like this, with highly detailed pen lines, make me feel nostalgic and give me hope that everything borrowing from the same style-sheet is soon coming to an end.

I was sad to see that this ended on a colossal cliffhanger, so I will try to keep an eye out for the next installment if I can. It’s crazy to think that there are so many diverse types of comics in Europe, it often makes me sad that The US market is over-saturated with superhero books in most of the main houses. That isn’t a dig on superheroes, but I’d love the diversity they have – I would have never likely read this otherwise. Great book, can’t wait to continue it!

Forgotten Gems: Ring of Red (PS2) 2001

Ring of Red - Wikipedia

NOTE: This was originally written in 2008, thus the dated references. There is more information below as to why I am re-posting it.

It has been known for a long time that gamers are a fickle bunch. We are sometimes so fickle that we will cuss and moan about something until blue in the face, then gobble up something else for the exact same reason. All of us are prone to this many times; for example, even I can’t stand sandbox games, but love a Wii game called “No More Heroes” and will defend it at the drop of a hat. Flash back to the launch of the PS2 and a little game called Ring of Red by Konami. RoR is one of those games that not only crossed genres well, but to some became a classic, and a diamond in the rough among games that came out early in the PS2 lifecycle.



Ring of Red was one such game that, as the title of this article suggests, fell through the cracks for many gamers. It wasn’t particularly hated, but generally overlooked by many gamers. One reason this happened was the way reviewers handled realistic wartime graphics at the time seems at odds with our tastes today. Now if you look at many war games, the games are praised for the stylistic choice. A choice where it looks like your soldiers are mud wrestling on concrete through a sepia toned camera lense.

I’m not sure what Image I originally had here, but any Zack Snyder film fits the bill with the real=brown trope


I purchased the game because I am a history buff, and anything that tries to present an intelligent alternate history scenario is pretty intriguing to me. I instantly fell in love with the game, and began to seek out the views of others. Upon inspection, I was shocked to see the bad reviews it was getting. Most of the time people were mad that it was not some kind of action game, while others bashed the game based on the graphics. I remember a pretty harsh review in PSM magazine at the time. Said review criticized the game’s mechanics heavily, and gave it a 6 out of 10 based on the fact that it was a fairly realistic drab game with hardly any colors other than brown and gray, and that the mechs moved painfully slow.



This could be a fair assessment, given that many were so used to fast paced mech games like Omega Boost for the PS1, which handled like an episode of Macross with endless missiles and quick Star Fox-like gameplay. In Ring of Red, however, you are placed in diesel powered walking tanks, that are much less Gundam-like, and more of—well a walking talk. In this context Zone of the Enders style mecha would have been out of place and anachronistic. In the 1960’s you would not be piloting graceful ballerina mechs that move that they are covered in butter, and sliding on ice.

Ring of Red • Eurogamer.net

In the game, you are equipped with slow machines with arcane shooting systems that are hard to use and occasionally break down. In order to build tension, the programmers added in a limited operation time before the mecha overheats, making you have to savor the little time you have in each round, to really make that round count. All of these factors provide an almost realistic application for a walking take in the 1960’s. To me, this was a refreshing mech game, that was not so based on anime, as it was real life. These reviews, all slamming the “ugly brown and grey graphics”, were harsh on the game, and kept many from even looking at it.

The story grabs you right from the beginning with the following chilling cinematic that melds stock footage of WWII era warfare with a cgi mecha walking in the background. It is at this point that you feel very concerned at what the world could have been like had one solitary event happened differently than it did in our history.

Ring of Red - Wikiwand

Next we gradually learn of the immense back-story that involves a war set in the 1960s in the aftermath of World War II. According to the alternate timeline, Japan did not surrender in 1945, and the United States of America did not deploy the atomic bomb to end the war in the pacific front. Japan was captured instead by an allied invasion by land. Because of post-war hostilities between Russia and the US and Europe, the north part of Japan was fenced off into communist North Japan and democratic South Japan. During the war Hitler unleashed a series of walking tanks called AFWs into service that have remained a terrifying war machine from then on.

From then on you are graced with a strategy RPG in a similar vane to Front Mission, except the battles are far more interactive. Players begin with their AFW standing in opposition to the enemy AFW in a standoff. The objective of combat is to destroy the enemy AFW. The Battles consist of players moving and operating their AFW and issuing orders to accompanying infantry. These infantrymen have to be commanded to move from the front guard to the rearguard at strategic times in order to do their trained tasks, whether it be minelaying, grenaidiering, or sabotaging. This adds a lot of extra strategy to the game, as you really had top keep up with what you had, and the strengths and weaknesses of your units.


AFWs must wait until their main weapon is loaded before they can attack, either against the enemy AFW itself or its infantry support. When aiming, players are given a first-person view from the AFW along with a hit probability percentage. The more time spent aiming, the better it will turn out. If you wait too long; however, and you will probably get shelled by your enemy.

Ring of Red: Wait, This Mech Was Made By Nazis? | TheGamer



Without actually reviewing the game, I would like to bring attention to it, and hopefully inform a gamer of a game they may never have played. I understand that one reason that many strategy games have failed is because they are a niche genre that only enthusiasts of the genre tend to like, but many of said enthusiasts also seem to have never heard of this game for whatever reason.

BOTTOM LINE: if you are a fan of games like Front Mission, please check this out, you won’t be sad.

Availibility: RoR can be purchased for as little as 10 USD on Amazon or Ebay.

NOTE: Close to a decade ago, I worked for a gaming website called Gamrfeed, sadly the site folded and was absorbed back into it’s parent website VGchartz a long time ago. When I started working at my current job in 2011, I sadly did not have time to continue producing articles on the schedule that was required, so I had to drop it. I was really proud of some of the work I did on there, and do not want it to disappear into the ether as most websites do after a while.

REVIEW: The Black Civil War Soldier (2021)

A book by Deborah Willis

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

The history of The American Civil War is often clouded by heaps and piles of romanticism and revisionism that has made the discussion of the conflict troubling for a number of years. One step onto Facebook, especially at any politically charged moment in modern times, and you’ll see all manner of misinformation and even blatant trolling that kills any sort of educated discourse. I’ve even read books that go into these tangents, and ultimately they lose sight of their purpose pretty fast and turn into a political quagmire.

Luckily, this book is not like that – it’s straightforward and uses the historical documents to tell the story, it avoids editorialization, and conjecture a fact that is refreshing to me in it’s simplicity. It reminds me a lot of Ken Burns’ Civil War series from thirty years ago – it also used documents and quotes to tell the story, and the general public loved it for that. The more-specific topic at hand is – the history of Black Civil War Soldiers on both sides of the conflict – their motivations, their feelings, and their dreams – told in many instances in their own words through letters and interviews given at the time or soon after.

While not shocking, some of the accounts of how both sides treated black people for the duration of the war was jarring at times. Well, jarring in the sense that many treat that war as a “good guys” vs “bad guys” situation, when it largely was more nuanced than that. One account that was particularly sad to me was a point when Union soldiers had arrived in a southern town to be greeted as liberators by all the the slaves left alone by their conscripted slave masters. Military leaders had to basically say “we are not here to free slaves, but to put the Union back together slavery and all” – for many slaves that sunk into their heart like a stone and colored their opinion of the Federal Government from then on. The book is an equal opportunity expectation-flipper, as there are also accounts of Black soldiers on the south being treated fairly by the Confederates.

This book is amazing, and highly recommended. I’m sure there are similar books out there, but this one was a real page-turner especially to see the gorgeous photographs that have been preserved in it.

REVIEW: A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture (2021)

A book by Violet Fenn

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

A History of the Vampire in Popular Culture is a interesting new book that goes in detail of the subject matter at hand trying to inform, but not necessarily, as the author stresses, to be some sort of encyclopedia of vampires or the like. large swaths of vampire history are not present, but that’s fine as the point of the book is to look at common tropes within vampire media, and elaborate on them using examples from various TV Shows, Books, Films and even folklore.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, as the author used quite a few examples that are usually never referenced in books such as this; for example, referencing something like the popular gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is usually not something you see in books like this, despite its popularity many decades ago. Other topics included everything to Count Von Count of Sesame Street fame, as well as Twilight (shudders). While I’m not a fan at all of that franchise, I begrudgingly respect its place in popular culture.

There’s a fair bit of historical discussion here as well, including forays into various vampire themed moral panics, including a bizarre one where children were led to believe a random cemetery was home to a murdering vampire, which led to hundreds of pint-sized Van Helsings to descend on it – with the entire debacle being used as a catalyst to push comic book censorship.

I think there were a few missed opportunities here; perhaps a sequel might be in order? Most of this opinion comes from the fact that the more Romance-based vampire things (Twilight, True Blood etc) are not my cup of tea, but the author was very passionate about them and their presence in vampire history, so I can’t fault her for that (once again, its not an encyclopedia). None-the-less, this is an enjoyable read, and gave me a few thigs to jot down to read or watch in the future. The book is well-written, packed full of facts and anecdotes, even a couple of interviews. While not a perfect book, there is a lot to sink your teeth into.

REVIEW: The Vain (2021)

A graphic novel by Eliot Rahal

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Generic Vampire stories are a dime a dozen these days. If you don’t just have a weird version of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but this time he’s in SPACE or something, you have the other side of the coin that alters them beyond recognition, perhaps into teenage sparkly pretty boys – and it all sucks for the most part. For me to get into a modern Vampire story, it has to be something different (but keeping with the lore), and this volume by Eliot Rahal fits the bill. Spanning more than 40 years, The Vain tells the story of a group of Vampiric survivors – changing with the times to stay alive at any means necessary. If that includes enlisting in the military to kill Nazis, or starting a vampire drug cult in the 70s, if thats what it takes that’s what they do.

Chicago, 1941. A blood bank is held up in a robbery, but no cash is taken—only blood. It’s the latest in a string of similar robberies and as the United States prepares to enter World War II, FBI Agent Felix Franklin is certain it’s part of a wider plot to weaken the United States by depriving it of its blood supply. But the truth is much more sinister.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this at first. At times, some of the art in the book was somewhat simplistic, but as the story goes on, it improves drastically. The dialogue is also kind of janky in spots, but overall the script is pretty good, and you honestly can’t beat the setting. Vampires living through the Cold-War is something I’m pretty certain I’ve never seen before. As it went on, I was interested to see how The Vain (their WWII Codename) dealt with the zeitgeist of whatever decade they had made it to. The book didn’t overstay its welcome, and had a logical ending that made sense.

I haven’t read much by Oni Press, although I have seen them at Comicon in the past. Once Covid-19 dies down I will have to do a deeper dive on their library if conventions ever come back, I’d love to see if the quality of this book continues on.

REVIEW: First World War Trials and Executions (2021)

A book by Simon Webb

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I haven’t read too many true crime books as of late, although I do listen to a ton of podcasts on it. And I mean a ton, its probably a red flag on Spotify, and I am likely on some list somewhere. Some of my favorite ones are historical accounts vs modern ones simply because the cases seem to always take wild turns that you aren’t expecting. You hear about these insane investigations and primitive forensics efforts that likely led to tons of false imprisonments, but its exciting none-the-less. This book chronicles 51 such historical cases in the UK between 1914-1918 – The era of World War I. Taking a small, specific era in history is interesting as one really gets into the time period when its all laid out like this.

