• Matt Ligeti

SAFE WORD: INSIDE THE VAULT (WEEK OF DEC. 8, 2019)


Vault Comics puts out more and more high-quality comics than any other publisher. That's the opinion of this site, anyway, but it's an opinion we share with more and more readers, critics, and pros in the industry.


We'll keep doing full reviews for new arcs and/or trades and OGNs for the publisher but, in an effort to prevent ourselves from ONLY reviewing Vault titles and to keep up with their growing catalog, we'll curate some briefer reviews of Vault's issues in lists like this. If it's not a collected volume or the first issue in an arc, you'll likely find it here. It's not an exhaustive list of everything they've put out recently, but it's what we've read, along with some highlights of our favorite parts of each issue.


(Unless otherwise noted, Adrian F. Wassel edits each issue, and Tim Daniel does the design work.)

THE PLOT #3

Review written by Jason Jeffords Jr.

W: Tim Daniel & Michael Moreci

A: Joshua Hixson

C: Jordan Boyd

L: Jim Campbell


What happens?

You could say with issue 3 of Vault Comics’ well-regarded horror series, The Plot thickens! No, I’m not sorry for that terrible word play. Yes, I did spend a fair amount of time coming up with that line, but it does ring true.


The Plot #3 pushes the narrative of the Blaines' family history and their place in town while opening up new mysteries. Taking [REDACTED] from the basement, Sheriff Magnus regales his partner (and readers) of the long troubling history of the Blaines. It’s not the prettiest family history, but it opens up narrative doors that will be entered later on. Following this is a character-defining moment for [REDACTED], a terror-driven bathroom break for [REDACTED], a [REDACTED]-filled family reunion, and a huge revelation about [REDACTED].


Extra Note: For some reason, something just clicked in my mind. The title, The Plot most likely means the plot of land the story takes place on. I’m sorry for my tardiness in this deduction...


What Works?

  • Covers are a huge drawing point for comics, it’s literally the first thing you see. The Plot #3’s cover is great with explaining what type of genre it is, drawing a reader's eye, and generally looking enticing.

  • Character Moment: Chase standing up to a few townspeople talking crap about his brother's kids is a damn fine character moment.

  • Every character introduced in The Plot continues to be super interesting, with each battling their inner demons. Matt said it best last week, “...like they're doing everything on 'Very Hard' mode.”

  • It takes a lot for horror to stay interesting. Luckily, The Plot’s story makes you want to keep diving deeper.

  • The atmosphere surrounding the town and people is terrifying, yet intriguing. This is due to the fantastic story and terrifying art blending perfectly.

  • On the subject of art, Hixson and Boyd are a horror dream team! Boyd’s ghastly colors help bring Hixson’s horror-filled images to life. This perfect pairing is shown throughout the span of the issue, but especially when Chase receives a visit from a family member.

  • Much like horror films, their comic counterpart needs to build tension. This can be a hard feat, yet the team knocks "tension-building" out of the park. Throughout the issue, no panel is wasted. Instead, it helps keep the overall tension building. That and pacing. Oh boy, the pacing is exactly what you’d want from a horror comic!

  • Memorable Quote: “My dad wasn’t well, asshole. And if you want to piss on his grave, go to the cemetery.” – Chase


What Doesn't Work?

  • It’s hard to think of any other horror comics that has perfect pacing, panel work, art, and plot. Per usual, Vault Comics keeps releasing some of the best comics out there with The Plot #3 continuing this trend. There just isn’t anything in The Plot that “doesn’t work."


RELICS OF YOUTH #3

Review written by Matt Ligeti


W: Matt Nicholas & Chad Rebmann

A: Skylar Patridge

C: Vladimir Popov

L: Andworld Design


What happens?

Our party is split, which is rarely a good sign.


Mia and the rich kid are held captive by our antagonists, who seem like they're there to find out more about the island and take everything they can for themselves. They're being interrogated, albeit kindly...for now. But being as how they seem like the two worst people out of our group of heroes, I'm worried they'll either sell out the island and the rest of the group or say something to get themselves killed.


Tristan and Blake are in another village, surrounded by people holding spears and guns, and those people are not happy to meet them.


Derek and Nat are wandering, exploring, and encounter a new antagonist who might be scarier than the ones we've already met (just what this group needs, right?). They also meet a girl who needs their help, but under mysterious pretenses – we'll see where that goes!


Plus, more information on the overall "quest" for our characters and the "rules" for completing it.


What Works?

  • The powers we see for the characters have nuance to them, which is difficult in an age where superpowers saturate the medium. They're less straightforward, and tied to the island in interesting ways. It's this nuance that makes for a great read, not only with regard to the characters' power sets, but in the thought given to the characters themselves and the story Nicholas, Rebmann, & Patridge are telling.

  • Separating “grandfather’ into two words, and other mannerisms help imagine how a new character speaks.

  • though fairly action-packed, it's also a damn heavy issue. Issue #3 already feels like the end of the series instead of the middle, which is funny because it feels like we're still getting a feel for the characters and the island.

  • We get to see more of Tristan's awesome plant powers, making her much more useful to the team.

  • There's one panel where we see something coming toward the character in the reflection of their eye, and it was such a cool way to convey that speed and danger.

  • The letterer(s) from Andworld Design find good, simple solutions for characters positioned on the page differently from their speaking order, so you never get lost or confused.


What Doesn't Work?

  • I read this series was going to end after issue #5, and I feel like we're only just getting into the story (contrasting to a minute ago when I said it also feels like the end of the series). I'd have been all right with a 10-issue series, at least, giving the characters room to grow on us and each other, and potentially giving the island some more lore and mystery.


SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #5

Review written by Matt Ligeti


W: Jon Tsuei

A: Audrey Mok

C: Raúl Angulo

L: Jim Campbell


What happens?

Sera's in trouble, split between the spirit world and the reality where the rest of the Royal Stars are inhabiting.


The Eltanin want her dead, but Regulus, pictured here on the title page, now shares her body and helps Sera to fight them off.


But can these two leaders work together? And even if they can, how do they have any hope of fighting the Eltanin and daeva off without the other Royal Stars?


What Works?

  • It's a heavy action issue – big gods, Star against Star, totally what the end of an arc should be like.

  • As always, Audrey Mok's manga-inspired illustration style, layouts, and action sequences steal the show, especially when Raúl Angulo's colors give them so much life.

  • When Sera and Regulus merge, Sera's features become more feral and lion-like, which was a nice touch.

  • The different balloon styles in this comic rival The Wicked + The Divine in style and number. I appreciate how Campbell differentiates between the Stars in a way that fits their personalities and power sets perfectly.

  • While it's cool that the Stars resemble the different signs of the Zodiac, it goes so much further than that! Follow Jon Tsuei on Twitter for more information on his research and creative process.

  • Heroes fighting in multiple planes leads to a complicated partnership reliant on faith in Sera, but it pays off in a splash that is visually stunning as well as emotionally rewarding. Angulo's palettes help tremendously to differentiate between planes, making that splash page all the more breathtaking and effective.

  • I like how Regulus never takes away from Sera's agency. She's got a moment toward the end that feels like such a big victory for her character.

  • It's interesting seeing how the Stars and the daeva interact – who's bigger, more powerful. There are so many supernatural elements, but the only way we get context for how powerful they are is to see them interact, which is one of the coolest parts of this book.

  • In the best way, Sera and the Royal Stars feels like watching your favorite JRPG play out. Every issue is a joy, and the adventure and our party of heroes is a delight 100% of the time.


What Doesn't Work?

  • While the action of the issue feels like the end of an arc, nothing about the story feels tied up. Where some comics kind of put a bow on an arc by the end of it, Sera and the Royal Stars still feels like it's growing, not ready yet for a bookend. Yes, we get hints at what will happen next, but it just feels like Sera goes out to adventure, then goes back home. Then she goes out again, then goes back home. It's territory that feels like it's been tread before, just as we get a new party member. However, I haven't been disappointed by this book and its creative team yet, so I'm sure it'll be great.

  • The summary copy on the back cover and dialogue helps give some context, but as a monthly reader, I'm feeling fairly lost. I remember the big bits, but the details are fuzzy – especially with the more surreal elements of the otherworld. Still, I don't mind, because it's beautiful and a lot of fun. Plus, I'm sure it'll make more sense in trade form.


RESONANT #5

Review written by Matt Ligeti


W: David Andry

A: Alejandro Aragón

C: Jason Wordie

L: Deron Bennett (AndWorld Design)


What happens?

Paxton and his dog fight for their lives on the island where they're held captive. They try not to kill, for what it's worth, though their efforts seem moot with so much brutality around them. Paxton longs to escape and get back to his family, but it's a task that seems impossible.


Bec continues to take care of Stef, whose condition doesn't seem to be improving. She's doing what she can to keep the bear(s) from eating their food (or eating them), but there's a limit to how much she can do, and it doesn't seem like it's enough.


Ty's experience with the "cult" seems to get better and better. He feels accepted, appreciated – something he didn't feel at home with Bec. But is danger lurking just around the corner?


What Works?

  • First off, I just want everyone to know the dog is OK. I know that was a sticking point in the previous issue or two, but we're all good here.

  • The issue itself opens with a bang, and we get several pages of this action sequence. The scenes are brutal, yet thoughtfully rendered. Often, the "camera" or point of view sits in the same position for multiple panels while characters barely move. Other characters bolt into the frame, violently, and the combination of these two types of movements effectively convey the speed of these actions and how little time the battle actually takes up.

  • It's such great characterization that Paxton fights with rope. It represents utility and a problem-solving mindset more than a traditional weapon, foreshadowing what we find out later: he doesn’t want to kill.

  • I love me a good transition, and the one here with the water as our linking theme is *chef's kiss*.

  • It seems like there's some kind of secret with the crucifix the girl, Sarah, offers to Ty after his baptism. In fact, the cult seems like it has loads of secrets and, after reading the entire issue, I have...speculations...but don't want to spoil anything by sharing them.

