by Clyde Hall and Jarrod Jones. AHOY Comics first set sail in 2018 and has caught favorable winds ever since. (You’re just going to have to excuse the deluge of nautical puns in this piece; AHOY brought it on themselves.) Kept afloat by attention-grabbing titles like Second Coming and the comics-creator-death-match Steel Cage, as well as critically-acclaimed offerings such as The Wrong Earth, High Heaven and Planet of the Nerds (the latter of which has been optioned by Paramount Pictures), AHOY has navigated the choppier waters of the comics industry with a veteran’s grace.
That’s not a surprising turn of the tide. Consider who’s steering this ship: AHOY was founded by Hart Seely, Tom Peyer, Stuart Moore and Frank Cammuso, publishing stalwarts all, each painfully aware that standing out in a flooded market is of the utmost importance. And AHOY has stood out—not just by supplementing each issue they publish with back matter material that’s just as entertaining as the feature comic strips that precede it, or with their impeccable trade dress or publishing quality, but by imbuing each series with an aura of mindful irreverence that is unmistakably their own.
Fun fact: AHOY Comics stands for “Abundance, Humor, Originality and Yes.” Did AHOY cop out with the last part of its acronym? That’s not for us to say, but that assemblage of words has come to represent some of the funniest, most thought-provoking, downright best comics we’ve read.
AHOY’s output is too good for a single feature. In the weeks to come we’ll be exploring a sampling of works from the Syracuse-based publisher, titles we feel best represent this exquisitely curated line of books. DoomRocket’s publisher-focused feature, HOT PRESS, has returned—and this month, we’re dropping anchor for AHOY Comics.
THE BOOK: Billionaire Island #1
THE TEAM: Mark Russell (words), Steve Pugh (art), Chris Chuckry (colors), Rob Steen (letters).
THE GIST: In 2044 it’s harder than ever for those who’ve pillaged the global economy, bled consumers dry, and turned the planet into a greenhouse gas chamber to escape reprisals. Whether it’s a political crusader above bribery, vying to be the last Voice of Reason in society’s collapse, or an unhappy customer minus their life savings looking for payback, someone’s hellbent to keep you from enjoying your ill-gotten spoils!
That’s when you put your nine-digit net worth code to work and tell the losers and the whiners, “F.U.!”. Freedom Unlimited has your back. Our mobile island retreat is always offshore, always confidential, and always one flight ahead of IRS audits, court subpoenas, and asset seizures.
You stuck it to the world! Don’t let the unwashed masses retaliate. The meek may inherit the earth, but only about six feet of it. We’ll outwit, outplay, and outlast the suckers. Then, Earth 2.0 truly becomes our gated estate.
WHAT WORKS: Mark Russell. Oversimplification, but truth. He works a lot, his work encompasses ranging genres and themes, and his work is of unusually high quality. His satirical chops are sharp here based on a preview of issue #1 of this four-issue series. Sharp and two-fold.
Fold One: The depth of capitalistic depravity embodied by the smarmy, who-dies-with-the-most-cash-cheats-death-indefinitely captains of industry. They’ve made their billions and the cost is a world swiftly exceeding the human saturation point. Gleefully, the Legion of Haves implement radical solutions leaving them untouchable while the rest of humanity dies off, leaving the power players to repopulate the earth.
Russell and artist Steve Pugh handle the beginning of their series like a planetary Titanic. The rich have driven the luxury liner HMS Earth full-on into the iceberg of global warming and defoliation while they occupy a First-Class berth well above the water line. Everyone in Steerage must cope with rising coastal waters and corporations grabbing for final profits before the planetary Closing Bell. The only difference is the upper-class passengers have secured enough lifeboats for themselves and implemented a system denying anyone else gaining access.
Fold Two: A Punisher tale for the masses. Unless your family has been cut down by organized crime, the Frank Castle story is one (thankfully) experienced vicariously. We empathize with the lone soldier raining retribution on criminal empires. In Billionaire Island, Russell gives us a Castle-like character we can identify with. One degree or another, as client, consumer or employee, we’ve all felt the negative impact of corporate greed. It cost this character his family, but luckily he has a very particular set of skills. Once plied, they seem to produce a fountain of information followed by untimely demise. We can’t wait to see him among the F.U. elite.
(Did I mention crusading journalist Shelly Bly and her Habitrail detention with other would-be whistleblowers? It works into this issue, too.)
Pugh’s style matches the Russell tone succinctly. Together they deliver dark humor with lingering pathos, and Pugh renders the rich-and-famous so smarmily you want to slap the smug off their faces—and then just keep slapping ‘til your arm gets tired. Then switch arms.
DEFINING MOMENT: When our Punishing Soldier forces Aggrocorp’s CEO to nosch a sample pack of his company’s poisoned snacks.
