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Is Boom 'Pushing #ComicsForward'? Taking A Look At Cluster, Burning Fields And Feathers

By David Lucarelli

In light of Ross Richie's recent call to "push comics forward," to a wider audience I thought I'd take a look at a few of the new titles BOOM! has recently launched this year to see if they have the potential to fulfill that vision.

BOOM_Cluster_001_A_MainCluster #1 takes the writing and art team of Ed Brisson and Damian Couceiro whose work on Sons of Anarchy stands as one of the most effective adaptations of a television property into comics form, and turns their talents to showing us a futuristic dystopia in which mankind utilizes incarcerated prisoners as soldiers to fight alien resistance to planets they are trying to colonize. One gets the feeling that the military is not being completely honest about the aliens' true nature.  Borrowing a bit in tone from Starship Troopers (right down to the faux recruitment ad in the inside cover), and some of the women's prison tropes last seen on Orange is the New Black, Cluster manages to set a fast paced story with a strong female protagonist in motion with very few missteps.

cluster2 copyCourceiro's art is pitch perfect at conveying the large scale of a futuristic military operation with great attention to detail, all the while presenting a fairly large cast of characters that are well designed and easy to differentiate. One wishes that the first encounter with the aforementioned alien race was not relegated to a few micro-panels, but it's hard to argue with such a decision when it opens up space for the spectacular full-page explosion that follows. Chalk it up to the tyranny of the twenty-two-page format. Brisson, while pulling double duty as letterer, keeps the dialogue snappy, clear and on point. It's only when he plays the trope of the new female prisoner whose tendency to talk too much gets on her fellow prisoner's nerves that his execution feels a little clunky. Michael Garland's coloring work both brings out the details in Couceiro's art, and adds atmosphere to this dark story. Twenty-two pages later Cluster has effectively set up a ticking time bomb plot that seems ripe to deliver the Dirty Dozen style action and intrigue the ads for the book promise.

So is this the kind of book that would appeal to female readers? Probably. It features a number of strong female protagonists and an intriguing premise that could lead our heroine to redemption for her past crime. The heavy sci-fi military component will be a turn off for some, but for a generation of women raised on first person shooter games, and for the generations that loved Tank Girl and Alien, there is plenty here to like.

Burning-Fields-1-2nd-Print-Cover-by-Colin-LorimerBurning Fields #1 written by Michael Moreci & Tim Daniel, and illustrated by Colin Lorimer is another Boom book featuring a female protagonist. Dana Atkinson is a former military now Chicago PD detective who's recruited to go back to Iraq to try to solve the mystery of a serial killer striking on the oil fields. To do so she must navigate the minefields of the contractors who consider themselves above the law, the independent Iraqi police force, and members of the military, with whom she did not part on good terms. The artwork is realistic and gripping. Lorimer has done his research when it comes to showing the details of the oilrigs and the villages of Iraq. Like many artists, he does have a tendency to not differentiate the faces of some of his male characters as much as he could. The victim at the opening of the book looks an awful lot like the man sent to recruit Atkinson, who also looks a lot like the sniper that is later keeping an eye on them. The dark tones often chosen by colorist Joana Lafuente accentuate the tone of the story very effectively, but could do a little more to help differentiate the male characters.

BurningFields01_panel-600x338Will a book like this expand the base of comics readers? Some will be turned off by the gruesome nature of the killings, from the severed tongue in the opening sequence to the particularly horrific last panel, but for those that appreciate TV shows like Breaking Bad, and True Detective, a solidly intriguing comic like Burning Fields devoid of any fantastical elements (as of yet) could be just the kind of book to pull in a largely untapped female audience.   Not unlike Homeland, Burning Fields is gritty noir, set in a location torn from today's headlines, featuring a troubled heroine, who has a penchant for finding herself between a rock and a hard place, It's unfortunate the cover, while dramatic and eye catching, doesn't advertise the presence of said protagonist.  Regardless, any layperson with no interest in superheroes could still easily find themselves sucked into this world of mystery and intrigue.

ARCHAIA_Feathers_001_AFeathers #1 written and Illustrated by Jorge Corona while under the Archaia imprint for new creators, could just as easily have been published under the KaBOOM! line for younger readers. Feathers tells the story of Poe, a young feathered bird boy foundling from the slums of the Maze, who crosses paths with a young girl named Bianca from the wealthy City, which is cordoned off by towering walls. It is a rich and stylized world of whimsy, well thought out by Corona. His art feels influenced both by classic Disney animation, and German expressionist silent films.  Jen Hickman's color work helps bring the settings and characters to vivid life, and Corona's world will both capture the imagination of younger readers as well as be appreciated metaphorically for its commentary on the separate worlds of the haves and have-nots by older ones. The only drawback to the book is that the opening six-page prologue features observational commentary by two unseen and as yet unidentified narrators. Presumably who these narrators are and their role in the story will be revealed in due time, but putting them at the head of the book is apt to be both off putting and confusing, particularly for the youngest readers.

In summary, BOOM! is certainly doing the heavy lifting to push comics forward to a wider audience of readers in an industry that has suffered from an over reliance on limited genres for far too long. Ross Richie's vision of a world to come where you could ask any random person not, "Do you read comics?" but "What comics do you read?" cannot help but be brought a little closer to reality by the existence of these books.

David Lucarelli is the writer of The Children's Vampire Hunting Brigade comic book and an occasional contributor to

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Hannah Means ShannonAbout Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.
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