How would you like to read the riveting, inspirational story of a Depression-era Italian immigrant boy who emerges from the fire of his father’s death stronger, wiser, and morally resolute? Before I lose my seven readers, what if I told you that the fire is not metaphorical, that it came from an actual, real-life dragon, and that the book in question presents a picture of an older New York City that is familiar enough to feel real, but, oh yeah, also HAS DRAGONS? If that sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, then you might just want to check out Four Eyes Vol. 1: Forged In Flames.

Today, I am the man of the house.

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Following the adventures of young Enrico Savarese, Forged in Flames finds its greatest strengths in Joe Kelly’s masterful narration and Max Fiumara’s bleak, barely-colored artwork. Enrico’s characterization is deep and thorough–I feel like I know him. And much to my delight, I come to know him by observing him, rather than being told plainly. The real meat of this story is in his interactions–with his mother, a nasty boarder, the crooked mobster Boccioni, and the obvious stand-in father-figure Mister Fawkes. In each of these cases, Enrico is confident, but not disrespectful; he knows that he’s the man of his house now, and this gives him a purpose–and an authority–that he will not stand to see thwarted by the standard disregard many adults show toward children.

Fiumara brings this all to life with an astounding clarity, especially considering the spare coloring. Humans–and dragons–have a not-quite-cartoony quality: enough exaggerations in figures and faces to place you outside of reality, but never so much as to undermine the emotional weight of Enrico’s journey. The dragons are, simply put, awesome, and beholding their fearsome power establishes a persistent unease from the moment they appear until the end. None of this speaks to the genius of Fiumara’s layouts; which, while never getting into a strict grid, are a nice variation of tighter, paneled scenes and sweeping spreads. A beautifully rendered New York City is just the icing on the cake.

Four Eyes is truly one of the most exciting series I’ve checked out in a long time. Kelly, Fiumara, and letterer/designer Drew Gill all turn in outstanding work. There aren’t many books this worthy of your money. Check out Forged in Flames and, if you like that, look for the continuing adventures of Enrico (and dragons!) in Hearts of Fire, currently in single-issue publication.

You can’t kill Frank Castle…he’s already dead.

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Maybe I’m spoiled by the wonderful Frank Castle established in Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix; maybe I’m expecting too much out of a #1. Whatever the case, Marvel’s The Punisher #1 doesn’t quite land with me. Written by Becky Cloonan, with artwork by Steve Dillon and colors by Frank Martin, this debut shows promise, but doesn’t interest me enough in and of itself. Centered around a DEA drug bust preempted by the Punisher, the script has much more setup than actual plot. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, but I feel like Cloonan fails to put in anything presently engaging.

This could of course be overcome by Dillon and Martin, but the artwork unfortunately fails to impress. A brutal, Punisher-standard one-man-army sequence that should have been able to carry the entire issue falls flat with odd-looking faces and carnage that tries to look realistic but falls far short. What should look grim and shocking comes off as goofy and fake. What’s here might work for some folks, but it doesn’t for me.

Another minor niggle that bears mention: Marvel went full-bore on the violence here, with blood gushing from bullet wounds and impaled criminals, but they still censored the language. Now, in general, I have no problem with an absence of cussing, or in the censorship of cussing, but Cloonan writes several censored phrases that are difficult to understand–at least on the initial read–because of the censorship. Either Marvel needs to allow the harsher language, or Cloonan needs to find a way to make her intent more obvious within the current boundaries–either way would work.

At the end of the day, this is interesting enough that I would like to see what happens next, but not so much that I would kick something else off my pull list to make this fit in the budget. If you’ve got a Marvel Unlimited subscription, wait six months and start checking it out, but otherwise, I’d recommend you pass.

Till next time…

That’s it for this month’s Break from the Bat. Remember to hit me up in the comments and tell me what you’re reading outside of Gotham. And if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet, do that, too—high-quality stuff!

Also, before you go, have a look at what some of my fellow reviewers are reading:

Elena: House of Penance #2

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House of Penance is a delightfully nightmarish meld of history and horror as writer Peter J. Tomasi takes on the legendary Winchester House in San Jose, California, where Widow Winchester built an exotic residential maze in a desperate attempt to evade the angry ghosts who had been the victims of her husband’s gun legacy. And that’s the true stuff! The story here involves the men who toiled to build the house around the clock (which was in continuous production for the rest of crazy Widow Winchester’s life), and proffers that not only was the lady not so crazy, but that the site of the house itself is a gateway to hell.

All of the characters are haunted in this book–by their past and all the horrors and sins they’ve run from. Ian Bertram infuses even the most mundane conversation with a literal sense of foreboding. His simple figures with their enormous lustrous eyes and his excessive stippling are a perfect match for a gritty turn-of-the-century feel. If you like blood and gore and all the creepy things that go bump in the night, this is perfect!

Just great, grim stuff and well worth a gander.

Jay: Bone

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With the recent announcement of Bone: Coda, it’s not a bad time to revisit this classic series. Jeff Smith’s tale of the Bone cousins starts off as an all-ages romp and ends up as an exciting, at times tragic medieval adventure. The entire collection of the 55-issue series can be had at a relatively affordable price, so if you’ve never read it, now is a great opportunity.

The series, which ran from 1991 to 2004, follows cousins Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone as they run from their own troubles and encounter all new ones when they meet the mysterious Thorn and her grandma Rose. With swashbuckling adventure, romance, dragons, and Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures, Bone is one of the greatest independent comics of all time, telling a perfectly self-contained story that is great for readers young and old.