Saturday, December 31, 2005

POLISHED

I was going to put up one more review today, but I've changed my mind. It's been a long, strange year, I've reviewed a ton of books as of late, and I think I've ended the year on a high note. Thanks to all of you who stop by and read, and to each of you, I wish a happy and healthy 2006.

See you next week with more new reviews!

Marc Mason
somewhere in Arizona...

Friday, December 30, 2005

ONE MORE IGNATZ

The first wave consisted of three books, this one actually being the first.

BAOBAB #1
Written and Drawn by Igort
Published by Fantagraphics


Igort’s entry into the Ignatz series is easily the most ambitious of the lot. Unlike the other two volumes, which focused on “one and done” stories, BAOBAB is a multi-chapter start to what appears will be a longer and more in-depth work.

The story takes place at the same time on two different continents during September, 1910. In the more focused story, we meet a young Japanese boy named Hiroshi and see him perform some of his youthful duties, which include visiting a sad woman who has lost her son and taking care of his grandmother. Across the world in South America, a man named Celestino begins working on his career as a cartoonist under the watchful eye of his depressed sister. There is only a thematic link between the two stories in this first section, but it allows Igort to spread his wings and show off his ability to adapt his art style to his characters.

Hiroshi’s story has a very distinct Japanese look to it, but not in the sense that it looks like manga; instead, it looks more like traditional Japanese art that you’d find in paintings from the late nineteenth century through the time period Igort is depicting. Celestino’s story has a much more European flavor to it with a dash to (the acknowledged on the back cover) Winsor McCay. What intrigues me is whether or not the two characters’ stories will merge somewhere down the road, and what those pages might look like.

Here’s where things get weird for me, though. While technically and artistically superior to the other two Ignatz books I’d read so far, I enjoyed BAOBAB the least. I never got as invested in the characters as I did in the other volumes, and I wasn’t yet compelled by anything in either storyline to see something transcendent somewhere down the road in the story. That’s obviously a function of this being a first chapter from a longer work, but it’s also a risk you take when you pace out your story as an artist and writer.

Now, let’s see where the second wave takes us.

/Mason

Thursday, December 29, 2005

DAY FOUR

Another in the line of “Ignatz” books from Fantagraphics. See yesterday’s review for details.

INSOMNIA #1
Written and Drawn by Matt Broersma


INSOMNIA brings together two stories; one short story, titled “Four Kings” and a longer story, “Eldorado.” “Four Kings” is an amusing little lark that brings together a few skeletal figures for a poker night. Like most poker nights, money is lost, lies are told, and bad jokes are exchanged. “Eldorado” is a far more serious tale, taking us on the journey of a man named Marco as he smuggles materials across the border into Mexico and attempts to take his own life in response to his life’s debts and doubts.

Broersma has a clean and simple style, though it falters at the moment where Marco makes the choice to try and end it all, because the resolution that the story gives only becomes clear through the text, not the art. Beyond that, this is earthy, atmospheric stuff, and the heavy paper stock absorbs the shading well. Mood is everything in “Eldorado,” and in that, Broersma excels.

However, it is the fantastical “Four Kings” that sells me on the book. While there is no actual need for the poker players to be skeletons from a story perspective, it enhances the dark humor of the tale and makes the jokes play more effectively. It also demonstrates an economy of storytelling, that he can get so much into four pages and leave the reader with a feeling of resolution.

So far, the “Ignatz” books are two for two with me. They have their flaws and problems, but they’re entertaining and ambitious ideas, and comics need more of those.

/Mason

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

DAY THREE

Today, I’m digging into the “Ignatz” series of books that Fanta launched this Fall. These comics are an interesting meld of European and North American formats; they’re thirty-two pages, saddled stitched, but they’re printed at a larger size, on sturdy, heavy paper stock, and have a secondary cover that acts as a dust jacket.

WISH YOU WERE HERE #1: THE INNOCENTS
Written and Drawn by Gipi


Young Andrea is on an outing with his Uncle Gil, heading for the funfair. But a voice from the past contacts Gil; his old friend Valerio is out of prison and would like to get back in touch with his childhood best friend, so there’s a diversion along the way. And during the trip, Andrea will not only learn about a boyhood far more different than his own, but he will get a first lesson in what happens to a man whose life is shattered beyond repair.

THE INNOCENTS is a quiet, subtle, character-based piece that does itself proud. The story here isn’t one of plot; it’s about the journey a man may or may not take as he grows through adolescence. Andrea is faced with two men who had similar paths for the most part; only his uncle, who was a far worse lad, was fortunate enough to avoid the innocent Valerio’s fate. And now, as Gil attempts to determine what exactly responsibility truly means, he must confront a dark and broken mirror before he can move forward.

Gipi’s art changes in style as he shifts into flashbacks, adopting a simplistic style as though drawn by a young child. It’s not as effective as it should be, but I understand the idea. I think he’d have been better off trusting his audience to follow his fine storytelling abilities, because the pages set in the present are simply lovely, and the flashback material sticks out badly.

Still, this is a solidly produced success that leaves me intrigued to see what else we’ll get from this excellent creator.

/Mason

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

FANTA WEEK, DAY TWO

And now, something to savor…

THE COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY #4: CLASSIC COMICS ILLUSTRATORS
Interviews and Essays by Various


Like the SPECIAL EDITIONS, these over-sized collections are packed so completely full of fascinating material and artwork that they take weeks to read thoroughly and enjoy. Produced at the size of a classic 33rpm record album, they sit on your shelf loud and proud, and this one has an amazing cover to boot.

The editorial hand of the great Tom Spurgeon lies behind this book, which brings together interviews of Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning, Russ Heath, Mark Schultz, and Frank Frazetta, and reproduces an enormous amount of art from these greats. From sketches, to paintings, to panels, to full pages of sequentials, the reader is guided towards a comprehensive look at the career of a giant as they pass through the articles.

But it isn’t only that there’s a ton of gorgeous art to look at; it’s that much of the material goes towards showing the versatility of these men. Hogarth is best known for his work on TARZAN, but we also get to see his adaptability into other styles and on other subjects, giving a more rounded idea of the man’s career. Heath is known for his war comics, but we get a glimpse of his humor material, and his ability to create works of horror.

The interviews are amazing, especially Frazetta and Hogarth’s, as both men engage in lengthy dialogues that peel back the layers of their lives and influences. It’s this kind of material that TCJ does best, and Spurgeon has done a nice job of finding a way to preserve some its best work in this format.

In a medium where the “kewl” factor reigns supreme, it’s nice to take a step back and be reminded of what really makes comics great and why. This one is truly a keeper.

/Mason

Monday, December 26, 2005

FANTA WEEK, PT. 1

Through the end of the year… some new efforts from Fantagraphics!

CINEMA PANOPTICUM
Written and Drawn by Thomas Ott


This lush hardcover graphic novel presents an unusual type of horror story: a young, impoverished girl finds her way into a carnival, and the only attraction she can afford is the panoptic cinema. There are five films for her to watch, and each gets progressively more disturbing, until the child succumbs to her own curiosity and places her final coin in the one titled “The Girl.”

There is an element of “The Twilight Zone” and of classic 50s horror comics at play here, but Ott’s subtlety of storytelling and his brilliantly detailed art lend an air of sophistication to the frights he presents. His work has a photo-realistic quality, adding a layer to the story; as a reader, you are placed into the position of watching the cinema yourself and awaiting her fate. When you lock onto this feeling, it provides a serious jolt, and enhances your enjoyment of the book.

Of the films she watches, none grabs you quite like “The Prophet,” which tells the tale of a man who has seen the signs of the coming apocalypse, but is thought to be mad. But madness is never more aptly described as an altered perception of reality by the time his tale plays itself out.

CINEMA PANOPTICUM is an arresting piece of entertainment that engages the mind and artistic interest in multiple ways. It is recommended for the more sophisticated and mature reader.

/Mason

Sunday, December 25, 2005

MERRY CHRISTMAS

I had some high hopes for this one. I should know better.

ESSENTIAL KILLRAVEN VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Marvel Comics


KILLRAVEN has long been one of those “holy grail” sci-fi comics, a book pointed to as being an underrated and under-appreciated icon of the 70s. Upon reading this collection, I can officially say “NO” to that.

Yes, the concept was terrific: branching out from H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, a second Martian invasion took place in 2001 that left the earth in ruins. As the series begins, it is 2018, and Killraven and his fellow rebels are on the run and making attacks against their evil Martian masters. Okee doke. There are plenty of cool, nasty creatures and mutants to fight, likeable characters in Killraven’s band, and exciting adventures.

But, my God… the writing. The horror. The horror!

KILLRAVEN was blessed to have some of the greatest artists ever work on his stories. P. Craig Russell draws the bulk of this book! Plus, you get efforts from Neal Adams, Gene Colon, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and Howard Chaykin! It is no lie to say that there is some truly brilliant artwork in these pages. But the writing ruins most of it, and you just have to shake your head, disgusted.

