THE FIRST PART OF THIS REVIEW FEATURE CAN BE FOUND HERE. THE SECOND PART 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 EarthHigh 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.

Cover to ‘Dragonfly & Dragonflyman’ #1. Art: Jamal Igle/AHOY Comics

THE BOOK: Dragonfly & Dragonflyman #1-4

THE TEAM: Tom Peyer (words), Peter Krause (art), Andy Troy (colors), Rob Steen (letters).

THE GIST: In 2019’s The Wrong Earth, Tom Peyer established Trek-worthy Mirror Universes. Earth-Alpha: Think Earth-1966, where superheroes are colorfully clad champions of justice. Earth-Omega: Think Earth-1986, where masked heroes are vigilantes, feared by criminals and citizens alike. Then Dragonflyman and Dragonfly unexpectedly swap Earths. Concept intriguing, execution funny and fitting.

WHAT WORKED: Follow-up series Dragonfly & Dragonflyman is where Peyer opts for a prequel, a tale told on both Earths with a narrative split betwixt. A desperate battle waged against Devil Man, pitting Dragonflyman and Dragonfly against their respective sidekicks. It’s a Stinger coming-of-age saga, played out across two realities.

Peyer’s writing retains sharp jabs of humor, finger pokes of mirth into both our Silver Age and Watchmen-obsessed mind’s eyes. Dragonflyman’s account of the lamentable Devil Man’s turn from civic-minded op-ed writer to misguided intellectual lost in the thicket of his own dark thoughts is delightfully diluted Alpha wholesomeness.

Meanwhile on Omega, Dragonfly micromanages Stinger, a teen coming of age and chafing beneath his mentor’s brusque guidance. He’s the DI haranguing a recruit to toughen him, prepare him, but with Full Metal Jacket overstrokes.

Peyer’s parallel narratives have greater latitude between the two than in The Wrong Earth, but they’re slyer. A closed Baloney Island theme park serving as a hideout for Alpha’s Devil Man isn’t an immediate analog for Omega’s Devil Man headquarters being the abandoned Lucky Devil underground sex shop. But on reflection and given the respective worlds, each locale is equally qualified as a shuttered ‘amusement park’.

The strengths of the previous series continue here. The Theater of the Absurd heroics and the grim art of Vigilante Rooftop Brooding are funny, but never made fun of. On Earth-Alpha, the inhabitants are smartly navigating their sugar-coated reality in laudable ways. On Earth-Omega, damaged heroes spill their blood and compromise morals to stem an overwhelming flood of corruption and lawlessness.

Peyer and artist Peter Krause tell a tale of Stinger stepping out of his mentor’s shadow and establishing his own value to the partnership. On Alpha, Stinger remote-controls Dragonflyman after he’s disabled by Devil Man’s fiendish temptatron machine. It’s an especially 1960’s solution with a dash of Real Steel. On Omega, Stinger frees himself from Dragonfly’s overreaching control while proving himself against his psychotic mentor, unbalanced by the villain’s temptation venom.

‘Can You Spot the 12 Differences’ comparison panels at the close of each book reminded me how much I enjoyed these as a kid. They make great Earth-Alpha-bits in S.A. tribute.

DEFINING MOMENT(s): (Alpha) In issue #3, the villainous King Lightning uses his time tweezers to pluck part of a headline from a future newspaper, a banner proclaiming the death of Dragonflyman’s partner. In true Silver Age fashion, we eventually see the entire headline and discover the situation isn’t as expected—all because Dragonflyman took precautions to prevent the tragic forfending. It was a worthy tribute recognizing myriad misdirection by past comics pros Deliberately Convoluting tales for a twist ending.

(Omega) In issue #4, Dragonfly walks in on Stinger taking an X-acto knife to his forearm. He’s dislodging a tracking device implanted by Dragonfly without the lad’s knowledge. It’s the moment when Stinger breaks all bargains with his mentor in a blood ritual way. It also mirrors the famous scene when Green Arrow interrupted Speedy shooting up and discovers the youth’s heroin addiction.

IS IT SEAWORTHY? It is, although it may have had a bilge pump in reserve. Because DF&DFM took chances straying from The Wrong Earth formula, Peyer set a harder course, pivoting one storyline across dual dimensions and potentially halving the humor elements. In TWE, squeaky-clean Dragonflyman coping with dirty Omega cops, political corruption and his own outlaw status is funny. Also funny, Omega Dragonfly bringing his style of grim and gritty crime prevention to the Mayberry avenues of Alpha. DF&DFM confines the humor to Alpha and relies on over-the-top drama for Omega’s occasional dark smirk.

Despite the challenges, Peyer and Krause have delivered a very satisfying story so far. Not every correlation of events across the Earths interlocks in an obvious way. Deciding how a tame Tasmanian devil mirrors the genetically-altered, mad Rodentia is simple. Interpreting the correlation between Stinger being alienated by the return of Lady Dragonflyman, and Stinger being sidelined when Dragonfly confiscates his uniform goes deeper.

