Monday, October 29, 2012

Matt Heistand of The ThreeOneFive Talks Deep Dive Daredevils

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Matt Heistand about his awesome web comic Deep Dive Daredevils, and the creative process of The ThreeOneFive, the three person writer's collective behind Deep Dive Daredevils and Baby Girl.  Check out my review of Deep Dive Daredevils to find out some of my thoughts on the comic.

How did you come up with the concept of Deep Dive Daredevils?

Well, we (The ThreeOneFive) were asked to pitch a story for an iPad anthology - something similar to the format of Marvel Comics Presents. The only instructions were that they wanted something akin to Heavy Metal, but appropriate for all-ages. So Evin, Dan and I percolated a while and we decided that we wanted to take a shot at combining a Star Trek-esque sci-fi story with some Goonies zaniness, and the germ of the Deep Dive Daredevils concept was born.

At the same time, we thought it would be interesting to utilize Golden Age/pulp stylings in a story that would be consumed digitally. Old school meets new. Eventually, we decided that the adventures would take place underwater, in a submarine, and once the idea of a Captain who was one with the boat was floated (heh) it all started to come together.

We pitched Deep Dive Daredevils to the anthology and it was accepted. Unfortunately, the anthology was scrapped altogether not too long after, but we were having so much fun working on the Daredevils that we decided to publish it online ourselves…and here we are!

How did you find Danilo Guida to illustrate the comic (beautifully, I might add)?

We got really, REALLY lucky.

We placed a want ad, looking for an artist, at Digital Webbing and all the other usual places and Danilo responded. We all really liked his previous samples and thought he would be a perfect fit for the book, so we offered him the job.

From the start Danilo was super-professional and enthusiastic about the project. And best of all, he just got it! Every character that you see in the book, Danilo nailed their design on the FIRST try. We never had to ask for changes - we were on the same page from the start - and in many instances he added elements that made the characters better. Danilo is the reason the Captain doesn’t have legs - he showed us his version of the Captain and we were floored!

Over the time we’ve been working on the Daredevils we’ve become friends, and it is unbelievably freeing to know that anything you write will be executed so skillfully and beautifully. He is a great illustrator and storyteller, and makes Deep Dive Daredevils better than the sum of its parts.

Do you think that Deep Dive Daredevils will ever be available as a print comic?

Absolutely. It's just a matter of the right time and the right format. As soon as Secret of the Beaufort Sea (the first story arc) is finished we'll begin seriously looking into options for a print edition. Whether we go through a traditional publisher or something like Kickstarter is all up in the air at the moment. Time will tell.

Was there any consideration of putting ads on Deep Dive Daredevils?

Yes, and eventually you will probably see some ads on the page. However, one of the things we are most proud of is that the site's design really serves and enhances the visual aesthetic of the comic. So, before we introduce advertising we'll probably have to do a re-design of the site, and figure out how to integrate the advertising without sacrificing the feeling that you are sitting at a musty, old desk reading a comic from the Golden Age/pulp era.

Something I find very interesting about Deep Dive Daredevils is that it's a comic that's written by three writers.  What is the ThreeOneFive's writing process like on Deep Dive Daredevils?

I imagine it’s a lot like a television show’s writer’s room. Either in person or through IM we spitball ideas, hammer out plots, and discuss themes until we’ve broken a story. After that, Evin will usually go off and write a bible/synopsis. Once he’s finished it will go through the grinder again, and then I will take it and script a first draft. From there, we have another revising session, usually over-seen by Dan, and then if we’re lucky we have a script ready for Danilo.

Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s maddening. But, when the script is finally finished it’s always better than what anyone of us could have produced on our own.

Deep Dive Daredevils has been running at an impressive rate of a page per week since long do you plan on continuing this comic?  Do you have an endpoint in mind for the series, or is this something that could continue indefinitely?

We've kicked around some ideas for an ending to the adventures of the Custer and it's crew. However, before we ever get to that point we have A LOT of Deep Dive Daredevils stories to tell. At this point, we have a good three to four years worth of stories roughly plotted, with more ideas popping up all the time. Starting in 2013, we begin the slow build-up to an EPIC story that will rock the Daredevils to their core - especially the Captain and Doc!

So, all the Daredevilers out there can rest assured, there's a lot more of our signature nautical adventure coming their way.

Are there are other current or upcoming ThreeOneFive projects that you'd like to talk about?

At the moment, we are really concentrating on Deep Dive Daredevils, but we are always shepherding other ideas through various stages of development. So, stay tuned!

Also, our print debut, Baby Girl, just finished it’s run as a back up in Joe Keatinge’s Hell Yeah, issues 3-5. So, if you like naughty adventure (i.e. for mature readers), dig through the back issue bins and check it out!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

LP: A Sequential Single

F has it all . Fame, Fortune , Women, and enough chemicals to make his head spin, but when he picks up a strange record his life changes forever.
Pulled into a world of mysticism, shamanic electric guitar feedback and mega yakuza , F gets way more than he bargained for.
One record can change the world.
(Full disclosure: I'm currently collaborating with Ramon on a comic project.)

LP is a one shot comic written by Curt Pires and illustrated by Ramon Villalobos.  The plot involves a rock star who possesses an LP record with mystical properties, only to have it stolen by "mega yakuza" on one hand, and sought after by gangsters in bunny masks on the other.  However, that's not what the comic is about.  LP is about music. It's about that strange alchemical power that music has over ourselves and the world as a whole.  LP is an explosion of psychedelia, it's a weird, genre defying mixture of magic, gangsters, and rock music, and it will remind you that a record can possess your soul and change the world.

Pires begins LP in media res at the climactic point of carnage.  The reader knows from the captions that at some point, something we can assume is the titular LP was taken from the protagonist, and that, "There was only one way this was ever going to end".  This line can be read as a bit of metatextual commentary, given that the comic has begun with a snippet of the ending; there is literally only one way for this story to end because we are actually looking at that ending on the first page.  LP begins by dropping the reader into the middle of a massacre, and we are immediately hit with a shot of gory destruction and ultra-violence that leaves us wondering what exactly has happened here.  

The next page transitions from the previous scene of bloody havoc to a tight shot of the rock star protagonist "F" backstage before a show.  The first three wide panels of this page are wordless, and Pires lets the images breath a little after the dense first page of bloodshed.  They pull out slowly from F, and this gradual zoom out shows us his ennui and general numbness to his surroundings.  The transition from a red tinted vision of death to a very tight shot on F's green tinted mouth is jarring.  The juxtaposition would give the reader the sense that the preceding scene was a fantasy, if only the captions hadn't explicitly stated that it is in fact the end.  One of the major strength's of LP is Villalobos' coloring;  the neon glow of the colors is bold and distinctive, and more importantly, they serve to enhance the narrative flow of the comic.  

F is called to the stage, and the narrative momentum begins to build.  We learn from his internal monologue that F doesn't just look dissatisfied, he has begun to hate his fans and "The managers, the agents, the reporters. This entire generation of MTV fed future psychiatric patients".  F laments a generation of "self-described artists" only to realize that he is contributing to this culture and is just as culpable as anyone else.  Villalobos' last panel here depicts F on stage with his band in front of a crowd of adoring fans, and he uses a very interesting panel shape.  This hexagonal panel uses the negative space of the gutters to focus your eye from the crowded foreground to the stage where all the attention of the audience is concentrated.  It's like the shape of the panel is funneling your vision towards the stage, and you feel like you are actually in the audience.

I'm sure you've figured this out already based on the images you've seen, but I should mention that Villalobos is really good at drawing these crowd scenes.  The faces in the crowds are distinctive and not repetitive, the hair and clothing varies, and you get that appropriate feeling of density and chaos that a huge group of people provides.  While I'm sure they were a chore to draw, the crowds feel alive.  We learn here that F is a drug addict who is finding it hard to really enjoy "anything but his chemicals", and we see a little kid stealing a record out of a guitar case.  

Everything goes to hell from here.  

F stop by his local record store slash drug dealer to pick up a fix, and he's beat up by a gang of thugs because of his surmounting debt to them.  The mob wants his mystical record that may or may not be inhabited by an entity with Brian Wilson's face in return for his drug debts.  Of course, the LP was stolen by the mega yakuza, and F must get it back from them.  However, as I said earlier, the plot isn't important.  It's the execution of LP that makes it such an interesting and idiosyncratic comic.  