“But Marc!” you say. “Whatever could be so awful as to make those men’s work suffer?” And I give you two words: Don McGregor. Don “I never met a panel I couldn’t overcrowd with pointlessly turgid prose” McGregor. That would also be Don “I make Bill Mantlo read like he’s terse” McGregor. Which gets proved here, by the way, because Mantlo does a couple of the issues in this book, and they do read as terse compared to McGregor’s stuff! I’m telling you, it’s horrible. Tons of extraneous text that takes away panel space from the page. Long expository captions that crowd out the action. Dialogue that not only repeats the expository captions, but that also makes George Lucas sound like Mamet. Plus, some of the stories jump around so much that you can’t find the narrative line once it’s been dropped. One character seemingly dies or is injured horrifically during an attack that kills two others, and you don’t find out until two issues later that he survived, and he isn’t even injured at that point. It’s headache inducing.

So as pretty as this might be, there is no conceivable way in the world that I could ever recommend this. Too many flaws, and not enough payoff, makes my Christmas gift to you all the savings of the $17 you might have spent on this book.

/Mason

Saturday, December 24, 2005

OKAY, I’M GOING TO TRY AND EXPLAIN THIS ONCE

This comic is actually a spin-off from a novel that won’t be hitting bookstores until Fall 2006. However, if I understand what I’m reading, it isn’t a prequel, so much as it is a companion piece.

HATTER M: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS #1
Story by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier and Art by Ben Templesmith
Published by Image Comics


The idea behind both the comic and future novel seems to be that, Lewis Carroll took liberties with the history of an actual place: Wonderland. And not only is that other-dimensional destination real, Alyss Heart originated from that place. She happens to be the crown princess. Her bodyguard is one Hatter Madigan, a man of deadly skill with the blade, whose hat becomes something of a flying guillotine when thrown properly. In HATTER M, he has slipped through a puddle to 1859, Paris, in search of the missing Alyss. His lack of understanding of our world, and the immediate disappearance of his hat, offer only the first of many obstacles he’s about to face.

Whew. Got that?

Now, that’s a lot to take on, especially right out of the gate, but once you settle in to the story and find its narrative logic, this becomes a nicely put together comic. Madigan is an amusing protagonist, and his lack of a grasp on our society leads to many amusing scenarios, not the least of which is that his efforts to defend himself leave him seen as one of the worst serial killers of the nineteenth century. But even more intriguingly, there does exist some magic in our world, in the person of an illusionist named Sacrenoir, and it will take all of Madigan’s skill and cunning to match wits against the man’s power.

The star of the show is Templesmith’s art. Continuing his breakout work post-30 DAYS OF NIGHT, he delivers some wondrous and whimsical work in depicting what is a world gone mad to Hatter. The first few pages are a bit shaky, but when he settles in to the story, this book takes off. Beddor is the novelist whose book comes next year, so I’m guessing that Cavalier’s role was one of perhaps working to adapt the concept to the comic book format. Whichever it is, this is solid entertainment, and it has done its work in making me interested in the prose to come.

/Mason

Friday, December 23, 2005

WHEN DO WE GET A COLLECTION?

WESTERN TALES OF TERROR #1-5
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Hoarse And Buggy Productions


This five-issue anthology delivers precisely what the title suggests: a plethora of western-themes horror stories, visiting the modern day for only one brief story, and even that story harkens back to the nineteenth century.

WTOT brings together an interesting mix of established comics creators such as Phil Hester, Tom Mandrake, and Jay Faerber and newcomers putting together their first published work. Oddly enough, though, it is some of the newer creators work that really stands out, never dwarfed by the known talents. Generally, you’d easily expect quite the opposite.

There’s no shortage of humor in these anthologies, either. One story, about the “tryout” given to a fledgling prostitute, is so gruesomely funny that you might snort milk out of your nose. But, for the most part, the stories are all played pretty straight and seriously.

After these five issues, the book went on a hiatus, but I’d like to see it survive somehow in a different format. These sorts of genre tales never really go out of style, and a collected edition would surely do well on bookstore shelves in particular. There would likely need to be some legwork done to secure copyrights, etc., a second time around, but with a book that has this kind of perennial sale potential, it would be worth the effort.

A yearly graphic novel of new material wouldn’t be a bad idea, either, as it would keep the property visible, and insure a steady stream of revenue for this fine small publisher.

Not much else to really say about this one. I enjoyed it, it held my interest on a very bad day, and it deserves the kudos it received throughout its original publication schedule.

/Mason

Thursday, December 22, 2005

REAL GENIUS

FLAMING CARROT COMICS #4
Written and Drawn by Bob Burden
Published by Image Comics


Few things make me more pleased than a new issue of FLAMING CARROT. Bob Burden’s long-running absurdist masterpiece is like nothing else you’ll find on the racks, full of ludicrous stories, silly art, and tons of laughs. Yet what makes it work is that all the nonsense… makes complete and total sense.

For example, this issue finds the Carrot having entered into a “zen stupidity” state of mind to help him fight crime. And in this state, he takes a bath, promptly loses his ducky soap out an open window, and winds up on an adventure. The adventure takes him through the city streets, first in search of his ducky soap, and then in search of his friend Sponge Boy, who owes him $400 (which the Carrot allows will help him buy new ducky soap. The search for Sponge Boy takes him to a strip club and to a haunted house, wherein he accidentally falls into a realm where he becomes real (and the art turns into photographs). And to top it off, he does the entire thing in his pajamas, and has a pie fight with the two coeds he lives with to start the story.

If you’re thinking that sounds insane, you’re perfectly right. But that’s what makes the CARROT such a terrific piece of work. In Burden’s world, it all makes perfect, unarguable sense. You’re so sucked into the lunacy of the characters that you can’t help but start thinking like them a bit. It’s almost enough to put you in therapy.

FLAMING CARROT most certainly isn’t for everyone. Some readers need a coldly logical and linear narrative to enjoy a comic, and this most assuredly would leave them sucking their thumbs and looking for a happy place. But for those with a taste for the different and unusual, I heartily recommend getting your proper dose of vitamins and minerals through this tasty vegetable.

/Mason

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

GOOD FROM BAD

Few books in the 80s launched with as much hype and then turned into as big of a clusterfuck than X-FACTOR. Aside from the idea of resurrecting Jean Grey and re-teaming together the original X-Men, the book was a conceptual disaster.

The spark was that the team would pose as human mutant hunters in order to track down mutants who needed help and training. I remember going to a signing at Comic Carnival in Broadripple, Indiana, where the book’s writer, Bob Layton was present. I had loved (and still do) his HERCULES material, so I was pretty stoked for this new book. And he told me that he and artist Butch Guice had ideas for up to a hundred issues of their new sales smash. But then something happened.

It sucked. And it sucked hard.

ESSENTIAL X-FACTOR VOL.1
Written by Bob Layton and Louise Simonson
Drawn by Various
Published by Marvel Comics


Not only were Layton’s stories overly melodramatic and uninteresting, but also the concept began to implode upon itself, which the book had to begin to deal with. The mutants were creating anti-mutant hysteria with their own campaign, and it was tough to believe that these characters could actually be this stupid. Five issues in, Layton was gone, replaced by the terrific Louise Simonson, who had an enormous mess to clean up. One more issue from Guice (after an awful fill-in from Keith Pollard), and he was off the book as well. 95 issues short of the goal. Whoops. Great job, fellas.

It took Simonson a couple of issues to start making the book into something readable, but she came through with some of her best work. Plus, the art chores began to rotate amongst her hubby, the great Walt Simonson, and a young and still in control of himself Marc Silvestri. Even the amazing David Mazzucchelli stepped in to handle an issue. In less than a year, Marvel’s worst book on the stands turned it around to become the most vital and alive of all the mutant titles being published.

Layton’s one creation that stuck it out and became useful was Apocalypse, though Simonson and other writers made far better and far more creative use of the seeds he planted than you wind up believing would have happened otherwise. Beyond that, this was the Louise show, and while POWER PACK became the book she was best known for, it was X-FACTOR that showed she could handle writing mature comics that would appeal to the older set, and that she could escape from the shadow of having edited Chris Claremont for so long.

ESSENTIAL X-FACTOR is basically two books in the end; half of it is as bad as Marvel Comics got in the mid-80s, and the other half is just about as good as it got. I don’t know if I can recommend buying it, but I can surely recommend you check it out from your local library.

/Mason

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

THE CURE

Growing up, I was a Marvel kid.

No two ways around it. DC’s oeuvre just didn’t really appeal to me, not until I hit my mid-teens. It was the Marvel characters that captured my imagination and made me love the medium. I adored Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers. I read Rom. I have a full set of Dazzler. That was a universe that had a hold of me and wouldn’t let me go.

