In which I write about a single series that is in fact like a whole imprint in itself. Now, I'm not usually one for comics about, you know, the Frangipanis struggle against the Ipanemians on the planet Sega, but I have a weakness for good storytelling, which all of these had. Um, spoilers!  photo Ehouse02AB_zps9osrzymt.jpg 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT by Churchland, Graham & Maher

Anyway, this... 8HOUSE #1 -2: ARCLIGHT Art and Colours by Marian Churchland Art by Brandon Graham om p.27 in #1 Art by Brandon Graham on p.28-29 in #2 Story by Brandon Graham Letters by Ariana Maher Image comics, $2.99 each (2015) © 2015 Brandon Graham & Marion Churchland

 photo EHouse01AA_zpsbte97bp3.jpg

Man, this thing just drips aristocratic hauteur does it not? It can barely bring itself to allow a prole like you to sully it with your low-born gaze. First there’s that weird title to get past; the one that sounds like a Bullingdon Clubber saying outhouse e.g. “Haw, haw, by 2020 we’ll have turned this country into an 8House. Hard times for the little people, what?” I mean, as title’s go it’s not exactly informative is it? 8House? Hate House? Yeah, I’m not fond of it myself, more of a Northern Soul man. Luckily, I have been gifted with powers beyond those of mortal ken so I know it refers to the 8 Houses (or Families) which rule the planet of Greg Araki where Ghoonga Djinn will save everyone by using the magic white spice to make his pupils contract to pinpricks and talk crap very fast. Or is that our Chancellor, Norman Osborne? Hard to tell in days as strange as these. No, all digressionary bullshit aside I’ve read two issues of this comic now and it’s basically magical space fops in love. Oh, and more importantly it's pretty great to boot.

 photo EHouse01AB_zpsi2nzvsql.jpg 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT by Churchland, Graham & Maher

I know it’s pretty great because even though its pacing is stately and the storytelling somewhat opaque (two things which when done badly I hate), this stately opacity is tethered to meticulously honed storytelling. Each image from line weight, framing, size through to colour is carefully measured to maximise its impact and import.  Brandon Graham's captions are sparse, being used mainly for an atmospheric mix of the evocative and the expositionary and so the book is mostly imagery drive. And the imagery Marian Churchland brings to it is really quite striking. Everything looks hand drawn with a lovely human wobble to the line, and the colouring is the soothingly smooth combination of hard and soft only coloured pencils seem able to achieve (although it was probably all done on those computers I hear about). Gesture and expression are pivotal in conveying information here and the book's lucky to have someone so gifted in conveying such tricksy stuff on board. Having said that, I'm still a bit unsure if I gleaned all the meaning from these two issues. As far as I can tell there’s a bundle of twigs in a cloak hosting the soul of a genderblended noble and s/he/it is and her pal are tracking whatever has nicked her/his/its body. The whole being made of kindling thing is putting a serious crimp in stick face’s attendance at soirees where all the gentleladymen wear gossamer nighties and trade bitchery of the barbed variety. So when news reaches Twiggy that his/her/its body is doing the rounds off they set, and after some blood fueled sigil based scuffling a confrontation, the outcomes and import of which are still a tad unclear to this most unreliable of readers, seems unavoidable. Now, I could have some stuff wrong there, after all I read it a bit back and this book isn't exactly eager to give up its secrets, but puzzling them out is part of the fun. And it's gorgeously illustrated and meticulously executed fun, which makes 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT VERY GOOD!

 photo Ehouse01AC_zpsuhuc2kms.jpg 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT by Churchland, Graham & Maher

8HOUSE #3: KIEM Story & Art by Xurxo G. Penalta Story by Brandon Graham Image Comics, $2.99 (2015) © 2015 Brandon Graham & Xurxo G. Penalta

 photo Ehouse03A_zpsjj3qwle4.jpg

In which that unavoidable confrontation promised by #2 is...avoided. I guess whoever’s in charge of this 8HOUSE gaff (Brandon Graham)  thinks you’re getting a little too comfy, a little too complacent what with you being all involved in the story of Sir Arclight, aristo-discos, blood-magick combat, hidden agendas and the cloaky twig-thing - HOOPLA! – 8HOUSE is now, without any whiff of warning, about a completely different bit of the 8HOUSE world and a whole new set-up!  I guess this is to stop your brain getting all swaddled in fat and lethargic, so we’re now dealing with a young woman who appears to be part of a military unit, one which is sequestered from the outside world. This bunch of bantering naïfs only leave their bunker to mind-leap into the far-distant deceased bodies of their mono-zygotic twins, whereupon they battle alien creatures on an upsettingly huge construction I failed to retain the exact nature of. Which is nice but don’t put your feet up, Cochise, because now Kiem (yes, it’s named after the lead character; a rare sop for the traditionalists there) has to enter the real world on a Special Mission and finds all is not as she thought (or as we have been led to believe in the preceding blah-de-blah pages (if they aren't going to number them then I'm not going to count them, people)).

