Tag Archive: TKO Studios


  

Review by C.J. Bunce

One stylistic feature stands out in TKO Studios′ second wave of comic book titles released this month: Although each series is available in a comic book format, the stories read like graphic novels, as if the need to have the six chapter breaks is only an excuse to have an attractive corresponding cover.  It’s not a bad thing.  In fact, with frequent two-issue arcs and eight-issue, ten-issue, or even more issues in a complete story like you’d find in traditional publishing, the six-issue template is easy to get accustomed to.  Readers may notice this the most in The Banks, a crime story that spans three generations of an African-American family of thieves in Chicago, written by Roxane Gay (Black Panther: World of Wakanda), with artwork by Ming Doyle (The Kitchen), and colors by Jordie Bellaire (Hawkeye, The Wake).

Evenly paced with not a lot of spikes of action in each issue/chapter, The Banks is a quiet tale–a character study of different personalities reacting to a new opportunity from different points of view.  Celia is the thirty-something straight shooter who, despite her best efforts, can’t break through the glass ceiling at her supposedly legit career job.  Her grandfather was a well-known ex-con, but it turns out so was her grandmother and mother.  So when Celia is passed over for promotion again, she decides following in the family business is worth a try.

  

The challenge of the story for the comic book format is that the story requires a lot of conversations between characters, and not a lot of set pieces.  Without the typical comic book theatrics, exotic locations, and choreographed action scenes, this feels more like a novel that happens to be told in a visual format.  The story is a good one–this has a Luke Cage vibe and is structured like the recent Shaft movie featuring three generation of men in the Shaft family (made famous originally in the 1970s movie).  You may find yourself casting the characters with actors for the TV version the publisher no doubt hopes to net from at least one of these new titles (think Pam Grier, Rosario Dawson, Simone Missick, and Nicole Beharie or Tessa Thompson).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The next six-issue series that is also released as a complete graphic novel from publisher TKO Studios is a science fiction story called Sentient.  Familiar comic book writer Jeff Lemire (Descender, Old Man Logan, Green Arrow) has a new story to tell that is a mash-up of this year’s earlier Grant Sputore-directed, direct-to-Netflix film I Am Mother (reviewed here at borg), the plotting and visuals of the gutsy Orbiter 9 (reviewed here), and the desperation of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s ill-fated transport ship story, Passengers (reviewed here).  As the idea of a human trip to Mars has gained interest, we’ve seen an uptick in the sub-genre delving into the actual work required to make such a far-off journey possible, along with a host of horrific possibilities that may confront us.  It’s materialized in films like Alien: Covenant plus the Lost in Space TV series reboot.  Sentient is also the latest take on Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s story of kids governing themselves without adult supervision.

 

Just as the space frigate USS Montgomery clears the barrier where communications are broken off from both Earth and their destination colony for an entire year, the ship is sabotaged.  The artificial intelligence on the ship, a female voice called Valarie, attempts to coordinate a recovery, but it becomes too late–all of the adults on the ship are killed as a result of the chaos caused by the saboteur, and what remains are the cordoned off children, who Valarie must train to continue the mission.  Even the A.I. has her own misgivings–she’s just not programmed to become a surrogate mother.  Fortunately the oldest, Lil (who just celebrated a birthday and could be 12 or 13 years old), and Isaac, the son of the saboteur, are young but smart, the kind of kids who probably went through Space Camp before their mission.  These aren’t naïve kids–they immediately understand the pressure and responsibility that falls on them.

Lemire’s steady and thoughtful pacing sets up artist Gabriel Walta (Doctor Strange) for a great visual showpiece, highlighting a style and colors that may have you thinking this is the next iteration of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series–even the character faces look like they were drawn by Kindt with his trademark clean and simple imagery and muted tones.

Here are some preview pages, courtesy of TKO Studios:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

TKO Studios is the new comic book publisher that surprised the industry early this year with an entirely new way to entertain readers.  They release four books at once in a binge format paralleling Netflix TV streaming shows, and they offer each story available in a trade paperback edition and as six separate comic book issues in a boxed set.  Readers buy whichever format appeals to them.  The last positive is the publisher’s slightly oversized format, a size that allows more artwork space per page while still feeling like a comic book.  But this is all formatting.  The substance doesn’t pull any punches, with TKO bringing in some familiar, beloved writers and artists for their first round (check out our reviews of those series linked below).  So does the second round measure up to the first? It was worth the wait, and fans will be pleased.