As of late, though, my interest in, and enjoyment of, comics has been on the wane a bit. Comics have gotten sort of dull as a whole; yes, there are some really great ones that I look forward to with anticipation, but for the most part… snooze city. I’ve been needing something, anything, to remind me of what it was that made me fall in love with comics. And finally, I found it.

ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE VOL.1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Marvel Comics


First, let me be brutally honest: out of the twenty-nine comics reprinted in this volume, I’d only be able to tell you that maybe one or two were actually anything resembling “good.” MTIO, which featured The Thing and a guest star paring up each issue, as MARVEL TEAM-UP did with Spider-Man, was primarily a breeding ground for fill-in issues. The book didn’t have anything resembling a “creative team” for the most part, instead relying on two or three issues at a time by certain creators before they returned their focus to other projects. But even without brilliant stories, so much of what is here is a total treat.

How about Gil Kane art? A crossover between the FF and MTIO annuals drawn by the Buscemas and scripted by Roy Thomas, which was set during World War Two? Work by Jim Starlin that had bearing on his first great Thanos saga? I read this stuff treasuring it, transported to a time when comics were far simpler in their aims and achievements.

Take issues four and five, for instance. The Thing, Captain America, and Sharon Carter travel to a far-flung future to save the Earth from the Badoon. In the process, they meet the Guardians Of The Galaxy. And in the span of forty-four pages, they have a huge fight and liberate the planet. Can you even imagine what that would be like in today’s comics world? Give that plot to Bendis or Millar and it’d not only take twelve issues to play out, but also probably have at least another dozen crossovers in other books.

The guest stars range from Cap and Spidey to low-enders like The Golem and The Scarecrow, which makes you believe that the powers that were at the time were hoping to see if they could fish for the next big character to get their own book if they proved popular enough. Of course, that didn’t exactly happen. So much for the best-laid plans. Still, even through the worst issues the collection has to offer, the book comes through with exactly what the creators intended: a few minutes of good, clean, fun entertainment. I know it sounds old-fashioned, and the trend towards making “fun” comics is lurking around the edges of the zeitgeist right now, but occasionally I like to smile. So sue me. Books like this are not only a reminder of a simpler era, but that there’s more to life than glowering.

Doesn’t it suck that we need that reminder?

/Mason

Monday, December 19, 2005

FOR THE KIDS

It can be difficult reviewing material like this book. One, it’s a companion to a new animated television series. Two, it’s meant to be very safe for kid readers. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply some scrutiny to it. So here we go…

G.I. JOE: SIGMA 6 #1
Written by Andrew Dabb and Drawn by Chris Lie
Published by Devil’s Due


SIGMA is a new JOE series meant to focus on a handful of the characters and a bunch of new high-tech toys for them to use in their war against the forces of Cobra. This first issue finds Duke vacationing in Guam and called to duty when a group of oceanographers studying undersea quakes mysteriously disappear. Of course, what he finds is Cobra-related, because this is a comic book, after all. So he must use his wits and training to survive the traps of the evil Destro and bring the hostages to safety. The end.

What you mostly tend to look for in an adaptation comic is first, whether or not the story actually holds together, and second, if it looks like it took more than three days to draw. SIGMA gets thumbs up in both those areas; Dabb is a very good writer, and skilled in turning in scripts in a variety of genres, and Lie’s sort of painted-looking manga style will play well to the junior audience.

Where the book could be better, though, is in the character work. Again, I realize that the younger crowd doesn’t really care about character development and such, but the one thing that the story doesn’t really do is put the focus on Duke and what makes him a special soldier. His bland blonde looks echo the fact that nothing here makes him stand out besides the fact that he’s a JOE. And that he drinks frilly, girly drinks while he’s on vacation. Snake Eyes, Scarlett, and many of the other Joes are well-defined, but Duke has generally been deadly dull, and nothing here suggests to the first time reader that he’s even remotely cool.

Still, the kids get mind-controlled sharks and robots, so the “wicked kewl” factor for the tots should be high. I’d just like to see a little bit more focus on making the book something truly accessible for the older reader who might be giving it a look.

/Mason

Sunday, December 18, 2005

THINGS I THOUGHT I’D NEVER CALL A COMIC FOR $100, PLEASE

Cute as the dickens. Yep. It looks as stupid on paper as it sounded in my head, But this book is cute as the dickens. So bite me.

POLLY AND THE PIRATES #1-2
Written and Drawn by Ted Naifeh
Published by Oni Press


Ted Naifeh is becoming a cottage industry unto himself. Along with the brilliant DEATH JUNIOR and COURTNEY CRUMRIN, he has become the go-to guy for excellently done all-ages entertainment in comics, especially material that appeals to young girls.

POLLY is the story of Polly Pringle, a young girl off at boarding school in the hopes of becoming a proper lady (our story is set a couple of hundred years ago). Her classmate Anastasia is a troublemaker of the highest order, and always tries to get Polly involved in her shenanigans, but to little success: Polly is a pretty straight-arrow girl. But one night, her life takes a turn for the completely daffy: she is taken, bed and all from her dorm room, by a band of pirates who announce that she is actually the daughter of famed pirate Meg Malloy, The Pirate Queen, and they want her daughter to be the captain of their new ship. Priceless hilarity ensues.

The book has more whimsy than you can shake a stick at, and owes no small debt to the “Madeleine” series of children’s books, as Polly bears plenty of resemblance to the young French girl. But mostly, the book is delightful fun, as Polly proves to be a bright and determined little girl when she decides she wants no part of these rough gentlemen’s world. Deciding there is no room in her life for those of ill-bearing, she will brave shark infested waters, dark alleys, and more, all in the pursuit of her quiet life. However, you can’t help but feel like that will change very, very soon.

Artistically, the comic looks great, each page executed with precision and keeping the pace moving just right. In a time where books that you can hand to someone ten-years old without fear are a rarity, you don’t need a map to realize that POLLY AND THE PIRATES is truly a treasure.

/Mason

Saturday, December 17, 2005

HOLLYWOOD CALLING

Yep, another silver screen fellow has stepped into the writer’s chair on a comic. However, this time it’s an actor. In fact, it’s an actor quite well known for playing a comic book character…

BAD PLANET #1
Written by Thomas Jane and Steve Niles
Drawn by Lewis Larosa and Tim Bradstreet
Published by Image Comics


Much like FEAR AGENT, BAD PLANET is an homage to the EC comics of the 50s drawn by folks like Wally Wood. An alien intelligence that spends its time eradicating entire planets from the face of the galaxy has targeted Earth next, and the unsuspecting populace is completely in the dark, only knowing that some sort of meteor is heading straight for the planet.

The early scenes are all riffs on the classic “discovery of threat from space” setup, but they do the job, introducing the characters and priming the reader for the arrival of a marauding army of (as the writers put it) “alien death spiders.” They sound charming, don’t they?

Along the way, we also meet alien truckers who are addicted to some very disturbing pornography, an arrogant astronomer named after comics’ greatest enemy, and another astronomer named after a famed sci-fi writer. The two astronomers are surely meant to be nice nods, but they have the odd effect of throwing you out of the story, and you immediately wish they’d taken less obvious routes to pay tribute.

On the flip side, the art is simply gorgeous. Lush, detailed, and full of life, every page has something to stop and make you look twice. The only blip is that the coloring printed way too dark, and obscures some of the finer details. It’s almost as if there was an expectation for a different paper stock that would hold the colors in different fashion, so I don’t think it was a deliberate bad choice.

For a long time, I was unable to warm up to Steve Niles’ work, but with GIANT MONSTER and now this book, I’m beginning to come around on him. BAD PLANET looks like it’s going to be a ton of fun, and the minor flaws that it has are imminently fixable. Bring on the alien death spiders!

/Mason

Friday, December 16, 2005

GOOD TIMES

Heh.

AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS #2-3
Written by Mark Andrew Smith and Drawn by Dan Hipp
Published by Image Comics


If you aren’t reading this book, shame on you.

Are you allergic to laughter? Do you only like to read comics that have grim and gritty vigilantes who tear off the genitals of evildoers? Will you only buy comics you can finish reading in five minutes or less?

If so, then I cast even more shame upon you.

Since its early issues, AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS has managed to do the one thing that most comics completely fail to do, which is show steady improvement in both the writing and artistry departments. Of course it helps when there’s actually something worth building on from the start, and AJB was quite the amusing little piffle from the start. However, as we’re into a second volume (and therefore about eight issues), now the boys are firing on all cylinders.

Let me count the ways: first, we discover why Stevo only speaks in pictographs: he’s half Yeti. We even get a Yeti sex scene, which disturbed by buddy Beaucoup Kevin (I think he dated a really hairy chick once and hasn’t gotten over it), but got a huge laugh out of me. Then there are the vampire robots. The ghost Mexican wrestler who appears when the team summons him. The Beatlemania spoof. The phony ads the boys create and stick in the middle of the story. And the way that, even with all the broad comedy going on, there’s still plenty of gags both in the character interaction and in the expository captions.

