Archive for October, 2015

The Woods are Dark and Bloody


Through the Woods

There are so many different ways to create horror, especially in comics. If you’re Richard Corben, you go with surreality, cheesecake, and backwoods decadence. If you’re Bernie Wrightson, you go with lifelike detail and emotion. If you’re Mike Mignola, you go with thick lines and hints of antiquity. If you’re Junji Ito, you go with body horror, spirals, and fish.

If you’re Emily Carroll, you go with subtly complex simplicity, negative space, vivid colors, and fairy tales.

Many of y’all are already familiar with Emily Carroll, whose webcomics can be enjoyed on her website. She published a collection of stories just last year, only one of which — the masterful and near-legendary “His Face All Red” — is available on her website. The rest are gloriously new and wonderfully diabolical.

We get “Our Neighbor’s House,” in which three young girls are left alone in a winter storm — until they encounter a strange man with a broad-brimmed hat and a full-face smile. We get “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” a ghostly variant of the Bluebeard legend. We get “My Friend Janna,” in which two friends dabble in spiritualism and discover something spectral and predatory. And we get “The Nesting Place,” in which a girl visits her brother and discovers that his wife is hiding a gruesome secret underneath her skin.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Carroll does an amazing job of creating stories that seem both timeless and ancient, and utterly new and shocking. I think my favorite story in this one is the first — “Our Neighbor’s House” — because it never shows you anything horrific and lets your imagination do all the heavy lifting — which I still think is Carroll’s greatest strength.

But that doesn’t mean the others aren’t all fantastic, too. “My Friend Janna” brings us subtle terrors we’re not even sure if we can see clearly and definitely can’t possibly understand. Is Janna being haunted at all? What’s the significance of the pulse inside the ghost? And “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” is more gruesome but also a slower burn. The song sung throughout helps a story already rooted in the past feel even older, like it’s something pulled up from antiquity.

“The Nesting Place” is the tale that seems to break most of the rules one expects from Carroll’s work — it’s much more modern, there’s more dialogue, less omniscient narration, and the horrors are downright gory. But I loved the hell out of this one, too. The surreal shapeshifting monster in this story has horribly human motivations, and that makes the story more powerful and more frightening.

You love horror, don’t you? You love beautiful artwork and splended little stories and fears both subtle and overt, both quiet and shrieking, both chilling and gore-caked? Go pick this one up.

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The Dark is Rising


Then It Was Dark: A Paranormal Anthology

It’s Halloween week, and I ain’t done near enough reviews of scary stuff, so let’s remedy that now with a nice fat graphic novel/anthology of spooky stories.

This book, edited by Sarah Benkin, collects short stories from a wide variety of independent comic creators, all telling (supposedly? possibly?) true stories of brushes with the supernatural and paranormal. There are demons and ghosts that attack sleepers in the middle of the night; scientific experiments with seances that don’t go as expected; ghosts that help out at summer camps; reincarnated twins; ghost children playing tag; UFO sightings; floating, severed heads; historical hauntings; and much, much more. Some of the stories are entirely unexplained — just weird experiences that no one ever figured out what was happening. Some have actual scientific explanations — one tale about a haunted mansion in the 1920s ends with the revelation that the house’s furnace was in terrible condition and was belching carbon monoxide into every room of the home.

As I said, there are a ton of creators who contributed to this, including Molly Ostertag, Diana Nock, C.B. Webb, Dirk Manning, A.R. Lytle, Henry Gustavson, Sarah Dill, Sarah Winifred Searle, Jen Hickman, Karen Kuo, Cody Pickrodt, and many, many more. There are even a few non-traditional comics creators like Wesley Sun, a minister who writes (with Simone Angelini illustrating) about performing an exorcism on a friend in college and his fears that his inexperience may have left her permanently possessed by a demon.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a lot of spooky stuff in here, in a ton of different artistic and storytelling styles.