IS IT SEAWORTHY? Water-tight and bobbing along beautifully. In one issue Russell and Pugh quickly flesh out the setting, the sides, the stakes—and a planet with a dystopian dance card quickly filling up. Dystopian near-futures with rising sea levels may be the comic book Catch of the Day, but Billionaire Island keeps its premise simple and on-target as a torpedo.
They’ve launched a series where, if left unchecked and unthwarted, plans are underway for most people in the world to die. Just not the crème de la crème, those with sufficient funds. Billionaires, and their necessary menial labor force. While we believe Shelly Bly may get her end-is-nigh headlines placing blame solidly on the First-Class passengers, Russell’s sense of humor brings greater optimism than many dystopias.
It has a gameshow veneer, a glib host in primary villain Rick Canto, and a Survivor: Apocalypse bent. The question is, will the favored winners prevail or will an Adam and a Michelle team up in an unexpected coup? — CH
7.5 out of 10
‘Billionaire Island’ #1 hits stores March 4.
THE BOOK: Hashtag: Danger!
THE TEAM: Tom Peyer (words), Chris Giarrusso (art), Randy Elliott (art), Andy Troy (colors), Rob Steen (letters).
THE GIST: Take one phosphorescent social media influencer (Desiree Danger), one Olympian-level bruiser with a taste for hooch (Sugar Rae Huang), one jaded science guy (Einstein Armstrong), add an adorable mascot or two, and you have a spicy recipe for #Danger!
WHAT WORKS: Hashtag: Danger! began as a back-matter chuckle and later expanded to its own limited series—the AHOY Comics equivalent of jumping from The Tracy Ullman Show to a solo spot on network prime time. Read through the collection of Hashtag: Danger! (as I did for this review) and it’s easy to see why. As a science-adventure spoof, it’s got bionic legs.
Hashtag: Danger! is a clueless socialite’s good intentions run amok. Performative do-goodery blasted on social media to an apathetic audience of dozens. Tom Peyer kicks off every mission with an earnest Desiree Danger post with laughably bad engagement screengrabbed at the bottom: “Down to the Earth’s grubbiest depths to make contact with the Mole People! RT to send thots, LIKE to send prayers! #HashtagDanger #actionpower.” Zero likes, zero RTs. You keep reading, not just because this stuff is funny, but to see if Disiree’s altruistic fortunes—harebrained though they may be—will ever take a turn. Call it Challenged by the Unknown.
Desiree’s frequent bursts of naiveté are pitted against the sardonic Einstein Armstrong (who is clearly modeled after The IT Crowd‘s Maurice Moss) and the sanguine muscle of the group, Sugar Rae Huang. The latter two are hired assets meant to bolster Desiree’s cache on the world stage and they are sometimes treated as such. As would-be adventurers, they do what they can considering the ludicrous amounts of cash Desiree throws at the crew, and the best jokes usually come as a result of their dauntless leader taking everything—including their all-but-paid-for success—for granted. (Related: Desiree either bought their island headquarters because it was shaped like a hashtag, or she had parts of the island pulled into the ocean to make it look like a hashtag. Either way, it’s funny.) The strip’s comedy takes aim at influencer culture and at times makes faint gestures towards other sources of societal rot—Dick Cheney makes an unofficial cameo—but mostly, Hashtag: Danger! is happy letting its crew of dolts blunder through brilliantly-rendered comic book derring-do.
And to that end, Chris Giarrusso is a wonder. As artist, inker, colorist, letterer, he runs the gamut. Giarrusso’s characters move with dramatic elasticity and his environments are retro-sleek; Hashtag: Danger! is a monument to Silver Age pop. But it’s how he illustrates alongside Peyer’s comic timing that makes this entire enterprise worthy of your gaze. His time on Mini-Marvels, creating softer but no less dynamic versions of Doctor Doom and the Hulk, has honed Giarrusso’s gifts to an omega-level talent and he is served well by Hashtag: Danger!. The panels contained within are a parade of Kirby Krackle, Care Bear stares, sheer buffoonery. I love it.
DEFINING MOMENT: Hashtag: Danger! is a collection of defining moments, little bits of goofiness, irony and sass that add up to one mightily riotous whole: The graphic designer who got Desiree’s “hashtag” logo concept wrong on purpose; the Magee-swiping inscription on the wee Glorp’s memorial statue (“He slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God.”); the good-hearted villains of S.H.A.R.E. (Secret Hive of Anarchy, Rebellion and Evil) wearing hoods under their masks. Then there’s what might be the best line I’ve read in a humor book: “Don’t die! I’m sorry about the capitalism!” This book rules.
IS IT SEAWORTHY? Smash a bottle of cheaply-produced bubbly over its hull—this sucker’s full to the gunwales. Packed with a Gen-Xer’s sardonic edge and a clear reverence for Lee/Kirby-era comics, Hashtag: Danger! is a freakishly funny series. (#Sequel, please?) — JJ
8 out of 10
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