THE FIRST PART OF THIS REVIEW FEATURE CAN BE FOUND HERE.
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: Planet of the Nerds
THE TEAM: Paul Constant (words), Alan Robinson (art), Randy Elliott (art), Felipe Sobreiro (colors), Lee Loughridge (colors), Rob Steen (letters).
THE GIST: In 1988, three members of the local school sports collective (i.e., cool kids on the varsity football team) find themselves accidentally placed in cryogenic stasis. They awaken 30 years later to find that their ilk’s ancestral enemies—namely, nerds—have inherited the earth.
WHAT WORKS: The series is a nostalgic revisit to 1980s films like Back to the Future, Revenge of the Nerds, and Real Genius. Except Planet of the Nerds deals more even-handedly with its cast than its cinematic inspirations; jocks-out-of-time Steve, Chad, and Drew eventually find common ground with the geeks of today. They reconnect with former childhood associates like Jenny and Alvin, now nearing 50 and embodying the experience denied our three jocks.
Adapting isn’t easy or instant. Their fruitless search for a payphone and their encounter with a modern comics convention evokes humor and reflection: Would our reactions be different were we plucked from our senior year of high school and deposited thirty years forward in time?
Taking the three protagonists out of the 1980s doesn’t strain the era from them, as evidenced by discussions regarding Alf’s sex life and consumer outrage at convenience stores brazenly charging $2 for sausage sticks. The series aims beyond laughs, though.
Paul Constant depicts the three main characters, their nemesis, and their former teen peers with compassion. African American jock Drew feigning surprise at a militaristic police force sent to quell a disturbance is matched by the shock of Steve and Chad, meant to be ironically humorous and sad. Moments like these reveal divisions among the jocks, differences concealed by their “teammate” commonality as promoted by their era.
Planet of the Nerds uses short feature pieces effectively, examining the origin of characters’ mindsets in formative events from their lives. Chad is the worst of the displaced three, the jock who’s intolerant of just about everyone and who presses buttons to achieve meltdowns. But in “Seven Punches”, we find a young Chad impacted by tragedy and an abusive father. Once the battered child is strong enough to impact back, he becomes the bully.
Such reveals aren’t the focus of Planet of the Nerds. Humor and characterizations own the spotlight. But moments of acuity lift the material onto a more thoughtful plain than readers may expect. Not all nerds are heroes. Jocks aren’t all jerks. No one’s entirely blameless but understanding comes from knowing experiences which shaped them. Constant’s writing turns a throwback comedy romp into nostalgia with insight and soul.
Another working element is Alan Robinson’s art. His style caters to comedic, caricatured facial expressions, his roadmap to many expressive destinations including mortification, vexation, slyness, folly masquerading as slyness, and mute surprise. As with the writing, humor abounds but is balanced by unexpected emotional depths. The final act may not work well for some. It’s tidy, it’s clean, and it doesn’t set up a curtain call. Only a bow would wrap it more completely. Unlike hosts of narratives intent on sequels, Planet of the Nerds sets sail, tells its tale, and concludes the voyage.
DEFINING MOMENT: In issue #4, we see part of Jenny’s backstory. Once Steve’s former girlfriend, by 2001 Jenny is in her 30s. She has a job offer in NYC. Her artist boyfriend Mizzark is determined to go with, ready to gamble on the big time. Over dinner, Jenny’s mother blithely (and with blisteringly fatalistic humor) lists the reasons their plans are doomed. Jenny doesn’t take her big leap, but not because her hopes are strangled by a pearl necklace of maternal wisdom. It’s because NYC has lost its luster; a generation’s ability to dare and dream was impaired on September 11. A moment that defines the series’ pith and poignancy.
IS IT SEAWORTHY? Planet of the Nerds isn’t just buoyant. It’s a yacht handled expertly and worthy of the Auld Mug. For those who were young adults in the era, the creative team has resurrected a humorous late-80s world and recalled cringe-worthy versions of ourselves. Chad, Steve and Drew may not be their generation at its finest, but we witness them grow to embrace the progress of today’s world. They also reject what’s wrong with now, a wrongness apparent even to their stunted, retro viewpoint.
The talent even pulls a U.S.S. Callister on us courtesy of the Three Comma Club of Competitive Commerce. Sympathies redirect, past ills are drowned in showers of Pringles, and we share Michael J. Fox envy as Constant & Crew impel us to be better. Better jocks. Better nerds. Better human beings, with a kickass Eighties soundtrack accompaniment required. — CH
8 out of 10
THE BOOK: Second Coming
THE TEAM: Mark Russell (words), Richard Pace (art), Leonard Kirk (finishes), Andy Troy (colors), Rob Steen (letters).
THE GIST: Jesus Christ is sent by the Almighty to live on Earth with a superhero named Sunstar—and he soon learns what people have done in his name over the last two millennia.
