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My favorite part of Superman and Spider-Man movies is when we visit the offices of our heroes’ workplaces, and we get a truly deranged vision of what the movies think a newspaper office looks like. Rows upon rows of desks where intrepid investigators are chasing down clues! Grizzled hacks laboring over their latest exposé! Presses constantly being stopped!

Sadly, just as how very few computer programmers ever get to noodle over a password field before declaring “I’M IN,” this vision of journalism is romantic and imaginary. But it makes for fantastic drama, which is why I’m willing to get swept up in fantasy stories of reporters on the trail of a hot scoop. A new comic out this week sets a mystery against the backdrop of a floundering journalism industry, and adds a realistic twist: What if news went away and nobody noticed?

Thanks as always to Phoenix for the heads up on this week’s books!

BYLINES IN BLOOD ISSUE #1

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It’s five years after the start of the pandemic, and things are still bad. The rich have tightened their stranglehold on seats of power, technology has grown increasingly intrusive, and some cities have descended into chaos. In this world, a cynical ex-journalist-turned-private-detective finds herself investigating the murder of her former boss, a newspaper man obsessed with uncovering corruption and exposing terrible truths. Setting aside how obviously ill-advised it would be to launch a hand-distributed print product at a time when people are afraid to go out/talk to strangers/touch foreign objects, the book wallows happily in its noir gumshoeing — a treat for fans of the genre. Placing it just a few years in the future gives the mystery an intriguing twist, with speculative tech that seems juuuuust a few inches beyond what seems plausible today, but not so advanced it might as well be magic. Hovering camera-drones that record your every daily activity? I can see it happening. A sinister cult infiltrating the government? Those seeds are already planted IRL. People caring about local journalism? Ah, now that’s truly science fiction.

Rating: 👁️👁️👁️👁️ (4/5)

Writers: Erica Schultz, Van Jensen. Artist: Aneke. Letterer: Cardinal Rae

FEARBOOK CLUB

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Something sinister has been snatching students at the creepy local high (or middle?) school, and it’s up to a bunch of plucky yearbook club misfits to unravel a ghost story. Neat premise, but the dialogue is so arched and affected that characters often feel like they’re performing for the reader instead of having conversations with each other. I wanted The Breakfast Club but with ghosts, and initially looked forward to getting to know the yearbook club kids and their oblivious advisor — how did all these very different oddballs wind up together, and what happens when a crisis presents an opportunity to drop their personas and truly open up to each other? Alas, the personas stay rigidly in place, with true moments of vulnerability seeping through so sparingly they’re easy to miss. A last-minute catharsis about confronting one’s fears seems to come out of nowhere after far too much running, chasing, and a truly bizarre time-jump that does not entirely make sense; I don’t care about stories that have an occasional plot hole, it’s the character holes that are the problem.

Rating: 👻👻👻 (3/5)

Writer: Richard Ashley Hamilton. Artist: Marco Matrone. Letterer: Dave Sharpe.

MONKEY MEAT ISSUE #1

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There’s probably a plot lurking somewhere in the background of this book, the manic screaming dialogue and disconnected action from panel to panel makes it impossible to discern. There’s a far-off island where an unscrupulous corporation engages in vile experiments, as well as the killing and canning of monkeys for food. There are … explosions, if I’m looking at the pages correctly, and fights over … something, and mutations of … someone. Topics seem to veer wildly from one panel to the next, making it impossible to follow any action; dialogue seems to refer to people and events we haven’t met. At times, the layout is so confusing it’s hard to tell if we’re looking at two characters standing next to each other, or one character depicted in two separate panels. The zany, unhinged art is a genuine pleasure — bright colors, evocative faces, wild high-energy lunging and leaping from place to place. But in service of what? Each page is loaded down with so many non sequiturs, it feels like the graphic equivalent of tuning a radio to one of those in-between zones where it’s picking up multiple channels at the same time.

Rating: 🐒🐒 (2/5)

Writer & artist: Juni Ba.

ALSO: MUSHROOM HALLUCINATION, THE CW IN PRINT, and LIFE AFTER SUPERMAN’S GAY KISS

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Also dropping this week is the followup issue to the one where Superman kissed his boyfriend (doesn’t appear to be much romance happening in the aftermath, unfortunately). DC’s releasing a new paperback featuring Naomi, a character from the CW universe that I have absolutely not followed at all. And then there’s Mycelium Wassonii, a kaleidoscopic history of mind-altering fungus that is every bit as colorful and hypnotically strange as you could hope.