There are a lot of these tales that are clear night terrors — essentially waking up while your brain is in REM mode, so you’re paralyzed, not breathing great, and basically having waking nightmares that feel incredibly real. I had these for several years and only broke the cycle by never sleeping on my back. So the descriptions of these nighttime encounters with demons and ghosts sitting on your chest, keeping you from moving, and scaring the holy howling hell out of you were very familiar to me, and didn’t really scare me. I wanted to tell the creators to sleep on their sides and they’d feel better. A lot of the other stories were about things that I suspected were just extremely vivid dreams.

But you know, the fact that I could find rational explanations for them doesn’t mean they aren’t still nicely eerie tales, especially told in the volume we get here. You get four or five stories in a row about nightmares and night terrors, all illustrated with astonishing creepiness, and you’ll still find yourself flipping a few extra lights on at night.

And there are quite a few stories that didn’t seem like bad dreams and didn’t come with easy explanations. Tales with multiple witnesses are harder to dismiss, of course. And some of the stories are just fantastically weird. There’s a very short story by Lauren Ashizawa about a man forced to use a rural outhouse. He suddenly realizes the cat that’s been watching him through the slats of the walls is actually something way bigger than a cat. The tale doesn’t end with any sort of explanation — but it does feature the best gag in the entire book.

This is a very fun anthology, wonderfully creepy and perfect for the Halloween season. For now, it’s only available digitally, though I’ve got a physical copy because I backed the Kickstarter. But however you get it, make sure you go pick this one up.

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Friends Who Are Super


Astro City #28

Our focal character in this issue is Wolfspider, the Australian shrinking superhero who’s a member of Honor Guard. When he was a child, he was bitten by an unknown species of spider, and his biologist mother’s attempts to save him ended up shrinking him to the size of a toy. As an inch-tall kid, he didn’t have a lot to occupy his time, until he discovered Queenslaw, an animated cartoon about a bunch of Australian superheroes, including Cap’n Cookaburra, Banana Bender, Goldrush, Krokolite, SeaDragon, the Territorian, and Numbat. Years pass, and his mom finally cures him — but he still has superpowers, so he becomes the Wolfspider to fight crime. Life is pretty good for him as a member of Honor Guard — and one day, he discovers a TV broadcast revealing that the heroes of Queenslaw have appeared in Australia again — not as an animated cartoon, but as real superheroes! But when he travels back home to see his heroes in action, he learns that they’re not everything they claim…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Wolfspider is a really fun character, even with the utterly ridiculous facial hair, and the characters from Queenslaw are joyously cheesy and fun.


Lumberjanes #19

April is absolutely convinced that she’s the only person who can help her new friend Harlow the alt-rock mermaid get back together with her band. So she dons a homemade scuba suit and heads for the underwater Battle of the Bands, while her friends worry that her new obsession is going to cost them the chance to attend the awesome Bandicoot Bacchanal. And sure enough, disaster strikes — though April is able to be accepted as a volunteer for the festival, her attempt to add Harlow’s demo to the festival’s playlist is a big mess, and she ends up accidentally broadcast a tape of a sea serpent battle cry at high volume — and there’s no better way to get sea serpents riled up than to play a sea serpent battle cry at a high volume…

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not so into the riot mrrmaids storyline — just seems to be pushing the alterno-cool of the series harder than it needs to be pushed — but the characterization and humor are still fantastic, and parts of the music festival are pretty fun, too.

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As Deep as the Ocean


Cursed Pirate Girl: 2015 Annual #1

It’s been a couple of years since we saw Jeremy Bastian’s amazing graphic novel Cursed Pirate Girl, and this new followup isn’t really a graphic novel, and it isn’t really a regular single-issue comic — it’s about twice the page-count of your typical comic, and it’s far weightier in text, story, and artwork. I think I’m going to consider it a graphic novella, and I don’t really care who disagrees.

