Sunday, November 24, 2013

REVIEW: Umbral #1

Writer:  Antony Johnston
Artist:  Christopher Mitten
Review:  Arthur Black

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the saying we have all heard throughout our lives, and we usually think of its meaning as ugly or undesirable on the outside.  This meaning can go the other way, and Umbral is a perfect example. The cover is very captivating, but the pages are covered in utter crap. Let’s put on our boots and take a stink walk through it.

This comic starts with the main character, a girl named Rascal, stating that she has fallen into “the Umbral”.  This coupled with the artwork . . . um picture . . . uh page spasm indicates that “the Umbral” to be a place of some kind, but I will get more into that later.

Our next step through the heap brings us to a drawn out conversation between a king and queen. Having tortured myself with reading this book twice, my thought to this conversation is why it is here and what purpose does it serve.  Unfortunately, the answer seems to be either A) to take up space or B) to have something more to draw badly. Truthfully the answer would seem to be both.

On page seven, there is a map of “the Kingdom of Fendin”, which is decently done.  When I was done reading the comic, I was unable to understand why the map was needed.  Having read fantasy and science fiction for most of my life, a map is usually standard when dealing with a story that is going to change settings often to help the reader understand the world. In this comic there is no need to include the map yet, because the story goes from an unidentified place to “the Umbral”, which is not on the map at all.

Once past the map, the crap pile gets deeper. Rascal and Prince Arthir are in a ruin or something having a conversation that seems to flow like cold syrup. The whole scene is awkward and forced. As a writer, it is important to not sacrifice character for content. With that said, profanity should only be used in dialog if it fits the character. Don’t use it just to use it or you will sound like a child trying to be cool for the first time. The writer for Umbral has Rascal swearing, and it really does not fit the tone that has been set for her. This makes Johnston seem like the child trying to be cool.

Remember how it seemed like “the Umbral” was referred to as a place. Well on the last page of the book there is a full page drawing of a demonic looking monster, which looks like it was drawn on silly putty and stretched sideways, who states “the Umbral is already here.”  Now it seems “the Umbral” is a creature of some kind.  This is confusing. As a comic writer the idea is to draw people into your story with your first issue; not throw shit in their face.

Christopher Mitten’s artwork in this comic is horrible. I counted eight different sizes and shapes for Rascal’s nose. This is very inconsistent. Was he running late on his deadline? This could be a possibility, because I checked out is website at to find that he does have some good work. None of it is inside this comic.  The worst panel is on page 11. The character named Borus has been killed, and the scene looks just silly. Borus’ head is supposed to be split open, but it looks like someone beaned him with red play-doh, and the pool of blood he is setting in does not look right.

This comic book has the phrase “a new dark fantasy from the creators of Wasteland” on the top of the cover. This leads me to believe that Wasteland is total crap as well.  At the very least Umbral does have an attractive cover.  You may now remove your boots and wash all of the shit off of them. Let this be a lesson to all that Image WILL publish just about anything.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

REVIEW: Drumhellar #1

Writer: Alex Link 
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Review: William R. Davis Jr. 

Just to give you a little back story, all throughout my University years, summers were spent in jam band parking lots. I can recite every line of The Big Lebowski and Easy Rider verbatim. And in the last day I've listened to A Love Supreme and watched Eraserhead. The last three sentences are important because I don't want you thinking that I am at all adverse towards surrealism or psychedelia. Street cred established, Image's latest number one, Drumhellar, is the drug fueled, genre bending tale of a paranormal detective and his purple ghost sidekick. Through the caveat I'm guessing you know the direction this review is going. The need to establish street cred before delving into an all out negativity parade speaks volumes about the content of this new title by Image.   

Almost all of the ingredients are there, a bi-sexual, trailer dwelling, voodoo lady ex-girlfriend, their shared bi-sexual werewolf ex-girlfriend, peyote, talking specters, psychedelic flowers, and even though you get all of these things in twenty two pages of Drumhellar #1, this is a book that you should put down immediately. There are some highlights, Riley Rossimo brings his A game throughout half of the book. The drug stuff is drawn well, but sober Drum Hellar is some kind of visually bland pop art throwback that keeps the book from excelling artistically. The real problem is in the writing. There is no coherent plot, and for a title that is trying to blend noir, spiritual drug visions, and arthouse together, the lack of a plot is truly what makes this book unreadable. Issue one is not a book that deliberately tries to be disorienting, it tries to establish characters and develop a narrative, something that is integral for the noir aspect of the story, but the execution comes out bafflingly incoherent. After my third read I still have absolutely no idea what Alex Link is trying to accomplish in issue one. I don't really know what happens in Drumhellar #1, and that is not sarcasm.

