by Jarrod Jones. Braving the gauntlet of Big Two events, prestige format risk-takers, off-the-radar indie releases and a non-stop avalanche of floppies is DoomRocket’s HOT PRESS. With so many comics out there screaming for your eyeballs, HOT PRESS is here with recommendations, commentary, and general chatter concerning the comics industry and other such good things. This week: Ed Piskor’s ‘Red Room’ and Alan Moore’s ‘Violator’, a tribute to John Paul Leon and a tribute to Kentaro Miura.
I’ve been thinking about violence—in comics, I should say. Violence in comics. Not just “violence.” I’m not a psycho, I don’t think.
Ed Piskor finally dropped the first issue of his Red Room series this week, and I have to say: it’s some gnarly shit. It’s the most astounding display of carnage I’ve seen in a while from an American comic book—or, at least, an American comic book published by Fantagraphics. Some folks have a taste for gore and viscera in their entertainment. I’m definitely one of them. Day of the Dead is, by all observed metrics, the most potent work George Romero ever put to film, and I have (to varied success) suggested Hellraiser as a movie two people could watch during those crucial early dates. There are several reasons why an otherwise rational person would seek out splatter for fun, and a lot of the time there’s good stories attached to the mayhem one could point to in a weak-ass bid to justify it to people who’d give one that look. Well, not a lot of the time, actually; a lot of the time, in comics especially, the stories can be pointless, dumb, or some juvenile combination of the two. But that’s all right. So long as there isn’t actual hate attached to this kind of material, I say go with god.
And as far as dumb gore comics are concerned, I’m reminded of Violator, the 1994 3-issue miniseries which featured that rotund and slovenly clown/hell demon from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. It was drawn by Bart Sears, inked by Mark Pennington, colored by Steve Oliff, lettered by Tom Orzechowski, and written by, of all people, Alan Moore.
That’s a pretty impressive pedigree considring the material. I was way, way too young to even flip through Violator when it first came out. But I did catch a glimpse of some particularly nasty panels from the mini courtesy of Wizard Magazine a couple years later, and they left quite an impression on me. Now, when I read these issues as a fully-grown, tax-paying adult, I can’t help but admire how Moore & Sears truly and unrepentantly went for McFarlane’s brand of unabashed uber-violence. Really, consider for a moment Moore’s dramatic strengths and obserational prowess. Consider his imagination. Now project that through a filter of early 90s Spawn.
The results are exactly what you’re picturing in your mind. Set aside your high-minded, transcendant memories of From Hell for just a second and appreciate how a brow like Moore’s can oscillate from high to low when needs must. For most of the issue, Violator has his fist through a gangster’s decapitated head and it rots and putrifies the further into the series you go. That is either going to be your thing, or it ain’t. For some, that’s fun, and for others, that gross. But both “fun” and “gross” can exist in the same space, and in comics especially, they should.
Which brings us back to Red Room.
This definitely ain’t gonna be for a lot of folks. And that’s okay. As a hodge-podge of splattergore havoc, family melodrama, and too-online grodiness, it worked for me. Largely because it isn’t attempting to be anything more than what it is, which is a very-now version of stories found in the better editions of EC’s Tales from the Crypt or some lurid yarn spun inside one of those true crime magazines from the 40s/50s. It doesn’t set its sights on any serious targets aside from aesthetic ones, and Piskor is cartoonist enough to nail those. If it reaches at all for “cultural awareness,” which isn’t exactly its purpose or function, it pushes (and pushes hard) against the generations of desensitization stories such as these have provided us. It wants to gross you out in the year 2021. You may feel this is either an admirable pursuit or the opposite of that. Definitely a “your milage may vary” kind of book. I’m glad it’s here.
Piskor’s putting his entire weight behind Red Room, throwing every ounce of accrued talent and influence he’s got on the page; the results are difficult not to gawk at it. (Even when it’s being puke-tastically gross, which, I’m relieved to discover, is often.) Needles and nails and influencer murder, it’s the dimensional tortures of Hellraiser set on our own terra firma. The Cenobites walk among us, and with smiles and clear minds do they strut the sidewalks. At a 64-page debut that also happens to be a one-and-done story that sets a bar for the rest of the series, it’s clear Piskor’s making comics with his readers in mind. If you’re not shopping for what Red Room is hustling, I suggest you keep walking. But there are good comics being made here.