The Cursed Pirate Girl is still on her epic quest to find her father, a legendary pirate captain on the Omerta Seas. She finds herself locked in the massive ship called the Honey Boar with a sad-sack crewman who knows the tale of what happened to her father. He ran afoul of a treacherous pirate called the Dark Dane, who killed him and then separated his spirit from his body, giving both to powerful and evil allies so he’d never know rest. Meanwhile, her parrot Pepper Dice and the Swordfish Knights, Sirs Haffu and Halek, are working on a plan to free her. Pepper Dice confuses the incredibly stupid crew until he’s able to blow the ship up. They travel to an undersea world of the dead, where a terrible sacrifice is made to allow escape. After that, the Cursed Pirate Girl travels to the realm of the awful Sea King so she can gain access to his gigantic “library clam” to seize the Dark Dane’s sword — and possibly free her father’s soul. But quests are never so simple or straightforward…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Oh, listen, I really shortchanged the plot description, because a lot happens in this story. There was just no way to describe it all without taking up way too much time and without spoiling some of the really fun things in this story. Because it’s a great, fun story, full of magic and lunacy and terror and monsters and humor and action and derring-do. There’s so much story, it really does feel like a full-length graphic novel.

And if you’re at all familiar with the Cursed Pirate Girl graphic novel, you know that the art is absolutely phenomenal. In my previous review, I described it as “a bit like Windsor McKay’s work on ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland,’ a bit like Richard F. Outcault’s Yellow Kid comic strip, a bit like Thomas Nast’s editorial cartoons, a bit like Gustave Dore” — and I stand by that. It’s like something out of the distant past, and it’s like absolutely nothing you’ll see in any other comic book. The linework is so intricate and detailed, I’m not at all surprised that it’s taken two years to produce this. I can barely imagine how long it must’ve taken Bastian to draw the epic gatefold image of the Sea King’s undersea nation.

It’s ten dollars, and it’s worth every penny. Go pick it up.

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Digging Up the Dead


Harrow County #6

Country-girl witch Emmy is getting to know her big-city twin Kammi, who’s a lot more comfortable with the evil part of being a witch. She’s overjoyed to see the tree where she was born and wants to dig up her mother’s skeleton. She goes on a ride through town — everyone thinks she’s Emmy having a fancy day. She meets up with the man who’d asked Emmy to kill his wife’s admirer — and Kammi is much more willing to consider what he’s asking.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is mostly a fairly quiet character study on how mentally messed-up Kammi is — but we do get some pretty horrific stuff right at the end. Mercy, Kammi is really bad news, and this is a really good horror comic.


The New Avengers #1

The “Secret Wars” crossover is almost over, so that means it’s time to meet some new Avengers teams. This new series by Al Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval features the heroes of A.I.M. — Avengers Idea Mechanics — featuring Songbird, Wiccan, Hulkling, Power Man, White Tiger, and Squirrel Girl (and Tippy-Toe!), with Roberto DaCosta, a.k.a the mutant Sunspot as the team’s multi-billionaire funder. The team is on their way to Paris to deal with attacks by a bunch of people with diamond heads.

The readers learn the mastermind behind the entire thing — it’s Ultimate Reed Richards, who was a major supervillain as the Maker. He’s planning to use science to invade the universe with the afterlife, and he’s got a compromised S.H.I.E.L.D. team as his slaves. Meanwhile, DaCosta meets with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dum Dum Dugan, who introduces him to the agency’s not-so-secret mole — Clint Barton.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I actually dig the weird art style, and I’m really digging this particular team, most of whom have never gotten to be official Avengers before. And I’m relieved that Squirrel Girl is so wonderfully funny — I was worried they’d try to turn her into a serious superhero at some point.


Spider-Gwen #1

The alternate-universe adventures of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman, return to comics. While racing to her new job at the Dollar Dog corn dog restaurant chain — and giving the cops the slip while talking to her dad on the phone — Gwen learns that her new workplace has been destroyed by an oversized humanoid lizard. Has Peter Parker returned from the dead? Is (impressively mustached) Curt Connors responsible? And does the Lizard have an unexpected sponsor?

Verdict: Thumbs up. More of all the stuff we loved about the first Spider-Gwen series — humor, angst, action, drama, great art, and awesome characters.

