The stories within are probably the most real and hard-hitting yet. Most of this issue is about death, specifically the end of life either from suicide or old age. The first issue however gives us a bit more about how ICM works. It’s a superhero-styled comic with ICM being a superhero himself and a reporter who wants the big scoop on him. He invites her to his base and we get to see a lot of references to most of the issues thus far which is really cool and it’s not to get more of ICM on paper.
The second issue is back to reality. We get the thoughts of a dying man who is recollecting his life and the way he raised his two kids. As both, his son and daughter visit we see their flaws and how much life isn’t perfect after all. It’s really sad. Hits home in certain ways. And makes you question your own life. Of course, ICM’s antics are at play like always. Our third issue is experimental, but it actually tells a good and dark story. It’s told in black and white and is like a step-by-step how-to book. It’s interesting and tells the story of a man through his three stages of life. A trauma he experienced as a boy and how it affected him his whole life but also delves into your last thoughts as you die from old age.
Now the last issue is a little weak. It’s basically a one-shot type of comic that has ICM kidnapping a family and making them listen to his sick and twisted versions of kids’ stories such as Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight Moon, and The Giving Tree. The pages are drawn in the same style as the books which is cool, but there’s no advancement of ICM’s story or a telling of anything that hits home. It’s pretty weird and sick, but that’s about it. Not even really gory or anything.
By issue 20 and five volumes in I really like Ice Cream Man. The sick and twisted individual stories tell real down-to-Earth problems that humanity faces daily and that some of us may have faced, and nothing ever has a happy and fun ending. I just want more of ICM’s story. All of these individual people he’s messing with tell great stories, but I want to know why.
We’re deep into this series now and while the last four issues were a bit weak, we have to continue this trend for a while again. The first two issues are experimental, kind of like the Neopolitan triple story one in Vol. 2, the first two stories are palindromes. They can be read forwards or backward which is kind of neat, but the first story is about a man who lost his wife to cancer and doesn’t want to move on. It goes through a metaphorical trip through Hell. There’s an odd spoken dialogue that’s broken up and told in riddles like a madman.
The second story is about an old couple who are having an add-on built onto their home and the husband is obsessed with crosswords. The wife is a mean old bat who doesn’t like what the young construction crew is doing. The story is a lesson on live and let live and we’re finally back to the real-life problems that people have that can hit home and feel real. I don’t know why it took so many issues to get here, but this story feels good.
The third story is more of a ghost story and has a few twists and turns and I quite liked it. It’s more of what we were getting in the first two volumes and it feels like everything is back on track. This one is pretty trippy, and the last story is as well. An overbearing worried dad who can’t stand the thought of his teenage daughter having sex decides to snoop into her life and pays the ultimate price. It’s a wild ride and I didn’t quite expect the ending to happen the way it did outside of ICM’s typical meddling, but it definitely talks about the bond between parent and child to an extreme.
Overall, it’s a bit strange, but the fourth volume brings us back on track to the types of stories I liked from ICM. The experimental stuff got too experimental and didn’t tell wholly interesting stories and we still don’t know a lot about ICM and his brother.
This volume is fairly weak compared to the last two. I feel the series kind of lost its footing here with two of the four stories being fairly below average compared to what we’ve come to expect. We actually do get a full issue dedicated to the ICM’s story arc so that finally picks up and it’s a real doozy. It’s a total surprise as to what the ICM is and what his intentions are. However, after this issue, we still don’t get much more after that.
The first issue is exactly what I talked about just now, but it’s set in a Wild West setting which is kind of odd. There’s still no explanation as to the settings or anything. We’re also introduced to more of ICM’s possible world, but it’s hard to tell if that’s what it is or just a reality he made up. The second issue is probably the worst by far. It’s set in along the Mexican border and tells a small tale of a white man in love with a Mexican woman whom he wants to take away from her land and save. It’s half told in Spanish and unless you use Google Translate (which the author actually suggests) you have to use the cheat sheet on the back. I found this annoying and lazy, and making the characters speak Spanish didn’t play into or add anything to the story as she speaks English anyways! It’s all dialog with two young people in love and the evil Captain is trying to marry the girl. It’s a typical Spaghetti Western setting and I found it rather boring and uninteresting.
The third issue has the ICM put a man into a series of weird sci-fi-style reality shows which also don’t really go anywhere. They’re interesting and the panels are shaped like TV sets, but this feels like a one-off story and you don’t get to know the man or have any heartfelt feelings like you did in previous issues. There’s no sense of reality you can relate to like we’re used to. The only interesting part was the connection to previous characters in the series and a couple of gory scenes.