Pires peppers the narrative with lines from classic songs ("shiver and say the words of every lie you've ever heard") in a way that reflects on the themes and plot of the comic, sometimes in the gutters, and sometimes in the panels themselves as text floating outside of caption boxes.  It's like the playlist for the comic is enmeshed into and in between the panels.  It's a technique that accentuates the sequential current of the comic which Pires structures like a fast paced, rhythmic rock song that cruises along to a crashing crescendo of psychedelic insanity.

Villalobos' art in LP is, in a word, transcendent.  A cursory glance reveals a striking similarity to Quitely's work, which Villalobos admits to attempting to emulate, but there's something more there.  There's a frantic reality to his depictions of groups of people as if they are living, breathing creatures rather than pieces to move around on a page.  

The above page shows a scene in which F locates his stolen LP by meditating, and Villalobos' construction of the page is inspired.  The image of F's head divided, like an anatomy book cross section, revealing his brain and the skeletal structure of his hand is amazing.  The red balls of psychic energy orbiting his head and flowing through him, the apparition of the LP on his forehead like an opening third eye, the dotted line shooting from his mind and into the billowing panel below, it's all an extraordinary illustration and panel lay out.  There are several pages in LP that reach this level of awesomeness, and I could have spent a few more paragraphs dissecting them, but it would be better if you just read the comic yourself and I spare you a few hundred words of my pretension.

LP is a comic that, "grabs you and it doesn't let you go" in the way that a good song can.  It's about that odd alchemical energy of music.  The magic of the titular LP is a metaphor for the magic of music itself, and the way that it can "shake you to your core", possess you, and transform your consciousness.  It's a comic that is not easily categorized according to genres and is aggressively its own thing, a sequential single release.  Pires and Villalobos have created a comic that is unique and interesting, and you should check it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Digital Pulp: Deep Dive Daredevils

"Some call them pirates, some call them heroes, but none dare call them cowards! In all of nautical legend, never before have such strange and courageous figures come together to unravel the incredible mysteries lurking in the inky ocean depths. If the heading be danger, make way for the DEEP DIVE DAREDEVILS!"
There's a contradiction at the heart of Deep Dive Daredevils.  It's a tribute to pulp adventure comics, a genre named after the cheap pulp paper it was printed on, yet it's published online and is unavailable in print.  Deep Dive Daredevils is digital pulp, a new kind of pulp that has transcended the limitations of paper publication and made the jump to purely online distribution while celebrating the core elements of the genre.  Deep Dive Daredevils is a strange concoction of time travel, cyborg submarine captains, and shamanistic magic, and it's released on the web, one page at a time, on a weekly basis.  

Writers Matt Heistand, Dan Fifield, and Evin Dempsey, who make up the writers collective known as The ThreeOneFive, begin Deep Dive Daredevils with a pirate ship sailing the Arctic Ocean in 1851.  I was immediately struck by Danilo Guida's art style on this first page.  Guida portrays the Aurora Borealis beautifully with modern coloring techniques, but his penciling and inking has a rough, old school look to it.  The page itself has been modified to look aged and faded, as if Deep Dive Daredevils is an artifact salvaged from the pulp era of comics that has been scanned and uploaded to the internet.  

(UPDATE:  Danilo Guida contacted me to let me know that the aging of the pages was done by Fonografiks, the letterer of Deep Dive Daredevils.)

The Aurora Borealis mysteriously strikes at the pirate ship and sinks it, and we then cut to 1937.  The Custer, a submarine, is traversing the very same waters that the pirate ship sank below in 1851.  Joe, a young boy with an eyepatch, and Cup, his three legged dog who also wears an eye patch, spot a man out on the glaciers.  Joe rescues the man and brings him aboard The Custer where Dr. Eugene McCarver cares for him.  The man is Captain Ulysses Armstrong, and he doesn't seem to have any idea how he got here.  

The strength of Deep Dive Daredevil's narrative lies in its escalation of shocking reveals that make you reevaluate what's happening in the comic.  This is a smart way of structuring a comic that's published one page per week because the frequent, mind blowing reveals keep you on the edge of your seat for the next week's installment.  So, at this point, I'm just going to go ahead and suggest that you read the comic before continuing because we're about to enter pretty spoilery waters.

The plot explodes into madness from this starting point as the time displaced Armstrong is transformed by the odd Aurora Borealis energy (which may in fact not be related to the Aurora Borealis at all), and he begins to mutate into a sperm whale.  Guida's full page spread of Armstrong clawing at his face as beautifully colored energy streams into his eye sockets is stunning.  Armstrong is rapidly expanding into a massive sperm whale inside of the confined space of the submarine while Joe, McCarver, and the other crew members struggle to get him to the shuttle bay.  The mysterious Captain of The Custer is barking orders to them throughout this sequence over the intercoms in intervals of "bztk" noises.  

