DC Comics: Black Label – Collected Editions Reviews


By Joe Hill, Leomacs, Riccardo La Bella, Dave Stewart & Deron Bennett

June Branch visits her boyfriend, Liam, on Brody Island for a relaxing last weekend of summer. After an escaped group of criminals breaks into the house that June and Liam are watching, Liam is taken by them. June grabs a strange Viking axe and flees from the intruders. When one of the attackers finds her, she swings the axe and takes off his head, which rolls away and begins to babble in terror. For June to uncover the truth, she’ll need to hear the facts straight from the mouths of her attackers, with…or without their bodies attached.

Collects Basketful of Heads #1-7, 184

“Basketful of Heads is the comic book-form of the Direct-to-DVD-Slasher you found for a buck at some garage sale, then had a great diverting time for the short duration watching it that same night, but totally forgot about afterwards, so when it’s your time to weed out stuff for a garage sale you throw it in the to sell-box with a shrug.

That may not sound very enticing, but Basketful of Heads is really a good read – or more accurate: a SOLID read. Because it achieves exactly what it wants to be (and nothing more): To be a fun and fast-paced popcorn movie-like experience. It is not trying to subvert any conventions or expectations or tries to convey a deeper message through genre, and that’s okay.

While the story and characters (they do act weirdly out of character sometimes) are okay – as I said: checking the usual boxes for the genre it’s dabbling in – it’s the artwork that really makes this worthwhile. Leomacs manages to capture the look and feel of both slasher films and Tales From the Crypt-style comics and blends them both together very well with a lot of texture, well-placed and never exuberant blacks, as well as clearly conveyed character-expressions. Dave Stewart’s colors are the icing on the blood-cake. Most of the story is held in a suspenseful thunderstormy blueish tone, while the more character-based scenes are given a warmer hue.

This is some straight-up comics fun.

PS. One nitpick: The potential of having a couple of people’s LIVING, TALKING heads crammed together in a basket is for the mostly underused unfortunately. The humor is laid out already and could’ve been explored at least a bit more.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—In The Gutter Looking Out @In the Gutter Looking Out


By Jock

From high above the sweltering summer streets of Gotham, Batman planned to escort the GCPD as the dangerous metahuman super-villain known as E.M.P. was transferred from a holding cell to his permanent home at Blackgate Prison. E.M.P.’s electrical powers posed a threat, but the situation was in hand—until it wasn’t. Now every light in Gotham is out, the police are in disarray, and a broken, bleeding Batman must fight his way to Blackgate, block by block, dragging E.M.P. behind him. But the dark corners of Gotham hold many surprises…and E.M.P. has many more shocks to deliver before the night is through!

Collects Batman: One Dark Knight #1-3

“A classic story of we need to get the bad guy from position A to B, and there is going to be trouble along the way. For a premise that’s so normal in action movies, oddly adding Batman to this trope adds a nice little twist. Artist turned writer Jock, is doing double duty here and even though his writing isn’t going to win any awards, it did exactly what it needed to do. Job well done, and he can hold is head up high on the writing front.

The story itself is non-stop action and this is where the books shines. It lets Jock do what Jock does best. There is some great impact action, and it gets down and dirty, street level fisticuffs. It has to be said – I love the way Jock draws Batman’s cape, especially mid-jump. The story definitely plays to Jock’s drawing strengths. A very smart move.

Was this a groundbreaking Batman story? The answer is no. But there is definitely fun to be had”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Nine Panels, @Nine.Panels


By Cliff Chiang

Ten years ago, the massacre known as Fools’ Night claimed the lives of Batman, the Joker, Nightwing, and Commissioner Gordon…and sent Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, to prison. A decade later, Gotham has grown up—it’s put away costumed heroism and villainy as childish things. The new Gotham is cleaner, safer…and a lot less free, under the watchful eye of Mayor Harvey Dent and his Batcops. It’s into this new city that Selina Kyle returns, a changed woman…with her mind on that one last big score: the secrets hidden inside the Batcave!

