12th Feb2018

Panel Discussion #45: Indie Comic Round-Up

by Dan Clark

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Welcome back to another installment of Panel Discussion – this time featuring a round-up of the indie comic books that have been peaking our interest recently

Rock Candy Mountain #8

Written by Chris Schweizer | Art by Chris Schweizer

They say a hobo’s life is measured by his friends. That makes you wonder what a comic book’s life is measured by. If it’s the ability to entertain and provide impactful emotional moments Rock Candy Mountain has lived a long life in its eight issues. Chris Schweizer crafted a silly story with great heart and memorable characters that is sadly coming to its end. One that operates as a modern fable rooted in a past American culture that is fascinating in its own right.

With this final issue all the pieces that have been building are now hitting their conclusion. As a writer, Schweizer has a sharp sense of humor that reminds me of classic comedies like Naked Gun before the series was in on its own joke. The absurdity of moment is allowed to sit in the air without major attention being called to it. By not overtly calling attention to itself it can maintain a genuine tone to avoid feeling like a slapstick comedy. When you have a character literally fist fighting with the Devil you would not expect there to be any type of emotional stakes. Here there were tons as a man was fighting to see his family one last time.

Inside this fantastic story has been this tale about the importance of friends of family. Why it works is the complete lack of cynicism. Considering the state of the world comics need a creator like Chris Schweizer. He can create stories unlike anyone else that have a clear vision and that vision is executed with a high level of creativity. Seeing this series end is somewhat bittersweet. This story has been fully told, but cannot help but what to see more from these characters. Although if you are going to end the final panel of this issue is how you do it. It was the one image this entire book was leading up to and it was worth the enjoyable wait.

****½  4.5/5

The Gravediggers Union #4

Written by Wes Craig | Art by Toby Cypress

The Gravediggers Union is a book that still has a lot of questions yet to be explained or in some cases even asked. Taking place in a world full of monsters, ghosts, witches, and other creatures a band of a lucky few that try to keep the peace. Despite the full clarity, there is a lot of intrigues over where exactly the story is headed. With issue number four things are beginning to fully take shape.

The supposed prophet Morgan wishes to test her ability by facing off against a dangerous ghost storm. In most comics a storm made up of ghosts would be the entire focus. Here it has been a side piece of an overall larger story. This actual faceoff goes in unexpected directions as these ghosts are not scary in the traditional sense. Many look like what would happen if the worlds most annoying YouTube celebrities became the undead.

As Morgan is going full Ghostbuster the Gravediggers are trying to uncover more secrets of past profits and as well as trying to find a way to get to Morgan. The Gravediggers are becoming one of my favorite group of heroes in comics. They are the type of characters that are forgotten in stories like this. Usually killed right away to showcase the power of whatever creature will be haunting are real heroes. With this story they are the heroes. Blue collar guys who have worked hard for a living and have little to show for it. In this world where the supernatural is real, they still have to deal with life issues like how to pay for all these adventures they are going on. Nothing has been easy for them and apparently, nothing will be going forward.

We have seen Wes Craig demonstrate his creative mind before with his artistic hand and now with this series, he has shown his ability to craft a tight script full of life. Toby Cypress’s art also has a great deal of style. His aesthetic designs are similar to Craig’s without duplicating too much of his look. There is a messiness to it which is fitting to the insanity of what is occurring. All of this is coming together to make this series on of Images best comics currently on the shelves.

**** 4/5

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Scales and Scoundrels #6

Written by Sebastian Girner | Art by Galaad

With the rise of the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones the mood of fantasy stories has begun to change. We are seeing much more realistic takes that are heavily melodramatic and leaning towards darker sensibilities. Enter Scales and Scoundrels to show it is okay to have fun with fantasy once again.

Fun does not mean it is absent of emotion and this issue is easily the most emotional of the series so far. This is the classic point in the story where characters who have been a minor focus of the narrative thus far get some major time to shine. Opening with a bittersweet moment where Koro learns about the true fate of her brother and Dorma must now face off against the creature that caused the demise of her trusted master. As good fantasy action often does this set up leads to some great character moments that reveal layers to our characters that only been hinted at prior.

A big reason for that is the creature they are facing off against as the ability to learn the secret desires you possess. Sure it may be a cheap conceit that allows for more direct and fast-forward storytelling, but if you are going to have a story full of magic and mystical creatures it’s better to have a reason for all of it. Also allows for a much more satisfying conclusion than a character suddenly learning to punch harder.

As a series Scales and Scoundrels has basically been what would happen if a group of good intentioned fantasy nerds lived out their most epic Dungeon and Dragons quest. Taking you on an adventure of faraway lands with people you genuinely enjoy being around. This issue steps things up to another emotional layer that was a legitimate pleasant surprise. What I thought was a series that was not much more than a fun lark has in fact turned into something more.

**** 4/5

Mech Cadet Yu #6

Written by Greg Pak | Art by Takeshi Miyazawa

The world of young adult comics has really exploded over the last few years. Recently Mech Cadet Yu has made its presence known as one of the best all-ages comics on the shelves. Calling it an all ages book may be doing it a disservice. At times that label can have the connotation that a book is written primarily for kids but adults can also find enjoyment if they look hard enough and dull their senses. Mech Cadet Yu though is written like a great Pixar movie. When you experience it you simply assume it was written for you and the age you currently find yourself. Like many, I grew up with like Voltron and Power Rangers so the idea of a group of kids who fight alien monsters with giant robots immediately appeals to me. What this book has been able to do is take those influences and make the idea its own.

Part of that is because Greg Pak writes some great characters. Writing kids in comics is an underrated skill. You can easily make them too wise for their age or too overly juvenile. Over these six issues Pak has developed all of these cadets in interesting ways. At first many fell into specific archetypes. You had the underprivileged kid that no one believed in, the spoiled brat who was handed everything, and your comic relief characters designed to add flavor. As the story has progressed those tropes have become messy and less exact. Doing so has led to more complete characters.

One of my concerns with this series was how it would avoid being repetitive. Serial storytelling does not necessarily work as well for comics as it does for cartoons and television programs. In order to avoid that problem for these last few issues the mech robots have been left on the sideline as the cadets were suspended due to their heroic actions saving the city. Despite the outcome, they disobeyed orders and were promptly punished. With the robots gone the cadets took center stage and we are able to see who they are. It’s an important piece to know these characters are heroes because of their qualities as people and not just because their best friends are robots. In this issue we saw a great call back to that training to showcase how what they learned is already being paid off.

The world of comics is better having Mech Cadet Yu in it. It is this consistent light and enjoyable read that never feels empty or disposable. Sure giant robots fighting giant aliens is pretty much automatically fun. Where Mech Cadet Yu excels is adding a lot of heart to that idea to make all the large than life action mean something. If you know anyone at any age that is looking for a new series to get into this is the ideal comic to point them towards.

**** 4/5

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