Syphon

In their profession, EMTs are surrounded by the pain of those they seek to help. In Mohsen Ashraf’s miniseries Syphon, this reality manifests literally in the life of Sylas, who finds himself able to recognize and siphon away other people’s pain—a newfound power that will test him more than he expects.

The story drops us into the midst of an ongoing supernatural conflict. A woman is murdered while attempting to save a stranger. The powers she possessed pass to a man named Sylas, chosen out of many because of his desire to help others. And with his new abilities, Sylas realizes he can do exactly that: alleviate the hurt of anyone he encounters. But carrying the burdens of others takes its toll—on his health, his relationships, his life. Enter a charismatic stranger. Sylas’s new friend shares the same abilities and understands how to use them in unexpected ways. He offers Sylas another path. But what first promises relief carries a different sort of cost. As Sylas decides how he will wield the power he inherited, he will be forced to choose sides in a conflict stretching back across the ages.

In a time of real-world turmoil for many of us readers, a comic with this premise sounds both excellent and timely. Ashraf’s story is co-written with Patrick Meaney, and they clearly set out with high ambitions. Syphon delivers essentially a superhero origin story in a more grounded universe. It’s a paranormal noir that also has strong thematic ambitions. What does it mean to carry the weight of the world? How much of a difference can one life make? How do you find the balance between caring for others and caring for yourself? These are real questions and Syphon tackles them head-on.

At the same time, this three-issue series also seeks to entertain. Building toward dramatic confrontations and moments of crisis, the creators incorporate stylings of both superhero and noir genres. With action and quieter moments, the comic draws readers into an epic conflict of supernatural beings and the very nature of life itself.

Unfortunately, having the right ingredients does not guarantee success, and with Syphon, it feels as though the ambitions of the storytellers outshine the delivery. The pacing feels rushed, with stretches of time and key moments of character development happening in very short spans. Storytelling that should take its time is often implied, and the larger themes are never given room to breathe. In the end, Syphon does convey the message it sets out to, but the plot ultimately feels like a summary rather than a journey, offering nothing more than cursory resolution to questions that are worth dwelling on. With underdeveloped elements and an ending that feels like a break rather than a conclusion, it’s a series that could have achieved a great deal more if only it had been allowed the time and space to grow, rather than being forced into existence all at once.

Through it all, Sylas’s story is brought to life in the art of Jeff Edwards. Sometimes gritty and sometimes cartoonish, the visuals are consistent in style but mixed in effect. The high contrasts and bold colors make the characters’ powers pop off the page in dramatic effect. There are moments where the action nearly seems to glow of its own accord. With instances of layered paneling and unique imagery, Edwards delivers some strong visual moments that are shining examples of what comics can achieve. Unfortunately, there are other sequences—usually the more mystical ones—that become difficult to follow as elements tumble together across the page. Like the writing, the art has a lot to achieve, and it simply isn’t always able to rise to the occasion.

The publisher rates Syphon as Teen+, and this seems a fitting assessment of the intended audience. There are moments of more graphic violence and injury, though these are mitigated slightly by the art style, and there is little else in the way of mature content. Otherwise, in theme and content, Syphon’s greatest appeal will be with older teens and adults.

In summary, Syphon is not a title you need to rush to purchase. If readers of your collection lean toward paranormal noir with an artistic style reminiscent of Charles Soule’s Curse Words and you find yourself looking to fill a hole in your collection, then Syphon might be worth considering, especially since it requires no commitment to an ongoing series. This miniseries has some key things going for it, but to put it simply, there are stronger genre titles out there, and Syphon doesn’t make enough use of its various pieces to deliver a worthy whole.


Syphon
By Mohsen Ashraf, Patrick Meaney
Art by Jeff Edwards
Image Top Cow, 2021
ISBN: 9781534320734
Publisher Age Rating: T+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)

Sunstone, Book One

Sunstone may be one of the few comics that can boast that most of its readers first read a few pages at a time on social media. It is also a comic many fans will deny having read. This is because Sunstone is a work of erotica. It is also, in equal parts, a coming-of-age story, a rom-com, and a slice of life sitcom.

Sunstone is, by the admission of author and artist Stjepan Sejic, largely plotless. This is because the story that became Sunstone started out as a side project Sejic posted on DeviantArt to amuse himself and to keep from burning out on other projects. Sejic relates the full story in this volume in the afterword, but the short version is that he started out drawing short, funny comic strips about a pair of women in a consensual BDSM relationship and then started wondering how these two nerdy, funny women wound up meeting.

