The Dial and Other Stories
By Chris Reynolds
Published by Kingly Books, $12.99 USD

I’ll be honest, I never heard of Chris Reynolds. I got this for two reasons – 1) Seth’s lengthy appreciation column in the latest Comics Journal piqued my curiosity, and 2) Reynolds Toth-like black and white artwork. The stories are somber science fiction with a surrealist bent. “The Dial,” which takes up 2/3 of the book, follows Reg, a pilot who has returned home from the space war that Earth lost, only to find his home abandoned, his parents missing and a strange mining operation working in his backyard. It’s a weird premise, but it’s compelling in that Reg never seems quite able to understand what’s happened. I found myself wondering if Reg was really alive at all by the end of the tale, which leaves the reader with no easy answers. Artistically, Reynolds work is compared to “medieval woodblock prints” which is very accurate. There are a lot of heavy blacks, characters in silhouette and crosshatching in virtually every panel. The writing is sharp and somewhat airy, with a narrator who seems a little untrustworthy. “The Golden Age,” the other story of significant length, is set in the same futuristic world, following Robert, a young child with an eerily adult love for his headmistress. Together the two wander the ruins of a bombed out city, professing their love for each other while seeking food and shelter. Eventually they encounter Cwiss, another child with an evil streak who is bent on stealing Robert’s headmistress. It’s another surreal situation that somehow works because of Reynolds’ directness. This is not satire or metaphor, but characters who accept their bizarre circumstances as normal, and act accordingly. The same stark artwork is used here, and its sharp light and shadows gives the bombed ruins an immediacy and realism. Overall, I really dug this. It’s strange, and I’m not sure what the point was, but it was original, well executed and creative in a way that few comics come close to. Grade: 4.5/5

A Strange Day
By Damon Hurd and Tatiana Gill
Published by Alternative Comics, $3.95 USD

This is the story of two teenagers whose shared love for The Cure’s music leads to an afternoon of awkward flirtations. As with Hurd’s past efforts (My Uncle Jeff, A Sort of Homecoming) the dialogue is effective and believable, but occasionally becomes overly effusive or sentimental. I never got into The Cure’s music, so some of Hurd’s use of song lyrics is lost on me, but I can definitely recall a time when finding a common musical bond with a girl would have melted my heart. This is the emotional impact Hurd is going for and for the most part, successfully achieves. While the black and white artwork by Tatiana Gill is not amazing, it’s goth style is well suited to this particular tale. It’s a minimalist, thick lined, heavily inked look, somewhat reminiscent of Paul Pope but nowhere near as beautiful. Overall, it’s not Hurd’s best effort, but it’s enjoyable for what it is, a simple “teenage love story.” Grade 3.5/5

Solo #3
By Paul Pope
DC Comics, $4.95 USD

Not surprisingly, this is the best issue in the series so far. Paul Pope, unlike Sale and Corben before him, brings a considerable writing talent, as well as an always evolving art style. This issue features five very different stories, all worthwhile, but the standouts are the last three. “Life Sized Ghost Monster,” captures beautifully the anticipation of a young boy who orders a ghost for a dollar from the pages of a comic book, and the inevitable disappointment that follows when the less than promised toy arrives. It’s not an original story, yet Pope’s art in this piece captures the fanciful imagination of the young boy perfectly, making the familiar concept fresh. “En Esta Esquina” features some of Pope’s best writing and art to date. It’s a slice of life vignette set in a familiar, yet somewhat futuristic New York City. There’s not really a plot, but the writing is so sharp, and the visuals create a sense of place so real, you almost feel as if you’ve been there. The final story, “Teenage Sidekick” is a fairly straight forward Batman and Robin tale, but Pope’s narrative again captures an excellent voice, giving Robin a boyish naiveté he rarely has in comics anymore. Throughout the entire issue, Pope’s art is simply outstanding. His style is so natural and fluid, his characters so distinctive, that even his Omac story, an homage to Jack Kirby’s eccentricities, is enjoyably over the top. For a title whose premise is focused squarely on art, this issue contained some surprisingly excellent writing. Grade: 5/5

Little Star #1
By Andi Watson
Published by Oni Press, $2.95 USD

Andi Watson, the master of minimalist, slice of life stories tackles the joys and trials of parenthood head on. His sensitive style is perhaps at its best here, in the first person narrative of Simon Adams, who finds himself burdened with all the adult responsibilities of father, husband and homeowner, yet seems unable to understand exactly how it all happened. Part of the strength and charm of this first issue is that Simon is not an overly cynical character. He wants to do right for his family, but struggles at holding onto his own dreams, while balancing his new responsibilities. Artistically, Watson may be the most efficient artist working in comics. It’s amazing how expressive his characters are with such a minimal amount of linework. If you’ve never tried an Andi Watson comic before, I’d recommend giving this a try, as it’s some of his best, most heartfelt writing to date. Grade: 4.5/5

Vimanarama #1
By Grant Morrison and Phillip Bond
Published by DC Vertigo, $2.95 USD

Phillip Bond overshadows Grant Morrison with stunning artwork. His double page spreads are striking and original and his characters have tremendous personality. This is a very different story from We3, Morrison’s cyborg housepet story that just concluded. It feels a little tongue in cheek, with silly gags like the baby accidentally releasing the ancient forces of evil.

Not much else to say on this one that hasn’t already been said. I liked it, but not as much as a lot of other Morrison stuff. It’s a decent start, but hardly his best. But for Bond, it’s some of his best artwork to date. Grade 4/5

-- Marc Sobel

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