Collects Catwoman: Lonely City #1-4

“Catwoman returns to a world without Batman. But does she belong anymore? And is Gotham City better without them both? I’m a big fan of Cliff Chiang’s art and visual storytelling. And he makes a pretty good writer, too! It’s an entertaining heist story with some familiar faces and surprising cameos. As much as I was loving the continuity-free side of DC’s Black Label, I’d like to see more mature stories set in-continuity. Lonely City is a nice jaunt through an alternate future, but we’re getting a lot of those, lately, and it makes these stories feel less special.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dave Molyneaux, Omniverse Comics Guide


By Stjepan Sejic

A young psychiatrist with a potential cure for the madness that haunts Gotham City, Dr. Harleen Quinzel must prove her revolutionary theory to a sceptical establishment by delving into the disturbed minds of Arkham Asylum’s deadliest inmates. But the more time she spends with her criminally insane subjects, the closer she is drawn to one patient in particular–and the further she falls away from reality.

Collects Harleen #1-3

“A deeper, more detailed look at an origin for Harley Quinn from Seijic runs state true to form in both style and subject matter. The story delves into Harley’s developing relationship with the Joker as it parallels the transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face. And, yes, it sits outside regular continuity, which impacted the depth, for me.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dave Molyneaux, Omniverse Comics Guide


By Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo

Superman has been called many things since he first appeared in the skies above Metropolis: the Man of Steel, the World’s Greatest Hero–even the Big Blue Boy Scout. Now his oldest and most implacable foe has given him a new title: Humanity’s Greatest Threat. Azzarello and Bermejo open the mind of Lex Luthor to reveal the true motivations behind his legendary animosity toward the Last Son of Krypton–as well as his ultimate plan to defeat his invulnerable adversary.

“Azzarello & Bermejo tell the story from Lex Luthor’s perspective in this collection of the ‘Lex Luthor: Man of Steel’ mini-series from 2005. Not sure when this is meant to be set, which I found distracting. If you haven’t already read plenty of stories that feature this aspect of Luthor’s motivation, it’s not going to add anything new.”

⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dave Molyneaux, Omniverse Comics Guide


By Joe Hill, Stuart Immonen, Dave Stewart & Deron Bennett 

There’s something terribly wrong with them. And the storm closes in. 
The research ship Derleth disappeared in the Arctic forty years ago… so when its crew is found, why haven’t they aged a day? How did they become capable of feats of unbelievable mathematics? And for God’s sake, what happend to their eyes?

Collects Plunge #1-6, 168 p. 

“To start this off appropriately: Plunge is kind of like an aesthetically designed yacht, kept shipshape and all-around pleasing to look at. But if you were to dive under (or plunge, one might say) the water surface, you’d see its hull and propeller covered in mussels, algae and muck, fouling away. You probably already know, what I’m getting at. 

The artwork is fantastic! And hardly surprising, having Stuart Immonen and Dave Stewart on board (so sorry for the puns). Seeing Immonen go all out on this mixture of arctic- and deep-sea-setting is a whole lot of fun. His thick linework ensures you won’t lose the characters against the rough and rugged backgrounds. But it’s also what’s going on inside those lines: Everything has a texture to it, down to the padding of some case containing extinguishing grenades. Coupled with his highly effective usage of shadows this makes for a book that looks three-dimensional and alive. 

Add the strong and expressive (while still always fitting the current scene) coloring by an absolute master of his craft like Dave Stewart and you have a comic that is a visual feast. 

The lettering’s good, too, courtesy of Deron Bennett, who worked in subtle differences for the three parties in the story. 

It’s Joe Hill’s writing what sinks this thing nonetheless. None of the characters have any personality whatsoever, they only exist to fulfill their cookie-cutter roles for what is practically an 80s-John Carpenter- and Lovecraft-fan fiction, and a highly uninspired one at that. It just doesn’t cut it to name one ship Derleth, another MacReady, your protagonist Carpenter and hope for the best. Oh, and its Lovecraftian aspect that got tossed around in places? There’s none. Plunge seems to try to emulate it, but – as it’s sooo often the case with these types of stories – thinks that Lovecraftian equals giant deep-sea alien creature with lotsa tentacles and/or eyes. 

