Ice Cream Man Vol. 6: Just Desserts
W. Maxwell Prince, writer; Martín Morazzo, art; Chris O’Halloran, colors
Image Comics, 2021
Another collection of four diverse tales about the world of the Ice Cream Man. “The Big Sweet” is about a cult that is apparently murdering ice cream men. Private detective Ray Kowalski is hired to find one of them, and what he finds is enough to convince him to turn his life around and save his failing marriage. A kind of happy ending, despite the overall bleakness of the story. “Advent Calendar” depicts a desperate young pregnant woman deciding what to do–via the daily small gifts from an Advent calendar. The Ice Cream Man makes a couple of brief appearances (as a plastic figurine and a snowman), but it is otherwise a serious story with a call for donation to Planned Parenthood in the last frame. “Late Night Splashes” tells the story of a late night TV host named Mack Benson, largely though text pages narrated from the point of view of various characters. They are interspersed with illustrations, including a fairly tasteful depiction of the horrific onscreen snake attack. There is also a callback to the first story, in the form of a reference to Uncle Ray and his nicotine addiction. The final story is an especially bleak tale about a telethon to benefit an average guy named Jerry, who has no idea he is the star. The Ice Cream Man is the telethon’s host, so it should not be surprising that it does not go well. Jerry’s decline includes a divorce from Sweet & Associates, divorce attorneys, as well as an appearance from Holt Dairy Corporation (both callbacks to the first story). Last but not least, the Ice Cream Man calls on readers of the very graphic novel we are reading to stop, or the dog gets it!
The Stone King
Kel McDonald, writer; Tyler Crook, artist
ComiXology Originals, 2019
I have been paying attention to the ComiXology Originals, but had completely overlooked this one. As a fan of Tyler Crook’s art on B.P.R.D. and Harrow County I had to check out this fantasy story about a city called Stoneport, which has a vaguely Medieval feel to it. The protagonist Ave is a thief, a member of an organized guild that calls the Discworld Thieves Guild to mind. The comic opens with her attempt to prove herself by climbing up the Stone King (a giant stone giant who roams the area) to illegally harvest healing moss. In addition to the moss she gets a huge jewel. It seems she has gotten away with a massive score, until the Stone King attacks the town. After that the story mostly involves Ave and the guard she befriends on the run, trying to escape from the town that the King has trashed and trying to recover the jewel in hopes of stopping the King’s rampage. In the end the pair gets back up on the King and figure out what created the gem, giving them both an opportunity to improve their lives. The story is visually very much in Crook’s wheelhouse, although it is in the high fantasy realm more than his previous work. The collection concludes with a selection of sketches and process art.
Top Shelf Productions, 2011
This is Jeff Lemire’s first major published work, and the place where he says he found his voice. Visually it is very rough, but you can see his style coming together. The story is bleak and violent: it is no accident that red is the only color other than black and white. I have had a digital copy of this in my collection for some time, and was reminded that I had never read it by Lemire’s discussion of it on his Substack newsletter Tales From the Farm. Much of that discussion also appears in his preface to the Top Shelf edition, which brought the graphic novel back into print–while also substituting new lettering for Lemire’s lettering, which was apparently difficult to read (I have been unable to find any images of the original pages, a rarity nowadays).
Outer Darkness Vol. 1: Each Other’s Throats
John Layman, writer; Afu Chan, artist
Image Comics-Skybound, 2019
This is a strange tale set in an interstellar future, but one where science meets horror and magic. It is not exactly unique–G. Willow Wilson & Christian Ward’s recent Dark Horse series Invisible Kingdom comes to mind, as well as Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen’s Image series Ascender–but this series employs gods and demons in a distinctive blend of horror and high fantasy. These spaceships are powered by god-engines and hate-engines (although they look about equally horrific, requiring human sacrifice to function) and encounter things like necro-storms (a crowd of spirits of the dead who attempt to take over any living people they encounter). The crews include a Ship’s Oracle and teams of Mathematicians and Exorcists. The good news is that if you get killed in a fight (and are insured) your soul can be retrieved and reunited with your body. But one of this crew has been possessed by a demon, so his soul retrieval turns out to be far from the stroke of luck it first appeared. And it makes for a partnership between him and the ship’s first officer that spells trouble for the captain in future installments. Layman displays the imagination and characterization skills that was displayed in his long-running series Chew. Chan has mainly been known as a cover artist for Boom! and Marvel. He favors a simple, cartoonish style with bold coloring. An enjoyable read, but probably not appealing enough to me to continue with it.