Indie Comics Spotlight – Deadhorse, Starlight and Headspace

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1

 

“The last payphone in America…is ringing.”

Advice from a two-headed dog should probably come with a disclaimer. Unfortunately for the characters in Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1, that’s not exactly the case. The issue is written and lettered by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Phil Sloan and colored by David Halvorson.

After the two-headed dog warns Nadya that there’s a pay phone ringing, it’s answered by someone simply saying “I am awake.” Mr. Gadsworth tells the other person that he wants the key that William Pike has and will do whatever it takes to get it. Following that is an introduction to Jim, setting up Elise’s mother to talk on TV. The thing is, readers of the first volume know that Elise isn’t dead, but with a rather interesting character.

Grissom isn’t shy when writing Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1, offering readers a rather complex universe that presents deep characters and a pretty involved storyline. Granted, readers of the first volume will get more out of this, but Grissom has made the second volume very accessible to new readers, so they won’t feel too intimidated by all the story. Characters are presented rather effortlessly and really reward those who take the time to get invested in them. The story itself has a whodunnit sensibility to it, with all the characters seemingly operating on their own schedules and with their own plans in mind.

Sloan’s art is a great complement to the story, with the characters very expressive despite the somewhat childish looking drawing style. That’s not to say the style doesn’t look good; in fact, it looks great. Sloan’s style isn’t conventional in the typical “comic book” sense, instead relying on Halvorson’s newspaper-like filter that adds a griminess to the illustrations. Despite the seemingly consistent style, every character manages to feel completely different and unique, offering a wide range of viewpoints in a somewhat chaotic, twisting tale. There’s also some really interesting panel layouts, keeping the pages feeling fresh and dynamic.

Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1 is an entertaining and rewarding read. The characters are all presented as truly individual components of a larger whole and all seem likely to play a part in the grand scheme of things. Grissom’s writing is pretty fast-paced and clever, presenting a tale that requires your full attention. Sloan’s art style is up to the task of matching Grissom’s story, packing every panel with some really subtle approaches that make reading the book another time. Overall, Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1 is very fun and a great way to get in on a great series.

Deadhorse: Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1 is available via Comixology now.

Starlight #1

 

“I feel like an idiot.”

Death is never easy to cope with for those who live on, especially when that death comes to someone as close as a spouse. Regardless of what the person is doing or has done in life, a loss such as that hits hard and presents a bunch of questions asked of one’s self. Typically though, the past actions aren’t quite nearly as daring as those of Duke McQueen in Starlight #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Goran Parlov, colored by Ive Svorcina and lettered by Marko Šunjić.

Forty years ago, Duke McQueen was the space hero who saved the universe. In the present, he’s faced with an empty house, thanks to his boys growing up and moving out and his wife’s recent death, leaving him alone with nothing but memories. His stories are perceived as rantings of a lunatic and he’s struggling to find some normalcy in the wake of his tragic loss. Things are going along about as well as can be expected, until a call comes from a distant world asking him back for his final and greatest adventure.

As a character, Duke McQueen is written by Millar with an impeccable sense of time; that is, he’s confronted by two vastly different versions of himself. One version is the younger, more daring Duke, who saved a planet from a ruthless dictator and was heralded as a hero. The other is an older, more emotionally satisfied Duke, who married his best friend, raised two boys to be successful and seemed to enjoy life. It’s not as if he’s two different people at different points in his life; rather, his approach simply adapts to the life he’s leading. Millar does a great job showing this dichotomy as well, weaving together his more dangerous exploits as a youth with the more mundane routines he’s settled into. Losing one’s spouse is a truly devastating event and while Duke’s relative emptiness is appropriately masked by his desire to appear fine.

Parlov’s illustrations present a brutish looking Duke, clearly physically capable of saving worlds whether he’s young or old. The younger Duke carries a brash smile on his face throughout all his flashbacks, whereas the older Duke wears a sullen expression like an albatross around his neck. Many of the panels showing the tedium of everyday life feel sufficiently monotonous when compared to the extraterrestrial adventures, something which Parlov does well to further accent Millar’s characterization of Duke. One thing that stands out about the characters otherwise is that Parlov tends to draw most of the faces as if they’re looking down, which could be by design because of the gravity of the situation that brings them all together.

On its surface, Starlight #1 is a nod to John Carter and Flash Gordon. Once you dig a little deeper though, you’ll see that Millar has infused the book with themes of mortality, relevance and the sense of one’s place within the greater picture. Duke is a man who fought dragons and evil princes, but is flattened by the death of his wife. And the fact that he’s viewed as something of a lunatic for his “stories” about the other planet only further motivates him to lead a normal life, something that’s taken from him almost instantly. The art team handles the character very deftly and gives the reader a great sense of who Duke thinks he is and who others around Duke thinks he is. Starlight #1 could easily become just another stranger out of place space tale, but here’s hoping Millar keeps it a bit more introspective than that.

Starlight #1 hits stores now.

Headspace #1

“They made me with a dog head because dogs are friendly and trustworthy.”

It’s easy to get lost in one’s head. There’s a lot going on in there: schedules, lessons, calculations. There are even some corners of the mind that are a little darker and require the thinker to travel to a less than ideal place. Getting lost in the mind can be truly terrifying at times, a terror further exacerbated when there are monsters threatening everyone around you as in Headspace #1 from MonkeyBrain Comics. The issue is written by Ryan K. Lindsay, illustrated by Eric Zadawski and inked/colored by Chris Peterson and Marissa Louise.

The inhabitants of Carpenter Cove have recently made a rather startling discovery. Their strange town is actually a construct in the mind of a killer. Shane, the sheriff, wants to get back to his real life but one dark connection between him and the killer is going to make him rethink everything. There’s a good bit of crazy monsters, a dog-headed bartender and citizens on the brink of insanity all thrown in for good measure.

There’s a lot going on in Headspace #1. Lindsay has created a world in Carpenter Cove that, practically, makes no sense at all, but in a good way. Shane is fighting for control of a situation he can’t really control, largely because there are issues at play that exceed his ability to control them. Couple that with the fact that he really doesn’t have a complete grasp of the situation to begin with and you’ve got a tale that’s equal parts weird and somewhat intrinsic. Shane and Max are two sides of a coin, with both of them fighting to take over the other side. The thing is, Max somehow knows what he’s after, whereas Shane doesn’t completely understand. Even though he doesn’t completely understand, Shane manages to accept the world he newly inhabits as a matter of fact, not even blinking in the sight of monsters.

Zadawksi’s art is a great fit for the story. Shane gets most of the attention and rightfully so as he’s the main character, with Zadawski spending more time on him than most of the other characters. Characters in the foreground definitely get more attention, prompting them to stand out a little more against a relatively vague background. Max is illustrated as a gritty individual with a proverbial axe to grind and even appears physically to be the foil to Shane that the story asks him to be. There’s nothing really special about the panel layouts other than a few insets here and there, but by and large it’s the standard layout. One particular sequence of tall, slender panels does a great job of showing progressive violence and underscores Max’s vileness.

Headspace #1 is a pretty fascinating tale that offers an interesting premise. The entire story seems to take place in someone’s mind, which means that anything really is possible. The closest comparison is Inception, only instead of dreaming you’re inhabiting a much more complex series of thoughts, dreams and imagination. Shane is convincing enough as a do-gooder hero type and Max is presenting to be a more than capable enemy for him to square off against. The two are–at present–inextricably linked, but unraveling the threads that bind their lives should make for a pretty interesting series. Headspace #1 is a good one to take a look at if you like books that are a little off-kilter and challenge your imagination.

Headspace #1 is available in stores now.


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