Plunge is some completely uninspired run-of-the-mill horror that falls flat even for run-of-the-mill horror. Unfortunately, not even the great artwork by Stuart and Stewart is able to provide a lifebuoy that can keep this thing afloat; at the same time I can’t give a book with such well-done art only one star.

⭐️⭐️ out of 5

@In the Gutter Looking Out

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By M.R. Carey, Peter Gross & Vincent Locke

When Alice is six, she is given a beautiful antique dollhouse. When things in her life get scary, Alice turns to her dolls and dollhouse for comfort. One day, they invite her to come play inside with them. As Alice’s life is turned upside down in the “big” world, she is always welcomed home to the little world inside the dollhouse; the house will even grant her a wish if she agrees to live with them!

Collects The Dollhouse Family #1-6

“The Dollhouse Family is a book that falls under Joe Hill’s, Hill House, imprint from DC’s Black Label. 

This was surprisingly quite a good effort at telling a genuine horror story. The Dollhouse feels somewhat familiar, but also appears to have a bit of a fresh twist on the haunted house genre. 

That’s not to say it’s perfect. It rather jarringly leaps around the timelines of its many characters, which may irk some readers, and at points it can also seem a little far out there with some of its plot points. 

The foundation here is solid enough though – The concept is intriguing and the characterisation offers some real charm. It feels slightly longer than it should be, but there are most definitely enough twists and reveals to keep the reader engaged. 

The artwork here is a gem and very well presented with high detail and a fitting style for its genre. 

Overall, I’m sure The Dollhouse Family will please horror fans. It’s a fresh take on a familiar concept with some great artwork. Sure, the shifts in time and character to drive the plot can feel like a bit of a whirlwind, but it does appear essential to the storytelling here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dean Bowater, @its.just.deano

“I feel like horror-stories centered around family, legacy and a type of generational trauma had a somewhat revival in recent years. Or is it just me and they were never really gone? Either way, The Dollhouse Family by M.R. Carey and Peter Gross definitely falls into that category, and fortunately it also falls into the (relatively small) sub-category of the well-told and -executed ones. 

Considering this six-issue-series follows two different plotlines from different eras and both cover temporal ground over several years, even decades, the pacing is fantastic. At no point in the story, I felt that things were rushed. And while I’m at it, both plotlines were really engaging. I was always anticipating to see the mystery of the dollhouse and protagonist Alice’s family’s backstory unfold a bit more. Another aspect by which you can tell that M.R. Carey knows his craft is, that there are pretty much no one-off-characters. 

And the art of Peter Gross and Vince Locke (yup, the Vince Locke from the Cannibal Corpse album covers) is in no way inferior to the writing. There’s rarely a blank background, always something to look at behind the characters, Gross manages to carve out nuanced facial expressions without overbearing the characters with unnecessary detail, he has both the modern and the 19th century setting down and also his artwork, at least for me, has this nostalgic look/feel to it, but without it feeling outdated or the like. 

Of course Cris Peter’s colors also contribute to this, as she assigns every scene or sequence with a distinct color palette, so that they feel very well rounded. Moreover I appreciate the artists not using a lot of plain black areas/shadows – something maybe a lot of artists would rely on with a horror comic and in doing so would go the obvious and easy route, but perhaps not always the best or nuanced route. Even the scenes in the so-called black room of the dollhouse are not pitch black and work a lot with textures which always reminded me a bit of the lines of finger prints. It just shows that these are some very skilled and experienced people at work here. 

Obviously this also goes for Letterer Todd Klein, who does a remarkable job. He frames the 19th century sequences accordingly for example, but keeps the dialogue inornate and readable, leaving the spotlight for the semantics, as well as the facial and gestural expressions of the characters. 