There is no other cover out this week that hits as hard as John Paul Leon’s variant for Superman: Red & Blue #3.
It’s still taking time to get used to the idea that he won’t be around anymore. His cover for Superman: Red & Blue #3 is in the wild now, just a couple weeks after he died, and it stands out on the shelves. His work often did. Take a good look at this cover. Leon’s use of shadows have always been exceptional, especially so here. It’s downright otherworldly how well his expertly-placed blots of jet-black ink work within the piece, considering his subject.
I mean, how hard is it to apply shadows to Superman, without dimming the character’s inherent optimism? It’s not as easy as some people might have you believe. The posture of Leon’s subject absolutely radiates “I’m from another planet but also I’m from Kansas” energy, the proper mix of strength, humility, and humor Superman needs to be Superman. I could go into the brilliance of Leon’s architectural acumen in rendering the Metropolitan skyline which surrounds our hero, the feel of the wind and how it catches his cape, but Leon’s strengths—they’re all self-evident, laid bare on the page. That was his gift.
– My latest recap for Star Wars: The Bad Batch can be read over at The A.V. Club. I’m still really enjoying this show; its balance of character growth and engaging action beats—not to mention its all-timer of a conflicted villain in Crosshair—remains impressive. I am beginning to wonder how Dave Filoni et. al are gonna wring 13 more episodes out of this, but I’ve learned better than to doubt TV Lucasfilm. Omega forever.
– New episode of CASUAL WEDNESDAYS is up, and I’m pretty happy with it! When I find myself smiling at MJ and myself being a coupla goons during the editing process of a new episode (a process that I really do not enjoy), I know we did something right. This week we talked about Batman stuff because talking about Batman stuff is easy (not to mention fun), and easier still we talked about Nightwing #80, the too-dang-good third issue in the new Tom Taylor/Bruno Redondo run. Speaking of which…
– Seriously great moment that happened in a superhero comic this week: Taylor & Redondo’s Nightwing #80, which featured a team-up of Dick Grayson with Tim Drake, and… damn. Redondo is a wonderful artist, that’s no secret. His secret weapon is technical proficiency. I won’t spoil the rest of his fight sequence in this issue, but this one panel hit like a metric ton of glory. Redondo’s math is sound. Nightwing is prime-time superhero stuff.
– Marvel announced the next creative team for Black Panther this week, and it looks like a proper big deal. John Ridley and Juann Cabal are both attention-getting creators, and they should be a damn good fit for the book. And while I could without a doubt hit 1500 words articulating why both Marvel and DC should let big-time runs (such as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ stretch on Black Panther) bask in its own accomplishments for a couple months following its final issue without the announcement of a new creative team overshadowing said accomplishments, this is not why I bring it up today.
No. Today, I’m pointing out the new Black Panther logo, because it is a beauty.
Clean space in the letters, which combine to form striking new shapes and possibilities. The yellow is clutch, a nice contrast with the varied blues Alex Ross put on the cover art. (Also, it looks like it was sourced from T’challa’s cat-eyes, which: nice touch.) Not a single tangent to be found on the entire thing; it’s gorgeous to look at. Sends out 70s action movie poster vibes, enough that I wonder what it might look like cradled between quotation marks. Given how I was griping about how low-tier Marvel’s logo game has been for what feels like at least two decades just last week, I’m more than a bit chuffed to see such splendor on an upcoming project. More of this Marvel, I implore you.
– The news broke as I was finishing up this week’s newsletter that Kentaro Miura died on May 6.
He made Berserk, a title that was one of my first-ever encounters with manga; it has long been and continues to be a tremendous mountain for me to climb at 40 volumes to date (the latest chapter dropped in January, apparently). But every rung I’ve climbed in this book—and it gets bonkers-crazy the higher you go—I’ve found to be incredibly rewarding. Berserk is an enriching experience, beyond its reputation as a hard-R comics gauntlet that people would revere in hushed-tones. Miura has left behind a staggering body of work the likes of which one can only stand back and admire in utter awe. Dark Horse has been publishing striking translated editions since 2019, and they are the way to fly if you haven’t made the Berserk leap yet. Read it on the bus, freak people out. It gets intense, like all good comics ought.
That’s all I got this week. Make sure to subscribe to DoomRocket if you’d like. (The subscription portal is at the bottom of this page.) If you haven’t stretched yet today, make that happen. Your future self will thank you, believe me.
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