Who would alter the nostalgia-based themes that traverse two distinct comic book eras, themes successful in the opening series, and tweak the approach for something—gasp—different? AHOY did. Daring the risky distances, 20,000 leagues away from other companies contented to retrace only the safest sales route ad infinitum. It’s brave. It’s bold, creative business. Bring on other Alpha and Omega heroes in ongoing team ups with the Dragoning Duos, maybe starting with a salty Earth-Omega Lady Dragonfly who takes no prisoners? — CH

7.5 out of 10

Cover to ‘Ash & Thorn’ #1. Art: Jill Thompson/AHOY Comics

THE BOOK: Ash & Thorn #1

THE TEAM: Mariah McCourt (words), Soo Lee (art), Pippa Bowland (colors), (letters TBD)

THE GIST: The quiet life of septuagenarian Lottie Thorn comes to an abrupt end as she discovers she has great powers—and is soon after pulled into the last great war for our planet against an army of creepy, crawly Old Ones.

WHAT WORKED: Ash & Thorn addresses an issue at AHOY Comics that’s come up over the last couple years: Where are the headlining women creators? Mariah McCourt, Soo Lee, and Pippa Bowland take the helm of AHOY’s latest title and direct the publisher towards a truer north.

This debut doesn’t waste time cutting to the heart of its premise. A first-page introduction of our hero, Lottie Thorn, sees her taking a moment to find her bearings after some sort of grueling trial, a gore-splattered hand placed on her weary brow. Next we see a double-page spread that reveals a pictaresque view of a sun at dusk, the skies gold and purple. An exquisite metaphor for a final chapter, a hard-won end, and—holy hannah the sky is breaking. The membrane to this world rips open and an armada of giant beetle-beasts come tearing through. And we watch as Lottie—who is over seventy years-old, by the way—leap into the air and trounce the would-be invaders.

Ash & Thorn is a sharp-tongued, good-natured entry in a heartening new trend I’ve seen rise up in comics of late and what I’m tenuously going to refer to as “The Elder Champions.” A strong-willed (and often strong-armed) senior-aged female character taking charge against seemingly insurmountable and monstrous odds. (See BOOM! Studios’ Once & Future and Dark Horse Comics’ Crone for more examples.) And it’s clear from this issue that Ash & Thorn has no intention of treating its lead character as a gimmick. It’s a foward-thinking besting of ageist concepts that would otherwise dictate what a leading action hero should be.

And, for a debut, that’s largely what this issue has to offer. The debut of Ash & Thorn spends most of its time with Lottie and Peruvia, a textbook-hugging guardian who’s here to help finesse Lottie’s burgeoning powers, yet that’s about all we come to learn about either character. There are gestures towards a deeper understanding of who Lottie is and what her ancestry holds in store for her, but it appears we’ll have to sit tight to discover these things and hope there’s a richer story waiting behind the curtain.

Soo Lee, whose work I first noticed in Chapterhouse’s equally eldritch Fantomah, is in charge of leading Lottie from her rustic kitchen setting towards a darker realm. For the most part, Lee succeeds; the transitions from the story’s more recognizable down-home trappings to a sanity-stripping realm of ancient evil are tight, and Lee’s mastery of shadow is put to proper use. Pippa Bowland does a bit of atmospheric heavy lifting, filling in shades of detail to a dining room scene for necessary dramatic heft, and giving McCourt’s tentacled trespassers an appropriately uncanny effect.

DEFINING MOMENT: Lottie, still learning how to wield her powers and decimate all the foul things coming her way, pulls out Gram’s old iron skillet and begins to swing it like Mjolnir.

IS IT SEAWORTHY? Still finding its sea legs. Considering the company it keeps in the AHOY annals, Ash & Thorn isn’t a comedy book in the strictest sense; it’s not funny in the ironic way that other AHOY titles have been funny. It doesn’t have a mean streak or wants to take the piss out of some well-deserved societal target (like influencer culture in Hashtag: Danger! or the pathetic wealth worship found in Billionaire Island). The humor that exists in this issue lies in the ridiculousness of Lottie’s new-found situation—though even that isn’t ridiculous, not really, at least not in the context of your typical comic book magical mystery tour. Though, lurking beyond its initial premise are dark forces looking to further disrupt Lottie’s piano lessons—and McCourt’s fascination with the Lovecraftian may reap sinister rewards. Woe betide those who would come between Lottie Thorn and her latest pie recipe. — JJ

6.5 out of 10

‘Ash & Thorn’ #1 hits stores April 29, 2020. You can pre-order it now! (Diamond Code: FEB201416)

More HOT PRESS:

AHOY Comics is navigating comics’ choppy waters with simplicity, satire, sass [Part 2]

AHOY Comics is navigating comics’ choppy waters with simplicity, satire, sass

To celebrate the coming of ‘Eve Stranger’, we’ve put together a proper Black Crown mixtape

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