The two women in question are Ally and Lisa. Ally is a computer programmer and something of a loner, with no friends apart from her ex-boyfriend Alan. (The relationship ended after they both realized they were Dominants after several years of experimenting in college.) Lisa is an aspiring erotica writer who has yet to act on her submissive fantasies in real life. As Sunstone opens, the two women agree to meet in person after a long flirtation online and what they intend to be something fun and light quickly becomes more serious, to the surprise of both women, neither of whom has ever had a female lover or a dominant/submissive relationship before.

This could have become sleazy or exploitive quite easily, but Sejic’s sense of humor shines throughout, even in the parts of Sunstone that are meant to be purely erotic. As Lisa notes in the book’s introduction, Sunstone is a love story, first and foremost. The fact that it is also full of “hot lesbian bondage sex” is incidental to the fact that the story is all about who Lisa and Ally are as people and why they fall head over heels in love, despite their mutual reluctance to get involved in something serious. For those who aren’t into romance, Sunstone is also a hilarious comedy which mocks those people who think the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey was at all accurate to how the subculture truly works.

Sejic’s artwork is as strong as his scripting and dialogue, with each character having a memorable and unique appearance. This is rather important as most of the characters, male and female, are redheads. (A fact which Ally jokes about as she looks around at her friends at one point.) There are a variety of body types on display—literally so, in some pages. Despite the many splash pages and pin-ups, Sejic has a tremendous gift for story flow and guiding the reader’s eye to where it needs to go on pages without clear panel structures.

Sunstone is rated for audiences 18+ and rightly so. This Is not a graphic novel for the prudish, which should not be surprising given the subject matter. However, while this is an erotic comic with men and women in various states of undress throughout and frank discussions of sex, sexuality, and kinks, it is still a story about people and love.

Sunstone: Book One 
By Stjepan Sejic
Image Top Cow, 2017
ISBN: 9781534301504

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,

Punderworld, vol. 1 

PunderworldA workaholic god of the Underworld pining for a lively, but sheltered earth goddess—it’s a tale as old as time. In this retelling of the classic Greek myth, Hades and Persephone’s mutual crush has been two centuries in the making, though there hasn’t been much headway. However, following a pep talk from Zeus, and a bit of emboldening liquor, Hades is determined to confess his feelings for her at last. Meanwhile, Persephone faces her own challenges: a controlling mother, a longing for freedom, the strain of maintaining a perpetual summer, the usual. When a meddling case of divine intervention brings the two together, what follows is a series of misadventures that sees our protagonists descend from the heavens all the way down to the dark depths of the Underworld. Revitalizing the story for a new generation, this stunning first volume of Punderworld illustrates the beginning of the relationship that forever altered the very forces of nature.

All cards on the table, the myth of Hades and Persephone is one of my favorites, so it did not take long for this comic to completely win me over. I have actually been following Punderworld since its beginning, when it mainly consisted of one-off shorts the author and illustrator, Linda Sejic, would create in-between updates on her other webcomic, Blood Stain. Revisiting the work as a complete volume was a treat, as I was able to notice certain elements, mostly design choices, that I had not noticed before.

Sejic’s artistic interpretation of the Greek pantheon is what truly brings this comic into its own. The Greek gods and goddesses have undergone numerous reimaginings throughout the years, each calling for a design that evokes familiarity, but also showcases the illustrator’s unique style and vision. Sejic balances the two perfectly, incorporating elements that give readers an immediate sense of who these characters are and an insight into their personalities. Utilizing simple color palettes through clothing for each design, such as blue and white for Zeus, black with a hint of gold trim for Hades, and a subtly watermelon-striped motif for Demeter, the creator establishes a clear connection between the presentation of these figures and their respective domains. Personally, I fell in love with the decision to give each god and goddess a “crown” that serves as an additional visual representation of their fields: Zeus with his laurel of lightning, Hades’s helm of invisibility, which appears as bone-colored horns, a crescent moon that floats above Artemis’s head, and flowers entwined in Persephone’s hair that alter based on her mood, which in turn better exemplifies her every expression. Seijic’s style excels at displaying the ethereal qualities of both the gods and the world around them, from the striking, atmospheric backgrounds to the cozy lighting of certain panels. All these elements combine to create versions of these immortal figures that stand out amongst prior iterations, while at the same time matching perfectly with this comic’s specific tone and direction.