So many comics barely scrape by in the race to actually be worth their cover price, but AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS is never lacking in value. Smith and Hipp are a finely tuned comedy machine, doing work that they can truly be proud of. Do yourself a favor and check out this quiet little gem.

/Mason

Thursday, December 15, 2005

SPEAKING OF THAT HOWARD GUY…

He has a new book out.

BLACK HARVEST #1
Written and Drawn by Josh Howard
Published by Devil’s Due


As Howard puts it himself in an accompanying essay, he hasn’t stretched too far away from what brought him to prominence to begin with: cute girls and gratuitous violence. And why should he? When you have a winning formula, you don’t piss it away pointlessly.

This time around, we have a bit of a UFO/conspiracy tale. A blogger/reporter decides to make his next story the town of Jericho, Texas, where each fall strange lights appear in the sky for six nights and then vanish. Their origins are a mystery, but when our reporter shows up, the mystery deepens. As he drives into town, he hits a young girl crossing the road. The odd part? She’s been missing and presumed dead for three years. Plus, she has the word “repent” carved into her abdomen.

Considered a suspect, the reporter finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that he cannot even begin to imagine. And the deaths are just beginning to pile up…

It took me an entire miniseries to warm up to DEAD @17, but Howard does a much smoother job of making a world the reader can get into with this new effort. The only moment that falls completely flat is the treatment of the reporter by the local cops; in this modern age, he’d be cleared with two phone calls and a lot less attitude, so I just wasn’t buying it. But the rest of the local population feels less stereotypical and forced, giving the book a genial, easy feeling as you read it.

Howard’s art looks sharp, as you’d expect by now, and the book’s got a cover that will grab you by the lapels and start shaking. It’s also more ambitious in scope and size, set for six issues rather than the four that were standard for DEAD. A creator’s next step is always fascinating to watch; so far, it looks like Howard is on solid footing.

/Mason

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

HMMM

This is a hard one to figure out. Honestly, I’m sure whether or not the reader is supposed to take it very seriously.

DEAD@17 PROTECTORATE #1
Written by Alex Hambyand Drawn by Benjamin Hall
Published by Viper Comics


When last we saw DEAD @17, we had reached the end of the line for heroine Nara Kilday. She sacrificed herself and her immortality so that her best friend Hazy and Hazy’s unborn child could live. Nara’s saga reached over three volumes worth of material, and creator Josh Howard made sure that her story paid off in a satisfying manner befitting the series.

Nara was a very modern heroine, even for a girl resurrected from the dead. There was nothing weak or stereotypical about her as far as the horror genre goes; she was an ass-kicker of the highest order, never a victim, and could at least lay claim to being sort of a proto-feminist figure. Now, however, Howard has stepped aside and allowed someone else to tell a DEAD story, and the series, perhaps by necessity, has taken a complete 180-degree turn in its choice of heroines.

PROTECTORATE introduces us to young Grace, a minister’s daughter who doesn’t realize that her father is involved with some very unpleasant things. The story, set in 1945, adopts a very 40s sensibility in its approach to who she is. Grace is sweet, somewhat na├»ve, and her ability to survive seems a bit predicated on her ability to find some luck. Oh, and she happens to be a busty blonde girl that spends a decent chunk of the story running around in nothing but a slip of a nightgown.

There was a definitely sexual undertone to Nara’s adventures, but it never felt quite as… salacious as it does here. Hamby’s story seems to be deliberately reaching to remind the reader of a Hammer-era horror flick. That leaves the reader a few questions to address. One, is this the right move?

Certainly, if you’re going to attach the DEAD moniker to another project and play in that universe, you don’t want to keep humping a corpse. You simply must do something a little different, or the readership will grow tired of the property very quickly. The game, then, becomes whether or not you play it tongue-in-cheek, and add an element of cheese to the proceedings as is done here, or you find a different way to introduce Grace (or someone else) as a protagonist. It occurs to me that other avenues, such as making the new girl an 80s pop star (i.e. Debbie Gibson or Tiffany) or perhaps a disco era drug addict might be interesting as well. There are so many directions for the book to go that you could find new ways to play for a long time.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Grace was a safer route to take in keeping the property alive to start. Plenty of readers will be drawn to the snazzy cover of the girl with the big rack running away from zombies in her nightgown, and that might get them over the hump of nervousness about Howard being absent the proceedings. Now, what remains to be seen is if her story plays out as compelling, and if she grows as a protagonist into someone we can really care about the way readers did Nara. And if she can keep interest in the book at a level where even more intriguing heroines come into the mix. It’s a delicate task for a small, but very good, publisher. I’ll be watching very closely.

/Mason

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

PONDERING THE ETERNAL QUESTION

Why?

SPAWN #150-151
Written by David Hine, Brian Holguin, and Todd McFarlane
Drawn by Angel Medina and Philip Tan
Published by Image Comics


True confessions: I actually bought the first eighteen issues of SPAWN when they originally came out.

Part of that was a reaction to the times I was living in as a comics reader. Back then, the book was selling in numbers to the fanboys that these days would require having a prostitute poly-bagged with the comic. Seven digit numbers pounded the charts, and the character’s creator would go on to become more famous for using some of the money he made by making the best toys and action figures on the market, and for overspending on home run balls. At the time, however, it was purely comics, and even if I didn’t enjoy the book very much, I still picked it up, just to see what Todd McFarlane was doing with his time. He was simply the most powerful man in the business.

But eventually, after some nifty guest creators rolled through the credit box, I turned my gaze elsewhere and let the book go. My time, and my money, were required elsewhere. Occasionally, I would pick up an issue and read through it, and I felt very validated by that decision. The book became hopelessly grim, and the stories began to feel a little thinner on substance and heavier on cool-factor. Todd scaled back his involvement, eventually to the point that it seemed like he had very little to do with the book. And suddenly, Image was kind enough to plop a few issues of the title in my lap for review, so I’m back to being familiar with it again.

However, many of the problems that I described above remained. Overly grim stories. Artwork that didn’t always service the stories well when they had the potential to do something interesting. So with issue #150, McFarlane and company have cleared the decks for a new creative team and approach to the book, looking to see if it can be resuscitated. However, if you’re asking yourself if the new team and direction are any good, then you’re asking precisely the wrong question. The real question is: should the book still be being published at all?

However you feel about Todd McFarlane, you simply have to respect that he did exactly what he wanted to do all those years ago. He took control of his destiny, took ownership of his ideas, and assumed a leadership role in helping other creators do the same. SPAWN, along with SAVAGE DRAGON have become the children who have grown through puberty and become adults. However, with issue #151, Todd’s name no longer appears in the credits. I can’t help but wonder if maybe, with McFarlane stepping further away, it might have been time to put the character to rest for a while, rather than keep the book going in this manner.

That isn’t to say that Hine’s work isn’t readable. Indeed, the storyline here is actually kind of interesting, as a young boy winds up absorbing a piece of Spawn after he’s torn to pieces, and he begins turning into a Hellspawn himself. It’s a fantastic direction to take the horror-aspect of the book, and the first time in a long time that I’ve been sucked into a Spawn story.

But then my brain kicks in again. Says that seeing SPAWN turned into strictly a work-for-hire title now seems antithetical to what the book was originally about those twelve years ago. Merchandise and media tie-ins are still solid business, of course, but the trademark could be serviced by the occasional special or something that McFarlane decided to put together. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is quite a bizarre conundrum to sit here and say that the book is better than it’s been in five years and yet feel like it should have died a peaceful death. That’s why no one ever said reviewing comics would be easy.

Or that it would always make sense.

/Mason

Monday, December 12, 2005

MORE FROM ARCANA STUDIO

Two more books from Canadaland, one that does its job quite well, and one that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

EL ARSENAL #2
Written by Salvador Vazquez and Drawn by Daniel Perez Sanchez


This is the middle part of what looked to be a promising and action-packed mini about futuristic mercenaries on the trail of a nasty bioweapon. But while the book looks fantastic (Sanchez is an incredible find) and has a number of nicely written scenes, it doesn’t quite hold together as an issue. Instead, it feels more like a placeholder so that the story can get to its climax, rather than an essential piece of the tale.

Of all the risks you run when writing a story with a three-act structure, this is the one that looms largest, especially when your story has an element of chess to it: it needs the pieces in certain spots on the board so you can execute your strategy for the finale. This is precisely what a read of EL ARSENAL #2 gives you. The characters gain information, have sex, change locations, get their ideas formed; the trick is to find a way to keep the pace from flagging, and unfortunately, Vazquez doesn’t quite get there. The pieces are perfectly acceptable, and you get the sense that Sanchez could illustrate the phone book and it would be gorgeous. However, you never quite shake the feeling that issue three is really what the duo want to be working on and that there is some boredom involved on the creative team’s part, alleviated only by some rather frank sexuality.