We’ll begin with Eve of Destruction, a zombie survival story in the vein of The Walking Dead, but mixing in several other influences and concepts along the way.  The story is written by TKO’s CEO and co-publisher Salvatore A. Simeone and Steve Simeone, with lettering by Ariana Maher.  The heavy lifting comes from artists Nik Virella, Isaac Goodhart, and Ruth Redmond who fill six issues with non-stop action.  And if you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, you might agree the creatures have more than a little in common with that horror film.

 

On the night of an important school dance, a girl’s separated parents, both women, are feuding over how each is contributing to the parenting the girl.  A hurricane is closing in off the coast, and with it comes a change in biology fueled by changes in the Earth’s environmental conditions that are triggered by this new storm.  The nature of the threat is specific and unusual–it is only targeting men and boys, and the results are on track to produce a kind of extinction forecasted in the title.  Although it could be a story about feminism, it doesn’t have any time to even broach the ramifications of this threat.  This is a story about survival in the first hour of a disaster.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Life in California is not all that sunny for everyone.  The fourth and last of our reviews of the initial release of graphic novels from new publisher TKO Studios looks at Goodnight Paradise, a peek into the day-by-day drudgery and dim chance of survival of the homeless.  When a homeless girl is found dead in a dumpster, the man who found her has enough information to find her killer.  Unfortunately his mind is addled through a rough life, alcoholism, and mental illness, and he’s struggling to put it all together.

Readers are introduced to a story “ripped from the headlines” like an old Law & Order episode, as real-world tech corporation Snapchat makes new millionaires and billionaires, and outside its doors across Venice Beach the poor and the homeless are getting shuffled away, the culture of the town turned upside down as real estate shifts and the past culture of the area is squeezed out.  The people living in the alleys all are at the end of their ropes, just to varying degrees.  As more young people hit the streets without income sources, those with mental illnesses run out of their prescription drugs to keep them in control, compounding their struggle as they spiral into confusion and anger.  Enter Tessa, a young woman who leaves home to come to the coast to see the ocean.  She befriends a small, tight group of people who protect each other.  When she videotapes a woman being drugged for sex by one of the new rich types at a party, she’s hunted down by his thug to protect the guy’s reputation.  But is everything as it seems in Goodnight Paradise?

Writer Joshua Dysart (Unknown Soldier, B.P.R.D.) creates a deconstructed superhero of sorts out of his homeless protagonist.  This man is like DC Comics’ Oliver Queen, but stripped of his money and his sanity, yet his sense of right and wrong remain intact.  Artist Alberto Ponticelli (Unknown Soldier), with colors by Giulia Brusco (Scalped), introduce readers to layered characters in scenes not using sleight of hand so much as revealing the realities of perception and bias.  Scenes that seem one way at first only are rediscovered by the reader to have their meanings changed when seen and explained from the perspectives of other characters–in a way Ponticelli shows the comic book medium can take advantage of.

Here is a preview of Goodnight Paradise:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In the next inaugural TKO Studios series we’re reviewing here at borg, classic fantasy meets action-adventure in The Fearsome Doctor Fang A modern update to early 20th century mystery stories like The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, The Fearsome Doctor Fang blends elements from Doctor Strange, The Shadow, Tomb Raider, Allan Quatermain, Indiana Jones, and H.G. Wells’ sci-fi and fantasy novels.  No relation to the DC Comics Doctor Fang, readers meet this Doctor Fang in San Francisco–he’s a mysterious Chinese hero cloaked as a masked villain in pursuit of the location of the legendary treasure of Kublai Khan, all to save the world from a deadly menace.

Writers Tze Chun (Gotham, Once Upon a Time) and Mike Weiss (The Mentalist) create a story mixing stylistic influences from the likes of Alex Raymond and Alan Moore.  The Dr Fu Manchu comparison is obvious–the writers even incorporate the unusual character name Nayland from Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories).  Artist Dan McDaid (Firefly) provides the Amazing High Adventure look to the story, with layouts and close-ups reminiscent of Neal Adams, full of turn of the (20th) century exotic locations and historically costumed denizens bustling among the city streets.  Doctor Fang is a Zorro-esque hero for the people of China–and the world.

Readers will find great surprise twists and several funny scenes.  Think the 1999 big-screen version of The Mummy–the male and female leads darting between Doctor Fang and the book’s arch-villain have much in common with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in that film.  Bright period color choices by Daniela Miwa (Shaft) and interesting lettering by Steve Wands (Batman) support a unique look for the new adventure series.   Where the first two books from TKO Studios we reviewed feel more like standalone one-shots tales, this is a book you’ll no doubt want to see continued in subsequent series.  (*Editor’s Note:  Every time I type or say The Fearsome Doctor Fang, I hear the classic Dramatic Sound Effect).