Sales are good though; Drumhellar #1 is sold out. This is undoubtedly more a combination of a small print coupled with the underground success of the creative team's last endeavor Rebel Blood, which was incredible and received high marks from fans and critics alike. There has been a lot of negativity spread around in my reviews these days, and I've found myself reflecting on this recently. Are these books really that bad? Short answer: Yes.

There are a lot of monthly titles out now that I love, unfortunately the ones that I am designated to review come up way short. Drumhellar is a confusing, train wreck of a comic, even the cover is lacking; both uninteresting and a poor use of space. Instead of buying this book, I encourage you to get the trade of Rebel Blood. There is no doubt in my mind that issue one selling out will pique the interest of Image fans everywhere, but when it comes to this title, don't believe the hype. There's a chance that all of the writing kinks can get ironed out in subsequent issues of Drumhellar, but artistically the book is only halfway there. I don't see that aspect of this series changing any time soon.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

REVIEW: Binary Gray #5

Writer:  Chris Charlton
Artist:  Rowel Roque
Review:  Arthur Black

Every fanboy at some point in their life has wished for some kind of super power to make their life better.  Would a super power really make a person’s life better?  The answer is yes AND no.  The power would be handy to do extraordinary tasks or have fun, but the drawbacks could be severe.  There would also be the unwanted attention. If Lindsay Lohan can get all of the attention she does for being a celebrity having fun, could you just imagine the attention you could get as a superhero having fun.  Chris Charlton’s tale of Alex Gray takes a unique angle on an average Joe being boosted to an extraordinary hero in his series, Binary Gray.

Binary Gray is a tale of an ordinary IT employee with an extemely annoying job, whose life is chopped in a blender and thrown against the wall after an accident at work. The series starts with a glimpse at Alex’s past where we find his father was killed in an accident resulting from a fight between a super hero, The Cross, and a villain, Scaldron. This event carries a lot of pain and guilt for the 32 year old man.  At work Alex is electrocuted by an exposed wire in the server room at work, and after a rush to the hospital and  unconsciousness, he awakens to find that electronics are whispering “hello Alex” to him.  Not only that, he can communicate with electronics instantly with a simple touch.

The first four books of the series are a great build up for the explosiveness of the fifth. Alex Gray begins to explore his powers as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding his father’s death and determine the whereabouts of The Cross and Scaldron. As his powers draw a huge amount of information to him, he finds himself drawing an equal amount of attention and trouble as well. A former branch of the CIA, known as the Agency, is alerted to Alex when he accesses top secret files for a Project Balthazar, in which people are being used in heinous experiments.

Alex Gray is a captivating character because he is real. Before his accident, he is a mediocre person with a lot of the same quirks and interests we all have. His job is boring and redundant. Even the woman he wants to ask out feels out of reach for him even though she has shown interest. Granted this does not sound gripping until you flip his reality around and slap him really hard with it. This is exactly what happens to him when he gets his power. Suddenly his job is fun and possibilities seem open. Unfortunately for him, the fun does not last long.

As a comic book junkie, super heroes like Superman and Thor really do not appeal to me. This is mainly due to their invulnerability. They have little risk in being heroes, even though they are driven to doing good deeds for the world. The excitement of a vulnerable person with a unique ability trying to good deeds and screwing up constantly is where my interests lie. Alex Gray is definitely this kind of hero. Being able to communicate with electronics and instantly access networks has unlimited possibilities in the city, but how does this work in the middle of a field or hanging on the side of a mountain.

Binary Gray #5 is the explosion of action after the four issue starting story arc. Chris Charlton finally fully lifts the veil on Virtue, a small super hero group, and shows us all of the members. Since Marvel has a run on many of the great original superhero ideas, it can be hard to find original ideas. Charlton does well in creating some fresh-feeling heroes. His supervillain, Sleet, who is debuted in Binary Gray #5, is absolutely fantastic.
Rowel Roque has done the drawing and ink work for all five issues. His style is simple but consistent. You can tell Rowel cares about the characters very much, because in most panels, he does a great job on their image and keeps his lines clean. None of the work seems rushed. What impresses me most of Roque’s work is his attention to the characters pose in the panels. Many artists will exaggerate a limb in some way to fit the scene or “make it work”, but Rowel does not seem to do this. That is impressive.

