Want to see what other comic books I read each month? Well, look no further: One Shots is my new weekly comic book round-up, covering everything I can’t get to in my regular reviews. This week I’ll be covering books from Image Comics, Black Mask Studios, Oni Press, and Boom Studios, so prepare your face for some rapid fire reviews!
No Mercy #1
Scripter: Alex De Campi
Artist: Carla Speed McNeil
Colorist: Jenn Manley Lee
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s a simple, familiar story. According to the backmatter, it’s not even a terribly creative one. A group of Princeton students take a summer trip to a remote Central American village to build schools before their freshman year. The weather is hot, the bus is crowded, and the students are no more than kids, just out of high school and awash in their own teenage drama. Kids with iPhones and piercings, emotional baggage and wide eyes, dropped off in an unfamiliar country but safe in the knowledge that their status as Americans will keep them safe. But when an accident leaves the students wounded and stranded in the desert, they quickly discover that they’re not nearly as safe, or as special, as they thought.
No Mercy #1 is a potent look at what happens when the comforts and privileges of home are stripped away by tragedy. Writer Alex De Campi and artist Carla Speed McNeil present themes of American privilege and exceptionalism not as simple targets of satire but as complex ideas to be unpacked. De Campi’s portrayal of this glib, sheltered reality is almost comically rendered by McNeil, with her big-eyed, at times dopey-faced characters. The ensemble cast first appears as an obnoxious medley of college clichés before their brush with death begins to slowly chip away at this cynical veneer, allowing for glimpses of character development to come. Densely populated and dialog-driven panels give way to the sudden violence of the bus accident and the final, horrific silence of the bus’s descent over the cliff. Colorist Jenn Manley Lee’s bright cheerful palettes take a foreboding turn when night falls, shifting from blues and oranges to purples and blacks as the students find themselves alone in the desert.
A thoughtful and well-paced story of survival, I highly recommend No Mercy #1. The script is solid, the artwork is compelling, and its readiness to take on uncomfortable themes is noteworthy. Give this book a chance.
A psychedelic love letter to metal, Jim Steranko, and underground comix, Space Riders #1 is an unapologetic exploration of 1970s sci-fi aesthetic. Helmed by creative team Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Alexis Zirrit, this space opera follows the disgraced Captain Peligro and his loyal crew as they tear through the galaxy aboard his beloved skull-ship, the Santa Muerte. Ziritt’s thick, loose line work and volatile style is a perfect match for Rangel’s swaggering, machismo-drenched script. The characters and settings pull from a kaleidoscopic range of sources, weaving together these conscious design elements into a highly entertaining, self-aware pastiche that feels fun rather than ostentatious. Brazen, yes, but never cheap or jokey.
If you’re looking for sexy robots and space Viking motorcycle gangs this book certainly has them, but Space Riders is much more than that. Ziritt is an immensely talented artist with a keen eye for page design. His scrawling, effortless panels are so loaded with precise detail as to become claustrophobic, drawing the reader in to simply get lost in the minutiae of the scene. The sense of playfulness and curiosity that he brings to the book is one of his strengths, exploring composition and design in some truly satisfying ways. This creative team has promised to use the graphic narrative to the fullest, and I can’t wait to see what they do in coming issues.
Space Riders #1 is bold, uncompromising, and a hell of a read. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you’re missing out. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Scripter: James Tynion IV & Noah J. Yuenkel
Artist: Matthew Fox
Colorist: Adam Metcalfe
Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
A small town coming of age story, UFOlogy #1 follows loners Becky and Malcom as they stumble upon a cosmic event far larger than themselves. Writers James Tynion IV and Noah J. Yuenkel spin a familiar tale of teenage melancholy and the search for one’s place in the universe, the first of this six-part series. Becky and Malcom’s respective journeys into the otherworldly are brought to the page by artist Matthew Fox’s vast winter scenery and the inviting palettes of colorist Adam Metcalfe, with the handwritten script provided by letterer Colin Bell.
A sense of loneliness permeates this issue, captured by Fox’s wide, empty starry nights and glum-looking characters. Composed of wispy lines and detailed figure work, their eyes frequently dart to one side, avoiding the gaze of those around them, setting them apart from their families or friends. The characters and settings are fairly stock, a clear homage to stories like X-Files, Twin Peaks, and ET. Small town clichés, government conspiracies, and strange alien creatures abound, but the delivery is affective. So far Malcom is the more interesting protagonist, but by the end it seems Becky will have a more compelling role in coming issues. Despite the scope of its larger plot, the book is a quiet and intimate read. From the cut-away of Malcom’s house to the narration provided by his father’s radio broadcasts, details like this draw the reader into the world, and make it easy to overlook some of its weaker points.
UFOlogy #1 is a solid start with an interesting premise and engaging artwork, and I’m curious to see where this series goes from here.
With the comics industry rife with video game, movie, and now even podcast tie-ins, a lot of adaptations suffer as they translation between mediums. However, sometimes the transition is so seamless that the book picks up where the source material left off without missing a beat. This is certainly the case for Rick and Morty #1 from Zac Gorman and CJ Cannon, adapted from the Adult Swim animated comedy and published by Oni Press.
The visual style, unique pacing, and irreverent humor of the show transitions effortlessly to the page, capturing the weird, sarcastic, and oddly thoughtful world of Rick and Morty to the tee. All the characters are pitch-perfect in their execution, from their patterns of speech to the rhythm of the banter between the titular characters. Even small, easily overlooked details such as the characters’ squiggly eyes and Rick’s semi-permanent chin dribble are present, making the book feel more like a fully-developed companion to the show rather than a promotional tie-in. Fans looking for something to hold them over until the show’s second season have a lot to look forward to with this series.
If I had one complaint, it would be that the characters are sometimes too much like a super-distilled version of themselves. The length and format of the issue (a short and harrowing adventure into the intergalactic stock market, followed by an amusing Summer one-shot) works well, but by cutting a twenty-two minute episode into segments, the script becomes burdened with the task of cramming as many series catch phrases and freak-outs into the Rick and Morty storyline as possible. I understand this is the nature of using a compressed format, and while fans of the show certainly love those over-the-top moments, I hope that this series also maintains some of its heart, as well. Low-key, nuanced scenes about love, family, and one’s sense of place in the world are just as important as the zany adventures and Rick’s foul mouth. With any luck, they won’t get lost in translation.