Yes, yes I know…I promised you this piece nearly two months ago.

Extenuating circumstances derailed the original airdate, and in hindsight the incessant distractions turned out to be for the best. (As things in hindsight often are.) On the one hand, it provided additional time with the soon-to-be reviewed materials and on the other hand it set the stage for the blockbuster companion piece coming your way in one week’s time (the contents of which will be discussed shortly…be patient). Regardless of whether or not you fully accept my complicated excuses and hollow explanations, trust me when I say that the end result will boast an elevated level of quality that would’ve remained absent from an earlier version.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

This all began with an article called Award Tour that commented on the latest Eisner nominations, and my unfamiliarity with a great majority of the nominees. I credited this to my nearly exclusive following of products stemming from the larger publishers, and vowed (doesn’t that sound strong) to increase my library of comics being released from independent publishers, which has resulted in further attention devoted to the half of the Previews catalog not filled with vibrant colors and corporate icons.

Say hello to my first batch of independents as they rise in unity to broaden horizons and enlighten one that’s periodically blinded by men in tights and their amazing adventures.


Fade From Blue #1 (Myatt Murphy/Scott Dalrymple)
Second 2 Some Studios

We’ll begin with the non-costumed adventures of four young women (Iya, Marit, Elisa, and Christa) who share the same father, and were drawn together by the mysterious deaths of their mothers. Several years later, the past rushes toward them for an unpleasant confrontation that may shatter everything they’ve built and reveal secrets that warrant concealment.

I loved this book. Let’s start with the cover and the book’s logo that subtly fades from a bright blue to a subdued gray as the word “fade” leads to “blue”. (Check the accompanying scan for visual confirmation.) It’s such a simple trick that indicates a publisher’s attention to small details and boded well for the approaching read-through. A cover price demanding only one solitary dollar from the pocket didn’t hurt either.

The story itself presents something not often found in “mainstream” comics, a diverse cast of strong female characters that aren’t parading the streets in G-strings (at least none that are visible anyway). Christa is a freelance writer catering to the needs of popular women’s magazines, Marit is a take no shit cop, Iya is a bartender with a checkered past, and Elisa is well…she’s Elisa. A clever narrative that frames the distinctive personalities around a simple conversation between a writer and her editor develops all four female leads beautifully. We get a sense of why we’re here, why we should care, and why we want to come back. An impressive showing from an introductory issue which is often the worst to construct as a writer, as one is forced to mount the stage with only one chance of impressing the audience before they begin flinging tomatoes. Couple this with the fact that there isn’t a leotard in sight, and it makes this task even more relevant and precarious. Mr. Murphy, his artistic cohort Scott Dalrymple, and his letterer Stan Depain, accomplish the task with ease.

In addition to the successful main story, the creators use the remainder of the issue to deliver a small article written by Christa (one of the leads) that would feel right at home in the latest issue of Cosmo, and also provide a small preview for the next issue, further enticing the reader to seek out the second installment. And all this for a buck.

Murphy’s previous credits include over 400 feature length articles for such publications as Esquire, Maxim, Glamour and Cosmo, ensuring that his distinct voice resonates most strongly with the character of Christa, and fostering the possibility that you’ve already read something from his word processor. I’m assuming that this background only contributed to his pursuit of presenting strong female characters in situations that would appeal to both male and female readers, without producing T & A material to satisfy some fanboy’s wet dream.

Consequently, Fade From Blue is the comic that your girlfriend will enjoy as much as you…a rarity in the industry these days.

the forgotten #1 (Jareth Grealish & Evan Young/John Forcucci & Mostafa Moussa/ James Taylor)
Fintan Studios

the forgotten deals with the disturbing query…what if there was a man…a hero…that no one could ever remember? This title follows a mysterious vigilante, once belonging to a forgotten era of costumed heroics, who travels the streets of Philadelphia balancing the scales of justice.

After departing the striking cover image, rendered by Tom Derenick (Marvel’s
Nightside mini) we’re thrown headfirst into the man’s current investigation that is attempting to unravel the mystery surrounding a murdered exotic dancer and a primary suspect that’s alarmingly convenient. The unnamed figure strong-arms politicians and mob wiseguys, utilizing a Jedi mind trick of epic proportions that erases his presence from one’s consciousness. Meanwhile, a university student is embarking on an assignment that may just bring her face-to-face with this anonymous figure.