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Carnival Arcane


The Goon: Theatre Bizarre

Well, the Goon didn’t stay gone very long at all! He’s already back for this early Halloween special. He, Franky, and Roscoe, the orphaned kid-werewolf, are working as roadies for a carnival. They get lost and end up in the Theatre Bizarre, an ancient carnival of monsters, endlessly corrupt and malign and decadent, run by a monstrous death’s-head clown called Zombo. Of course, to Roscoe, it’s just a really cool Halloween party, and to Franky, it’s an excuse to look for hoochie-coochie girls. And to Roxi D’Lite, a real-life burlesque star who’s previously guest-starred in this series, their visit is her opportunity to trick Franky into taking her place at this Carnival of the Damned. Will anyone escape, or will Zombo own their souls for eternity?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A return to the madcap, hilariously offensive Goon comics we’ve all come to love, and a bit of a hint of where the series will go after this. Plus John Dunivant’s amazing artwork for the Theatre Bizarre (the Theatre is actually one of Dunivant’s art projects) is stunningly beautiful and spooky. Go pick it up for some Halloween fun.


Lumberjanes: Beyond Bay Leaf #1

While the girls are out for a late-night stargazing outing with Jen, Ripley runs off chasing a ghost pony. The rest of the main cast loses her but runs into an ominous ogre masquerading as a primitive hunter. She says her name is Sola and she’s chasing after the ghost pony because it’s the only one she hasn’t captured yet — and she notes that without Ripley, the Lumberjanes are “not a complete set.” What is Sola’s plan? Can Ripley help the ghost pony escape? Or will Sola imprison all of them for the rest of time?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a wonderfully creepy story with wonderful, fun art and a ton of wonderful humor. There are a bunch of outstanding character moments, too. Plus, hey, double-sized Lumberjanes annual — I know you want to make sure you got this one.


The Wicked + the Divine #15

Our focus character in this issue is Amaterasu, the British girl with the power of a Japanese sun goddess. Everyone’s just discovered Tara’s death, everyone’s upset, and Urdr is not real accepting that, in her view, a British girl is cosplaying as one of the most important Shinto deities. Amaterasu takes Urdr to Japan, where they yell at each other, then have a heart-to-heart talk, and finally Amaterasu returns to her secret duty — prayers for the souls of the dead and dying — which includes all of the reborn gods…

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice story about a character we’ve never gotten to see much of, with some great dialogue and nice art by Stephanie Hans. Also, read the letters — they’re pretty good this time.


Doctor Strange #1

Marvel makes yet another try for an ongoing Doc Strange comic, this time written by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Chris Bachalo. This one does a fantastic job of going into the day-to-day crises of Strange’s life — he doesn’t just fight Dormammu, he takes on simple battles on behalf of individual people, expelling a tribe of soul-eaters from a young boy’s body and patrolling the city for the few harmful parasites infesting New Yorkers’ souls. He pays a visit to the mystical Bar with No Doors to meet with his fellow sorcerers. Something big and terrible may be coming, and no one will be ready for it…

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great writing and art, and I love Strange as a more personal superhero, fighting invisible battles and looking like a weirdo, but still able to be an action hero. Still haven’t decided whether I want to pick up more of this series, but the first issue is quite good.

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Blood and Glitter


I Hate Fairyland #1

Skottie Young’s first creator-owned comic is about a little girl named Gertrude who gets whisked away to Fairyland. To get back home, she just needs to find a key to the door back home — but luck is not with her. A quest that should’ve taken only a day or two ends up taking 27 years. And while she still looks like she’s just a little kid, she’s actually almost 40 years old, she’s furious, she’s sick and tired of Fairyland, and she’s armed with an array of fantastically violent weapons. She’s still looking for the key — but she also takes time to blow the moon’s brains out, murder a bunch of stars, rob casinos, throttle a giant caterpillar, eat way too many mushroom guards, and make daring escapes — but can she survive an attack by a barbarian assassin?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It may look a lot like your typical Skottie Young all-ages comic, and it may have no swear words (just Fairyland-swears like “hugger fluffer”) — but this is definitely not for kids. There’s blood and violence and hurt feelings everywhere, and it’s pretty dang wonderful so far. Let’s hope they can keep up the violentastic wonderments.