The story itself is accessible to both newcomers and long-time lovers of Greek mythology, as it avoids throwing too much exposition at readers, but still includes small references in the background for those in the know. Sejic includes explanations of the more niche aspects of the mythology, like the laws of hospitality amongst the gods or certain festivals done in their names. While earlier versions paint the pair as captor and captive—though some will differ on Persephone’s willingness to be with Hades—the creator instead presents a more light-hearted, consensual pining stuttered with innocent misassumptions and just a bit of awkwardness. The image of a more emotionally aware, non-imposing Hades is a welcome and refreshing one, and a Persephone who breaks away from the consistent doe-eyed and naïve portrayal is a major plus. Even Demeter, who typically plays the role of overbearing helicopter parent, gains a more well-rounded and understandable characterization near the volume’s end. While not beat-for-beat accurate to the original myth, Punderworld offers a new facet on the Hades and Persephone tale, one that will interest those captivated with stories of forbidden love with a touch of comedy.

The mythological aspect of the comic may also appeal to those swept up in other retellings, such as Lore Olympus, another webcomic getting a physical release this year that follows a more modern version of the Hades and Persephone myth, or for the older fans of George O’Connor’s Olympians series, which features a more traditional interpretation.

With a publisher-given rating of T+, meaning for ages 16 and older, I would recommend purchasing this title for any young adult or adult collection. Young adults and adults alike will be charmed by the series’ rompish nature and sense of humor, which is sure to make an impression on those looking for another engaging and transformative take on this mythic power couple.


Punderworld, vol. 1 
By Linda Sejic
Image Top Cow, 2021
ISBN: 9781534320727
Publisher Age Rating: T+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Croatian

The Clock, vol. 1

The Clock

In light of the phenomenal Covid-19 pandemic, imagine what would happen if a catastrophe of this magnitude was engineered by a diabolical mastermind?  What if a widespread, unstoppable disease emerged from the brainchild of a sinister conspiracy?  Matt Hawkins and Colleen Doran tackle these questions in a thrilling tale that explores such possibilities in the doomsday graphic novel, The Clock.

The story begins in a Nigerian refugee encampment in a not so distant future, as professor and immunotherapist lead researcher Jack Davidson investigates a viral cancer that has infected and killed a wide swath of the human population in just three weeks. His own wife has died from it and his nine-year-old daughter Kimmie has recently been diagnosed with it. While heading back to the U.S., he crosses paths with a mysterious stranger who slips him a piece of paper with a single sentence scrawled on it: “Your wife was murdered.”  This note triggers a series of rapid-fire events akin to a Hitchcockian espionage thriller, and amidst this cataclysmic threat, he becomes implicated in a murder, turning him into a fugitive from the law. Like a relentless nightmare that shifts from bad to worse and rises to a feverish pitch, Jack must uncover the truth as those closest to him become targets for murder.

As the mystery deepens, The Clock unfolds at the pace of a runaway train speeding off its tracks. A global conspiracy surfaces with signs of weaponizing this pervasive cancer that could trigger the onslaught of World War III. Like the quintessential Hitchcockian character thrust into an extraordinarily maddening situation, Jack must fend for his life as he races against time to uncover the mystery behind a nefarious plot to destroy humanity. A taut thriller narrated in part through newspaper headlines, television news reports, websites, and social media feeds, the narrative momentum flows at a steady yet intense pace. Lengthy scientific explanations occupy some panels, though the jargon remains plausibly comprehensible. Doran’s artwork captures a wide range of facial expressions, nuanced in part by character interactions framed in medium close-up shots. Various shades of lighting set the mood and tone in each panel, mirroring the narrative action as each scene unfolds.

While the heart-racing plot ratchets up the tension and suspense, the conclusion fizzles out and falls flat in a rather anti-climactic way, leaving much to be desired and explained. The climax and falling action seem rushed from a storytelling perspective. Extra features include a cover gallery and penciled sketch panels by Colleen Doran. A bonus “Science Class” section highlights information on cancer statistics and a list of different types of cancer accompanied by resource links for further exploration into the scientific and ethical issues raised in The Clock. For libraries aiming to build their apocalyptic science fiction thrillers, there may be better developed stories out there, though loyal fans might still appreciate Doran’s artistic prowess in rendering the gamut of human emotions through her finely crafted illustrations.