Webb splits each case into its own small chapters which are then split into sub-headings such as cases all committed by straight razor, or all axe-murders etc. I liked this configuration a lot; it made this easy for me to read bit-by-bit before I went to bed this past week. This is an entertaining read insomuch as a book on murders can be simply because of the way it is written. That isn’t to say Simon Webb makes light of the cases, as they are all very tragic, but he keeps you wanting to read more and more, and the information is well-researched. This book also acts, in a way, as a chronicle as to why Britain eventually did away with Capital Punishment – many of these cases have terrible things happen during the execution, it you can tell it scarred the main executioner quite a bit.

Another Solid historical offering from Pen and Sword, I’ll have to see if they have anymore books by this author, as a continuation of this series (if it becomes one) into later or previous years would be interesting. If you want a quick read to keep your true crime interest satiated, I’d recommend this book. It’s definitely to die for.

REVIEW: The Commandant of Auschwitz – Rudolf Höss (2021)

A book by Volker Koop

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

At some point this year, assuming Covid doesn’t keep ravaging the country, Kansas City will be hosting an exhibit that will showcase artifacts from Poland’s Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Having visited Dachau some twenty years ago in person, this might be the closest I could get to seeing these items for a long time, if ever. And if its anything like Dachau, I’m sure just seeing the artifacts will be a rough, if not VERY sobering experience. I mention this, because today’s topic is the man that made Auschwitz Concentration Camp so notorious, Rudolf Höss, and this new book about him The Commandant of Auschwitz, by Volker Koop and published by Pen and Sword Books. I basically wanted to educate myself more than what I was on the topic, and figured this book would be a solid look at the man responsible for one of the worst episodes in world history.

Koop does a solid job of not just regurgitating things from the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, and quickly points out that Höss appears to be a habitual liar in pretty much everything he does. Much of the information comes from things such as this material, but using historical records, and conflicting accounts by contemporaries, the portrait of a truly terrible man is painted. Even when everything was lost, and the man faced trial, he claimed to be a normal guy that just did his job and had no idea bad things were happening under his command. Reading some of the atrocities he signed off on, such as throwing children directly into a fire pit while still alive, was infuriating to say the least.

This was a tough read, for obvious reasons, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot about, perhaps, one of the biggest monsters in modern history. One would have hoped that he would have stayed in prison much longer than he did when he literally committed a political murder, but alas Hitler needed the most despicable to do his evil deeds. Very good book, if you are curious, or a WWII history buff, I’d check it out.

REVIEW: Shadowman by Andy Diggle Deluxe Edition (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Andy Diggle (Author), Stephen Segovia (Artist), Shawn Martinbrough (Artist), Doug Braithwaite (Artist), Renato Guedes (Artist)

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse on here regarding my love for Valiant Comics (but you can read me gushing about it here), but this Comic is yet another series that confirms that. Shadowman, is a long running character that has persisted for nearly 30 years in different forms, The character probably hit its peak in the late 1990s when a cult classic videogame hit the shelves, its a shame a rumored film was never produced during this time, as the property was especially hot then. The current iteration of the character is a much less 90s-riffic version of the original Shadowman, Jack Boniface, and his exploits fighting foes from the underworld using voodoo powers.

The rise of the Shadowman! For years, Jack Boniface believed that he knew the true story of the Shadowman loa – the true story of the curse inside him. He was wrong. Now, the man once known as Shadowman is returning home to sharpen the weapon within… and unleash a reckoning on the evils of our world that will soon send shockwaves through heaven and hell alike… Superstar writer Andy Diggle (Green Arrow: Year One, The Losers) joins high-octane artists Stephen Segovia (Action Comics), Shawn Martinbrough (Thief of Thieves), Doug Braithwaite (Justice), and Renato Guedes(Action Comics) to reveal the full scope and power of the Shadowman mythos in an oversized deluxe edition hardcover of the series Nerdist calls “killer”! Collecting SHADOWMAN (2018) #1-11, and SHADOWMAN/RAE SREMMURD #1, along with more than 20 pages of rarely seen art and extras!