Ms. Marvel #19

The world is ending, and Kamala Khan has just discovered that her mother has known she was really Ms. Marvel almost from the very beginning of her superheroic career. Plus she finally realizes that her pal Bruno is in love with her, and she doesn’t know how to react to that knowledge. She makes up with her friend Nakia and has a meeting-of-the-minds with the school’s alpha bitch. And everything closes out with an incredible dance party.

Verdict: Thumbs up. We know this isn’t really a final issue — it’ll definitely be back with a new #1 soon — but it feels like a really strong final issue anyway. It’s great to get some excellent moments with almost everyone in Kamala’s supporting cast. And as always, you gotta pay close attention to the backgrounds, because some of the best things are hidden back there.


Starfire #5

Kory discovers an unexpected talent for mind-reading, and as a result, we get a little of the backstory of Soren, the apparent psychic who killed everyone on a cruise liner a few issues back — he’s a former doctor with the power to heal cancer, at the cost of strengthening the cancer he was suffering from himself. Kory also has a job interview at a local aquarium and manages to get the job when she’s able to learn dolphin language to communicate with a depressed porpoise. But Soren has dire plans for everyone, and there are forces from outer space that are bringing trouble to Earth, too.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Aside from the extremely pretty art, a lot of the fun of this series is watching Kory misinterpret human metaphors, and some of this issue’s misinterpretations are the best yet.

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Superhero Road Trip


Wearing the Cape: Ronin Games by Marion G. Harmon

Hey, it’s the latest chapter in the best damn superhero fiction series on the planet! What’ve we got this time?

Once again, we’re well-acquainted with most of our characters already — Hope Corrigan is our lead character, better known as the superstrong superheroine Astra. There’s Shell, the techno-ghost of her late best friend, now residing in a robotic exoskeleton as the hero Galatea, though she spends much of this story disguised as a cat. There’s also Shelly, Hope’s late best friend now returned to life, and a completely separate person from Shell. There’s Jacky, the thoroughly badass vampiric superhero Artemis. And there’s Ozma, who claims to be the exiled Princess Ozma of Oz.

Hope has been infected for a while by dreams caused by the mysterious superhuman called Kitsune, but the dreams are different now — they’re focused solely on a single tree, and it appears that their highly magical nature could mean that Hope could be drawn completely into the dream, disappearing from the rest of the world for all time. Clearly, Kitsune should be able to clear this problem up, but no one knows where he is — until a government contact reveals that Kitsune works periodically as an agent of Japan, and they’re unwilling to let anyone know that. Unfortunately, superheroes aren’t allowed to travel to Japan without permission, so Hope and her friends will have to disguise themselves and sneak into Japan — an act that could get them all thrown in jail.

Of course, there are plenty of problems. Their secret entry into the country is spoiled, and they barely avoid capture by the national superhero teams. They’re forced to serve as ronin — vigilantes unaffiliated with the national superteams, and thus operating illegally. They battle Chinese supervillains, the Yakuza, and even a hyper-powered metahuman god manifesting as a school of omnipotent goldfish. But even after escaping from the goldfish’s realm, Astra gets captured by the government, with the very real possibility that she’ll be unmasked and thrown out of the superhero biz. Can Astra escape from captivity? Can she find Kitsune and get her dream curse lifted? And can Astra, Artemis, and Ozma help repel an invasion of kaiju?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, I always enjoy this series, but this one seemed particularly fun. The characters are out of their comfort zone, the action is, as always, amazing and grand, and the plot points are resolved with cleverness, humor, and the occasional beat-down.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that it reduces the number of characters we have to keep track of. Listen, this series has a lot of characters, and it’s not at all difficult to lose track of who everyone is. And while there are still quite a few characters in here, after a certain point in the story, most of them go offstage for a while, letting us focus on the ones we’re most familiar with — Hope, Jacky, and Shell — and the one everyone seems to want to learn more about — Ozma. This is a very, very good thing. I might not want every story to focus on just four characters, but it’s a nice change of pace.