The Clock, Vol. 1
By Matt Hawkins
Art by Colleen Doran
Image Comics/Top Cow, 2020
ISBN: 9781534316119

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

Postal: Deliverance, vol. 1

Postal: Deliverance is a gripping portrait of the interconnected lives of one small group of people. The story winds its way from a life of leisure in the Sunshine State to a stoic, self-righteous community in Wyoming. In this gritty tale by Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill, violence begets violence and happy endings are a myth.

The story opens with Erik on the run. He is chased by men in military garb. He kills them and heads home. He finds his wife and child have been murdered. Meanwhile, in Florida an older couple appear to be spending their retirement in relative peace. The woman, Laura, is restless and bored. While out in town she comes across a young boy named Pascal who is the target of a local gang. They want him to join. Laura intervenes and eventually takes Pascal under her wing. She teaches him self defense and he takes out his anger and frustration on the gang members who hurt him. In retaliation, the gang murders Pascal’s mother and he goes to Laura and her husband, Magnum, for help. They are not what they appear. During this time, in Wyoming a close-knit community deals with the appearance of Erik. His presence sits uneasy with a lot of people. It appears that anyone can pay the mayor, Mark, to live in his community but not everyone is welcome. While at the community bar, Erik kills a man and his punishment is Old Testament-level harsh. The story ends on a cliff-hanger that begs the question: how are all of these lives connected?

Postal: Deliverance is a brutal story that feels lived-in. Raffaele Ienco’s artwork is so realistic that the story itself is believable even if the dialogue is slightly wooden and humorless. There is no light to the darkness of its reality. The writing lends to the stark atmosphere of pain and retaliation, whereas the illustrations are the real story tellers. Nothing is toned down by the artwork. The blood is bright red. Bruises are deep purples and blacks. The change in location throughout the story is easy to discern through subtle changes to the light and color of a scene. Florida is sunny and full of oranges and yellows while Wyoming is darker with neutral tans and blues. The sadness and anger of the story comes through the drawn and pinched faces of every character. Postal: Deliverance is a revenge story with a touch of noir and dystopia thrown in for good measure.

Postal: Deliverance is appropriate for readers age 18 and up due to graphic violence, gore, and language. It will appeal to readers of Steve Orlando’s Virgil and Jeff Lemire’s Gideon Falls.

Postal: Deliverance, vol. 1
By Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill
Art by Raffaele Ienco
ISBN: 9781534315167
Top Cow, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M

Vindication

Over the past several years there have been groundbreaking works that capture the black experience, especially when it comes to confrontations with police: TV shows like When They See Us, documentaries like 13th, and novels like The Hate U Give. As a white person, works like these have been especially helpful for me to gain insight into the black experience in America and more importantly, have elevated the voices of their creators in a profound and meaningful way. Vindication feels as if it wants to do what these works do so well and capture it for a comics audience, though it falls short.

Vindication begins with the intrigue of a gritty police procedural, though that intrigue doesn’t hold up long. The book opens on a full page set in a courtroom, with main character Turn Washington being sentenced to life in prison for “what [he] did to that girl.” Page two flash forwards ten years into the future, with Turn being released from prison. It will be several more pages until we find out why—a judge overturned the conviction. Don’t worry about the details, they’re essentially moot. What follows is a convoluted plot that will struggle to hold the attention of even the most persistent reader. The twists and turns lead to an unremarkable final reveal that Turn was “framed,” sort of. A crooked cop investigating Turn, Detective Chip Christopher, is also “vindicated,” sort of. It turns out that Chip isn’t the blatant racist we’re made to assume he is at the beginning of the book, he just does shoddy work in an effort to solve cases with disregard to actual facts or evidence. All of this makes for a forgettable reading experience.

At the root of the problem is cumbersome dialogue. There is a plot here, though not one that is particularly engaging, and whatever highlights exist are buried by wasted moments and inconsequential panels. In a medium where dialogue is at a premium and words and pictures must come together for a story to unfold, Vindication’s script lapses into the throwaway dialogue of everyday life to the point of it being detrimental to the book as a whole. For example, in a panel when a character grabs their coat, the accompanying speech balloon is “One sec. I need to grab my coat.” Or when two characters walk into a bar together we get an entire panel with a single balloon of “I’m gonna find a place to sit.” Throwaway dialogue is sometimes necessary. If a character answers the phone, we expect them to say “hello.” But after that, the writing has a duty to lure readers in with active dialogue that moves the action forward. Unfortunately, it’s worth calling out in Vindication because so often the dialogue slips into this rut.