This scene is built on the pretty solid foundation of the visual weirdness of a man morphing into a whale, but the ThreeOneFive hivemind make it something more than mere spectacle.  The rapidly expanding Armstrong gives the scene a ticking clock, a narrative deadline that forces the crew of The Custer to eject the creature before it destroys their vessel and them along with it.  The ThreeOneFive also make the crew humorous and relatable characters rather than just chess pieces to move around Whale Armstrong (Whalestrong?), and they tell a dirty joke that flies over the head of the young, eyepatched Joe.  Joe rushes into danger to fix the jammed bay doors and is sucked into the ocean along with Whalestrong, and this elevates the stakes of the narrative while simultaneously resolving the problem of the expanding whale.

While Cup swims after his master Joe, McCarver runs to the bridge where the as of yet unseen Captain has been incapacitated by the traumatic damage to the ship.  The ThreeOneFive structure this scene in a brilliant way; this week's page ends with Joe lost under the Arctic waves and McCarver dramatically facing the door to the bridge where, "Captain Custer's terrible secret waits beyond this door".  They even make their intentions to leave you desperate for the next week's page explicit in the caption, "Hold thy breath, constant reader".  

Of course, beyond that door, the comic's next mind blowing and game changing reveal awaits.  A full page spread shows us that the captain of this vessel is a legless cyborg plugged into the systems of the submarine! Guida's art here is just amazing, and the ThreeOneFive's captions summarize the captain's condition in a concise and compelling way, "Long ago, after unspeakable tragedy, Doctor McCarver cobbled together  man and ship...once done, this strange symbiosis could never be undone, and neither could function without the other."  Once you get past the surface level of the sci-fi image assaulting your senses, you realize that the ThreeOneFive have crafted a mythic character here.  Captain Custer is one with his ship, and "neither could function without the other".  This is a literalization of the mythic idea of a captain's bond with his ship, and it's really quite a poetic concept in addition to being a nice heaping of sci-fi awesomeness.

McCarver manages to "reboot" Custer just in time for the cyborg captain to belay his order to abandon ship.  The ThreeOneFive deliver on the promise of a cyborg submarine captain by writing him full of fire and passion and humanity despite his mostly mechanical body, and he rallys the crew with a fiery speech.  Meanwhile, Whalestrong is assaulting the ship as it crackles with unearthly, purple lightning.  Guida shines again here with this illustration, and the color of the purple, mystical energy really pops in contrast with the faded colors that he uses to give the rest of the page an artificially aged look.  

This is only 21 pages into the 32 page comic...there's still deals with Shaman representatives of local Sea Goddesses, vengeful animal spirits, time travelling, and mystical trials to come in that eleven page gap.  Deep Dive Daredevils is a comic that is jam packed with sci-fi craziness.  It's a comic that embraces its weekly format by giving the reader enough thrills, excitement, and mind bending reveals to keep them coming back every seven days for the latest page.  

It's also an homage to a genre of pulp adventures from a bygone era, but Deep Dive Daredevils is published on the screen rather than the cheap, poor quality paper of the original pulps.  It retains the familiar aspects of pulp stories while it capitalizes on the advanced coloring and production techniques available to modern artists.  Still, despite it's online nature, the beauty of the comic is that it's created to appear aged in such a way that the reader is given a pulp experience, as if they've stumbled upon this forgotten gem in a dusty attic.  Deep Dive Daredevils is digital pulp, and I'm looking forward to where the ThreeOneFive steer this crazy ride of a comic in the future.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Into the Neon Abyss: The Question #9

I started reading the second volume of Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan's run on The Question recently.  The trade paperback is titled, "Poisoned Ground", and it collects issues 7 through 12.  I was two issues deep into the book, and although I was enjoying what I read so far, it was issue 9 that blew me away and completely sold me on the series.  