FIRST WATCH: Andy Diggle & Stephen Segovia Descend Into the Deadside with  SHADOWMAN #3, Hitting Stores In May! - Comic Watch

When I last left the character, he was bound in eternal servitude in the underworld, and I wasn’t sure where the comic was going to go afterwards. I think I’ve missed a portion of the story past that, but they allude to everything in the narrative pretty well. This actually could be a decent start for somebody new to the series, it doesn’t get bogged down in past lore, and re-introduces everything slowly. At it’s core, Shadowman is Valiant’s main “magic” comic ala Constantine or Doctor Strange, if we think in terms of rival companies. What definitely sets it apart is the emphasis on Voodoo lore, and the setting itself.

While I had an advanced review copy of this in digital format, I have purchased hardcover deluxe editions from Valiant in the past, and they are really good production-wise and great bang for your buck. Instead of buying 3-4 trades at fifteen a pop each, they usually collect an entire series in one volume and price it to where you get a decent discount. I’m sure this will follow suit.

This is another solid edition in my Valiant Comics library, and I really love the character. I should have quickly reviewed this for Black History Month, as Shadowman is a VERY solid overlooked black superhero that more people should know about. Then again, that’s Valiant’s M.O. most of the time, being inclusive, but in a natural way, unlike some other guys that do it in the fake corporate way. Highly recommended if you have not checked these guys out before.

REVIEW: X-O Manowar Book 1 (2021)

by Dennis Hopeless

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’ve been a fan of Valiant Comics for a while now, especially since their relaunch about a decade ago. I think what sets them apart from other companies headed by out of touch movie execs or cartoon mice, is that they have their finger on the pulse with what fans actually want to read, and don’t pump tons of “fluff” into the market and over-saturate and shrink their audience through constant relaunches and special events. They have been amazing to interact with at conventions, and I honestly say say enough good things about them. Today’s topic is a graphic novel of the 2020 X-O Manowar book from Dennis Hopeless, I will admit, I’m about two years behind on keeping up with Valiant due to work keeping me VERY busy as of late, but I definitely wanted to read this as everyone’s favorite Visigoth Warrior is always one of my favorite titles.

“Save the day, destroy the world… Torn from the past and bonded with a living alien armor, will X-O Manowar become the hero the world needs now? As a futuristic force arises to destroy the planet, only this ancient warrior king has the courage to stand against impossible odds! Harvey Award winning writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (All-New X-Men) and breakout star Emilio Laisio (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) unleash Valiant’s most powerful protector! Collecting X-O MANOWAR (2020) #1-4.”

This most recent storyline adds some grounding the the character that I really enjoyed. Prince Aric, in the past, has been somewhat distant from much of humanity considering his personality and origin of being a warrior from over a thousand years ago. This sticks him into a domestic situation, as he attempts to live amongst the people he tries to protect – all to a variable amount of success. One can’t help draw comparisons to either Spawn or Thor, which both had similar grounding to those characters that made them have a bit of humanity. Also, the “fish out of water antics” are perfect for a bit of humor. We are also introduced to a advisor-type character that is not unlike Elon Musk in real world terms, in Troy Whitaker. I’m not convinced he isn’t a villain as of yet, but he does help X-O with his image problem.

This is a solid read, and a perfect starting point if you’ve never read anything from Valiant before. If you are jaded with comics, or are tired of the nonsense “the big two” are always up to – give this a try! It’s honestly bee hard to go back after I started reading comics that are fun again.

REVIEW: Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder (2021)

A graphic novel by Zabus & art by Antonello Dalena

Apparently, Hercules Intergalactic Agent: Book 2 The Intruder is the second book in a series that I was unaware of, I only realized after I started reading and saw the tiny “book 2” that was sighed an audible “oops.” Thankfully it’s honestly pretty easy to grasp what was happening despite missing the “first episode” as it were. It tells the story of a couple of underdogs, bottom of their class, students at an intergalactic agent school.