In contrast, Carlos Miko’s pencils are dependable and bring a realistic style that serves the story, though there are select panels where the story progression stalls, like when Turn confronts his brother in a bar and the art repeats itself in a string of four nearly identical panels. Thiago Goncalves’ colors are consistently great and he delivers a muted palette that adds grit to every page. But, despite the art working to save the story, it can’t quite pull off the trick. Even with well laid out panels and smart color choices, nothing can break through the script standing in the way.

Is Vindication an important comic that belongs on the shelves of libraries nationwide? No. Does comics need stories that call out racial injustice? Yes. So if you’re looking for a police procedural full of hard-boiled characters and inexplicable cat and mouse police work, this is the book for you. Just don’t expect much more beyond that shallow dive.

Vindication
By MD Marie
Art by Carlos Miko
ISBN: 9781534312371
Image/Top Cow, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M

The Freeze, Vol. 1

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

The echoes of this poem rebounded in my head as I think back on The Freeze, volume 1. In Dan Wickline’s take on the apocalypse, the world’s inhabitants simultaneously freeze in place, with just one exception: Ray Adams. And not only is Ray unfrozen, but he has the power to unfreeze others.

Ray unfreezes several people without understanding his power: He simply touches them and they come to life. With four people unfrozen, someone speaks up and suggests that the group carefully consider who Ray touches next. With that logic, Ray selectively unfreezes people who have been identified as someone who can best meet the needs of a growing community—people who can grow food, get the power on, etc.—with the group trying to research the backgrounds of those best fit to be unfrozen. However, not all of those unfrozen can accept this new reality. Some see Ray as Noah or Christ, while others don’t trust his power or agree with the way their community is developing.

The philosophical and moral questions of how societies form and who gets to assess and mete out justice are asked in each passing page. Wickline does not beat the reader about the head with these questions, but poses them naturally as each conflict arises. He balances two timelines (Ray’s story of the Freeze and the present moment of a helicopter rescue mission) without confusion and does not spend too long on any one scene. While that does leave you with questions (Is Ray’s dog the only animal that’s unfrozen? How is the internet working?!), the mystery of the mutilated bodies and the intent of the helicopter rescue propel you through the story.

Phillip Sevy, the artist, is faced with the challenge of differentiating between frozen characters and those in action in a two-dimensional medium. Those who are frozen are cast in flat, blue-tinted colors, while those unfrozen are warm and rich with shadowy dimension. Objects in motion, like Ray’s taxi or the rescue helicopter, seem to glow against the flat images of stalled cars and crashed planes. While gruesome and likely disturbing for some readers, perhaps the most visceral and talented display of Sevy’s art is the frozen bodies who have had their hearts removed. He even explains his technique of taking pictures of himself repeatedly in various poses (calling them the “Council of Phils”) in the “Freeze Frame” section in the back matter.

With half-naked mutilated bodies and complex moral questions, this comic is appropriately rated M. However, teens are unlikely to be too affected by the gore, as such imagery is readily available throughout media. Reading this comic brought to mind not only Robert Frost’s poem, but also Stephen King’s The Stand in its consideration of how small groups of people adapt to form societies that inevitably devolve into parties of good versus evil. Despite the gore, the questions that the comic raises about morality and society merit this volume’s place on your shelves.

The Freeze, vol. 1
By Dan Wickline
Art by Phillip Sevy
ISBN: 9781534312111
Image/Top Cow, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: M

Common Grounds

commongrounds
       
Common Grounds is a lost treasure of the Modern Age of Comics. (That’s not hyperbole. I literally lost my copies of the original six-issue mini-series somewhere along the line and only recently rediscovered the series after chancing upon the trade paperback collection in a used book store.)

There is no over-riding plot or main character in Common Grounds. Instead, writer Troy Hickman presents a series of thirteen vignettes built around the titular chain of coffee shops. Founded by a retired superhero named Big Money, the goal of the chain was to give costumed crime-fighters a place to relax in their masked personas while they were off duty. In an effort to foster understanding and peace, costumed criminals are also welcomed provided they leave their grudges at the door.