WHAT WORKS: The satirical premise of Second Coming—one that lived and died (and lived again!) by its central character, the Lamb of God—proved to be too spicy for corporate comics. Unfavorable mentions on Fox News and an online petition with over 230,000 signatures meant that DC Vertigo, the former vanguard of controversial comic bookery, would leave Mark Russell & Richard Pace’s Jesus comic adrift at sea. Luckily for comics readers (and particularly for the comics medium), Second Coming was soon offered a life preserver by AHOY Comics—a four-color resurrection of… oh, let’s say Biblical proportions. Because why the hell not.
Second Coming seemed to be constructed with an acute awareness of the criticisms that would certainly be levied against it. Here, God is depicted as boozy lout who bombs around his celestial plane in robes stained with wine and fried chicken grease. The universe was his great ambition, once, but then he created people without thinking things all the way through. (“You can’t just tell people not to mess with a tree and then leave them alone with it,” Jesus says of Adam & Eve’s fall from grace.) And since he’s spent the last 2000 years shirking responsibility for his own shit, God dumps Jesus on the doorstep of Sunstar (a Superman analogue who can’t have kids with his reporter girlfriend) because God hopes the superhero will toughen him up. (Or, as the Almighty puts it, “Show him how a real hero handles his chili.”) It’s the kind of stuff that’s just gonna piss off certain people. So Russell & Pace run with it.
Second Coming is a study of theology and a criticism of modern society, told in an acerbic voice and illustrated with a grimy veneer. A risky proposition regardless of how far the team ultimately pushed things. What’s so miraculous about Second Coming is how funny it turns out to be, how recognizably human these characters are, and how impactful its words feel when we let them settle between our initial prejudices and fears.
Pace renders his solo pages—where the narrative focus is placed on Jesus, his dad, and the mythology that surrounds them both—with unrefined lines and scratches. (Leonard Kirk provided slick finishes for the Earth-bound sequences.) It’s almost as though these parts of the story, hallowed as they are, have been deliberately stripped of the pristine shapes and beauty you often find in churches around the world, as though the very act of Creation itself remains a concept that none of us could ever truly comprehend, especially in a ding-dang comic book.
By virtue of this approach, Second Coming reaches a deeper threshold of the reader’s understanding and appreciation. There’s a bit where God casts Adam and Eve from paradise, and Pace and colorist Andy Troy end up evoking the ethereal powers of Gustave Doré’s “Adam and Eve Driven Out of Eden”, a testament to the potency of the source material if nothing else. Then comes the kicker: Only one panel before, Pace has Adam tugging at his willie, fascinated with this new sin he’s discovered. This contrast between artistic grace and comic goofiness creates exquisite conditions for satire—and an opportunity for the series’ creators to show their clear respect for the book’s primary subject.
Second Coming isn’t here to callously provoke people or lampoon their faith. Faith isn’t fodder for Second Coming. Faith-based sanctimony is. It’s but another interpretation of the teachings of Christ, only this time it comes from a comics creator who wonders what Jesus might think of a culture that has bent to the will of mega-churches and manipulative, power-mad hypocrites—and you can call that blasphemy, sure, if you’re prone to using such words in the literal sense. But it’s blasphemy with a purpose: “We blaspheme, not to belittle the faith of millions,” Russell says in the book’s foreward, “but to offer the world something new.”
DEFINING MOMENT: The entirety of issue #1. Few comics have faced demands to justify its existence as fiercely as Second Coming has, and the transition from Vertigo to AHOY clearly gave Russell and his art team time to finesse this book into everything it could be. Pages were added that elaborated on Shimon, a friend of Jesus’ who came up alongside Christ, was gifted his family’s carpentry shop, and who made the cross for the Roman army that was ultimately used to kill Jesus.
Shimon’s story is framed as an anecdote for Sunstar’s benefit, to illustrate why Jesus would feel compelled to aid even the most treacherous among us. Instead it becomes the coda for an issue brimming with ideas and potential, an indicator for things to come, and one of the most striking moments of the entire series. Here, Russell & Pace move in for the kill: “You think the most important thing I did that day was being nailed to some wood?” Jesus asks Sunstar. “It wasn’t. You think punishment is what brings salvation to the human race? It isn’t… It is saved one act of forgiveness at a time.”
It’s a literal genesis point, not just for the story of Second Coming, or for the relationship between Jesus Christ and Sunstar, but for the next span of years in the life of AHOY as a publisher. It’s one of the most assured first issues of any series I’ve read. Second Coming dares to engage with its readers, to share perspectives and ideas that are often used as fuel for bitter disputes when they should be the things that unite us. So go read it.
IS IT SEAWORTHY? Batten down the hatches—it’s possibly the best thing AHOY has published yet. Second Coming is a thoughtful and irreverent jaunt through faith, imbued with matters concerning love and personal responsibility, and the consequences that often come from engaging with both. It’s also funny as hell. — JJ
9 out of 10
More HOT PRESS: