REVIEW: Prime-8s #1

It’s been a little while now since Skybreaker introduced me to both MonkeyBrain Comics and the work of Michael Moreci.  Since then, I’ve read a wide range of MonkeyBrain comics and I’ve been very impressed by their diverse lineup of titles.  And I’m currently working my way through Moreci’s Image series Hoax Hunters and enjoying it a good deal.  So it’s nice to see the two come together again with Prime-8s #1, the first issue of Moreci’s new MonkeyBrain series.  And as much as I liked Skybreaker, I feel I can safely say this is a sizeable improvement!

One thing to notice right away is that, while I pointed out how elusive a first issue Skybreakers #1 was, holding its narrative cards close to its chest, Prime-8s #1 has no such concern.  We beginning with an explosive, dynamic action sequence that plays a bit like a pre-credits scene in a Bond movie, which also manages to give us a super-concise origin story for our heroic monkeys boiled down to a series of captured images and concludes with a highly inventive visual trick that caught me by surprise.  From there, we launch into a whirlwind of economic character introductions, Moreci and Hoax Hunters co-writer Steve Seeley establishing a rich selection of distinct personalities.  It’s a strange world Moreci and Seeley have created with Kyle Latino – a kind of Fantastic Four with monkeys where a group of 8 primates were sent into space and ended up with superhuman powers… and the ability to walk, talk and think like humans – but by the end of the first issue it feels fleshed out.  It helps that the page length is a generous 24 pages, considering I’ve noticed quite a few MonkeyBrain titles have a more conservative page count of 14-16.

What Prime-8s put me in mind of – and I mean this as a compliment – is one of those insanely toyetic ’90s Saturday morning cartoons that emerged in the wake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the likes of Biker Mice from Mars or Street Sharks, where all the major characters were animal/human hybrids and there were teams of good guys and bad guys alike.  But Kyle Latino’s loose, energetic art captures a retro tone that also filters in the atmosphere of old Jack Kirby comics or ’70s adventure movies.  The whole comic just feels like a cocktail of wide-eyed childhood glee.

But it’s not all pastiche.  Moreci and Seeley manage to work some heart into their storytelling too, with a little exploration of how time can erode friendship, and the impact of celebrity.  These are retro heroes trying to hold onto a heyday that has long gone, grasping to recapture the old glory through various diminishing returns.  For some, the empty artifice of recreation weighs on their souls, while others keep on fighting the good fight but struggle to remain as effective without all their teammates by their side.  It’s all a strong set-up for the “getting the gang back together” phase that’s sure to come.

Between this and Dungeon Fun, this has been a real treat of a week for fans of masterfully executed all-ages fun and adventure.  Kyle Latino gets a real showcase for his craft in world-building here, while Moreci and Seeley follow up Hoax Hunters with another worthy collaboration.  Yet another success for MonkeyBrain Comics, one well primed to become their trademark comic.  You could even say it puts the “monkey” in “MonkeyBrain!”

Prime8s1Prime-8s #1 is out now to buy from ComiXology.

Coming Soon: And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  It has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

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It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

 

And after a sellout of our first print run, artist Iain Laurie and I are restocked and ready for our next convention: Thought Bubble in Leeds, on 23rd-24th November.  But it won’t just be more of issue #1 we’ll be bringing.  Nope, issue #2 is now finished, and ready for the show.  Here’s a sneak peek of the cover, drawn by Iain and colored by the magnificent Megan Wilson:

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In this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its very strange locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!

REVIEW: Skybreaker #1

Before Skybreaker, I had never actually read a MonkeyBrain comic.  I’ve heard many good things about the digital-first lineup, and have been curious to give Chris Roberson’s upstart publisher a try.  This latest addition to their growing lineup is this dark Western tale written by Michael Moreci of Hoax Hunters fame, with art from FUBAR alumni Drew Zucker.  Does Skybreaker #1 serve as a good introduction to the MonkeyBrain brand?

In all honesty, I’m not quite sure.  Skybreaker remains a quite elusive entity in this opening chapter, with Moreci showing us some disparate jigsaw pieces that manage to hold some level of intrigue in isolation, even if we don’t quite yet know how they will fit together.  This becomes immediately apparent in the issue’s opening sequence.  As a prologue, it gets the ball rolling in style, as our enigmatic protagonist fights his way out of his own grave and kills his assailants.  There’s some well-framed action here, but Moreci and Zucker come at this scene from an unusual angle, beginning with an elegiac rumination on death and loss, with some quite abstract establishing shots that don’t establish much, leading to us finally transitioning via match cut into a close shot of the aforementioned grave.  We don’t know who this man in the grave is when we meet him, or why these other men are trying to kill him.  We only get his name at the very end of the scene, the “Skybreaker” where the title comes from.

From there we make a radical shift to a different locale and a different set of characters – all with relationships and motivations quite mysterious in their own right – as Swearengen-like community leader Mr. Cutter is confronted with numerous threats and challenges to his settlement.  Only in the latter stages does the story from the beginning lurch into the mix, presented as yet another problem for Cutter to worry about in amidst the encroachment of Indian “savages” and US marshalls.  We still don’t know much about the eponymous Skybreaker by the end, though the conclusion leaves us with some intriguing hints about his history.  There’s an admirable bravery in just launching your reader into the world of the story, throwing them right in the deep end with the dead bodies dropping and the threats flying without worrying about slowing things down with context or exposition, though the narrative could be a bit too opaque for its own good.  Based on the quality of Moreci’s writing, I’m confident that this is all going to come together into a highly impressive whole, but at this early stage I can imagine some readers thinking they don’t have enough meat on the bone to bring them back for issue #2.

Drew Zucker’s art is a little less polished than Michael Moreci’s scripting.  There are some very well-realised visuals, such as the previously-discussed opening graveside battle, or the depictions of Cutter’s town, but there are other bits that feel a bit untidy, with the occasional awkward face that threw me off.  Still, one big plus I want to remark on is the measured use of grayscale, escaping the pitfall that many black-and-white indie comics fall into of having the art feel untextured and incomplete.  This doesn’t feel like a comic that’s missing color: the black-and-white feels like a pulpy stylistic choice.

So, Skybreaker #1: intriguing, unusual, often disorienting.  Would I come back for issue #2?  I’m not sure, but the nagging questions that the story tantalisingly dangles over our heads would incline me to lean more towards “yes” than “no.”  If this is an indicator of the quality of comics MonkeyBrain is putting out there, then the positive buzz is well deserved.

Skybreaker1Skybreaker #1 is available to buy now from Comixology.