These interludes run the gamut from low comedy to high drama, occasionally playing with both comedic and dramatic elements at the same time. The opening story, “Beyond the Speed of Life,” sets this balanced tone perfectly. It tells the story of a reporter interviewing his favorite superhero, The Speeding Bullet, at a nearby Common Grounds location. The Speeding Bullet is a speedster who is widely beloved by the public and acknowledged as one of the greatest heroes in the world. He is also, to the surprise of the reporter, largely unsatisfied with his life outside of heroism. While he loves helping people and is thankful for the opportunities his powers give him, “SB” does express his wish for the ability to slow down on occasion and his desire to live a normal life.

It would be easy to play the problems of a man with super-speed off for laughs or for Speeding Bullet to come off as a bit of a whiner, but Hickman seriously examines how super-speed with the heightened perceptions to match your reflexes would make everyday life a bit more difficult. For instance, being able to eat whatever you want due to a heightened metabolism that burns off excess calories in minutes sounds great in theory, but the fact of the matter is you have to spend more time in the bathroom than a normal person. Why? Well, there are some things you can’t do at super speed. Such is Hickman’s gift as a writer that he can play up the comedy such situations while simultaneously exploring the dramatic elements of the superhero genre.

The book’s cast features a host of other such memorable characters, but my favorite is probably Moshe Chomsky. Moshe is a devout Hasidic Rabbi who somehow developed the power to melt anything he touches. Moshe is an honestly good person who prays for guidance and struggles to find constructive uses for a destructive ability, all while trying to tolerate “the smart-alecks in the media” who dubbed him “The Acidic Jew,” with good humor. There’s no small amount of irony that such a potentially deadly power should wind up in the hands of someone so ill-disposed toward violence and hurting people and it is fun to watch Hickman play off the clichés of comics (which demand that anyone with fire powers have a temper or anyone with cold powers be emotionally distant) in this way.

This is one of the best-looking comics series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, featuring an all-star roster of artists. Dan Jurgens does the lion’s share of the work, having drawn six of the thirteen vignettes but there’s not a single scrub in the line-up. Michael Avon Oeming. Ethan Van Sciver. Chris Bachalo. Carlos Pacheco. Angel Medina. Sam Kieth. The legendary George Perez. You’d be hard pressed to get one artist of this caliber for a mini-series, let alone all of these fine artists!

Common Grounds is a must read for any fan of the superhero genre, as well as those who typically dismiss superhero stories as childish fantasies. There are some truly complex stories here, with none of the gore or overt sexuality one usually expects in a Top Cow graphic novel. Indeed, apart from some frank discussions about superhero sexuality ala the Man of Steel/Woman of Kleenex debate, there’s no material in this collection I would consider objectionable for a teenage audience.

Common Grounds
by Troy Hickman
Art by Dan Jurgens, Michael Avon Oeming, Ethan Van Sciver, Chris Bachalo, Carlos Pacheco, Angel Medina, Sam Kieth and George Perez
ISBN: 9781582408415
Top Cow Productions, 2007
Publisher Age Rating: (13+)

Broken Trinity

brokentrinityBroken Trinity is graphic novel anthology that collects issues from a Top Cow crossover event involving characters from Witchblade and The Darkness comics. Picking up after the events of an earlier crossover, forces beyond our world are battling it out for supremacy, leaving Sara Pezzini (the bearer of the Witchblade) and Jackie Estacado, The Darkness, as the only defenders of the Earth. These two individuals recently had a child together, which has drawn the attention of The Angelus, a group of celestial angels who have taken an interest in the infant. Meanwhile, two ancient artifacts have found new masters that, when worn, turn them into mythical beasts from ages past destined to fight each other for eternity. These two forces ultimately interfere with the Angelus, Witchblade and The Darkness resulting in a five way battle royale.

First and foremost, Broken Trinity will not make much sense to those who have not been following Witchblade and The Darkness. Not only is Broken Trinity set some time after the last major crossover between these two franchises, it references material from that event and doesn’t explicitly say why Estacado can’t use his powers, the comic assumes you already know. Furthermore, the story doesn’t end after you’ve closed the book. Broken Trinity is the start of an entirely new story arc that tasks the major players with hunting down several mysterious artifacts. Despite the investment needed to really get the most out of Broken Trinity, I could still follow the plot. Even though I had several moments of “Who’s that guy? How do they know her? Who’s baby is that?” it wasn’t enough for me to quit the book. That said, I came away with no interest in seeking the conclusion to this new arc.

