Hello, and welcome to another installment of Scary Highlights!
So, I’m going to be truthful and admit that, as of late, my schedule has been a mess. I’ve become so caught up with other projects and personal matters that I didn’t schedule much time for these articles as much as I should. I do plan on rectifying this error, but don’t be surprised if this is the only highlight article for the month as opposed to the bi-monthly I once so foolishly attempted to follow.
The road to Hell is paved with blah blah blah.
Anyway, I decided that for this week’s article to reread some webcomics I have fallen behind on. One I’ve been a fan of for years, the other I recently got into. I hope you all find these recommendations as entertaining as I do, and not me just coping out. Naw, couldn’t be.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
The Pale by Sanders & Jay Fabares
Rocket Ridge, Arizona is not much of what it used to be. Once the site of NASA experiments, it’s now a dust bowl in the middle of nowhere. You know that saying about watching paint dry? Well, whoever said that never visited Rocket Ride.
And then a dead body shows up.
This particular case has everyone at the sheriff’s department stumped. It gets worse when FBI agent Franklin Ink shows up and takes a peculiar interest in this case. This is no ordinary case. It is tied toa complicated web involving a vicious serial killer, cover-ups, and a hint of something even bigger. Whatever is going on, both Agent Ink and the authorities are about to bite into more than they can chew, and nothing about their lives or that of the town will ever be the same again.
I reviewed The Pale way, way back when at Loser City. If you’re looking for a much more in-depth review than this, I suggest you head on over there. I myself am doing a lot of catching up here. I only started the recently completed Chapter 6 after God knows how many months of not reading, so my memory is a little fuzzy. However, that didn’t stop me enjoying this series like I always do.
The Pale is a murder mystery, the kind you see overflowing the shelves of a bookstore. You got a lot of the common hallmarks. Small town setting, clashes between police and federal agents, discovering clues that lead to other clues and bigger questions; all that and a plate of fries to go with it.
What makes The Pale unique in an ubiquitous genre are the characters. Now, mysteries tend to have the kind of stock characters you can easily predict what they’re like. Not in this series. Each and every cast member is a fully fledged person with complexity and personality. Even more impressive is the size of the cast without a one of them falling flat. Everyone plays a significant role in the story. They feel like real people, so much that you become deeply invested not just in the mystery but their lives as well.
The art by Jay Fabares is terrific. There are a lot of clear inspirations from Jeff Smith’s black and white comics, particularly his Rasl series with the predominant desert setting. It has the scope and atmosphere of Americana. Rocket Ridge is the kind of setting glorified in western films, from The Searchers to No Country For Old Men. The choice to do black-and-white instead of color, in my opinion, highlights the best elements too. Sometimes I just want to stare at the establishing shots and take in all the breath-taking details.
The mystery plot involves a dead Navajo woman discovered in the middle of the desert, naked and without any I.D. or possessions except for a white stone. And from there the plot thickens in ways that aren’t just cryptic but downright bizarre. There are cover-ups, Navajo mythology, and even supernatural elements somehow all tied to the serial killer Agent Ink is after. I’m not even going to act like I know what’s going on. It’s engaging though, and best of all unpredictable. If you like it or not will probably depend on your taste in mysteries. For me, it is a unique one that I haven’t seen done a million times over.
Chapter 6 involves Agent Ink, Sheriff Logan, Deputy Knotts, and Tribal patrol man Yazzie investing an abandoned NASA base while a minor character, Nathaniel Begey, is dealing with personal drama. Begey is a teenage Navajo boy living with his aunt and grandma after his father was incarcerated. Now that I think about it, the previous chapters were slowly building him up already, giving you a full look into his life and relationship to both his caretakers. Not going to spoil anything, but by the end of this chapter it seems he will be a major player soon.
The mystery is also starting to thicken, and it’s gradually expanding from Elmore Leonard to freaking David Lynch! Again, not going to give anything away, but the group of authorities discover creepy clues within the base that pinpoints to much more than a serial killer with an odd calling card. When I was done reading the chapter, I felt absolutely bewildered, but in a good way. I want to know what’s going on and how this mystery is going to unravel. Plus, I’m still invested in the characters and how each of them develops as people. In genre fiction, it can be so hard to balance both an interesting plot and engaging characters, but The Pale does so effortlessly.
Also, The Pale is starting to develop the divide between Rocket Ridge, a predominantly white town, with the neighboring Navajo reservation. There are hints that the two groups have tension between them, especially the sheriff’s department. It’s also becoming clear that Navajo mythology is not just decoration. Whatever is happening, the mythology is somehow part of it. Now, I know there is a lot of thorny discourse (oh, discourse) about the use of Native American mythology in fiction, particularly by Non-Natives. I don’t know if I can comment if the creators are being respectful or not, so I will leave it to the eye of the beholder. On a storytelling level, there is a lot of potential. I look forward to how Jay and Sanders incorporate the mythology in the mystery, and how they deal with the obvious racial divide. Time will tell.
Overall, The Pale is an excellent, character-driven series. With six chapters down and a seventh just getting started, I strongly recommend you get reading right now.
Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses by J Alice Bown
Now, I already reviewed this comic here on the Herald, so I’m not going to bother repeating myself why you should read it. No, seriously. Go checkout the review if you want to know more. I’m not kidding. You know how many hours I plugged into that review? The least you could do for a guy that breaks his ass writing is–
Anyway, I had originally read Chapters 1–4 of the comic. I didn’t get into the fifth yet due to time constraints, but now I have and can say, with certainty, it’s a terrific jumping on point. It picks up right after Lave and Jake, the most dysfunctional duo since Riggs and Murtaugh, save the rogue necromancer Kestrel from a beating. Things haven’t been going so well for him. Ever since the debacle in the cemetery where he raised an army of the undead—another situation Lave bailed him out on–Kestrel has faced some, well, unintended consequences. I won’t give too much away, but it involves his spine growing a tail for him. Yep, a tail. And you thought puberty was bad.
The chapter actually starts with a sequence where Kestrel gets a visit from his sister, Kells. She is a stylish blonde with a robotic arm (wait, what) and visually makes me think of a cross between Mabel Pines and Lee Kranker, although don’t ask me why.
This sequence gives a lot of insight to Kestrel’s, shall we say, inner demons. We see why he pushes himself so hard, what makes him such a bull-headed and snobbish jerk. Also, there is a bit of a surprise near the end, but I’ll leave you to read it and find out what.
From there, Kestrel explains to Lave exactly why the smugglers were about to send him to bed with the fishes. This prompts yet another sequence, this time a flashback, where he goes to one of the underground magic shops hidden around the Underworld and gets himself involved with a bad bit of business. I will admit a double entendre of sequences like this made for a bit of a clunky start. However, I can’t deny how perfectly each one was executed in terms of story. They accomplished both explaining what’s going on with Kestrel and setting up for future events.
As always Bown is at the top of her art style as usual . The color theory, panel layouts, facial expressions, and commitment to making each page as visually unique and exciting as possible are all on display. In fact, they look even better for some reason. Maybe it’s just I haven’t read the comic in a while, but everything looks so much more vivid. There are only about 34 pages so far in Chapter 5. However, I’m hooked hard and ready to get back into this series. This is still one of the most unique urban fantasy comics in webcomics, and I know that it will only continue to be as addicting as ever.
That’s it for now, readers. I know this was an extremely short article. I just hope that you enjoy these books and that the next installments will have more content. Hey, if you get tired of waiting for me, you can always go back and reread your favorite webcomics. That is the theme of here, after all.
Anyway, until next time readers, keep your calendars straight and, more importantly, keep reading comics!
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