The cover of The Question #9 is dated October 1987, and it immediately drew me in with an image of The Question's mentor Dr. Aristotle Rodor strapped to a tree in a decidedly Christ-like way.  Why would Aristotle "Tot" Rodor be tortured in this way?  What could the scientist confidante of The Question do to deserve this, and is this cover metaphorical and not literal?  These were thoughts that came to me while absorbing this image of The Question, blank faced and giving no cues to the reader to indicate how he feels about this, as he looks up at his friend Rodor strapped to a looming, almost mystical tree.

The story opens on a tight shot of The Question wringing his hands while overlooking a drug deal from a rooftop.  The title is at the top of the page in stark yellow letters, "Watchers", and it brings Watchmen to mind, which features an obscure and forgotten character Rorschach who was inspired by The Question.

The narration in this opening page skirts the edge of metafiction.  O'Neil says, "It's as though he's looking at himself play a scene that's been in at least a dozen movies he's watched, including some good ones".  This narration draws attention to the idea that The Question in this series is the prototypical grim and gritty vigilante, but it bucks the cliché by having the narration admit to this.  The narration is reacting to this stereotypical scene of the hard edged hero in the crime ridden "Hub City" watching a coke deal go down, and by doing so it creates a feeling of deja vu ("The plot is thickening, maybe even congealing--") rather than a sense that we've seen this all too many times before.

Of course, the deal goes sour, and the (former) corrupt cop who appeared to be accepting "Twenty kay in unmarked bills and a kilo of blow" is in fact busting these dealers.  The two criminals stall the cop while their third unnoticed friend creeps up behind him with a pistol.  The Question steps in and takes care of business, as he is wont to do, and saves the cop.  The scene ends with a masterful moment of sequential storytelling as The Question watches Izzy O'Toole, the cop who came alone to this deal just in case he actually did want to take the bribe, drive off into the night with the handcuffed criminals.

No words, blank face, silent night, and empty streets as O'Toole drives away.  Then, we have one of Cowan's transformation sequences where The Question reverts to Vic Sage using Rodor's patented "binary gas" which conveniently changes the color of his hair and clothes.  He uses these transformation sequences throughout the series, and they are, in a word, awesome.  This is isn't even one of Cowan's more spectacular transformation sequences where the panel lay out will often be fractured into triangles, like the panel gutters are radiating outward from a single point on the page.  The sequence is punctuated with the narration, "There's a part of Vic Sage that feels this melodramatic ritual, this changing of identity, is silly--and another part that loves it", and you can't help but sense a bit of commentary from O'Neil about their frequently used device of transformation in clouds of binary gas.

Vic Sage returns to his home where Rodor is toiling away at his microscope.  They have a nice little conversation about philosophy and science that revolves around whether or not the microbes that Rodor is observing are affected by his observation like quantum particles (spoiler alert: they're definitely not).  This sort of tone of mysticism and science merged together is typical of what I've read so far of O'Neil and Cowan's run on the series.  There's also something interesting in the partnership of these two characters; Rodor the Scientist, and The Question the Zen Warrior, the method of science and the aim of religion.  It's a partnership that's reflective of the themes of the series as a whole.

I could probably write another huge essay about that idea after I finish reading this series, but this moment of light conversation is interrupted by canisters of knockout gas that crash through the windows.  Cowan illustrates a kinetic, fast paced fight scene as Vic Sage fights a gas masked intrude while holding his breath.  

O'Neil couples this fight sequence with interesting narration that reveals that Sage is holding his breath throughout the fight scene ("It isn't lack of oxygen that tightens the chest...It's the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the blood caused by physical exertion"), but ultimately, he can only fight without air for so long.  Sage passes out and progressively slides down the page, the panels decrease in thickness, and the colors fade into darkness until we have one final, wordless panel of black, and it all amounts to another amazing use of sequential storytelling by Cowan.  

Sage wakes up in his trashed home to find that he's been out for over three hours, Rodor has been kidnapped, and for some reason, he can't shake the overpowering smell of oranges, of all things.  Sage leverages his position as a television news anchor to run a story about Rodor, he follows up on a lead and hunts down information on Rodor's whereabouts, he even visits Izzy "I swear I'm not corrupt anymore" O'Toole to run the license plate of a suspicious van he spotted before the kidnapping, and it's all pretty much boiler plate investigation narrative...but throughout, Sage is haunted by the smell of oranges.  

Sage tracks the van and follows it to a compound on the outskirts of Hub City, and we are treated to another of Cowan's transformation sequences.  Again, these sequences are awesome, and they're like a refrain echoing throughout O'Neil and Cowan's run.