As is the case with crossovers, Broken Trinity’s artwork is inconsistent as almost every chapter is drawn by a different artist. Stjepan Sejic’s contribution is the highlight of the entire work, as characters, locations and action set pieces are rendered beautifully in a nice watercolor-like style. On the other hand, I didn’t much care for the work of Jorge Lucas because of his overeagerness to cast shadows over everyone and everything. The design of the characters, specifically the Angelus, highlight the main issue I have with Top Cow properties. Costumes and creature designs tend to be exaggerated and busy. A good example of this is when the Angelus appear in their true form. They are given the typical organic outfit that cover up the important lady bits while showing as much skin as humanly possible, especially around the pelvic and chest regions. The Angelus are supposed to be warriors, but their outfits are ridiculously unsuitable for combat.

For a comic involving mafia hoods and angels that can disintegrate people, the level of violence is surprisingly tame. There are a few bloodied corpses, a barfly gets cut up into several pieces, and an older man gets turned into a charred skeleton after being kissed, but on the whole, things are quite tame. The work is easily suitable for the 15 and up crowd, as long as they don’t have a problem with adult language. However, what will ultimately make or break this book for readers is their knowledge of the the central cast. While you can read Broken Trinity on its own, those who have followed the exploits of The Darkness and Witchblade will get more pleasure out of it.

Broken Trinity
by Phil Hester, Bryan Edward Hill, Ron Marz
Art by Nelson Blake II, Stjepan Sejic, Brian Stelfreeze
ISBN: 9781607060512
Top Cow, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: 15

The Iron Saint

ironsaintOur story begins at the height of Prohibition on an Earth that resembles nothing less than a steampunk Chicago, with flying cars, steroids that grant superpowers and mechanical limbs commonplace. Michael Iron is a “problem-solver” for The Syndicate – one of the three rival interests fighting for control of the city. After one of his fellow gangsters double-crosses him on a debt-collection job, Iron wakes up three months later with a price on his head, a cybernetic arm and an unlikely ally– Angel, the virginal daughter of the debtor he was supposed to collect from. Together, they will have to find a way to pay Iron’s debt to The Syndicate and avenge Angel’s father, even as every bounty hunter in town starts hunting for them.

The story behind The Iron Saint is as interesting, if not so action-packed, as the story within the comic itself. Originally published in 2007 as a four-issue mini-series called Iron And The Maiden, the book was beset by troubles almost immediately as the band Iron Maiden threatened legal action over the title It was also during this time the creators at Top Cow Productions suffered the loss of a great artist and a greater friend – Michael Turner. Beloved by both his colleagues and his fans, Turner’s passing is noted by author Jason Rubin in his heart-felt introduction, where he also relays the story of the lawsuit and other details that offer a brief but fascinating look at how the comic industry functions behind the scenes. Michael Turner fans might be interested to know that the cover gallery at the end of this volume contains some of Turner’s last work before his untimely death; including the only comic cover he ever colored himself.

This cover gallery itself is worth the price of the book, boasting pieces by not just Michael Turner but artists such as Jim Lee, Chris Bachalo and Joe Madureira. Interestingly, Madureira did the initial character designs for this series and the main book art by Francis Manapul and Joel Gomez greatly resemble Madureira’s work on Battle Chasers, with lots of big men with big weapons. Most of the male characters are at least twice the size of the women and Iron looms most impressively over his Angel. But Manapul and Gomez are somewhat more grounded in reality than the more mangaesque Madureira, despite a number of characters having gravity-defying anime hair.

Fans of Film Noir and Steampunk will each find a lot to like about The Iron Saint. However, librarians would be well advised to shelve this volume in the same section where they keep Frank Miller’s Sin City books. There is one character, Mushmouth, whose manner of speech involves quite a few run-together and misspelled curse words, including the dreaded f dash dash dash word. While there is no outright nudity, there are several scenes set in a strip club, where Angel takes a job as a dancer so as to spy on The Syndicate. There’s also more than a few depictions of women wearing pasties that are close enough to topless to make this book inappropriate for most young adult graphic novel collections.

The Iron Saint
by Jason Rubin
Art by Francis Manapul, Joel Gomez and Michael Turner
ISBN: 9781607060796
Top Cow Productions, 2010