I think by now we’re all very well aware of how much I love this series, so let me just say it’s a great book — go pick it up.

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Jughead Rises


Jughead #1

Archie Comics sure have been interesting lately, haven’t they? The newest relaunch of one of the classic titles is written by Chip Zdarsky, artist on “Sex Criminals” and writer on “Howard the Duck,” and Erica Henderson, artist on “Squirrel Girl.” And that’s enough to get me interested in reading the book.

There’s been a shocking shakeup at Riverdale High — Mr. Weatherbee is no longer principal, and the scoundrel Mr. Stanger is his replacement. Stanger is a clean-cut control freak, but Jughead just doesn’t care — nothing can cut through his aura of apathy. But then Stanger replaces all the food in the cafeteria with nutritious purple glop — and Jughead completely loses it. After Jughead passes out from the strain of caring about something, there follows a fantasy dream sequence where Jughead must face off against a dragon for Infinite Hamburgers. And then he goes to a home economics class to learn how to make his own hamburgers. But how will all this return normal food to the cafeteria again?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fantastic art and writing. Interesting twists on classic characters — while still letting them remain in their classic personalities. And boy, Mr. Stanger is entirely the most rotten villain the Archie comics have ever seen…


Avengers #0

This is essentially a preview for the Avengers comics that’ll be coming out soon, with a framing device of the new Squadron Supreme killing off a bunch of Skrulls and making plans for whenever they have to eventually take down all the Avengers. We get the Vision seeing ghosts from the past, a precognitive SHIELD agent being forced to see the future for a bunch of creepy aliens, Deadpool taking an unexpected assignment, and America Chavez taking an unusual tactic to close a dimensional breach.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A wide variety of writers and artists with a bunch of very short and kinda vague stories — but if they meant to try to get me interested in some of these new series — well, they did the job. Only downside is the high $6 price tag.


Sensation Comics #15

In this issue, we get one story about Cheetah escaping from imprisonment once again and Wonder Woman wondering why superheroes bother capturing the villains when they escape and kill over and over. In our second story, Wonder Woman meets up with a no-luck loser trying to sell a sick lion to a criminal syndicate — but can she get him to turn over a new leaf through kindness and empathy?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Really, the stories weren’t the greatest, but I gave them extra high marks because they featured art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Carla Speed McNeil.

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Goodbye to the Goon?


The Goon: Once Upon a Hard Time #4

The Goon dispatches the monstrous Longfingers, but the Arab has brought his ultimate monster — a cruel woman and her jilted ghost lover, twisted by hate and guilt and anger and desire into a twisted horror too powerful to be fought. The Arab reveals that the Goon might’ve had a chance if he hadn’t murdered Kid Gargantuan — but it turns out that the Goon didn’t kill the Kid, and he’s come back to help in the fight. Can he make a difference? Can the Goon survive, and will he have a place on Lonely Street anymore?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This looks like it’s basically Eric Powell’s farewell — maybe not to the Goon and Franky, since a new series is teased with them — but to the mythology and background that’ve built up around the character over the past 17 or so years. If you’ve loved this series the way every sensible comics fan has loved this series, you’ll want to pick this one up.


Survivors’ Club #1

This is a pretty interesting concept — what happens to the people who survive the ends of horror movies? When you’re the sole survivor of an attack by a psycho killer or a vampire or a ghost, what’s the psychological cost that comes out of that experience? The story here kicks off as six survivors of horror events are called together to explore what terrible things happened to them, why their names are all on a mysterious list on the Internet, what’s the connection between them all — and why a seemingly light-hearted platformer video game offers up nightmarish visions of past horrors for all of them.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Like I said, a very interesting concept — that alone is able to carry most of the first issue all by itself. I expect we’ll learn more about the characters and the terrors they faced over the next half-dozen issues — but I don’t know if I’ll stick with it. I like this first issue, but horror of this style doesn’t always seem to work well in monthly comics or with so many characters to have to sift through…

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