The last issue is a space story. It’s rather interesting and surreal and has a great setting and atmosphere. The man in the story is sent out to find a new Earth and has an AI that can read his thoughts. As you explore certain areas with him he finally finds a signal of a previous pod that was sent out and lost. Of course, this leads to ICM being involved and we get another small tidbit of ICM’s story. This is probably the best of the four issues, but overall the volume is still solid, but not on the level of previous ones.
We continue the journey of Ice Cream Man. Four more strange stories are told in unique ways with the continued arc of ICM and his opposite who is out trying to save the people he’s making suffer. The first issue is about suicide. We follow the thoughts of a man who has jumped from a skyscraper and a woman who has noticed it and is trying to do something about it. It’s very thought-provoking and goes pretty deep into the dark side of why someone would want to do this. Of course, no happy endings here, but ICM’s hated friend shows up again.
The second issue is weird, and it took two reads to understand it. There are no words in this issue but is told as a “Neopolitan panel” type story. Each panel is colored like ice cream and features three different timelines of a man. When he’s young, middle-aged, and possibly an alternate timeline of him being captured and tortured. It was a bit confusing at first, but the back of the issue explains it in more detail. While I feel like anyone who bought this full price would have felt upset with the lack of words, there is a story here that’s fairly sad and after a couple of flip throughs it kind of gets to you.
The third story is about imaginary friends and things get really creepy and gory here with ICM. He really starts to show more of what he is and wants. The story can feel pretty real with a father who doesn’t want to placate his daughter’s imaginary friend after her best friend dies of cancer, but the mother doesn’t think it’s harmful. It gets incredibly dark and violent, and we get some of ICM’s story here.
The last issue goes into drug addiction again, but on a professional level between two paramedics. The story goes on about them talking about their drugs, how fun they are, and then maybe regretting it, and in the meantime ICM’s killing people on the sidelines while they miss everything. The ending is pretty messed up and cruel and shows just how incredibly heartless and evil ICM is. By this point, we really establish that this guy isn’t your friend and he will go to no end to make people suffer. With this being issue 8 we still don’t have a lot of backstory to ICM. We just keep getting teased in each issue and I really think it’s getting dragged out. He’s an interesting character and I really want to know who this cowboy guy is that keeps saving his victims.
I honestly like how Ice Cream Man is a series of short stories with an overarching story of the villain himself and who he is. Each issue is about real-world fears and problems that people have in their life. Catastrophic events, depression, fear, etc. Each issue is written really well and I loved the mystery that each page laid before you. I never knew what I was going to get when I turned each page. This isn’t a superhero comic, this isn’t a typical horror comic, this is something else. Something similar to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. Bite-sized “What the fucks”.
The first issue introduces the Ice Cream Man as he gives a cone to a chubby little boy and we are also introduced to the most poisonous spider in the world that is his pet. I don’t want to spoil each issue, but let’s just say the one is about a boy who fears his guilt and it comes back to haunt him. We are mostly shown that the ICM is sinister and really up to no good.
The second issue is about drug abuse and what a couple goes through to fight it. This issue is actually really sad and hit pretty hard. You don’t just see what they go through now, but how they met, how they go into drugs, and that they truly love each other and can’t fight the addiction. The ending is incredibly sad and we continue to see that the ICM is kind of like a genie almost. He can make your predicament go your way, but you must sacrifice something else and usually, you aren’t aware of what that is until it’s too late.
The third issue talks about a one-hit-wonder celebrity who can’t cope with being so. He’s depressed and eats at the same cafe every day and is a lay-about nobody now. ICM lets him dream of being able to make one last hit and this is where the series feels like an actual comic. It’s pretty trippy and fun with references to music from the 70s and 80s, but the ending is course, sad and doesn’t go the way you think it would.
The last issue mostly deals with loss. A man is depressed because he didn’t talk to a friend for so long and runs into his father. This issue isn’t really sinister but just hits home for anyone who has lost someone close. the ICM doesn’t even really play a big part in this issue which is fine. However, at the very end, we are teased with the beginning of ICM’s origins and his story which makes you want to keep going. The art is well done with sharp lines and solid bright colors. Don’t let this make you think it’s not a horror comic. It has some scary panels and the horror is the reality of everything hitting the characters. It’s a fantastic series and is quickly becoming one of my favorites.
These four annual issue tie into Year One of Batman, and they are also one-shots. I have mixed feelings about this collection as three are origin stories and one isn’t. Poison Ivy’s issue isn’t all that interesting. It’s full of cheesy 90s comic dialog and is just a single conflict between her and Batman. It’s strange that her origin story isn’t in here, but Scarecrow and Riddler’s are. We also get the origin story of Man-Bat from the Legend of the Dark Knight series.
