There was a diverse set of work from comics artist Michael Gaydos on display in Beacon, NY this past March. Mad Dooley Gallery’s “Michael Gaydos: Collected” highlighted a versatile career in comics — from his strange, full-color contribution to a story in Mirage Comics’ 1992-era Turtle Soup to gorgeous inked pages from Alias, on which he worked with Brian Michael Bendis. I’m reminded of Bendis’s penchant for gritty urban backdrops in his crime books or in Daredevil after having seen Gaydos’s work on The Black Hood, a brand-new series from Archie Comics’ imprint Dark Circle.
A cop named Gregory Hettinger is steered far off the path of public servant in the Philadelphia-based story, which digs into the city’s actual heroin epidemic (see Jeff Deeney here, and follow him on Twitter) as well as chips at familiar superhero deconstruction. The Black Hood‘s debut issue is wrought with forced dialogue from writer Duane Swierczynski and unravels in a contrived, made-for-bad-network TV manner (critic Justin Giampaoli tweeted a concise capsule review here). However, Gaydos’s depiction of darkened apartment interiors, Philadelphia’s North Philly building facades, and the virtually surrounding network of steel beams supporting the el train, built on a white panel grid with hand-drawn borders, is quite striking. A universally stronger second issue came out last week. It’s fitted with whip-fast street scuffles and brief but richly crafted reflective sequences, and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick floods Gaydos’s detailed urban backdrops with lush red-orange sunsets. Swierczynski’s script — an increasingly violent story that reaches deeper into a now-dirty cop’s pill addiction and the ensuing problems that he’s making for the people around him — already feels tighter, cleaner. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
My new piece at the Chicago Reader is on the second volume of Rep. John Lewis’s riveting graphic memoir, March: Book Two. The Boynton vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision in December, 1960, banned discriminatory practices in bus stations and train depots: “Whites Only” signs above water fountains in Southern Greyhound bus terminals would have to come down. For months, John Lewis and hundreds of other volunteers rode buses to test if the ruling was being enforced. March: Book Two, with art from Nate Powell, chronicles the work that Lewis did as a Freedom Rider back then. My piece on the first book ran in the Reader in 2013.
Recently from Retrofit and part of their new subscription package, Matt Madden’s Drawn Onward is an absorbing, experimental black & white comic, which is to be expected from a teacher, textbook author, and former series co-editor of The Best American Comics.
While it’s very much a traditional print comic on its surface — there are sequenced panels, word balloons, inward-peering narrative copy in the gutters — Drawn Onward can be read either backward or forward. The story, having first appeared in One Story magazine, transitions often from the current-day perspective of a cartoonist at the drafting table in her studio, framed in pin prick-thin lines, to subway platform sequences, which are appropriately cast in harried brush strokes that better depict the commuter frenzy known well to city folk. There are jarring confrontations that yield sweetly rendered but quite brief emotional experiences, but we ultimately don’t get much of a handle on the two characters at the comic’s core — critic Brigid Alverson points that out in a fleshed-out review at Robot 6. Still, this is a fascinating work that looks wonderful and pretty much requires a second read.
Coursing with cosmic energy, bright colors, and audacious composition, psychedelic comic Space Riders is some wild trip. The Black Mask Studios debut’s loosely threaded narrative is the work of writer Fabian Rangel, Jr., whose hard-nosed Captain Peligro in the book is first seen hovering horizontally, having suffered a knife to the eye through his helmet’s glass faceplate. He’s bleeding quite a bit, but he manages to look well-rested against a far-out spacescape flecked with asteroid chunks, lavishly colored planets, and clusters of stars that beam gold, green, or red.
Sprawled-out on browning pages that are treated to look timeworn and basement-weathered, with letterer Ryan Ferrier toggling between a variety of typefaces to fit the zany plot ticks, Space Riders’ pulp sci-fi and 1960s-era Marvel-inflected art is an absolute knock-out. It’s drawn and colored by co-creator Alexis Ziritt, who appears to produce this kind of hallucinatory work constantly.
Ziritt’s untethered linework proves a great match for the jittery pace of 2014 crime graphic novel The Package (my post on that book here), and for Space Riders, where skull-shaped spacecrafts and anthropomorphism frequently figure into the plot, the Florida-based artist seems to have been given free rein on the widest-reaching canvas possible. Other than this Peligro guy bungling an apparently important mission, being benched by his commanding officer, and then being reinstated for a gory, visually mind-blowing battle sequence, I don’t have a lot of insight as to what the hell is going on here but I intend to stay aboard, especially if it continues to look like this.