With new comics on hold for the time being, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a new Comicon feature we’re calling New To You Comics.
Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. He tends to drift toward the superhero and sci-fi genres, and I pretty much stick to horror, noir, indies, and thrillers. Sometimes our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.
The challenge here is for me to introduce Tony to some titles he probably missed on first pass, and for Tony to hit me with some of the stuff he really likes that I haven’t read.
All of the titles we will discuss will be brand new to one of us, and all are available on digital platforms. You should be able to access them even if your local shop is temporarily closed or out of stock.
This week, I’m headed in a little different direction with my pick. This is technically a capes book, but it’s very different than most of the supers books on the market. Back in 2014, Donny Cates collaborated with Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek to write Buzzkill, an atypical superhero story, drawn by Geoff Shaw, and originally published by Dark Horse Comics. Image Comics picked up the printing rights in 2017. We’ll be looking at the Image version, since that’ll be the one that’s more commonly available.
Here’s how Image describes Buzzkill:
Ruben is an unconventional superhero who gets his powers through the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs. On one fateful day, facing a world-ending threat, Reuben drank so much that he blacked out. He saved the world…but he has no idea how or why. Now, he’s in recovery, trying to get sober and piece together not only the events of the night in question, but the broken parts of his life as an alcoholic and an addict.
Brendan Allen: If all you had to go off was the solicit for Buzzkill, you’d probably get the wrong idea about how drug and alcohol abuse is portrayed in this book. The reality is, even though our protagonist Ruben (not his real name) gets his super abilities from illicit drugs and alcohol, the cruel consequences of addiction and substance abuse play a huge role in the story.
The dude’s life is in shambles. Girlfriend left. Best friend betrays him. Horrible relationship with his father. Ruben is reaching desperately for any help he can find to leave the addictions behind. Of course, it won’t be that easy.
What did you think of the story?
Tony Thornley: I wasn’t a huge fan of the first chapter, but then it picked up more and more. When Cates and Reznicek introduce Ruben’s sponsor, I got more invested. As he sobered up, I was more invested. Then by the last chapter, I was at the edge of my seat. It was a slow build for me that drew me in more and more.
In the end, I really enjoyed the read, but I think it gets into something we haven’t discussed in the column yet- the periodical versus graphic novel format. This in my opinion is one of those stories that benefits from being collected as a single graphic novel, rather than the initial release, issue by issue. I’m really glad you brought it to me!
Brendan: That’s fair. I personally felt really engaged from the very first sequence, but these books are obviously going to hit people differently.
Brendan: This is another of those books where, while there are jokes peppered throughout and some genuinely funny moments, this thing is far from comedy. Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek use frequent dark humor breaks to poke at mainstream capes cliches and bring a little levity to a very somber, very heavy script.
There’s this sense from the very first sequence that this Ruben cat is holding out, that there’s a lot more going on than he lets on, but it isn’t until that final pop, when, holy crap, it all comes together. Cates and Reznicek paced this sucker out brilliantly. Well-planned flashbacks and huge reveals.
Tony: The entire second half of the story, where a lot of that stuff happens, is absolutely killer. From the point that you meet Ruben’s super-sponsor (Doctor Strange’s kooky spiritual cousin Doctor Blaqk) things really click into high gear. And Blaqk is such a standout character.
That’s one thing I actually loved about this. There’s so much to the characters and the world. I would love to see a further fleshing out of this world, but I also don’t NEED it. But what’s Blaqk sipping out of his flask? What were Ruben’s early adventures like? How did he and Erik- the Batman to his Superman- meet? I have all these questions, because the world was so rich, yet I’m still satisfied with what we got. It’s like I would bug Cates to write a sequel, but if he did, I would be thrilled.
Brendan: We talked about this with Winnebago Graveyard a few weeks ago. This is another case where I feel like less is more. If we had seen the chapters leading into this episode, that last huge pop would be completely wasted.
Brendan: I’m a big fan of Geoff Shaw’s linework and Lauren Affe’s colors here. There’s a great balance between chaos and order, tight but loose. These two bring an awesome dynamic, where the art and color evolve with the script through different periods of the storyline. In the deep flashbacks, we get thick, clean lines, bright color, and Ben-Day dots, reminiscent of the nineties. In more recent flashbacks, the dots stick around, but the lines get scratchier. In the storyline present, the bright colors and classic dots give way completely to dark muted tones. Three distinct periods, three distinct looks.
Tony: Shaw is an absolute superstar. Though he evolves a lot between this series and now, you can see what he grows into. I think I might have to bump Thanos Wins up in our queue, as that’s by this same creative team, and you can see a direct throughline from Shaw’s hard hitting but emotional linework to what we get here. One thing I really love beyond what you said (because you already said it so well) is his sense of pacing. I think of the big reveal at the end of the third issue (which I won’t spoil), which he paces out so well, that when the script reveals the big twist, it lands hard because of Shaw.
Affe’s colors rock. Where Shaw makes the action and the emotional moments pop, she makes the scenery and characters jump off the page. It’s not just fleshing out the line art, but her work sets a mood, using color theory to help convey the feelings that the scene is trying to get across. It’s not just good color art, it’s intelligent.
Brendan: All right, then. I think you already said it a couple times, but what’s your verdict? Hit or miss?
Tony: I liked it. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth sticking around for. The last chapter is especially excellent comics, and I’m glad I was able to read it.
Brendan: I think I’m winning. You’re liking more of the books I’m sending your way than I am of yours. Are we keeping score? We should be keeping score. What’s up next on your end?
Tony: We are visiting an absolute classic of a story, and one that I’m ashamed to say I didn’t read until the last couple of years- Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. It’s one of those that’s a perfect intersection of our interests and I really look forward to talking about it.
Brendan: And this is the part where I have to admit that I’ve never read it. Does that make me a bad horror comics guy?
Buzzkill TP, Image Comics, 27 September 2017. Wriiten by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek, art by Geoff Shaw, colors and letters by Lauren Affe, design by John J. Hill, edited by Patrick Thorpe, assisted by Everett Patterson.
We’d like to ask, on behalf of our friends and colleagues that own and are employed by comic shops, that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.
If your local comic store is temporarily closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy for $9.49 at Comixology right here. Amazon has physical copies for $13.65 right here. There are also a very limited few of those Dark Horse printings floating around. Happy hunting!