KNOCK ‘EM DEAD #1 (Aftershock Comics)
Aftershock Comics has caught my attention and been steadily growing in my estimation over the past year. They have been putting out some terrific comics from a variety of genres, finding a particular sweet spot in horror and crime. I like horror and crime, don’t you? They have been using a mix of creative talent sourced from the US and abroad, an array of names you’ve probably never have heard of, side by side with some you might know well.
Though KNOCK ‘EM DEAD started coming out in December of 2020, the collection of the 5-issue series appeared in comics shops last August. I became aware through the promotional push for the collected edition (called KNOCK ‘EM DEAD: THE COMPLETE SERIES, natch!), but I seem to have missed it on the shelves when it dropped. That’s a risk we run as comics readers; shops have so much volume of product to try to move from week to week, and since they are mostly stuck with unsold product, it’s become common practice to order for first-week sell-through. Collected editions tend to have a better shelf life, but even those are too myriad for any shop to stock anything in perpetuity.
I grabbed a copy of the first issue of KNOCK ‘EM DEAD from a clearance bin last week and having read it, I’m looking forward to finishing the story! I’ll be seeking out a copy of the softcover collection so I can do just that!
The book is about Pryor Brice, a completely terrible wannabe stand-up …oh, this is a comic about a comic. Nice. Anyway, Pryor (wonder if that’s a nod to Richard Pryor?) going to open mic events and struggling to figure out how to be funny; this is much of the first issue’s tale and I was left wanting more, which is a good thing but I’m this case just feel the book would have benefited from a couple more story-pages to sell the last-panel reveal. As it is, the next-issue blurb box gives a further selling-point detail that could easily be overlooked.
The art really supports the writer here, with Pryor’s bad comedy very much shown and not told; word balloons with scribbles or hamburger and eggplant emojis stand in for actual bad jokes, which I enjoyed. To communicate how poorly Pryor is doing onstage, we are treated to occasional over-the-top panels of of things like suitcase nukes with “you suck!” signs.
Through perseverance, Pryor starts to be slightly less awful at comedy and a more experienced comedian takes him out to party hearty and things swiftly go bad. Very bad, as the last—panel dramatic reveal shows! This slow-burn is about to get weird, friends.
Eliot Rahal writes this yarn, and he seems to have worked a bunch with Aftershock, so he’s one to watch. He’s in good company over there and they value writers highly. Mattia Monaco, from Italy, provides the art and this guy is no slouch! As mentioned, Monaco does a lot of lifting to support the story, managing to make static scenes of stand-up comedy engaging. His style is sketchy yet polished, pleasantly stylized and consistent, reminding me of all-star Sean Murphy. I like it a lot and I hope to be seeing more!
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the coloring. Matt Milla is the colorist and where I usually never notice that effort much (sorry, colorists! I’m trying!), but on KNOCK ‘EM DEAD it is extraordinary. Milla has a real talent for creating atmosphere in nighttime city stuff; alleys, small bars, subway cars, night driving; the art is clearly elevated by the colorist here. It is really something!
You can probably chase down the single issues for KNOCK ‘EM DEAD without too much effort, just be patient with your local comics shop and let them see what they might still have, or can source. The collected edition is easily available, order-able at your local comics shop or from Aftershock’s website. Digitally, you can grab this from ComiXology - get the collection (as opposed to single issues) for sure if you go that route, as you’ll save about a sawbuck.
MY DATE WITH MONSTERS #1 (Aftershock Comics)
MY DATE WITH MONSTERS is a new book from Aftershock. The premise here starts off sci-fi and goes kind of horrorweird, in a slightly urban-fantasy kind of way. Risa is a scientist who played a key role in, I guess, breaching another dimension (?) in such a way as now when people dream, creatures from their nightmares sneak into the real world and cause havoc. It’s complicated, and surprisingly it works, and the idea that the objective “Risa must meet a nice guy and fall in love” is central element to the strategy for reversing this cosmic problem.
One of the nightmare creatures is Risa’s BFF and protector monster, a massive golem-like thing named Hethri, who she refers to as Croak. Croak consumes nightmares whole that have entered our world (often after Risa kills them with a sword as long as she is tall!) and stands guard, watchdog-like, over Risa’s precocious daughter Machi, when she sleeps.
The writer is Paul Tobin, who is prolific and always-excellent. He’s got a playfulness to his writing style that I appreciate for this kind of stuff; too many storytellers confuse horror with cruelty. The bizarre ‘what if’ scenario sets our stage this issue, as we learn backstory while the rules of the concept are laid out. Add in some getting to know our characters and telling a chunk of story, and you have a very well-filled first issue. I was more generally satisfied at the end of this first issue than I have been in a long time. It’s funny and sweet and a little scary.
Andy MacDonald provides the art, and demonstrates some very enjoyable character design work on the various creatures. His art style is sketchy in places but more smoothly rendered for Croak, an effect that makes him, as the only recurring monster, extra surreal. MacDonald’s faces are fun and expressive and he actually manages to convey …something… through the body language of nightmare creature whose whole face is a bulging eyeball (in his butt). Yes, some of the creatures are silly, but MacDonald is game and as stated, even gives ol’ eyeball-buttface an emotional range.
The sorta Japana-horra figure on the cover (I ❤️ that spooky design so much!) shows up at the end of the issue and promises to be some kind of sweet Big Bad for next issue. Croak versus Scarymask Talonlady, Round One, FIGHT!
Grab MY DATE WITH MONSTERS at your favorite comics shop and while you’re there, they’ll be totally happy to take your name and hold the rest of the issues for you as they come out (next one’s due in December). If you’d rather wait for the collection, they can take your name for that too - I am guessing we’ll see it in the spring. You can also buy and read these digitally from ComiXology or one of the other few digital resellers, if you like to take ‘em electronically, you futurist, you.
Until next time, friends! Please catch Lauren and Joe, senior editorial team at The Wednesday Pull List with their picks for this week’s can’t-miss comics!
I hope I can also ask you to check out my new monthly column on crime comics at Shotgun Honey, called Comics’ll Break Your Heart. The first column discusses the incomparable David Lapham’s STRAY BULLETS #1.
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Plenty of Pulp, by Max Cage