The other thing that surprises is the lack of actual action. Issue one was very lively, with a zippy pace, and lots of traditional tentpole film moments. But there’s only one brief spot of action here involving two guys shooting at each other in a bar, but it only lasts for a single panel. I get the sense that we must be in for a huge climax with the way this book held itself back. Hopefully, Sanchez and Vazquez will come through and deliver the goods.

100 GIRLS #6
Written by Adam Gallardo and Drawn by Todd Demong


On the flip side, this book delivers the action and plot movement in spades, powering itself up to a dramatic conclusion next issue. Young Sylvia finds the other ninety-five clones of herself and must battle a trained assassin in an attempt to set them free and absorb them back into herself. And hey, isn’t that a bit screwy, considering she’s only absorbed three others? Where’s that hundredth girl, anyway?

This is executed perfectly, first by giving the new reader a non-expository recap of the previous five issues through dialogue and story progression. Then all the pieces for this book fall into place in the exact same manner. There’s no slowdown, no hesitation, just a straight putting of pedal to metal and getting the book firing on all cylinders. It’s surprisingly brutal, as you easily forget that Sylvia is a young teenage girl, and to see her getting beaten up is somewhat disturbing. Yet that is precisely the effect you would want as a creator, because you want the audience to accept your stakes as real.

100 GIRLS ends with issue seven, and right now, I’m not sure if that means that the book will reach a definitive conclusion or evolve into some other form in a second series down the road. Either way, it has done well for itself, and its creative team has grown immensely and should be proud. If there’s more to come, I await it eagerly. If not, I salute it for a job very well done, indeed.

/Mason

Sunday, December 11, 2005

WELCOME BACK

No comic started better or went off the rails faster in 2005 than SEA OF RED. The first issue was probably the best debut of the year, but damn, did I lose my happy feeling about the book quickly. Now, the first arc is done, and we’re underway with a second one, and I have to sit here and tell you that I’m out ten bucks. Goddammit.

SEA OF RED #5-7
Written by Rick Remender and Kieron Dwyer and Drawn by Paul Harmon
Published by Image Comics


You see, Rick Remender was feeling smug. So smug, in fact, that he offered to put his money where his mouth was. Knowing how I had soured on this book, he was so sure that they were back on track that he said he’s send me ten bucks if I didn’t read these and like ‘em.

It sucks to be a man of integrity sometimes.

Because, yeah, the book is completely back on track. Getting further away from the interminable movie plot/fake James Cameron, the book brings Marco the vampire back in touch with the vampirates we met back in issue one, particularly their leader Blackthroat. Secrets are revealed, and we begin to discover that what we saw happen in issue one was really only a surface examination of what truly happened on that pirate ship 500 years ago. It makes a world of difference to put the modern characters into the background and put the focus back onto what made the book interesting to begin with.

There’s a new artist this arc, Paul Harmon, and since he uses layouts from Dwyer, as previous artist Salgood Sam did, there’s a pure consistency to the storytelling. The first issue is a bit rough as far as keeping the characters differentiated well, but Harmon shows improvement over the next two episodes.

SEA OF RED, with this shift in arc and approach, has achieved a nice unpredictability to it. With a concept this rich, there’s no reason that this book can’t be one of the best book son the stands each month. If Remender and company can maintain what they’re doing now, they’re well on their way.

/Mason

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I MISS NIBBIL, BUT…

Gosh, but Colleen Coover comics make me happy. I read ‘em, and I swear I hear Tony The Tiger saying, “They’re grrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!” in the background.

BANANA SUNDAY #3-4
Written by Root Nibot and Drawn by Colleen Coover
Published by Oni Press


Poor Kirby. Such a sweet girl, but she has some unusual circumstances in her life. She’s the new girl in her school. The most popular girl has it out for her. She’s crushing hard on Martin, but their lives may be too crazy to ever get the two together. And oh, yeah, she’s brought with her to the new school three talking monkeys that are taking classes with her. That makes puberty just a tad more difficult, you know?

It’s always hard to go wrong with monkeys, no matter what you do, and when the three are as hilarious as the ones Kirby is saddled with, you’re definitely on the right track. Plus, and this is so important: I haven’t seen the first two issues of this series, and there’s no front cover recap, yet I was still able to follow what was going on with complete ease. Do you realize how rare that is these days? A comic that’s new-reader friendly without needing to read an essay before you start? Wow. That’s just one of the many things that charmed me immensely about BANANA SUNDAY.

Because, you know, there’s that art by the aforementioned Miss Coover. She’s swell. From the first time I cracked open her wonderful SMALL FAVORS, I was hooked on her amazing talent for simple storytelling, appealing characters, and cute girls. Turns out she can draw a man primate as well. If she can hand-make donuts, I might have to ask for her hand in marriage. Root Nibot’s script is whimsical and full of crisp, clever dialogue that adds zip to the tale. He also finds ways to keep the plot grounded in understandable themes, so that the monkeys don’t completely outshine Kirby and her travails.

I read this book with a huge smile on my face, which is really just about all you can ask for when you crack the cover on any new comic. So cheers to BANANA SUNDAY, and fingers crossed for a sequel to come soon.

/Mason

Friday, December 09, 2005

A SECOND OPINION

This book has sort of vexed me from the start. The writer is a guy whose work has run hot and cold for me since I first saw his name in a credit box. The artist is someone whose work I have hated with a passion since I first cracked a cover that held it behind it. So to say that I’ve not been overly receptive to this title would be undercutting it a bit.

GODLAND #5
Written by Joe Casey and Drawn by Tom Scioli
Published by Image Comics


So, once again, I sat down with an issue of this title to see if I could get it to penetrate past my built-in prejudices, and for the first time, there was real movement for me. Go figure. I think it started with the actual content of the story, at least as far as the characters go; yes, there is a huge dollop of the fantastic here, with wacky villains, aliens, castles and such, but at heart, GODLAND slowed down and became a story about something else: the feelings of loneliness and bitterness felt by Neela Archer at how her brother’s powers have destroyed what she had created as her life. That’s something I can get behind, an emotional truth that forces some introspection and movement in the character’s arc. I tend to believe that Casey can get bogged down, falling in love with his big ideas, but here he curbs that, and delivers a story that works.

That left my traditional struggle with Scioli’s art. Look, I understand that pretty much every artist working is in some way cribbing from the style of an artist who came before him or her. It seems like you can’t throw a pencil without poking out the eye of someone who’s aping Neal Adams. What bothers me is when there’s no attempt to deviate, such as Scioli’s pure homage to Jack Kirby. It knocks me out of the story, even if it’s well executed, because I’m constantly aware of it. But something interesting happens in this issue, and I’d like to believe it was purposely done: Scioli shifts in certain spots to aping the work of one of the best Kirby-esque artists who came down the pipe after The King: Herb Trimpe.

In fact, the huge confrontation scene between Adam and Neela is pure Trimpe, showing a direct link to Herb, and yet demonstrating a bit of what Trimpe took from Kirby as he came up through the ranks. It brought an actual smile to my face, which was definitely a first for Scioli’s work.

GODLAND isn’t reinventing the wheel. Not even close. But it is showing signs of gaining some needed character depth, and that’s important. Big ideas, no matter how large they might be, run out. But good characters can last forever. As long as the book keeps that in mind, things will keep looking up for Casey and Company.

/Mason

Thursday, December 08, 2005

BOOTY CALL

I loves me some pirates.

DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES #2
Written by Dwight MacPherson and Drawn by Mike Fiorentino
Published by Arcana Studio


I had some enthusiasm for issue one of this pirate/horror tale, as I thought it had done solid work in melding the two genres in a fashion that was well thought out and explained with some clarity. Plus, it had the added bonus of reading as very dense; no decompressed storytelling here. So it was with some curiosity to see how MacPherson would handle the second part, as the focus was headed to a different set of characters. Happily, the book passes with flying colors.

In fact, issue two is much stronger that its predecessor. Now, we follow a pirate ship sailing the high seas and in possession of the map to God’s very own treasure, and to the distress of the crew, the captain has been driven quite loopy by possessing the map. Therefore, he finds new sport in murdering his own crew, either by bullet or keelhauling. And you thought your boss was a dick.

What the captain doesn’t realize, though, is that he has a mole in his midst that has plans of his own, and the guy whose brains he splattered to take possession of the map in issue one? Well, he’s been rejected by the afterlife and resurrected as a very pissed member of the walking dead. Whoops.

Amidst this intrigue, we also get some ship-to-ship battling, a flashback to how the relics got buried to begin with, and more. Again, not a decompressed book we’re dealing with here. There’s real value for your yanqui dollar when you put DEAD MEN in your buy pile. Plus, this is one of the nicer looking small press efforts being produced in color; Fiorentino’s art serves the story well, and the paper stock keeps the tones sharp. Can’t wait to see if MacPherson can top himself again next time around.

/Mason

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play
TECHNOLOGY MAKES OUR LIVES EASIER

Click on the AUDIO post above for a spoken-word (and slightly different) take on this review!

FELL #3
Written by Warren Ellis and Drawn by Ben Templesmith
Published by Image Comics

The third issue of FELL is miles ahead of the first two in quality, and considering I was already pretty convinved the book was going to make my top ten of 2005 list over at The Shoot, that's saying something. This time out, detective Richard Fell takes a day off to go buy a suit or two. Good idea considering the damage his clothing has taken in the first two issues.

However, nothing is ever that simple for our hero, and as he walks around Snowtown looking for a place to shop, he discovers just how much the economic downturn has devolved the city into a place where crime and lawlessness have taken root at a level that shocks him. Because no one expects a suicide bomber to show up at a thrift store...

Ellis does an excellent job of continuing to develop Fell's character here. Not only do we learn about him in the way he talks to the other citizens of Snowtown, we also learn about him by the way he doesn't talk to some people. It's sharply executed stuff, ably abetted by the incredible art of Templesmith. The story is driving Snowtown itself as a character, but it's Templesmith who breathes life into it, like a Frankenstein gone mad on cheap wine. It hasn't taken long for FELL to become one of the best comics being published today, but you know what?

You shouldn't be surprised.

/Mason

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE

A few months ago, Devil’s Due re-launched its flagship title, trimming the core cast and paring away some of the excess baggage that had built up over time. Now, we’re five issues into that experiment. So what’s the verdict?

G.I. JOE #4-5
Written by Joe Casey and Drawn by Stefano Caselli and Nelson Blake


By the end of the last volume of the book, it appeared that the JOE universe was perhaps so overpopulated and over plotted that anyone coming into the book for the first time was hopelessly screwed. Now, that isn’t to say that the book wasn’t readable; it was very readable, but much more so if you had been with it for a while, so the appearance of unfriendliness to new readers was dead on target. The solution was an obvious one: whittle the book down to the characters fans responded best to, and those who could serve other plot purposes, and work from there. Plus, add some new elements besides COBRA to the mix, so that JOE took on a bit more relevance to the real world. Writer Joe Casey was brought on board to do the job, and voila, experiment underway.

The first storyline utilizes one of those new villainous elements: a former militia bad guy buys some nasty tech from a classic JOE baddie and commits a number of horrifying terrorist acts. Perfect. The team must be brought back together, introduced to the new readers, face a worthy foe… exactly what you’d want to do right out of the gate. And early on, it was handled beautifully. There was a reality to the violence and to the plot that really worked. And as issue four rolls around, the Joes are off on a mission to stop the antagonist from putting in motion even more nasty acts of a similar nature. But oddly enough, Casey’s climax falters.

Action-wise, this stuff is good. The ex-Cobra fellow sends the militia guy some assistance, leading to an all-out bullet fest in the skies over the southwest. Cool. But the primary job of stopping the evil plan in motion bogs down, because it’s a technobabble solution, worthy of a mid-level STAR TREK episode. The action for that portion of the story is nonexistent, and worse, extremely difficult to get across from an artistic standpoint. I felt for Caselli as I read it, wondering if he struggled with drawing it.

Issue five is a traditional “clear the character decks after the big mission” piece, and is much more successful, wrapping a nice bow on the initial storyline, and setting in motion Casey’s second arc. Blake steps in for Caselli and sadly suffers in comparison, but that’s no reflection on the quality of his own work. That’s just the business of doing a fill-in job. In all, G.I. JOE remains a well-executed soap opera with a lot of shit blowing up, and if you don’t expect any more than that, you’re in good shape.

/Mason

Monday, December 05, 2005

A CRACK IN THE ARMOR?

One of the best superhero comics being published today has hit a rough patch…

INVINCIBLE #27
Written by Robert Kirkman and Drawn by Ryan Ottley
Published by Image Comics


I love this book. Have from the very start, as a matter of fact. Kirkman’s characters and stories are good, clean fun, and his homage to the great superhero comics of the past has proven time and again to be a terrific antidote to the doom and gloom that Marvel and DC have been offering over the last couple of years. But now, the book is hitting its first real tough spot, and it’ll be interesting to see how Kirkman handles it.

At the core, the problem is really, really simple: there’s not been much in the way of forward movement in this book, nor has there been anything in the way of action. Now, you can get away with a lack of action in a more cerebral book (which this is not), and you can get away with a lack of forward movement in a book with no driving premise. INVINCIBLE is a book that has one of those: a second-generation superhero not only fights for what’s right, but to atone for his father’s turn to villainy. But over the last three issues, the plot has moved exactly this far: Invincible has flown into space to help an alien world facing a horrible death, discovered that his father is still alive, and learns he has a new brother facing death on said world. It isn’t until the end of this issue that the threat finally shows up. And mind you, issue twenty-five was double-sized.

The only action we’ve actually seen over those issues has pretty much come from the supporting cast fighting battles back on Earth. Now, I’m no fanboy, and I like character stuff as much as anyone, but this book succeeds when there’s a balance involved, and right now, exposition is eating INVINCIBLE’S lunch. Making matters stranger, thanks to the crossover with MARVEL TEAM-UP, we have a glimpse of the plot for this book five issues ahead. So you’re left begging Kirkman to step on the gas and get to it a bit, you know?

Don’t get me wrong; as I said above, I dig this book. I’m still completely onboard. And it looks like next issue will begin restoring the balance to the title, and certainly, the cliffhanger is a dandy. But I can’t say for certain how someone picking up the comic for the first time would react, and I’ve really never felt like that was a worry before. So, go get ‘em Robert; the fans are waiting. I have faith that you won’t let us down.

/Mason

Sunday, December 04, 2005

HARRIS O’MALLEY, ARTIST…

…Joins Harris O’Malley, writer, on BENEATH THE CRACKS: THE BRIDE, and writer Jens Altmann on BERSERKER: THE WILD HUNT #1-3, both available from Studio Underhill.

BERSERKER is a five-issue mini-series in progress. The story centers on the old Celtic myth of a huntsman who seeks human prey, and Altmann throws a new twist into the mix by setting the tale in modern day. The Huntsman’s targets are those who have lost the will or desire to live, but when the being’s ancient enemy is able to save the life of one of the near-dead, a new sort of modern Viking is created.

I’m a sucker for bringing legend into a modern milieu, so I found myself buying into the story with relative ease, particularly with the Huntsman’s work being investigated as the work of a serial killer. But O’Malley’s work tends to be a little inconsistent, and backgrounds are sometimes non-existent. He does well with character scenes, but the inconsistency is most apparent during action sequences, leaving them lacking in fluidity.

His sparse and spare panel work is much more successful in THE BRIDE, another neo-modern take on an old story. This time, however, it’s the “Bride Of Frankenstein.” O’Malley’s take follows the Bride, set free during a raid in which her Dr. Frankenstein is arrested as a serial killer, on an odyssey through the city as she deals with the remnants of memory belonging to the souls who make up her body. It’s a cold, harsh take that gives us a Bride at the mercy of chickenhawks and pimps in the big city. THE BRIDE is an effectively rendered tragedy of a soul who never wanted to die, and who never wanted to live.

Looking at THE BRIDE in particular, there is definite evidence that O’Malley is slowly grasping the basics of storytelling, and I think with experience, he’ll grow and become more effective at page layout, backgrounds, and portraying motion and action.

/Mason

Saturday, December 03, 2005

SEASON OF THE WITCH #1-2
Written by Jai Nitz and Drawn by Kevin Sharpe
Published by Image Comics


Poor Jessica Suddreth. The fourteen-year old high school freshman has everything a girl her age could have working against her. She scrawny, makes poor grades, has inattentive parents, and is the target of the meanest kids in her class. The only thing that gives her a moment’s peace is flying her kite from the roof of her apartment building. But her life takes a sudden and dramatic turn when she is magically transported to a world of magic and placed in a position to follow other legendary girl warriors like Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy. Now, she will be trained as a “Spell Sword,” and sent off to overthrow the terrible tyrant King Elian. If, that is, she can master her craft, and her wildly varying teenage girl emotions.

SEASON is a surprisingly effective and entertaining entry into the genre, and Jessica makes for a very appealing heroine. Nitz does an excellent job of setting up how miserable her existence is in the real world, which allows you to accept Jessica’s decision to stick around in a magical world where she has some power and control over existence with no qualms. Anyone who knows kids realizes that the one thing they crave most is autonomy over their lives. Plus, while the magical world allows Jessica to live as her ideal self (which is taller, stronger, and bustier), Sharpe’s art never feels like it’s exploiting that fact. There are no horrific fan-service shots to titillate the reader, making the book friendly to the audience considered to be Jessica’s peers: young girls.