 photo EHouse03AB_zpsz9d1oczm.jpg 8HOUSE: KIEM by Penalta & Graham

In line with its contrasting tech-heavy ambience KIEM takes a different approach to storytelling to ARCLIGHT with the captions being both more plentiful and more larded with straight exposition. But then they are the inner monologue of the main character (a soldier) who is less high faluting than those in ARCLIGHT (dandyish aristos). Which is fair enough as soldiers tend to be more direct in communication than ruffle necked aristocrats. That's not to say the storytelling burden borne by the art is any lighter. You can't fault Penata's art, it is a pretty staggering achievement; it’s as though someone saw Jean Giraud and decided it was good....but not detailed enough, or wanted to explore how deep a focus a paneled image could pull off. The art on these pages is so visually dense it made me worry about the sanity of the mind behind it. I mean, I didn't worry that much because I had tons of fun looking at it and I'm not actually all that caring a person. You drive yourself nuts, Xurxo G. Penalta, just keep those comics coming! Also, there's a cool bit where Penalta upends the images so proving he knows when simplicity is the best tool in the box too. Pretty much a totally different approach and experience from ARCLIGHT it turns out that KIEM is also VERY GOOD!

8HOUSE #4: YORRIS Art by Fil Barlow Written by Fil Barlow & Helen Maier Image Comics, $2.99 (2015) © 2015 Brandon Graham, Fil Barlow & Helen Maier

 photo EHouse04A_zpsescbooub.jpg

Obviously, predictability being toxic to this series, with the next issue we needs must leave Kiem staring slack jawed at a truck sized crystal with her war wounded space-panda beggar friend because issue 4 of 8HOUSE (The House That Likes To Move About) is about Yarris or YARRIS (although that reads like CAPSRAGE, and I prefer to save that for when someone writing Spider-Man has done something I don't like; you know, the important things in life). Again, in what can only be deemed a calculated slap to the face of the unrepresented male, Yarris is a young woman but, aha, she is a different young woman to Kiem (clue: different names); she seems a bit more of a hot house flower who spends most of the issue sat very still indeed while indulging in an internal monologue of such expositionary density you could put icing on it and pass it off as a christmas cake. If exposition were edible. To be fair though, while show not tell is an important rule it's hard to carry off when what you are showing is a big alien dog phantom spitting ectoplasm formed of screaming faces. Since this is the primary form of oppression used by one sect (The Bound) to undermine another (The Un-Tied) some explanation is forgivable. Also, I think a little of it is lack of confidence on the part of Barlow & Maier. They’ve done some comics but they aren't a seasoned old lag like Brandon Graham, whose influence here only seems to extend to an invitation to the talented pair to play in his sandbox. Ultimately though it's probably just another form of storytelling. It's not wrong, it's just different, as I used to tell my teachers to admittedly very little effect. Alas, poor YARRIS is the weakest entry so far but it's still pretty strong. It's all relative. This is 8HOUSE after all. There's a flamboyance to the designs in YARRIS which is somehow both restrained and demented, and the storytelling finally settles down to promise thrills aplenty. And how could one not warm to a comic which ends with a character worrying that The Suprymes have been dispatched after them. On past evidence however we'll probably be denied the sight of Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, and Betty McGlown as sassy steampunk bounty-hunters because this is 8HOUSE so it'll be about something else entirely, but a young woman will probably be involved. Just like many a fight on Saturday night. Unlike physical violence fueled by alcohol, stupidity and hormones 8HOUSE: YARRIS was GOOD!

 photo EHouse04AB_zpskpp3oxkl.jpg 8HOUSE: YORRIS by Barlow & Maier


Pro Tip: When visiting the 8House I always take some – COMICS!!!

Content w/o Contentment: Quick Capsule Reviews from Jeff

Oh, it's all in the timing.  Always.  Earlier today, Graeme and I were podcasting and all I really had read that was all recent were two comic books.  Now, less than twelve hours later, I have five (and a graphic novel I haven't yet finished).  Join me after the jump, won't you?  If nothing else, I promise to be brief.... NORTHLANDERS #41:  Marian Churchland is one of those amazingly promising artists I'm really rooting for (and her Conan is in my top five favorite Conans ) so when I heard on Twitter she'd done an issue of Northlander, I had to pick it up.