Here’s a look at some covers and the first pages from The Fearsome Doctor Fang:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The second of the new TKO Studios titles we dived into this weekend is The 7 Deadly Sins.  Yesterday we reviewed Sara, which conjured scenes from Sands of Iwo Jima, and now The 7 Deadly Sins feels like a modern twist on the John Ford/John Wayne classics Stagecoach (celebrating its 80th anniversary this year) and The Searchers.  Despite the basic story building blocks from a John Ford movie, this isn’t a John Wayne film or Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, or something like more recent Western comic book series like Dynamite’s The Lone Ranger.  This is a far less traditional Western–far from Classics Illustrated, this is a story that could wrap up the trilogy of Quentin Tarentino’s bloody violent modern Westerns The Hateful 8 and Django Unchained. 

1867.  A post-Civil War frontier “cowboys and Indians” era tale, the story introduces readers to a white man raised as Comanche whose signature is a unique style of scalping homesteaders and U.S. Cavalry soldiers.  A priest wants to broker an unholy peace with the Comanche, and a black ex-Union corporal named Jericho Marsh is trying to find his daughters.  Marsh finds himself in jail and breaks out with a pregnant ex-slave, a cannibalistic ex-Confederate soldier, a Chinese prisoner, a well-known crack shot, and a woman mistaken for a man, and they bring on an orphaned mountain boy and a Comanche child along the way.  The story pulls from Three Godfathers and The Magnificent Seven–not so much derivative, it pulls on the strings of plenty of Western tropes.  A handful of strangers, all outlaws, must join to fight off the Cavalry, a wealthy landowner, and Comanches, and it’s anyone’s guess who might make it out alive.

The 7 Deadly Sins comes from writer Tze Chun (Gotham, Once Upon a Time), artist Artyom Trakhanov (Undertow, Turncoat) and if the color work looks familiar to Western readers that may be because it’s created by Giulia Brusco (Scalped, Django Unchained).  Letters are by Southern Bastards’ Jared K. Fletcher.  Parts of Trakhanov’s panels are drawn similar to the very traditional, archaic layouts of Stan Sakai’s Japanese motif Westerns, landscape shots reminded me of the stark feel of Moritat’s work on the Jonah Hex book, All-Star Western, and choreographed action sequences carry the more stylized influence of Frank Miller’s interiors later in his career.

Take a look at these great preview pages:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If there was a Sergeant York or Audie Murphy on the Russian side of the fight in World War II and the soldier was a woman, you’d have the lead character in Sara, a new six-part graphic novel from TKO Studios, a new publisher for 2019 (more on that below).  In Nazi-occupied Russia, the Russian forces are losing.  A small band of skilled Russians snipers is making headway one kill at a time.  The undisputed best of the bunch is Sara, an ex-college recruit reputed to have 300 kills.  She soon becomes the target of Nazi Germany’s own best special military forces.  From Eisner Award winning writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, War Stories and Battlefields, Fury) and artist Steve Epting (Velvet, Batwoman, The Winter Soldier, The Avengers), with color by Eisner and Harvey nominated artist Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Rob Steen, the gritty realism, badass protagonist, and top-level artistry is sure to make Sara a contender come award season.

If you’re a fan of Russia or Soviet-era stories like Doctor Zhivago, From Russia with Love, and The Hunt for Red October, or graphic novels Nevsky: A Hero of the People, Red Son, and The Death of Stalin, there’s something in the Sara graphic novel that you’re going to like.  But that’s just the setting.  The real fun will be the callbacks readers will experience along the way.  With a Russian twist, expect the same kind of war experience from watching movie classics like Stalag 17, Sands of Iwo Jima, Memphis Belle, To Hell and Back, and Sergeant York.  Ennis’s historicity and Epting’s adherence to detail anchors the story in a way that will have you feeling like you’re right there in the forest among the soldiers.  This is the story many of us were hoping for when we heard of the Russian espionage movie Red Sparrow.  

As with all new TKO Studios releases, the story is available as a graphic novel in a digital or print edition, or as six issues in a collectible box.  The six issue/chapter shifts are well plotted: an introduction of key characters in the middle of activity and flashbacks to Sara’s military training are all nicely paced to a vintage 1940s war movie style, and the battlefield threat increases gradually culminating in a nicely planned cliffhanger, followed by a satisfying payoff–it has all the beats in the right places.

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