by Jarrod JonesBraving 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. This week: ‘Everfrost’ #1, a Todd McFarlane variant that rules, and the glorious trade paperback release of ‘Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy’.

Lots of big debuts this week, which for us retailer types means lots of subscriptions to fill, orders to ship, variants to juggle, books to sell. I’m beat! This week ain’t half over for MJ & I so we needed a day to recharge our batteries. Which meant, sadly, there wasn’t a new episode of CASUAL WEDNESDAYS to share with you terrific people this week. I genuinely dislike skipping episodes, so I was just as sad about it as you. So don’t worry; we’re coming up with something special in the weeks to come to make up for it, promise.

Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno. Image: DC

So, yes. Big debuts. Some worked, like DC’s The Nice House on the Lake #1 by James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno, Jordie Bellaire, and Andworld Design. Class-act comics production that evoked memories of The Big Chill, the works of Jonathan Hickman, and Karyn Kusama’s 2015 quasi-horror film The Invitation—all pluses where I come from. Bueno is operating on a whole different level here; there are exquisitely structured page layouts, and the character design is striking considering its indie-minded horror material. Bellaire’s cooking up digital watercolor so rich I had to set the book down on my coffee table just to soak it all in. Also, the twist at the end is as good as you hear. Tynion’s becoming a comics juggernaut; it’s fascinating to watch that happen in real time. Don’t miss this. It’s good.

What else?

Art: Tony Gregori, Lovern Kindzierski. Image: Dark Horse Comics

Yes, The Worst Dudes #1 from Dark Horse Comics. Aubrey Sitterson, Tony Gregori, Lovern Kindzierski, Taylor Esposito, good team, damn fine first issue. Gets its hooks in quick with an easy premise, where a bunch of flaky shitheads go looking for a missing pop star in a galaxy packed to the rafters with odious types with a serious case of side-eye. Think Spencer & Lieber’s The Fix mixed with a dash of that old Sci-Fi Channel show, Lexx. There’s a Snagglepuss in this issue who looks like he swallowed Lobo whole and he’s really funny. Gregori can drawn damn-near anything and, in The Worst Dudes, he probably will. Also, I’m always buying what Sitterson is selling. He’s got a solid knack for character and he knows how to give anybody their own distinctive voice. He’s going even more gonzo here than usual and I’m all for it.

Hmm… Let’s see, what else came out this week…

I am always ready for anything Black Mask Studios puts out so naturally I was quite excited to read Everfrost.

Art: Sami Kivelä. Image: Black Mask Studios

It re-teams Ryan K. Lindsay and Sami Kivelä for what has to be the umpteenth time—to our benefit—and they’ve brought colorist Lauren Affe and letterer Jim Campbell along for the ride. That’s a solid line-up of creators and Everfrost also sports a rock-solid premise: a survivor of this dying planet, eons from now, attempts to “biohack” her way off this rock for a chance at survival amongst the stars. She has a talking monkey-thing as her sidekick. As far as introductions go, that’s pretty cool. Generally I try to avoid “post-apocalyptic” anything these days, but Kivelä drew Undone By Blood and Lindsay wrote Eternaland Eternal is one of the most perfect comic book stories I’ve ever read. So here we are.

Everfrost #1 is one of those debut issues that doesn’t have time to fuck around. Whether it was a reason tied to production (like, say, having to truncate a longer, and thus more expensive, storyarc), or perhaps Lindsay felt everyone could handle the full-on narrative assault, but this issue tosses you way into the deep end and expects you to keep up. If a first issue is often meant to hook the reader, then the second is where you expand the world you’ve just introduced. In the case of Everfrost #1, it straight dunks you into the Atlantic.

Lindsay’s characters oscillate their speech from future-coded lyricism (and thickly-accented exposition) to chortle-inducing profanity at the drop of a hat. Nemeses hurtle entire soliloquies at each other as they do strenuous battle in the skies above an arctic waste atop dragon-y lookin’ things. Action sequences read like a poet who decided to make a go at writing Guardians of the Galaxy. Almost every page is stuffed with captions and word balloons that explain what’s going on and why, while Kivelä & Affe work overtime to dazzle our eyes with the spaces left in-between. It’s a dense sucker of a debut, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But Everfrost #1 presents itself as a full-on commitment when it’s in all likelihood going to be treated by a lot of readers as another floppy in the weekly reading stack. That’s a gutsy move in such a crowded comic landscape—especially so for the creator-owned landscape.

Still, it’s a comic book with its own impactful authorial stamp, and it backs up its back-breaking efforts with well-considered (if painstaking) lore. Passion went into this, that much is evident. The art is slick and detail-oriented. It gives off Metabaron vibes in certain spots and, if you squint, Halo Jones in others—which is about as high a compliment I’m willing to give any modern sci-fi/fantasy book. Everfrost #1 just might send you some place new and different, daring and unique. Give it a crack.

And let me know what you think. Debuts like this aren’t for everybody, but they are certainly for somebody.

Every once in a while you read an issue of something you just know you’ll want to dive into. All the way, beginning, middle, and end. Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy is one of those somethings.

Art: Tonči Zonjić. Image: Dark Horse Comics

On top of being a Black Hammer tie-in mini-series, on top of boasting the formidable artistic talents of Tonči Zonjić, Skulldigger is a gorgeously realized example of the perfect armchair comic: the comic series you’re perfectly willing to read in one sitting. I’ve been enjoying these micro-glimpses at the expanding universe Jeff Lemire has constructed with Black Hammer; they have pushed boundaries, staked new frontiers, and elevated new voices in a deliriously successful bid to expand what could have simply been a funhouse-mirror version of cool DC and Marvel stories Lemire would otherwise have never been able to tell. Here, Lemire and Zonjić offer their nigh-demonic spin on characters like the Punisher and Batman. Specifically, the moral chasms that lie between them.