“Hercules and Marlon are in their second year of intergalactic agent school and they still have a lot to learn! But when their teacher is bitten by a strange alien creature, they’ll need to put down the books and leap into action because the sickness affecting Teach seems to be spreading throughout the school…”

While this isn’t really meant for kids, as it alludes to cursing a few times, the messages in the book would be good for a kid’s book – never judging a book by its cover, and having compassion for all living things. It has a pretty strong allegory to the recent string of migrant and asylum seeker crises that have arisen as of late, which makes it a pretty forward thinking book. The allusions could be a tad heavy-handed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The art is fun, and it reminds me of something from the 80’s Heavy Metal movie.

REVIEW: Brontë (2021)

by Manuela Santoni

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

“Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—faced with an ailing father and an alcoholic brother—pursue independence through art in this graphic vision of the lives of three legendary writers.”

Going into this, I sadly did not know much of the Brontë sisters aside from a passing knowledge of how the initially wrote under pseudonyms, ad their untimely deaths due to tuberculosis at relatively the same time. This book did an amazing job filling in the gaps for the most formative time period of their lives – the moment that they decided to start publishing their writings to help save their family. With an ailing father, and a deadbeat brother addicted to both alcohol and opium, the sisters set aside their fears of judgement and finally publish their works to much critical acclaim. It was not until death met their mighty blow, that much of the world found out the true nature of the three writers that took nineteenth century England by storm, and defined that time period for many people in the modern era.

Manuela Santoni has a simple pen drawn art style that was interesting to see. At a few moments, some actions are hard to understand due to this stylistic limitation, but the script is there to cover for it. all-in-all this was a very well-done book and very informative.

REVIEW: The Two Lives of Penelope (2021)

A Graphic Novel by Judith Vanistendael

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Before today, Judith Vanistendael was completely off of my radar as a comic creator, which is a complete shame as she has put together easily the best book I’ve read this month. Rendered in gorgeous watercolor paintings and poetic text, The Two Lives of Penelope is not your typical comic book and is a VERY emotional roller coaster ride for the short time that one is reading it. Dealing with a heavy topic such as the mental health issues that arise when one spends too much time in a war zone doing humanitarian work, This book was both not easy to read and not easy to put down at the same time. Nothing particularly heinous happens in the comic, I just feel bad for the entire family, that despite their troubles, are hanging in there.

“Penelope is a Belgian physician who works with Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Syria. She returns to Belgium when she can in order to see her husband and daughter, but the transition is hard. Her latest trip home for the holidays proves even tougher than usual, as the coexistence of the two excruciatingly different worlds she inhabits becomes increasingly fraught.”

Taking place in the middle of the still raging Syrian Civil War, this book tells the tale of a humanitarian surgeon attempting to spend some time with her family before she travels back into the war zone. In many ways, this should be a time to relax, but sadly her life is now that of a war doctor, and her home life is increasingly hard to cope with. Penelope has PTSD (or something similar), and cannot connect to the needs of her family anymore – when one deals with war atrocities on a day-to-day basis things like a style of preferred winter coat, or a daughter worried about her nose size are no longer of great significance. She is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by her job – and can’t seperate from it anymore – it is her now. Everyone deals with this the best they can, and sadly we do not get any resolution – one can assume Penelope is still in Syria to this day.

Every once in a while, you come across a comic that surpasses the medium and is an instant classic – for me The Two Lives of Penelope is up there with comics such as Persepolis and even Maus, as a comic tackling a VERY tough subject matter in such a way that it becomes something that should be required reading. I will definitely check into other works by the author, and keep an eye on this, as I really hope this book gets the attention it deserves.

REVIEW: Babylon (2021)

A book by Laurent Galandon, Frank Giroud & art by Philippe Nicloux

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Another day, another book by one of my new “companies to look out for”, Europe Comics. Babylon is another French comic, translated into English. I’ve recently come across a handful of their comics, and have really enjoyed them. Comics from western Europe have an entirely different feel to them than either the United States or Japan, focusing more on mature stories vs superheroes and the like, and for that I love them.