Spandex and crime noir are melded in a tale that utilizes a mature and sophisticated narrative voice to immerse the reader in the world of a former hero who no longer uses his powers to save the world from…well whoever the villain was that week. The art is strong, offering characters and locales that are varied in their presentation and their application. Whether the main character is verbally or physically intimidating suspects, the pencils remain clear and attractive throughout. Supplements include a behind-the-scenes section shedding additional light on the production of the book, introducing the creators, and plugging the next issue.

The straddling of genres ensures that the forgotten will appeal to a variety of tastes, and the slick production and stylish execution will prompt you to pick up the second issue. Just don’t forget…

The Horsemen #1 (Jiba Molei Anderson/Michael C. Larson)
Griot Enterprises (pronounced GREE-oh and meaning “storyteller”)

The Horsemen are here to save the world. Seven gods called the Orisha that have combined their essence with seven very human souls still in the womb. Through this synthesis, it was hoped that The Horsemen would exist as worthy adversaries to a group known as the Deitis that are choking the lifeforce from our planet. Obviously, the Deitis refuse to go quietly into that good night, and The Horsemen have only one option…to wage war.

Infusing aspects of religion, mythology, and modern action movies, The Horsemen brings several interesting things to the table, chief among them…a little color. My attention was garnered while flipping through Previews by the presence of iconic characters that actually contained a little melanin in their skin, a mainstream oddity residing next to well-rounded female characters in halls of obscurity. This display of diversity is only strengthened by the fact that the book provides an exciting read.

The saga begins with a gatefold cover, and splashes throughout 24 glossy pages sporting an intriguing storyline driven by the heroic Horsemen that are diffusing problems from one end of the globe to the other. Mysterious government figures are left to pick up the pieces, interviewing the bystanders that played witness to the opening gauntlet of a war that just may decide the path of human existence. Hero worship notwithstanding, there exist forces quite unappreciative of the group’s activities, and unfortunately…they’re willing to destroy the planet to prevent the Horsemen from saving it.

Jiba Molei Anderson uses a series of interviews to control a collection of flashbacks that provide brief glimpses into each character that belongs to the Horsemen, and establishes a genuine voice throughout keeping the plot and over-arcing mystery progressing at a comfortable pace. He provides more than enough answers to maintain your focus, but doesn’t reveal the complete hand, leaving certain questions unanswered. He also provides the pencils and design, which are stylish and fresh. The creator closes the package with
a clever manifesto, declaring his love and appreciation for the industry, and advising you that Griot Enterprises is the look of the future. You better recognize.

Infinite Kung Fu #1 & #2 (Kagan McLeod)
Great Lakes Ninja Brotherhood

Taking place in a not-so distant future, man and their damned technology has succeeded in nearly destroying the planet, and half the world’s population has been wiped from the face of it. The survivors have abandoned all forms of technology and regressed back to a civilization that was commonplace hundreds of years ago, with the small exception that there weren’t hoards of the living dead wandering the Earth looking for worthy hosts. Martial skill is the key to survival and kung fu is found in its most lethal form.

Yang Lei-Kung is a soldier in the emperor’s army on the run from an army of undead that wish to make themselves at home in his skin. During the ensuing battle he unwittingly disturbs the meditation pattern of a martial master and subsequently destroys the man’s body. The master survives, though without a suitable body to inhabit, and Yang volunteers to become the master’s disciple, learning the skills necessary to locate one of the eight immortals, the only beings capable of returning the kung-fu master to his proper form. Along the way he encounters a wild cast of characters, several holding an unknown connection to his existence and that of the master he believes is only a simple hermit.

Commenting that Infinite Kung Fu is unlike anything on the stands is an understatement, bordering on the cliché that I’ll utilize anyway. Perhaps it’s the physical dimensions of the book, measuring slightly shorter and slightly wider than your standard comic book? Perhaps it’s the outrageous tag lines printed on the covers? (Issue one reads: the martial world’s finest fighters forcing foes to fail-as blood bursts from broke necks!!) Maybe it’s the creator’s unique art style that marries the exaggerated nature of anime and graffiti? No, no, I got it…it’s the fast-paced storyline and kinetic action sequences that merge elements of science fiction, horror movies, and Hong Kong action films. Whatever the hell it is…Infinite Kung Fu is a wild ride from beginning to finish, and if you think we’ve heard the last of Kagan McLeod…you’re nuts.