And it was pretty EH, I'm afraid to say.  I know I'm immune to Brian Wood's charms and have made it a point to stay clear of his work.  But I was surprised that Churchland's work didn't really knock me out here.  At first, I thought it was Dave McCaig's colors that use a really limited palette with some unoriginal color choices (although the work you'll see Churchland do in color, say over at her blog are similarly limited in palette she has a sharper eye for color in her own work to keep things from seeming monochromatic) or that Churchland's is nicely illustrative but very limited in its line weight. (I admit it, there are times where I run hot and cold on uniform line weight and this is one of those times where I'm cold on it.)  But ultimately, I think the problem is that Churchland is generally a very reserved storyteller: a lot of medium shots, a lot of long shots, and the close-ups don't get very close here at all.

In her debut graphic novel Beast, she proved herself to be an excellent chronicler of facial expressions made by guarded or private people, but here in a story where Birna, a young girl, must find the strength to take charge after her father has been killed, Churchland conveys the basic emotions easily enough but not the stronger emotional conflict--how she's able to take the steps from fear to resolve, or even the parts in her we see before her father's death that hint at her ability to make that leap.

While I think Wood skips over the actual drama in his story, I kinda expect that of him (alas).  It was probably an impossible task for Churchland to overcome that.  She's still got some growing to do, and I look forward to what she does next.  But I expected too much from her, and this was a still a very EH issue.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #619:  Brubaker and crew wrap up Gulag with both a tremendous sense of haste and a motivation for Bucky to escape (his part in training and awaking Sleeper agents in the U.S.) that really makes me think we'll be seeing Mr. Barnes again much sooner than the end of Fear Itself #3 would make one think.  As with last issue, I dig the almost anthology-like feel of the differing artists, and that dollop of Steranko-derived visuals.  (Though turning Joanna Newsom into the Black Widow for one panel was incredibly distracting.)  About as deep as a dixie cup, but I thought this was a GOOD read and I'll be a little bit bummed if the Bucky Cap era is truly at an end.

SECRET AVENGERS #14:  I liked this better than last issue, certainly, but this tale of two soldiers fighting mecha-nazis and their plight's connection to the Valkyrie's origin was pretty facile and weightless.  Not only is the "fear wave" angle of Fear Itself frustratingly used across the event, it's not even used in a consistent way here, where the two soldiers are cocky and fear-free in the face of their unbeatable enemy because, hey, if they weren't, that death scene wouldn't be surprising, would it? (Also, terrified people don't banter, I guess.)  And of course, the enemy is unstoppable until it's time for Valkyrie to stop one with one sword swing.  I guess I should be grateful that an entire shitty summer movie like Battlefield L.A. got reduced down to one quick issue but apparently I'm a cold ungrateful bastadrd.  This was some AWFUL filler.

FEAR ITSELF: FEARSOME FOUR #1:  Oh, man.  Once again, Marvel uses my nostalgia and fondness for older characters to take my money and shank me in the kidneys. Man-Thing, Nighthawk, Howard the Duck, Frankenstein Monster and She-Hulk join up together to make Steve Gerber return from the dead as an avenging ghoul.  It kinda broke my heart to see the first three characters so closely tied to Gerber's name handled so wretchedly. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I hated the most--was it having Howard look like his movie incarnation?  Was it having him act like a Bruce Willis character? Having an eight-page sequence of Nightwing acting like a pastiche of Frank Miller's Batman?  Having She-Hulk in the book for no reason (yet) other than have her be the typical female character in a superhero book?  (The typical female character in a superhero book asks questions for the men to answer, and crosses her arms so you know she's tough.)

I'm fascinated by the idea that this was written by (or for) someone who had a love of old '70s Marvel comics and either couldn't replicate what made them work if their life depended on it (or else had to have that worked over into "the modern style" of comics today.)  What an idiot I was for picking this up. Please avoid this CRAP work.

BLACK DYNAMITE #1:  Jun Lofamia does the art for this and if you had a thing for, say, Alex Nino back in the day, I think you'll really like what's going on here.  I loved the movie Black Dynamite and so was mighty pleased to see this gorgeous looking book on the stands, but I'm far more ambivalent about the story.  The film is such a spoof of Blacksploitation flicks that is so knowledgeable about how the genre worked that it essentially transcended its parodic elements.  The comic, like Jim Rugg's Afrodisiac, makes me really uncomfortable about how closely its parodic elements steer toward racist stereotypes.  (Also, did Dynamite really say "Can you dig it?" all the time during the movie?  He says it so much here, he seems more like The Shogun of Harlem from The Last Dragon.) Perhaps the creators of this book are as clued in to the Mandingo film genre as they were Blacksploitation and I'm missing the clever way the conventions are being twisted and re-twisted. But it felt like an uncomfortable misfire to me. (Also, a bit pricey for my blood.)  Gets an OK because of the lovely art, though.

So, you know.  As the man sez:  What did *you* think?