“If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, Max Ferlane is your man: a good man with skills a bad past has left him. Now he’s trying to leave that bad life behind, put those skills to good use. He’s in the Congo rescuing a young girl from an arranged marriage when an old employer turns up: the Babylon Agency, specializing in high-profile political exfiltrations. Max is forced into a different, far more dangerous mission that will take him deep into warring jungles and his own past mistakes. For Max’s PTSD hallucinations are only getting worse…”

At first glance, and in the initial few pages, I figured this was going to be a bog-standard run-of-the-mill mercenary for hire story, but was surprisingly wrong when things took a weird turn. There are times in the book, where you are led to believe that things have suddenly gone VERY science fiction VERY fast, but its not what you think. Having the book take place somewhere in Eastern Africa, was also interesting, and gave the setting a bit of a political edge that I really enjoy in European Comics. That said, In many ways, Max Ferlane is somewhat of a cliché character in comics, one part Snake Pliskin, another Max Payne (if anyone else remembers that game), but this doesn’t detract from the story in any way.

This is the first part of a multi-part story, and I will eagerly be waiting for the next chapter. With my quibbles aside regarding some clichés, The setting, plot, and characters are cool enough to keep me reading. Yeah, it’s basically “Escape from Congo”, but that’s honestly better than most of the actual sequels to that franchise.

REVIEW: The Cimmerian Vol. 2 (2021)

by Sylvain Runberg, Robin Recht, Robert E. Howard

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

By Crom! Conan The Cimmerian has appeared in comics almost nonstop since the 1970s (even a few appearances beforehand). Whether it be Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, or Dynamite Comics, there is always some company producing their take on the legendary, thief, barbarian and king. In the U.S., I’m pretty sure that Dynamite still has the Conan rights (I could be wrong), but in Italy, Ablaze Publishing had an interesting option: they could freely publish comics related to Conan, without specifically calling them “Conan” or “Conan the Barbarian” comics, even though that’s what they are. Thus “The Cimmerian” was born.

This series is a pretty cool alternative to the other Conan Comics out there. About half of the book is comprised of adaptations of classic Conan stories The People of The Black Circle, and The Frost-Giant’s Daughter. The rest of the book, aside from the typical art section and cover gallery, found in most trade editions, are the entire prose versions of the same stories, originally printed in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales or Fantasy Fan Magazine nearly 100 years ago. Due to the properties interesting status in Europe, they have the freedom to do something like this without dealing with multiple rights holders, and I absolutely LOVED it.

This is as true to a “true” take on Conan can be. All of the heavier stuff such as gore and sex, that other comics might avoid, is here in the open just as Robert E, Howard intended. The dialogue can be a bit verbose in places, especially in The People of the Black Circle, but that can be directly tied to the size of the comics that were published and the amount of dialogue in the original story.

I went into this without reading the first volume, but plan to go back now that I see the quality of this is en pointe. While the typical issues that arise from translating a comic are there a bit, its not bad, nor does it detract from the story. As a HUGE Conan and Red Sonja fan, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read this.

REVIEW: Marsupilami: The Beast (2021)

A book by Zidrou & Frank Pé

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

After reading another book by the aptly-named publishing house, European Comics, and absolutely loving it – I decided to wade into their catalogue to see what else they had to offer. I picked Marsupilami based on the cover, as it looked fairly interesting. I’m glad I did because this was a great comic in each and every way.

“Belgium, 1955. A mysterious animal is caught in the jungles of South America and transported to Europe on a cargo ship, where it ends up starving and half-dead on the outskirts of Brussels. François, a young boy with a fondness for taking in strays, finds it and brings it home to his mother and his menagerie—his best and only friends. As the son of a departed German soldier, François is the favorite target of every bully in school. Nobody can identify the strange creature with the voracious appetite and the stupendously long tail, and François figures his new pet is perfect for show-and-tell… But with a wild beast and a small classroom, things quickly get out of hand. Will this spell the end for François’s new animal friend? The real story of the legendary Marsupilami!”