The Question breaks into the compound only to have the man who kidnapped Rodor attempt to run him down with the same van that he was tracking.  The huge smears of black ink express the violence and intensity of the scene like no words could.  They're like tire skids in the massive gutters of the page.  The arcing layout of the panels, almost like an arrow on the page, and the framing of each shot, particularly the extremely tight frame on The Question's legs barely evading the barreling van, is perfect.  O'Neil knows when to let the images breath, and he has just three panels of intensifying color, font size, and boldness, "Closer.  CLOSER.  CLOSER".  This page is stellar sequential storytelling.  

The fight begins to go badly for The Question, and suddenly and without explanation, the plot of the comic descends into complete incoherence.  His attacker disappears in a swirling haze of color, and The Question is confronted by the sight of Rodor strapped to a massive orange tree.  His scientist mentor asks him who he is, and The Question, for a moment, is vulnerable and human.  He says, "Who am I, Tot?  I mean, Who am I?  I'm not Vic Sage...that's a name I made up...and I'm not Charles Victor Szasz...that's a name they gave me at the orphanage."  The faceless facade of The Question has melted away, and we're left with just a man wracked with an identity crisis.

Finally, this nagging smell of oranges ("Must be a citrus grove nearby.  Smells like oranges") pays off.  

At this point, it's clear that The Question is experiencing a powerful hallucination, but it's unclear what has triggered it.  We learn in the next issue that the gas used during the kidnapping was an experimental drug that Rodor developed, and it has strong hallucinogenic properties.  The reader can easily assume that the gas was the source of the hallucination, but it's never explicitly stated in this issue.  This hallucinatory odyssey comes out of nowhere and without warning, shattering the linear narrative into a surreal dreamscape.  What seemed like your standard issue, grim and gritty investigation plot has metamorphosed into a psychedelic confrontation with the neon abyss.  Colorist Tatjana Wood's work adds a great deal to this issue, but it's her feverish, hot colors that make this particular sequence soar.

The Question attempts to traverse the neon abyss to save Rodor, but he slips into it.  He clings to a branch jutting out of the side of the cliff, and the narration flirts with the metafictional once again, "What we have here is a real cliffhanger--the damn movie motif again."  O'Neil references a famous zen parable here as The Question notices a single strawberry dangling from the branch.  

He plucks it, and the narration tells us, "Best strawberry he ever ate...tastes a little like an orange.." before he plummets into darkness.  We are left with an elongated black panel devoid of even a "The end..?" or "To be continued".  These five panels of The Question descending into the inky void conclude the issue.   As I said earlier, I read this issue in collected format, and I immediately read the next issue...but I imagine that if I had picked up this issue on the comic stands in 1987, this ending would have made my head explode with anticipation for the next month's installment.  It's both a masterful ending scripted by O'Neil, a cliffhanger that is actually a cliffhanger and explicitly references this trope, and a beautiful piece of sequential art from Cowan depicting the lost and helpless Question tumbling away, almost like he's weightlessly drifting off into outer space.

The Question #9 appears to be a run of the mill detective story for the first two thirds of the comic.  The narration addresses this directly in what would be a self-conscious way if the story didn't mutate into something else entirely in the climax.  O'Neil and Cowan lure the reader in and make them comfortable with investigation scenes that they've seen in, "at least a dozen movies... including some good ones".  Then, right when the reader thinks that they're going to get their resolution, O'Neil and Cowan turn everything upside down and let their narrative spiral into a gaping chasm of madness.  Their protagonist begins the story as a supremely confident and hard edged vigilante, and he devolves into a lost man consumed by existential questioning.  The Question #9 is an example of comic book storytelling at its best, and it's convinced me to read O'Neil and Cowan's run from start to finish.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Danger Club #4

Danger Club is one of my favorite superhero comics currently being published.  The high concept of the series is relatively simple: What if all of the adult superheroes died facing an insurmountable threat, and the teenage sidekicks were the only superheroes left?  Writer Landry Q. Walker, artist Eric Jones, and colorist Michael Drake answer this question with a mixture between Teen Titans, Lord of the Flies, and A Clockwork Orange.