The covers for the series are done by David Hollenbach, an artist and illustrator contracted by Assailant Comics for the covers. At first glance, Mr. Hollenbach’s work does not look as polished as some of the mainstream titles, but to appreciate his artistry, you need to actually look at it from a different perspective. His style is very deliberate, making each book stylistically unique. The cover of Binary Gray #4 is my favorite, with the crisp lines of the dash board and the glass against the blending of the scene. Check out his gallery at to get a good feel for his work.

It was a great pleasure to find Binary Gray last month at KokomoCon. This series has some great potential with Alex Gray’s vulnerability and unique power. The comic books are available in digital and hard copy from Also, be sure to check out my interview with writer Chris Charlton here:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World

 Review: William R. Davis Jr.

Madman and I have had several conversations about the content of this site, and while we have come to the consensus that the HCB is one of the last bastions of all things comic book, HCB Team Asia (Me) sometimes gets the opportunity to see films before my American counterparts. There are plenty of things about comics in the archives this week (check out Arthur Black's new interview with Chris Charlton and Madman's review of Robocop by Boom Studios) to keep our readers sated, but my review is all about Odin-son's long awaited return to the silver screen.

The Dark World is the visually stunning followup to Thor and the Avengers. While the settings and effects are masterful and a visceral delight, there are some aspects of this film that seemed regretfully out of place, making it a flawed effort for the Marvel franchise. The endeavor is a risky and ambitious one, bringing together a mix of high fantasy and science fiction that is the embodiment of all things Thor. Where offerings like The Lord of the Rings trilogy cater to a niche audience and are so grand in scope that they attract John Q. Moviegoer as well, The Dark World tries to fuse sub-par, Hollywood blockbuster tropes into the mix, and this is where the film suffers most. Marvel tries to keep the numbers up in some of the worst ways possible. Where Avengers succeeded in this area, The Dark World failed miserably.

Kat Dennings gives an almost film ruining, shudder-worthy performance as the comic relief. Not since Jar Jar Binks have I hated a character this much. Her presence in the film detracts from it so badly that having all of her dialogue removed would have made TDW much better in every way. Expect this film to get the "Phantom Edit" treatment sometime soon. These are actual lines of dialogue.

Kat Dennings: "Hey Thor, how's space?"

Thor: "Space is fine."

This was not a simple inquiry, instead it was what passed for comedy in The Dark World. Kill Darcy before the next film please.

Tom Hiddleston once again steals the show as Loki and provides the semi-cliffhanger of an ending as well. His relationship with Frigga comes into the forefront, and surprisingly enough, Rene Russo outshines Anthony Hopkins who seems underutilized in the script throughout. Chris Hemsworth shows once more that he is the perfect Thor, and while the film mostly steers clear of Midgard (Earth), he continues to entertain even without all of the cultural misunderstandings that defined his performance in the original film. Malekith was hugely disappointing and lacked almost any development, making his presence in the film mostly forgettable.

There were major editing issues throughout The Dark World, and where this suffered most was with developing characters. Professor Selvig has a complete meltdown until the final act, and the only plausible explanation given is him throwing a giant bag of pills into the trash after his theories become validated proving him "sane". I guess it was the meds that were making him run naked around Stonehenge for the first two thirds of the film.  Natalie Portman also seems quite out of place in her role as well. It's not quite the drolling monotone of a certain Queen that I will refrain from mentioning, but everything about her in this film seemed forced. Sif (Jamie Alexander) makes for a much more viable love interest, and while its foreshadowed that she may indeed replace Portman in subsequent Thor films, the passing of the torch cannot come soon enough.

The Dark World succeeds is in almost every setting and action scene. Many of the nine realms are explored in the film and we get a lot more of Asgard, all of these places being much more interesting than New Mexico in every way. Even London serves to be superior in this regard, but no surprises there.

Ultimately, The Dark World lacks focus, and is piecemealed together, detracting from both the plot and characters.There are many strange, baffling editing choices that secure this film's place as only slightly better than Iron Man 2.  The entire premise itself is confusing, even to a guy who spends a ton of time reading and writing reviews about comics. However, anyone reading this site (fanboy) is going to feel like they got their money's worth with The Dark World. There are plenty of nerd nuggets peppered throughout that keep it interesting, and it concludes with a post credit cameo that will make you want to stand up and cheer. However, the wasted potential of this film is what stood out most unfortunately. By respecting the audience a little more, and taking out all of the unfunny, forced jokes, it could have easily ranked near the top of the superhero genre. There was also that little problem of a coherent and cohesive plot that left this film lacking, but this seemed to be mostly due to the editing. There areprobably a plethera of deleted scenes that fleshed The Dark World out; it was abundantly clear that it was definitely missing something. Prognosis: Average, disappointingly average.