Marsupilami is an interesting story, not too different than a typical “dog bites somebody and the villainous neighborhood busybody wants it put down” story with a number of interesting twists. First and foremost – the setting. This takes place in Belgium a decade after the end of World War II. With the war over, some wounds take time to heal, and being seen as someone that had ANYTHING to do with the German occupation put that person in a bad place. Thus the plight of our hero Francois, a boy relentlessly bullied at school due to being the lovechild of a Belgian Woman and a German Soldier, he retreats into a world of taking care of exotic animals in his very own home menagerie.

Next up we have the “dog” which is a crazy cryptid of some sort – seemingly a monkey with feline attributes and a 30 foot long tail. I was initially worried this would be a simple horror story with “The Beast” going on a rampage, but truthfully he seems pretty intelligent and acts only in self-preservation. whether it be animal smugglers, or The bullies at Francois’ school – something is always trying to attack the poor creature. Francois and his family, including the animals, are his only allies, it seems.

This was part one of a two part story, it’s hard to read it without the other half, but I quite enjoyed this. The setting was awesome, and the tropes were used well to create something wholly unique. I can’t wait to finish this, but hope that it doesn’t end on a huge downer.

REVIEW: Wild West (2021)

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A graphic novel by Thierry Gloris & Lamontagne Jacques

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I’m a big fan of European comics (which is coincidentally the name of this books publisher, but I mean the geographical area), usually because they don’t worry about keeping everything for children at all times, and treat the material far more seriously than in either Japan or America. That isn’t to say its all gore-filled pornography either, its just like the difference between an HBO show and a Disney+ show in terms of sensibility, if that makes sense. I’ve been on a big Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal kick as of late, so I was intrigued to see a French language comic (translated, of course) about Calamity Jane, and how a European publisher would handle the “origin story” of the famous frontierswoman.

“The westward drive of Americans after the Civil War was unstoppable. For some, the vast territory meant new wealth and new opportunities. The ever-progressing railroads made many rich. Whereas others found their fortune selling the flesh of the less fortunate. In a brothel in Omaha, all manner of destinies intersect in a violent collision that many won’t survive. This is the incredible story of Martha Cannary, a young woman who shrugged off what destiny had in store for her and made herself into a legend.”

Wild West comic book sample Calamity Jane

Wild West is a quick read at only 66 pages, but it tells its story well, and doesn’t linger too long. Honestly, I hope they produce more of this, as this is basically the story of her beginnings and her first encounter with Wild Bill Hickock and up to her enlistment into the US Army under the pretense that she’s a boy rather than a woman. The thing about Calamity jane, and whether this book is historical, is that most of her backstory was created as a booklet to market her “character” at a series of tours that she participated in. I assume a lot of this was embellished, and sadly we’ll never know for sure. Not much is said about her time working as a prostitute (which is the focal point of this story), so I imagine there is a lot of artistic liberty here, with something that already had some to begin with.

All-in-all, this was a great comic with exquisite, detailed artwork. for fans of history, western comics, European comics, or just adult comics in general, this would be a great addition to your collection. I’m not certain that the book is available physically in the US, but a digital copy (like the one I have) is very affordable. This is a publisher that is now on my radar, if their quality is this good on everything, I’ll have to do some more research.

REVIEW: Celtic Spirituality (2021)

Great Odin's Raven!

A book by Philip Freeman

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

“Translated from their original languages—Gaulish, Latin, Irish, and Welsh—the passages and stories in Celtic Spirituality are true artifacts of the Celts’ vibrant and varied religion from both the pre-Christian and early Christian period. From a ritual of magical inspiration to stories of the ancient gods and adventures of long-forgotten heroes, Freeman has unearthed a stunning collection of Celtic work. The translation is accessible to the modern reader, but maintains the beauty and vibrancy of the original. Celtic Spirituality includes material that has never been translated before, offering a new glimpse into the wisdom and wild magic of the Celts.”

I’ve read a few other books on Celtic Paganism, but most were trying to…

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