As I stated before, Poison Ivy’s issue is pretty forgettable. She needs more money and pulls off a heist using her charm and looks. We do get some interesting info on her poisons and toxins, but the first half of the issue is a drab dialog and mostly uninteresting. I also didn’t care for the art here. It’s typical 90s comic art, and not the good kind either.
The second story is much more interesting. We get Riddler’s origin story of how he was ignored for not being the genius he is and wanted to be the center of attention. I found the art here much better and the entire comic has an overarching twist at the end that I found really interesting. There’s very little Batman in this issue, but that’s okay as with any origin story we want to know about the character at hand.
The third issue is about Scarecrow’s origin story. Like Riddler, he was bullied and ignored in his teen years, but instead of being a genius he just wanted to be noticed. His origin reference as Ichabod Crane makes a lot of sense and his actual Scarecrow costume is quite funny. The Halloween costume beginnings of Scarecrow are before he had money and could fund better toxins and tech to disperse his gas. We discover how and why he chose fear gas and I really loved this one. It’s probably my favorite of the four. The art style is great and I love Crane’s over-exaggerated height and lankiness.
The last issue is about the origin of Man-Bat. A science experiment went wrong, but there’s quite a bit of detail here. He sacrifices something to do this and in the end, it turns out it wasn’t a good idea. There are some awesome shots of Batman in the shadows and a great full-spread shot of him fighting Man-Bat. The art here is great and much improved over Ivy’s and even Riddler’s issue. This origin story comes to a full circle beginning and conclusion in about 50 pages and I was really entertained. My guess as to why this is recommended to be read so close to Year One is how Batman is still not fully integrated into his role and is still trying to find tech to use to increase his fear among enemies.
The saying, “You get what you wish for” is taken literally in this series. Wytches takes place in a suburban town in New Hampshire. The entire comic is a back and forth from the past to the present slowly catching us up to the present and is done very well. You follow a family of three (a couple and their teenage daughter, Sailor) as they try to leave behind a traumatic witness of murder that Sailor experienced as a younger girl.
The entire series is well paced and I never got bored or felt it was too slow. There’s always something happening, and with the constant switch between timelines, the story makes you think and connect the dots in your head as you read along. This constant treat feeding to your brain makes you continue reading and want to see what happens next. The father, Charlie, is a children’s book author and the mother has recently suffered a car accident that made her a paraplegic. Charlie moved the family away to start a new life, but Sailor’s past haunts her as kids from her school ask her if she murdered that girl.
The story is constantly feeding you suspicious characters and possible answers. You latch onto one and try to figure out who is responsible for a “pledge” not being completed in the past and wonder how this family is connected to it all. The story starts out with how pledges work for the Wytches. You ask anything you want and to get it granted you “pledge” your offspring. A pledge was never fulfilled and the entire story leaves a guessing game as to how this family is part of all this and it’s brilliantly done.
The art in this series is really good. I loved the watercolor look to everything and the constant darkness that loomed in every panel. You always felt uneasy reading this series. There are no happy moments here and if there are it’s a farce. The final two issues reveal a bunch of plot twists that really surprised me and there are a few elements of surprise that aren’t from previous leads. Some of them just come out of nowhere and it made me want to read more. I flew through this whole volume in less than an hour and wished it was longer. My only grip would be that some plot points are really confusing and it takes too long for them to be explained or some are only partially explained leaving some things a little too open-ended until the very end. Despite that, the entire volume wraps up nicely and it feels like a solid adventure and horror story. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves horror comics.
My saga goes ever onward to catch up on Batman starting from Year One. The Man Who Laughs is a one-shit that’s a direct sequel to Year One which shows us Batman’s first run-in with The Joker. Not just Batman but Gotham and Gordan as a whole as well. We also get mentions of Red Hood again. Batman is a little bit more skilled in this comic and doesn’t get hurt quite as often. The introduction to The Joker is perfect. It shows how much he just loves chaos and no one understands his motive.
The art direction in this one is fantastic. With every shot of Joker looking perfectly twisted and insane. Joker’s goal is to poison all of Gotham and turn them into Joker’s and create an army. Batman’s trying to work with Gordon to figure out what Joker’s goal is. He originally just threatens Bruce Wayne and another rich guy, but it’s all distractions of course and he never keeps his word. The comic is ultimate chaos. It really just shows us that Batman will have his hands full with this one and is the first real threat to him and Gotham on a large scale. Joker murders without remorse and so do his goons.