It's a world gone to hell with no adult supervision to reign in the superhuman teenagers.  It's a world on the brink where super powered teenagers fight to the death for the amusement of Apollo until Kid Vengeance, an ersatz Robin with a plan, brutally takes down his former teammate and friend with what is essentially a pair of Kryptonite brass knuckles.  Despite Walker and Jones history of working together on kid friendly titles like Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Danger Club is a comic that makes with the ultraviolence.  This is a comic filled with savage superpowered brawls, yet it also has touching emotional moments that show teenagers struggling to grow up and take responsibility for a world that the adults are no longer around to protect.

Danger Club #4 begins the same way as every issue in the series so far...with one page of a comic done in a Silver Age style, as if it is an excerpt from a more innocent time in the Danger Club universe.  These pages serve a few purposes.  They create a stark contrast in both artistic style and tone between the earlier, primitive four color world of Danger Club, protected by caring adult superheroes, and the current, bordering on post-apocalyptic world of Danger Club rendered with sophisticated coloring techniques.         

Jones and Drake really shine here in capturing the look of a Silver Age comic, with uncanny imitation of the coloring techniques of the time complete with colors overlapping into thought balloons and artificially aged paper, and Walker's copy ("Jealousy! Despair! Anguish!") only adds to the simulation.  Besides just highlighting the dark atmosphere of the following pages, this page also introduces key plot elements such as Wonder Wizard's daughter fostering jealousy of her sister's superpowers, and American Spirit's somewhat abusive relationship with his sidekick Jacky.  It's not just a throw away page; it's tight, concise storytelling that doesn't waste any space at all.
The story of the comic opens on The Magician standing on a dock and looking out at the horizon as he calls his mother and lets her know that he's going to be home late, and that he left a message.  This message (which he doesn't think she'll ever hear because she doesn't listen to her messages) is revealed to us through captions throughout this issue in a way that punctuates action oriented scenes that are mostly without words. The Magician admits to his mother that he is a superhero, and through these captions, we learn that his mother is the powerless daughter of Wonder Wizard from the introductory page.  

The Magician injects himself with an unknown chemical, possibly the compound that gives him his magic abilities, and he is dramatically transported to another psychedelic dimension where day-glo orange bubbles reveal moments of the past, the future, and the present, as if all time is simultaneous in this realm.  The art in these extradimensional sequences is just stunning.  Drake's colors here are just so good, and they do a great deal to sell the ethereal nature of this plane of existence.

The Magician's drug induced, magical odyssey through another dimension is intercut with scenes of Kid Vigilante, Jack Fearless, Yoshimi, and former teen supervillain Lady Bug preparing to attack the forces of American Spirit, the extremely old and sinister President of the United States.  Jack Fearless's betrayal of Kid Vigilante is telegraphed here with a conversation between the two of them in which he pretty blatantly questions his plan.  However, this betrayal was already revealed in flash forward in a previous issue, so this doesn't come across as obvious, predictable storytelling...rather, it heightens the anticipation for the confrontation that we know is inevitable.  There's also something to be said about the prescience of having American Spirit, who is basically an ersatz Captain America, as President of the United States, considering that Captain America is now the President in the Ultimate Universe in a recent storyline.

Of course, Jack Fearless does indeed betray Kid Vengeance, and we see that he has been in constant communication with his mentor American Spirit.  American Spirit instructs Jack Fearless via radio to "open fire" on his friend, and here, this is a less cartoonish and innocent portrayal of their relationship than in the introductory page.  On the intro page, a young American Spirit instructs Jacky (presumably an earlier incarnation of Jack Fearless) via radio to disarm a Nazi bomb, and this Jacky sweats bullets in a cartoony and silly fashion.  Here, American Spirit looks to be over 80 years old and he's hooked up to IVs and an oxygen tank as he radios this new iteration of Jack Fearless to stab Kid Vengeance in the back with sinister glee on his old, toothless face.  The juxtaposition of the Silver Age American Spirit and Jacky relationship with the modern American Spirit and Jack Fearless relationship highlights the bizarre and abusive relationship that the superhero has with his sidekicks.

Danger Club is a series that doesn't shy away from intense and ultraviolent action scenes.  Yet it's undeniable that there are moments of touching emotion that deal with betrayal, responsibility, and the progression from adolescence to adulthood.  Landry Q. Walker is writing a series that takes the idea of a teenage superhero team like the Teen Titans and he's superimposed it into a world on the brink of total collapse, a world where these young superhumans must grow up fast or risk the total disintegration of their society.  It's a must read if you like superhero comics, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes.