SAFE WORD: INSIDE THE VAULT (WEEK OF NOV. 24, 2019)
Updated: Nov 26, 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 #2
W: Tim Daniel & Michael Moreci
A: Joshua Hixson
C: Jordan Boyd
L: Jim Campbell
We get introduced to a new character, Reese. There seems to be a bit of baggage between her and our hero, Chase. I think she's also Mackenzie's (the daughter that Chase is now guardian over) teacher, as well? So there's a lot of tension and overlap and history that makes things complicated for all of our characters. There's also something in the pond that wants the boy, Zach, and an inky blackness our characters keep spitting out, possibly hinting at previous familial deaths on THE PLOT of land they're inhabiting?
Between the house, the small town, and the ghosts everywhere, there's a feeling of danger and of being closed-in that builds the terror for the characters and for us.
The moody shading and grit of the linework, combined with the dark, almost sickly colorwork, also adds to that sense of foreboding and misery.
Giving a theme to each issue or chapter on the credits page feels like it focuses the story.
Underwater word balloons with bubbles around the edges is such a cool and textural way of conveying those underwater sounds.
The "family" at the center of this story feels so dysfunctional. Not just from a history standpoint, though it seems like there's a lot of pain and mental health issues carved deep in their family tree. But just the idea of trying to raise a family where every member carries deep scars of trauma, and the house and lands are clearly haunted just seems like they're doing everyone in "Very Hard" mode.
Hixson and Boyd work very well together, bringing balance to pages (like the CPR scene) through color and layout, and raising tension in scenes with ghosts and strategically placed knives.
I loved the narration of Mackenzie's teacher (Reese?) talking about repeating the past time and again while a ghost, likely from that past, literally comes back to haunt Mackenzie. Just the layers of storytelling here are remarkable!
What Doesn't Work?
I don't think I realized this story took place in 1974. When it was noted on the credits page, I thought I was seeing a flashback issue.
Honestly, not much else. The Plot continues to haunt and inspire terror, and it's the most polished, emotionally traumatizing horror title on shelves. I look forward to every issue of this more than any other title right now.
RELICS OF YOUTH #2
W: Matt Nicholas & Chad Rebmann
A: Skylar Patridge
C: Vladimir Popov
L: Andworld Design
Our central characters are on their way back from exploring the island when they're met with trouble. Fortunately, they are each able to discover and access the powers given to them by the island (or the mysterious force that inhabits it), allowing them to fend off their assailants.
Unfortunately, things only get more complicated for our heroes from there...
The creative team works well together to move the story forward, display our characters' powers in a way that feels natural and exciting, keep character personalities distinct from one another and showcase different combinations of them working together and their own dynamics, and just generally keep things interesting. That's no easy feat!
The previous statement is helped along with slightly longer-than-average issue lengths that give the exposition a little extra room to breathe. I also appreciate the summary text on the back cover and the catch-up woven into the dialogue to help us remember the events of the first issue. Often, with limited series with issues released monthly, they can lose steam month-to-month and readers may forget events from previous issues. Recaps woven in organically can help recoup some of that lost momentum.
I'm loving the development for my favorite character, Tristan. Her power set makes her an interesting fit for the “man in the chair” role. She seems like she understands the island better than anyone, and can help lead them in the right direction, if not fight directly. She's also tremendously endearing as she tries to as edgy as the rest of the group. I hope we see similar changes and development in the rest of the cast.
And I think we will! Nat tries to be the strong, stoic leader, and we see that strength! But we also see vulnerability in her this issue, beyond her own internal narrative, which helps her feel more real and nuanced.
Derek's cancer is both a plot and character device, but also more. It limits his stamina, which allows for an intimate moment and bonus motivation to find a certain "relic" on the island.
As far as our antagonist goes, we get a good idea of how formidable she is. She has the clout to demand a team and resources enough to storm the island. She also has the control and ability over her sword to stop its motion at juuuuuust the right place to nick someone's neck and draw blood, effectively displayed by Patridge's line art and Popov's colors.
I'm really enjoying Skylar Patridge's more dramatic body language that teens use more than adults do. Often, we treat teens like adults that have just been on the earth for fewer years, and they're not. And it's nice when this is captured in art.
Whoever's working on this title from Andworld Design, their lettering is great. Anytime the balloon placement gets you to read the balloons or go through the page in an untraditional way, you know they're good at what they do.
Popov's palette highlights the bright, tropical nature of the island and the bold, vibrant colors associated with youth.
What Doesn't Work?
I find myself wanting either a cast of characters page up-front, or for the characters to call each other by their names more often, because I have trouble connecting the character names to their faces.