There aren’t any direct references to Year One outside of continuity with the introduction to the first major villain for Batman. We do get a surprise at the end that shows us the first time something very iconic was introduced to the storyline. I don’t want to spoil what it is. The pace of the comic itself is great with storytelling being told during action or event sequences. Batman’s inner dialog, and Gordon’s, explain a lot while things are happening which keeps things going. There aren’t any strange plot twists with this being a one-shot, but it’s done very well and it’s a great part of Joker’s comic timeline that’s a must-read.
Overall, The Man Who Laughs is iconic and is a must-read for any Batman fan. Even if you are a fan of just the movies and want to learn about how Batman first came across The Joker then this is it. Now, don’t go into this expecting Joker’s origin story. That’s not what this is at all. This is just the moment when the two meet for the first time and how that all goes down.
Continuing the Year One saga, Mad Monk is the sequel to Monster Men. Batman is still a noob, Gordon is still struggling between accepting Batman and giving in to GCPD’s want of arresting him on charges, Julie Madison is still struggling to tame Bruce and discover his secret, and a new villain is introduced. Dala and the Mad Monk. We also get a glimpse and mention of Red Hood too!
While we get a direct connection to Year One with Monster Men, Mad Monk is less so. While Superman and The Flash are mentioned as “the superhero uprising” that’s starting, Batman still isn’t very good at his job. He doesn’t have a Lucius Fox yet, his tech is primitive, and he gets hurt a lot in this one. Julie Madison and Norman Madison are still struggling with their battles. Norman’s mental health declines through the series and Dala is trying to recruit people for the Mad Monk’s ritual. This series is much better than Monster Men. The action is mixed up more, a lot more is happening, and it seems to move at a faster pace. We already know who all of these new characters are so the series is focused on moving forward with them.
I can’t stress enough how well the struggle with Batman’s internal resolve is here. He wants to be Batman, but he still doesn’t know if it’s doing any good or more harm. We get to see his Batmobile, which looks a lot like Tim Burton’s 1989 Batmobile, and some of his tech has been upgraded. We get to see his explosive gel, Batarangs, grappling hook, and his continued reliance on the gas grenades. It’s cool to see Batman in this early form before he had everything ironed out. There still aren’t any plot twists here, but the conclusion is very satisfying and the peace steps on the gas hard during the 4th issue. I felt like we got a great ending to Madison’s timeline and we’re set up with Batman being more bitter and angry than ever before.
While the rest of the Dark Moon Rising story arc doesn’t really continue the Year One story, I am going to go ahead and move on. I do have to say that I don’t particularly care for the art in this series. It feels very 90s mixed with early 2000s comic art. Like it couldn’t pick a lane. Most of the character’s close-ups are pretty bad and outside of stylistic scenes in darkness, the panels just look really plain and boring. I loved the panels where Batman was fighting or trapped, or anything else, but those talking scenes in bars, on the street, and in rooms, are just plain not great. Thankfully there are fewer of those there than in Monster Men, and we even get the iconic Batman face covering shot again from Year One!
I continue my journey of reading every Batman comic from Year One and up next is Matt Wagner’s Dark Moon Rising arc. This and Mad Monk are to be read back to back, and it also follows directly from Year One.
I have to say that this series starts out way too slow. There’s so much pre-amble and plot development of just panel after panel of people talking. There’s little action in the first few issues here. I did appreciate the connections to Year One such as Gordon’s “World’s Greatest Dad” mug and his internal battle with trying to accept Batman and referencing Batman saving his baby in Year One. I also like how vulnerable Batman is here. He’s essentially a superhero noob.
While the dialog is a bit dry and dull at times, and there are some weird anatomical shots that look off, the overall art direction continues off of Year One with a dark and dirty Gotham that is unforgiving. Batman’s shots in the shadows are just cool here. Continuity wise we only have two main villains here. The Roman and Dr. Hugo Strange who is reintroduced for the Year One timeline. We also get to see Bruce’s first true love, Julie Madison, and her father Norman Madison who is in deep with The Roman financially.
The battle between Bruce being Batman and balancing out his personal life really shows here. Despite how much Julie cares for him it’s not enough to pull him away from being Batman and we start seeing the internal struggle early on. People question his motives, and whether or not his existence is making crime worse in Gotham and encouraging these insane people to come out of the woodwork. I really like this a lot as it adds realism to the series.
As the series goes on we do get to finally see the Monster Men who are awesome looking, but there are no surprise plot twists here. This is mostly world-building which I really don’t mind and it helps continue the insanity of Year One and helps continue the thought process of Batman’s moral existence. I would have liked to see more action in this series during the first three issues, and just have it more balanced out, but what’s here is good and well worth a read. While the connections to Year One are subtle and sparse the overall world-building and continuity are great.