It’s bruising vigilante noir that fights dirty. Paced like a Sidney Lumet film storyboarded by Darwyn Cooke, its characters feel simultaneously grounded in the muck of reality and utterly otherworldly. It flirts with opera. If you felt cheated by Miller & Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, prepare to read something that cashes the checks that book attempted to write. I’ve said it before: Lemire has mined rich ore for this latest Black Hammer joint, a Nineties-set tale of punishers and madmen and lost detectives attempting to find some meaning in it all. Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy is molten-hot crime comics and now here’s Dark Horse with a handsome trade paperback just waiting for you to crack it. Oblige them.

Todd McFarlane supplied Fire Power #12 one of its 20,000 variant covers, and… I really like it?? (Even though I’m ardently against the entire concept of variant covers, I can’t always fight off their charms.)

Art: Todd McFarlane, Matt Wilson. Image: Image Comics

Look at it. No angsty Spawn nonsense, just joy on a page. Fills up the cover space like a champ. Matt Wilson, who colored this piece, is doing some heavy lifting for sure, but the cover’s energy largely comes from the exploding detritus and speed lines that are clearly emanating from a wholly different place than where our hero currently stands, completely still. It’s ridiculous, it shouldn’t work, and yet. Dang. Punctuating the throwbackiness even further is McFarlane’s squirrelly anatomy—lookit them sausage thumbs!—and he can’t help but give our hero’s hair a proper Parker-esque coiff. Sometimes you look at an art and that art makes you grin like a dummy. This one did that for me.

– Also in Image Comics Founder Stuff: Erik Larsen released North Force #0 this week, which rules; I’m always down for new Larsen wherever I can get it. But here’s the rub: he gave it the exact same cover as the latest issue of Savage Dragon #259, which also came out this week. There are reasons why this happened.

It’s likely North Force #0 was supposed to come out at least one or two or even three weeks after Savage Dragon #259. (The solicits text goes precisely like this, as pulled from the Image website: “Because you demanded it: SAVAGE DRAGON #259 reworked and reformatted to spotlight this all-new Canadian super-team! Letters pages and funnies have been replaced with bios for team members.”) Thing is, it didn’t, and even though Larsen thought this was a good idea, it’s been a real pain having to explain to Savage Dragon-readin’ customers how they’re ostensibly buying the same issue twice on the same week.

– I have made my feelings about the logo design for Marvel’s Heroes Reborn redux well known. That isn’t why I bring it up again this week. No, this week, I want to point out how I’m perfectly aware that the impossibly fun Heroes Reborn tie-in, Marvel Double Action #1, is supposed to be a bit of Bronze Age atavism, yet I kinda wish all superhero comics still looked like this?? Look how clean it is:

Jurgens’ layouts can be stiff, but they always work in terms of getting the story across. Largely because they apply to Wally Wood’s “22 Panels That Always Work!” scripture, which has since been surpassed and innovated over by newer voices, but remains no less pure. I feel like Jurgens is one of the few remaining artists who still works from lessons taught in the schools of García-López and Infantino, Colan and Buscema, and Marvel was wise to tap him for Marvel Double Action. Hanna inks the dickens out of Jurgens’ pencils, too; there’s Sinnot brushwork and inky clumps reminiscent of Josef Rubinstein. As a result, the layouts absolutely sing.

Tim Seeley drops cute out-of-universe editor captions and keeps the character acting broad and mischievous—which is handy, considering this issue’s heavy is the Green Goblin himself. The colors pop, the captions are sparse (and when they do show up, they always make the reader feel like they’re involved). And, my god, the thought balloons. How I’ve missed them. More modern superhero stuff could take a page from an experiment like this.

– My hat’s off to the intrepid soul who had to scan the foil-stamped embossed cover to Avengers #366 for the ‘93-‘94 Epic Collection, as that must have been a real bitch.

– Jamie Rich, group editor of the Super-line (amongst many other prestigious duties), has left DC for new opportunities and I wish him well. (I also know he hates being fussed over, so I’m putting this at the very bottom of my newsletter, where he will not see it.) He brought a sophisticated flourish to DC’s superhero line and marshalled Brian Bendis’ whirlwind (and surprisingly grand) Superman and Action Comics run, on top of bringing about such Eisner-nom-snatchin’ comics as Eternity Girl and Sheriff of Babylon and Mister Miracle, as well as helping to make Strange Adventures and Batman/Catwoman this past year’s most striking of graphic productions. Jamie is an incredible editor and a sterling creator in his own right—read the Archer Coe books he did with Dan Christensen, I implore you—and wherever he ends up, my eyes and wallet will follow. Yours should, too.

That’s all I got this week. I’ve done spent too much money on Epic Collections this month and now I have to make my own coffee. How cruel and unfair is this ceaseless mortal coil. Remember: 8 hours, solid sleep time. It’s essential. Be good.

More HOT PRESS:

HOT PRESS 5/20/21: ‘Red Room’, Moore’s ‘Violator’ & RIP Kentaro Miura of ‘Berserk’

HOT PRESS 5/13/21: Yep, another newsletter, ‘Author Unknown?’, ‘Penultiman’, and other good stuff

Send all submissions, inquiries, and correspondence to jarrod@doomrocket.com.