In this visual medium, McLeod has created something that’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Witness the pain as pitiless pugilists punish people with martial movements made to mangle and mash!

SPECWAR (Special Warfare) #1 (Frank A. Lauria/Michael Docherty & Armondo Gil/Oscar Lopez)
Peter Four Productions

Composed of operatives from the U.S. Special Forces special operations units, this team of professionals are the guys the top brass doesn’t want around until the shooting starts. They’re brutal, they’re efficient and even worse…they don’t give a shit. SPECWAR does the job as violently as possible, and goes home with another notch in the belt until they receive the next call. These are the people you want covering your ass when some
third-world despot gets a dangerous idea.

The action begins when a group of extremists hijack a gas tanker, outfit it with plutonium and threaten to contaminate a large portion of the New York metropolitan area. The terrorists hope to negotiate the release of a political prisoner and succeed in making several members of the local and federal government very uncomfortable. Word hits the news outlets and widespread panic takes hold, leaving the president with only one choice…give in to their demands. Meanwhile, a high-speed underwater transport has reached its insertion point, and it’s not long before the terrorists come face to face with the last line of defense.

Several things were done well in this offering. The writer succeeds in telling a complete story with a comprehensible beginning, middle, and end. While you’ll never witness many personal complaints regarding the inclination of a writer to chart a multi-chapter epic (I’m quite fond of proposing them myself) it’s quite refreshing to sit down and read a book that lays everything out for you on the first meeting. SPECWAR does its damage and retires until the next call comes through, and this premier issue held a similar attitude. It offers a real-world approach to espionage and modern warfare, which likens it to Oni Press’ Queen and Country in which every bullet fired has consequences, and the greatest battles are the ones that aren’t taking place on CNN.

Providing additional credibility to the project is the background of the writer, Frank A. Lauria, who also serves as the editor-in-chief of Peter Four Productions. The man brings twenty years of active duty as a U.S. Navy Seal to the stories. He’s been involved in several recent conflicts around the globe, and has trained and worked with the Special Operations Forces of over twenty-five countries. However, now retired, Lauria can neither confirm nor deny that he’s planned, practiced, or conducted any of the operations that will be depicted in the series. Now if that isn’t reason enough to get excited about this title…I can’t help you.

Teenagers From Mars #1 (Rick Spears/Rob G)

This book takes place on Mars…well…a town called Mars anyway. And just like any other town, it plays host to weird shit on a periodical basis. There are three kids robbing graves while quoting lines from Star Wars. A guy named Macon is making free copies of his comic book at the local Kinko’s. Then he proceeds to report to work at Mall-Mart, only to get into a brawl with his manager. Meanwhile, some guy is looking up a girl’s skirt in the Housewares department. Oh…and a satanic death cult appears to be operating in the area.

Teenagers From Mars chronicles the bizarre and seemingly unconnected events involving a bizarre and seemingly unconnected cast of characters. It utilizes a
Tarantino-esque narrative that feeds one a succession of interesting puzzle pieces, without providing the concrete distinctions that will subsequently hold the entire story together. The storytelling approach, with its vignettes depicted in a gritty atmospheric art style evokes the feeling that not everything is quite right in the town of Mars.

There are moments of horror as teenagers exhume a body and the news reports of strange happenings that may involve Satan. There’s talk of censorship and the notion that if some agency could just discover the correct formula, they could force us to behave according to the status quo. There’s a starving artist, biding his time at some bullshit corporate establishment filled by employees who take their seven dollars an hour far too seriously. And of course…love at first sight. The things that great stories are made of.

I won’t pretend I’m aware of exactly where these guys are going, but if the first issue is any indication…it’s damn sure gonna be interesting.

There you have it, six interesting titles, approaches, and creators that I think everyone should give a little additional attention, and to further this strong notion…allow me to let you in on what’s coming your way next week. Picture the creators of the above works stopping by personally to plug their wares and hit you over the head with exclusive shit and even more reasons to give them props. Picture that I’m hosting this momentous Ambidextrous occasion and calling it Open Mic.

Now wait seven days…

Brandon Thomas

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