REVIEW: Robocop Last Stand (issues #1 and #2)

Story: Frank Miller
Sequential Adaptation: Steven Grant
Art: Korkut Oztekin
Colors: Declan Shalvey
Review: Cody Miller

I’ve been waiting for this series ever since I caught wind of Boom Studios buying up the comic book rights to the Robocop franchise.  With the new RC movie coming out, I felt the need reconnect with an old friend. 

I was eight when the first Robocop movie hit theaters.  Murph was one of my first glimpses into the world of science fiction……outside of Saturday morning cartoons.  That’s right, Robocop was my gateway drug.  Action figures……..had em.  Halloween costume…..had it (twice).  8 bit Nintendo game…..beat it.  Robocop on VHS cassette tape……wore it out.

To this day, I’d put Robocop in my top 20 favorite movies of all time.  The second and third ones were complete horse shit in my opinion.  Those movies killed the franchise almost to the point of no return.  Almost.  But wait, didn’t some guy who writes funny books write those crap-tastic examples of Hollywood gone wrong….way wrong?

So I heard that Frank Miller was attached to these eight issues, a major selling point as well.  Here comes Frank!  He’s here to repent for his sins, right his wrongs, and fix my damn Robocop.  Not true.  The key words I sadly overlooked were…….Frank Miller DID NOT write this comic.

There is nothing new here.  Nothing original and nothing worth my four bucks.  Steven Grant has taken an unused script that Miller wrote for Robocop 3 and adapted it for this eight issue run.  In my mind unused means unwanted because of the incredible suck valve.  Oh I know!  This script is way too damn awful for the big screen, so twenty years later Frank finally decides to take out his garbage and dump it in my comics. Sod off Frank!

This whole book just pisses me off.  The story or adaptations, or whatever it is, are bad.  The art seems rushed and just thrown together.  Seriously some of the panels are straight up asshole ugly.

I didn’t sign up for this!  Well, okay, actually it was on my pull list until about two minutes after I read the second issue.  Issue three just came out.  I’ve never read it, but I’m confident it’s horrible. I’m not even going to waste anyone’s time elaborating further on this canned meat.

Serve the public.  Protect the innocent.  Uphold the law.  Where were ya on that one Boom?  Where were ya?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Seven Questions with Chris Charlton from Assailant Comics

On October 19, at KokomoCon (Kokomo, IN), I had the privilege to meet Chris Charlton at his booth for Assailant Comics,

While there we talked about Binary Gray and their two other titles. Fortunately Mr. Charlton was able to take some time and answer seven questions for us at Hammond Comics Blog. – Arthur Black

AB - I have read the first two issues of Binary Gray and really liked them. How did you come up with the idea for of Binary Gray and the main character for Alex Gray?

CC - First off, Arthur, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and I’m really glad you enjoyed the first two issues!  The idea for Binary Gray was actually hatched from my own work as an IT Technician.  I was never electrocuted thankfully, but I definitely had moments where I would day dream about the ability to talk to computers and speed up the troubleshooting, diagnosis and repair process.  This is Alex’s power in a nutshell – the ability to communicate with electronics through physical contact.  Once I started to explore that, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose against a world where there are other heroes and villains who are more powerful on a physical level – super strength, speed, flight, etc.  Comparatively, Alex doesn’t see himself as “powerful”, and I think that makes him a more relatable character and definitely fits more with his self-deprecating sense of humor and general outlook on life.  He’s not a very happy camper, but in this day and age, he is actually EXTREMELY powerful and the readers are along for the ride as he discovers just what he’s capable of.

AB - There are some pretty advanced electronics in the world. Are there any processing speed limitations for Alex Gray? What would happen if either a computer or Alex pushed the limitations of the other?

CC - Other than Alex’s ability to “hackess” secure networks, which has more to do with the speed of his abilities trying combinations of code, I don’t think that there are necessarily any rules of physics or electronics being broken.  It’s the speed of his power and the calculations taking place in his brain (the ultimate CPU) that allow him to access multiple networks at once to get what he’s after.  Since part of the storyline is Alex searching for his father’s killer and the memory/dream of his death is a recurring theme in the first arc, I thought it was interesting to show how his brain starts behaving more like a hard drive as his powers evolve – actually recovering and storing memories like files on a server.  I would personally jump at the chance to have the ability to clearly recall memories (especially from childhood).  Who wouldn’t?!