Nitz also pushes his story along with some alacrity; there’s no decompression at work, just straight storytelling pushing things forward. Along with the fine story work, extra credit goes to Sharpe for some really terrific artwork; his style works just as well in depicting the real world as it does when Jessica crosses over. His stuff is clean, detailed, and effective in interpreting Nitz’ script. SEASON OF THE WITCH is good fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

/Mason

Friday, December 02, 2005

CANVAS #1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Black Velvet Studios


CANVAS seems to exist mainly to showcase the work of a number of young artists. There’s a science fiction element to the five stories in the book, but none of them really hold up under much scrutiny, particularly because three of them are initial pieces of what would seem to be much longer works. To say that’s risky for an anthology from a small publisher would be undercutting it a bit.

The best-known “name” artist in the book is Eric Canete, and it’s his work that gets the leadoff spot in the book. The stuff printed here is nice, and sharply detailed, but he also contributed the story and let himself down a bit. Nothing here truly gives him the chance to cut loose and display a broad look at his abilities, which is a shame.

To my eye, the best material in the comic comes in artist Byron Penaranda’s work in a story called “The Intergalactic Misadventures of Maizy Martin.” The story is a dialogue-free exercise focusing on a woman who drives a cab for aliens and other types. The story grinds down at the end, losing the reader, but Byron’s art is terrific stuff, showing a grasp of detail, character, and whimsy.

Issue one of CANVAS has a publication date of 2000, but I picked it up at San Diego this past summer. Issues should still be available from the publishers.

/Mason

Thursday, December 01, 2005

THE RICK REMENDER HOUR

Starting NaWriRevDa (National Write A Review A Day) month off, a look at a couple of efforts from the fertile brain of writer Rick Remender, both published by Image Comics.

STRANGE GIRL #4
Drawn by Eric Nguyen


Unlike Mark Millar’s higher profile CHOSEN, there actually was a book with religious overtones that stuck to its guns and kept the courage of its own convictions this year. That book was Remender’s STRANGE GIRL. With the biblical rapture as its starting point, Remender took his lead character Bethany down a path that saw her grow from a very young girl to a survivor of the ultimate horror.

There was a delay between the last issue and this one, so it took me a bit of time to get back into the flow of the story, but it came easily enough. The reason STRANGE GIRL continues to work well is that it is founded on a premise that doesn’t restrict itself to a number of rules; Hell is now on Earth. That means magic, murder, mayhem… broad humor… anything goes. That infects the story with a very carefree attitude, and that attitude infects the reader. This issue, we get a much clearer look at how Bethany survived the horror of losing the world at an early age, and at how she survived being eaten or tormented along with the rest of the damned. It’s gripping, brutal stuff, and necessary at this point in the story so we can get fully invested in the series.

Rounding things out is the wonderful work of Eric Nguyen, whose work has never looked better. I’ve seen it written recently that this book needs a sale uptick to keep going, and I encourage those out there looking for something new and interesting to read to pick this book up and give it a shot.

FEAR AGENT #1
Drawn by Tony Moore


FEAR AGENT is Remender’s acknowledged tribute to the gonzo science-fiction comics created by guys like Wally Wood back in the 1950s, and for the most part, it succeeds pretty well. Heath Huston is a futuristic exterminator whose job it is to wipe out nasty alien infestations; in issue one, he’s on the task of tracking down a sort of troglodyte race who have been raiding human settlements and stealing equipment. This being a comic book and not a documentary, it isn’t quite as easy as Huston would hope, and a nasty complication arises in the process of trying to eliminate his prey.

Deliberately retro in its writing and artistic style, there’s a smirking machismo here that soaks through each page. This is the classic approach writ large; the hero is a drinker on Warren Ellis scale, and in love with his completely phallic weaponry. Taking it with the tongue it buries so deeply in cheek, you can’t help but read it and have a great laugh. Nothing here should even remotely be taken seriously.

The one glaring flaw is that, like I did in the above paragraph, the script narration resorts to a few modern phrasings and anachronisms, and they throw you out of the moment. FEAR AGENT’S so immersed in the moment and milieu otherwise that those bits feel false and poorly executed. Balancing that is the long-awaited return of Tony Moore to a substantial work. He’s been mostly AWOL since he exited THE WALKING DEAD, and it’s nice to see his work again, and in full color to boot.

FEAR AGENT and STRANGE GIRL provide a nice balance to the way that SEA OF RED rather fizzled after its opening issue, and are both worthy of your time and dinero.

/Mason

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I LIVE!

This blog has been on hiatus for a couple of months, but will be making a very strong and stirring comeback in the month of December.

Issues have been two-fold. One: I've been kind of sick of comics. Never a good thing for a guy who receives and reads a metric ton of them every year. However, there's been a distinct lack of excitement in the medium as of late, and while I've read some perfectly good books (and reviewed them at The Shoot), I haven't had the energy to deal with them. However, last week I sat down with some truly great books, and it energized me a bit.

The larger factor at play in my life, though, has been my participation in NaNoWriMo this past month. Last night, in the space of 29 days, I finished my first novel. 67,547 words worth of it. You want to talk about devoting your energy to something? Wow.

It was one of the most amazing processes I've been a part of in my adult life, and one I'm incredibly grateful for. For those who have the desire and the discipline, I recommend it heartily. It can change your course as a writer.

Here at the Comics Waiting Room, I'm going to attempt to crash through some of the backlog that's accumulated while working on the book. So I am going to try and attempt at least one review a day between December 1st and Christmas. Wish me luck.

And please stop by to read.

/Mason

Saturday, October 01, 2005

SIBAM OCTOBER 4, 2005 EDITION: PART TWO

Image Comics

FELL #1
Written by Warren Ellis and Drawn by Ben Templesmith


Ellis’ latest creator-owned gamble turns out to be a worthy one with this nifty little detective book. Using a straight, restrictive format (sixteen pages of story, all nine-panel grids), he brings Richard Fell to vivid life as a detective working homicide in the worst part of the city. I’ve seen some online whining that Fell feels like a standard tough guy Ellis protagonist, but I think he veers away from that quite well. Fell is more of a man of reason, a descendent of Holmes, not a Spider Jerusalem type who chooses violence for its own sake. Fell is haunted and saddened by the world and truly seems to be dedicated to making his little corner of it better. For a while now I’ve been telling those who would listen that Ellis is comics’ biggest romantic writer, and FELL continues to prove me right. Extra kudos to Templesmith for his beautiful art; getting away from vampires agrees with him nicely.

BODY BAGS #1-2
Written and Drawn by Jason Pearson


When bounty hunter/killer Mack gets a surprise visit from his precocious, ass-kicking teenaged daughter Panda, all Hell starts to break loose in the big man’s life. What’s a father to do when his daughter decides she wants to follow him into the family business and won’t take no for an answer? Shoot her? Or teach her the tricks of the trade?

Obviously, shooting her would make for a very short book, so instead the training begins and the body count begins to grow in this absurdist piece of entertainment. Pearson manages to tap into a vein of pure lunacy as he finds ways to take the levels of graphic violence and bubbling sexuality to new places. This is a down and dirty hit of pop comics, with zest, gusto, verve, and not a single ounce of redeeming social value. Perfect.

GODLAND #3
Written by Joe Casey and Drawn by Tom Scioli


The first two issues of this book didn’t do much for me. I could sort of see where Casey was aiming; by using Scioli’s pure Kirby-pastiche art, he was working a modernist tribute to the late King and his wealth of ultra-cosmic ideas. Cool. But at the same time, I’ve held a strong distaste for Scioli’s art for a long time. I’m sick of pastiches; Kirby left behind a solid body of work for me to enjoy, and I don’t need someone muddying up the water. So the story took a strong backseat.

However, I tried to take a stronger look at the story and concepts with this issue, and yeah, it’s kinda groovy. Don’t get me wrong; Casey isn’t reinventing the wheel, but he is doing a nice job of creating a solid retro-pop sound on the four-color page. He’s embraced one of the fundamentally great things about comics: you can go anywhere and do anything, as long as you create a world where that makes sense. That’s what GODLAND is really all about. I’m in.

DEATH JUNIOR #3
Written by Gary Whitta and Drawn by Ted Naifeh


The conclusion of this wonderful miniseries is just about as perfect as you could ask for. The characters grow and complete their arcs, the plot resolves itself nicely, and you walk away feeling good about the whole series and its potential for a sequel. It was only missing a bow.

The third issue finds Junior working with his friends so that he can undo his blunder and return his father to his rightful job as Death. Earlier in the series, Junior had blundered a bit and a bad guy had stolen Dad’s powers and locked him away. Plus, Junior had accidentally killed one of his best friends. This could have played very heavy, but Whitta works it all note perfect so that the book is still a great read for younger readers. Throw in some lovely work from Naifeh, and this was truly one of the year’s more pleasant surprises.

EXPATRIATE #3
Written by B. Clay Moore and Drawn by Jason Latour


No. No no no no no.