Even with the extra room, this issue still feels like part of the introduction to the story, like it should have been the second half of a giant-sized first issue. It makes the characters' missions clear, introduces their powers and we get more time with our antagonists and what they want. It's not a HUGE negative, it just feels like the ball is finally rolling, and it's already the end of the second issue, which makes me hope that this is more than a 5-issue miniseries.
W: Christopher Sebela
A: Jen Hickman
C: Harry Saxon
L: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
The final issue of this wild, surreal, cyberpunk-ish miniseries is here!
I, uh...can't say much more than that without spoiling everything. And the story's pretty darn heady as it is.
It's the end, but we also come back to the beginning, in many ways. We revisit the opening monologue and scenes from the past, some of which we witnessed in the first issue, and others which are new. This cyclical nature, and breaking free from it, is a central theme in TEST. After all, Aleph is a junkie, and the cycle of addiction, of doing the same thing time and again and leading to the same negative result, is what prevents us from moving forward. So it makes sense that breaking that cycle would be important.
Every single issue of TEST had moments that felt like such human universals, I wanted to share them. Moreso than just about any other comic, Sebela is able to cut to the core of being a person, or possibly being a misanthrope, and shining such truth on it that you can't help but nod your head and think, "That's me."
Loved comparing the constant need to reinvent ourselves to shaving one side of our head or coloring our hair or getting a tattoo and thinking we are a new person now and that things will be different. Again, basic human universal.
Jen Hickman's work in this series has been stand-out. They think outside the box, using panel layout and border design to convey mental instability or environmental chaos. This issue carries that tradition onward.
Every comic that has hired Harry Saxon to do colorwork has been one I've enjoyed. Palettes feel well-curated but not limited, able to convey mood AND venue and building on TEST's unique personality. I'll be seeking out more comics with his name on the cover.
Otsmane-Elhaou gets to play with some more special balloons and type treatments this issue. There's one changeover from something digital to something more organic, that I really enjoyed seeing represented in balloon form.
Aleph literally carrying their baggage into the fray is a big mood.
What Doesn't Work?
As always, my one note here is that there's so much going on and everything is so high-level that I worry readers won't be able to make the connections. TEST spoon-feeds you nothing. It's a story to be read multiple times and pondered over
QUEEN OF BAD DREAMS #5
W: Danny Lore
A: Jordi Pérez
C: Dearbhla Kelly
L: Andworld Design
It's the final showdown in the world of dreams. Daher has to battle Eleanor, who has prepared for this moment. But if Ava's going to be free, Daher needs to step up, even without her badge.
But Eleanor wants to protect her son, so she's not going to go down without a fight.
A lot has happened since the end of the previous issue, but the dialogue catches us up quickly.
The narrative changeover is unexpected but keeps the story fresh. It’s a good way to explain what happens through the eyes of someone who saw it, and it gives a reason for Vivienne and Selene to have this series-long discussion in the first place.
I’m glad we’re exploring more of the dream world. It’s visually appealing and gives Dearbhla Kelly a chance to showcase her considerable talent. The dreamscape itself is well rendered, mercurial in its framing, capturing the way dreams feel.
I’d be interested to know how much of the art is inked first and how much is color holds, because there’s an absence of black lines that makes for a few really clean and colorful scenes.
From a parental standpoint, seeing Daher and her daughter coming together and teaming up was very heartwarming.
Eleanor calling Ava entitled is a spot-on example of how the well-off project their own negative traits onto others in an attempt to control or demean them. These socio-political statements are the strongest element of Queen of Bad Dreams, and something we can rally behind.
Jordan’s font and balloon become normalized as they regain control, which was a small, but neat effect.
Chase saying he wants to build upon his mother’s dreams is a creepy, yet so appropriate statement.
The ending leaves you on an "OH $#^%" moment.
What Doesn't Work?
The stakes just didn't feel that high, potentially from losing some action and tension between issues.
Everything felt too condensed in this series – I wish the issues could've expanded to twice as many issues, to let us fall in love with the characters more and help connect the dots.
While the narrative style was a nice change from traditional comics, I don't feel like it truly paid off. Like it should have been its own storyline that just never quite got there. My guess is that it would have, had the series extended to more issues.
Letterer Kim McLean left the title between last issue and this one. That said, Andworld Design is more than capable of picking up the lettering and her style and executing it well.
The dialogue says Eleanor is an older woman, but she was drawn like she's much younger, which might lead to some confusion.
By the end, Ava feels more like a MacGuffin than a three-dimensional character. Again, this could be largely due to so much of the series being condensed into only 5 issues.