AB - What can we expect of Binary Gray in the future?

CC - I don’t want to spoil anything for you or future readers out there who want to give the book a try, but I can tell you that Alex has a dark path ahead of him.  As much as he tries, he can’t seem to get out of his own way.  There will certainly be more revealed on how Alex’s powers came be, the history of The Agency and their role in the larger scheme of things, plus some pretty epic battles!  Issue #6, which is coming out in November, is a particularly huge issue that will change the direction of the book and Alex’s life forever.  The first story arc is 12 issues total and I’ll be collecting it in two volumes.  In fact I just got the cover art for the first trade and I can’t wait to show it to everyone.  Definitely excited for the second half of the story to play out and get some reader reactions.  I don’t pull any punches.  Issues 7-12 will definitely up the ante.  I want to spoil it but I can’t!!

AB - Assailant Comics also has two other comic lines available:  Black of Heart and Sleepless.  What can you tell our readers of these stories?

CC - Sleepless is an anthology book with a “Twilight Zone” vibe.  Not necessarily horror, but definitely DARK.  Four short stories – a different artist lending their talents to each one.  Originally I wanted it to be an annual series released around Halloween, but I’ve been dragging my feet on the new issue and I’ve started looking toward next year’s schedule.  Part of that reason is Black of Heart – a five issue miniseries about a detective tracking a serial killer in 1949 New York City.  Absolutely a throwback to film noir and dark pulp mysteries, with the volume cranked up to 12.  The mixed media artwork by David Hollenbach (cover artist for Binary Gray) is every bit as creepy as it should be for a story about a killer who abducts women in a taxi before removing one eye and dumping their bodies in the rat-laden alleys of post-war NYC.   We just completed a very successful Kickstarter for the 2nd issue which released in August and the book has garnered a lot of good attention – even from pros like Charles Soule, Tony Moore and Tony Isabella.  I’m very thankful that the book has received that kind of response and I’m anxious to get Chapter Three out!  Lots of great twists around the corner and I like that Black of Heart includes some actual history in the context of the story.  I think it lends an extra layer of authenticity to the rich backdrop of that era.  I had to go to some dark places to write it, but I couldn’t be happier with outcome.

AB - You have a new comic series coming called Freedom Run.  What can we look forward to in this new line?

CC - I guess you saw the teaser on the Assailant Facebook page!  That’s good.  Hopefully that means I’m doing my job haha.  Freedom Run is actually the first story in a new series called “Open Tree – Legends & Tall Tales”, which features a new one-shot story in each issue.  Beginning, Middle and End – all in one book.  In some ways it’s the basic anthology concept of Sleepless in a slightly longer format.  I’m also reaching a bit outside the boundaries of what someone may think when they hear the name “Assailant Comics” – but each of the stories in Open Tree are thematically love stories.  Albeit, the first is a Supernatural Western – so there’s nothing traditional about it – but it is what it is.  The second issue is also in the works now with a completely different artist and style - it’s an original Tall Tale set in the 1900’s and all of the dialogue and narration rhymes.  It was a real challenge but also a great accomplishment and a lot of fun to write.  Definitely be on the lookout for these in 2014!

AB - You stated on Assailant Comics’ Facebook page that KokomoCon was your last event of the year until March of 2014. What are your plans during the winter months for Assailant Comics?

CC - Well there’s definitely some R& R penciled in, but beyond that I’ll be finishing up a new miniseries I’m collaborating on with artist Todd Beistel on called “The Weight of Air”.  Todd came to me earlier this year with the premise and I loved it right off the bat.  It follows an asthmatic psychic named Robert Gellman who’s working with a detective to find a serial killer in present day Hollywood in the middle of a record heat wave.  I know what you’re thinking – WOW another serial killer story?  But let me tell you that when this one is finished, I think people will be talking about it for a while.  I’d love to say more but I don’t want to ruin the surprise!   Keep an eye out for the first teasers coming early next year.

AB - If you were able to have one super power, what would it be? How would you use it?

CC - That’s tough!  It’s a toss-up between flight and invisibility.  Flight is an obvious one but if I could turn invisible I could sneak into banks and steal the money I need to keep funding my comics!  

We would like to thank Chris Charlton for giving us his time and providing us a glimpse at what Assailant Comics has to offer. Please check out the website at There are digital and print copies of their comics available. Also be sure to check out Assailants Facebook page to see the teaser to Open Tree – Legends & Tall Tales. Next month, my review of the first four issues of Binary Gray will be posted for everyone.