  • Regardless of the shadiness of the organization, the baptism itself is a beautiful scene. We don't see much beauty in this story, and it more directly contrasts with the violence we saw in the issue's opening. Honestly, there's a peacefulness, or at least a slowing to the tension, that we get through the rest of the issue, a reprieve from the heaviness of the events leading up to now, and the events likely to come in the future.

  • Again, the characterizations in this comic are top-notch. They seem authentic and nuanced and so, so thought-out. For example, Bec cursing constantly is such a kid-trying-to-be-an-adult thing, and we know she's desperately trying to play that parental role.

  • A conversation Paxton has with a fellow captive makes me wonder if Paxton’s mantra does nothing, and Paxton instead has the same ability to resist the waves as his captor. It’s almost like with diseases, where some people have a natural immunity. In that way, Resonant feels like a Stephen King book, specifically The Stand, but on a micro-level, focused on one family. The happy family forced apart concept also feels a little like Game of Thrones.

  • A quote from the issue, "Hope is hard. But it gets easier if we share it." is just SO GOOD I had to stop and take a breath and then read it again. Hell of a good line.

  • The series finds its heart this issue, and there's a bit of hope for a positive turn of events soon.

  • Honestly, it's the best issue so far. But I say that every issue. And you better believe you'll be screaming for issue #6 by the end of this one.


What Doesn't Work?

  • This issue seems like the end of an arc in some ways, but nothing really felt resolved or like the close of an arc. It probably doesn't bother everyone, but I can imagine it bugging some folks.

MALL #3-4

Review written by Matt Ligeti


W: Michael Moreci & Gary Dauberman

A: Zak Hartong

C: Addison Duke

L: Jim Campbell


What happens?

Andre and Ronin are captured by her old clan, who wants to kill them — him for being a surfacer who has seen them and their home and her for helping him. The only way to have any chance of survival is by running a gauntlet that will likely kill them in a painful and messy way rather than the clean death they could otherwise have had.


Also in these issues: Serious revelations! Unexpected ones! Wow! Kickass high notes, especially in issue #4. So many things! But where is the baby from the first issue? And, even with new knowledge, how can Andre hope to stand against the Powers That Be who want him dead?


What Works?

  • I love seeing the different factions within the mall – how they're dressed, what weapons they use. This issue, we're blessed with Italian restaurant workers fighting with...a menu? And pasta? I don't know, but I seriously do love it!

  • The art style is like anime meets moody ‘80s thrillers, but not in the middle. Some scenes are one, and some are the other. But you can easily imagine it as fully either: a high-octane, blood-soaked anime, or a synthy John Carpenter noir. In fact, I'd give my left arm to see Mall as a John Carpenter movie. And that's my writin' arm!

  • The scene with Franco watching old sales tactic videos has a lot to unpack: first, the weird level of reverence the people in this story give the mundane, mall-related things of the past. Also, that he would be unhinged enough to willingly watch something like this. Last, the “pep-talk” about holding things back to give the illusion of limited resources and sending the customers into a frenzy likely will come up again later.

  • Just when you start thinking this book is all dark fun and violence, it starts relating back to the real world and makes you THINK. It's unexpected, but Moreci and Dauberman and team seriously turn Mall into a story about the Haves and the Have Nots. In a darkly tongue-in-cheek way, you wonder why these people are fighting each other over stupid reasons like what store their clan is represented by, and then you see the people in power benefitting from it all, and you can't help but compare it to our daily lives.

  • We get a catch-up, both on the back cover and in the dialogue, even this late in the game. It's something I appreciate – reading comics monthly, I tend to forget a lot of the details. That being said, it doesn't help you guess what's coming next. Mall is so off the rails, you won’t have any idea where this story's going.

  • The splash page of the gauntlet is so well-put-together. I think I spent longer navigating it than a page with several panels, just taking it all in.

  • Can we pause and admire Tim’s design work? Bloody red covers, text on the back seeping down...every comic he works on is

  • As we've come to see in past issues, the characterizations are so clear, and it’s fun seeing the banter between Andre and Ronin. We've also touched on the dark and moody palette and immersive sound effects before, but I wanted to note that I STILL love them, thank you very much.

  • Other highlights: the skull windchime was a creepy touch. The “you need to fuck off already” to a giant rampaging alligator is hysterical. And the use of establishing shots adds helpfulness and a cinematic quality to the story.


What Doesn't Work?

  • It looks like someone tracked Andre this whole way and snuck down just to destroy the evidence, which gave me some pause until I really thought about how unrealistic the whole situation is and how suspending my disbelief is way more fun.

  • Campbell has to do some lettering magic with layouts where the character has longer monologues and is speaking from two different directions. I think the layouts are visually appealing, but might lead to confusion with some readers. Though, I think having a skilled letterer like Campbell on it made it work.

#SafeWord #Vault

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©2018 by Matt Ligeti the Comic Book Yeti.