If there’s one  (or maybe more like half a) thing to pick on, it’s that I would’ve prefered if some horrors would’ve been less explicit; especially towards the showdown of the story. Less Carpenter and more Lovecraft if you will… not that I have anything against Carpenter of course.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—In The Gutter Looking Out @In the Gutter Looking Out


By Carmen Maria Machado, Dani, Tamra Bonvillain & Steve Wands

There’s something in the woods… 
Shudder-to-Think, Pennsylvania, has been on fire for years. The woods are full of rabbits with human eyes, a deer woman who stalks hungry girls, and swaths of skinless men. And the people of Shudder-to-Think? Well, they’re not doing so well either. 
When El and Octavia wake up in a movie theater with no memory of the last few hours of their lives, the two teenage dirtbags embark on a horrifying journey to uncover the truth about the strange town that they call home. 

Collects The Low, Low Woods #1-6, 160

“Carmen Maria Machado came up with a really interesting mixture of themes and topics: The consequences of overexploitation of natural resources, human cruelty and how it manifests, legacy, coming of age and the supernatural. And for the most part it worked for me and gave off a bit of a Life is Strange-vibe with more mystery. Still, I have the feeling that taking this to the maxi-series-length of 12 instead of 6 issues would’ve purged the body of the story a bit and make more room for some deeper explorations of the different elements, as well as the characters. Because although I was on board with the likeable protagonists El and Octavia from the get-go, they remained just a tad colorless.

I’ll spare you an unfunny transition about colors here. Greek artist DaNi’s pencils and inks, as well as Tamra Bonvillain’s colors are a perfect match. The artwork by DaNi has this great juvenile quality to it and feels a bit like you stumbled upon the doodles of this one equally quiet and talented classmate you had in school. These doodles are soaked in Bonvillain’s somewhat (positively) murky colors: Nightly purples, woody greens and fiery reds and yellows. Another great fit is the lettering by Steve Wands. There’s just one decision I didn’t get: Of the two protagonists, El is the writer, but it’s Octavia’s captions that resemble written-down notes much more.

The book itself fits the story’s tone well with Sam Wolfe Connelly’s foreboding front and Jenny Frison’s haunting back cover. Her varied variant covers for the series are included in the back of the book.

I really hope this won’t be the last comic story by the really talented literary writer Machado. Pair her with equally talented artists like with this title and everybody wins.”

⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—In The Gutter Looking Out @In the Gutter Looking Out


By Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan & Bill Sienkiwicz

For years, Vic Sage has worn the faceless mask of the Question to clean up the streets of Hub City by sheer force of will. He knows right from wrong. He knows black from white. But what happens when he is drawn into a conspiracy that reaches from the heights of Hub City power to the depths of its underground tunnels? What happens when things stop being black-and-white and start getting a little gray? And what happens when, in a secret chamber deep beneath the city, Vic Sage meets his own end…and his new beginning?

Collects The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage (2020) #1-4

“A reworking of the Question’s origin for DC Black Label. I really wanted to like this. Cowan & Sienkiewicz are a great match on the art front, but I’ve come away from Jeff Lemire’s story feeling uncertain as to what the book was trying to achieve. It’d be easier to recommend this if I knew there was more to come, though I’m not sure if DC plan to give us any more Question stories. I hope they do and I hope it’s better.

⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dave Molyneaux, Omniverse Comics Guide


By Daniel Warren Johnson

When Diana awakens from a centuries-long sleep, she discovers Earth has been reduced to a nuclear wasteland. Now she’s marooned in a dark and dangerous future, protecting the last human city from titanic monsters and struggling to uncover the secret of this dead Earth…and how she may be responsible for it.

Collects Wonder Woman: Dead Earth #1-4

“This throwback to those ‘Legends of the Dead Earth’ stories from DC’s 1996 annuals has a silly kind of cool that make me overlook the logistical issues and love it for the post-apocalyptic comics romp it is! The gleeful chaos of this Black Label book almost won the full five stars. Dead Earth really puts Diana’s faith in humanity to the test and the pace kept me reading from cover to cover in one sitting!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

—Dave Molyneaux, Omniverse Comics Guide

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