This is, quite simply, the single worst plot twist of 2005. Nothing else even comes close. This makes murdering the Blue Beetle look like WATCHMEN. This makes “House Of M” read like LOVE AND ROCKETS.

No. No no no no no. Bad Clay. No soup for you.

DEVILS DUE PUBLISHING

G.I. JOE #43 AND AMERICA’S ELITE #0
Written by Brandon Jerwa and Joe Casey
Drawn by Emiliano Santalucia, Tim Seeley, and Stefano Caselli


The old JOE endeth and the new one begins as Devils Due restarts the franchise and shifts the focus to a smaller version of the team. I’m guessing this is to streamline the storylines and make the series more inviting for new readers, but I also think it has the effect of whittling away some of the deadwood that can gather in the plot lines of a long running soap opera, which is what G.I. JOE has always been. It’s just a soap opera with ninjas and a lot of gunplay.

In the aftermath of the original team’s breakup at the end of issue #43, we meet the new version fairly quickly in ELITE, as a satellite crashes into Chicago, causing a cataclysmic event in Chicago and setting the Joes on the scene not only to assist in the aftermath, but to find the bad guy responsible for the thousands of deaths that have occurred. This Joe team already feels a bit more contemporary than past takes, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out as the book continues on. And hats off to Caselli, who is now freed from DEFEX and working on a book well suited to his talents. ELITE is a very good-looking comic.

MEGACITY 909 #7
Written by Andrew Dabb and Drawn by Kano Kang and Zack Suh


This is the penultimate chapter to this terrific series, and while I’m sad to see that it’ll be heading off into the sunset, I’m sort of glad, as well. This insane mishmash of demons, techno soldiers, meta-powers, and futuristic landscapes works hard to keep its balance and move the characters and plot forward; keeping it going indefinitely would be risky, and the risk of lapsing into self-parody would loom large as the road got longer.

I’ve been recommending this book from issue one, because it does offer a very unique blend of gorgeous art and off-the-hook storylines; nothing else on the stands reads quite like it, and the sort of “painted manga” look to the art is also something else you won’t see somewhere else. But I fear that my waving my arms around and screaming have done no good, which makes me sad. So as there is only one issue left after this one, I will save my breath and shout at you to buy the trade when it comes out, and savor the last remaining piece of the story for myself when it arrives.

HACK/SLASH: THE FINAL REVENGE OF EVIL ERNIE
Written by Tim Seeley and Drawn by Aadi Salman


This latest HACK/SLASH one-shot works very hard to be the best of the bunch, working in very strong character arcs for both Cassie and Vlad, which lends an air of depth to the book that the earlier, more high-concept driven stories lacked. Of course, the high-concept stories were also a real fun time, so whether or not it was necessary to give Cassie and Vlad strong character arcs is a “your mileage may vary” decision. However, sadly, the forward character movement is almost completely negated by the book’s titled guest star.

Evil Ernie. Ugh. I know that Chaos Comics and its characters had extremely loyal fans, but I was never even remotely one of them. Indeed, my distaste for the majority of them was pretty strong. So that made the appearance of Ernie a tough sell to me, and even though Seeley does yeoman’s work in trying to fit the character in and make him work with Cassie and Vlad, I just wasn’t having any of it. So basically, I just tuned his parts out as much as I could and did my best to enjoy the character bits Seeley was working so hard to get across. I’m truly a fan of this book, and its next incarnation as a miniseries bodes well for increasing its audience. Hell, maybe even Ernie’s appearance will bring some of those Chaos readers to future issues of the title. Maybe, just maybe, that will have made this guest appearance worth it.

/Mason

Friday, September 16, 2005

OWLY

My love of OWLY is nearly uncontainable. This is a nifty little interview with Andy Runton about how he got this wonderful series off the ground. If you haven't read OWLY, you're missing out.

If you've read it and don't like it, I may have to get Doane on your ass.

/Mason

Sunday, August 14, 2005

SIBAM #101… PART TWO!

HERO SQUARED #1
Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis and Drawn by Joe Abraham
Published by Boom Studios


This is the first issue of a miniseries follow-up to last year’s one-shot of the same name. Keith and J.M. bring the same wonderful lunatic zeal to this book that they brought to their JUSTICE LEAGUE collaborations, telling the story of a superhero displaced to an alternate world where his counterpart is an annoying slacker. Unfortunately for him, his nemesis from his home universe has followed, and in the new world his counterpart is dating her counterpart. It may sound silly and confusing, and it is. It’s also damned funny. I never read the one-shot. Now I have to go find it.

100 GIRLS #5
Written by Adam Gallardo and Drawn by Todd Demong
Published by Arcana Studio


Picking up from the trade paperback, we jump right back into the story of young Sylvia and her search for her super-powered clone sisters. The issue is solid enough, and there’s some plot movement in the reactions of her pursuers, but the book sticks pretty tight to its formula of finding a new sister and absorbing her. While the segment works fine, the book is going to have to be careful to not become too repetitive in its efforts. The cliffhanger ending points towards the thought that the creative team realizes this as well.

BOOKS FROM VIPER COMICS

RANDOM ENCOUNTER #4
Written and Drawn by Nicc Balce


I didn’t like the first issue of this mini, but I thought it picked up nicely the rest of the way, delivering a solid action story and climax here in the finale. Balce’s art was the real star for me, his ameri-manga style easy on the eyes and simple in its storytelling. There were some genuinely intriguing experiments attempted by the author here, as he joined the select few artists attempting to complete a real melding of sequential art and the video game world. Not completely successful in that effort, mind you, but close enough to suggest he’ll do even better next time.

ODDLY NORMAL #4
Written and Drawn by Otis Frampton


On the flip side, I fell for this mini right out of the gate, but I’m a little disappointed in the ending. We get a lot of exposition and no true resolution to Oddly’s main problem (the disappearance of her parents). Instead, we get the pieces put in place for further Oddly adventures, and an ending that offers resolution rather than resolve. Couched within the exposition and furtherance of the plot is a good message about believing in oneself, and in the end, I believed that ODDLY was more than worth my time and I was ready to read more of her journey right away. Good enough.

BOOKS FROM IMAGE COMICS

STRANGE GIRL #2
Written by Rick Remender and Drawn by Eric Nguyen


I was hesitant when I picked up this book to read it. I had really enjoyed issue one, as I had enjoyed the first issue of Remender’s RED SEA. However, that book fell apart early in issue two, so I could only cross my fingers and hope for better results here. Happily, issue two of this book was a dandy, even more exhilarating than the first. Young Bethany, left behind after the biblical rapture, must navigate the new world of demons and insanity very carefully, and it doesn’t help when she pisses off her boss, her prime protector against the rest of Hell’s hordes. Nguyen’s art is simply gorgeous and would be worth the price of the book even if the story sucked. It doesn’t.

THE ATHIEST #2
Written by Phil Hester and Drawn by John McCrea


With two issues now out, this has immediately become a top ten book for me. Hester’s protagonist, the ultimate debunker, travels to visit a man slowly turning into living cancer, as he tries to unravel why a number of people are heading for Winnipeg and claiming to be the spirits of the dead returned to posses the living. Full of sharp ideas and characters you can’t help but want to read about, THE ATHIEST may just well be the frontrunner for next year’s “Best New Series” Eisner.

BATTLE POPE #1
Written by Robert Kirkman and Drawn by Tony Moore


Kirkman’s first comics work returns, now in color, in an attempt to find it the larger audience it lacked the first time around. POPE is, by turns, foul, disgusting, blasphemous, sexist, and grotesque. I recommend it highly. If you can’t laugh at Jesus wearing a t-shirt that says “What Would I Do?” then you’re probably already stocking up on holy water to throw on Kirkman next time you go to San Diego. Here’s a hint: he won’t melt. Tony Moore’s art is pretty rough here, but you can see in spots that he’s going to develop into the amazing artist who co-created THE WALKING DEAD and made it look so pretty.

GIRLS #3
Written and Drawn by the Luna Brothers


This has blossomed into a full-blown sophomore slump of mammoth proportions. We’re threw issues in, and not only is there not a single believable character, there’s still absolutely no clue as to what the fuck the plot is. Besides naked women hatching from eggs, that is. Yes, it looks pretty, but if you’ve asked someone to spend nine bucks at this point, they should have inkling as to what the story is. ULTRA laid it out in issue one: Pearl saw the psychic and was told she’d find love within the week. One more issue like this, and GIRLS is officially a disaster.

ZOMBIE KING #0
Written and Drawn by Frank Cho


See the zombie. See the cow. See the zombie fuck the cow slowly and gently. Moo, Bessie, moo. See Frank Cho having a good laugh at how much he can get away with. Laugh, Frank, laugh. Actually, ignoring the cow-fucking, this is a decent enough start to Cho’s next big project. He’s always had an appreciation and desire to draw monsters; you can see that in LIBERTY MEADOWS when he meanders in the Sunday-sized strips. So this is quite lovely to look at. The only downside is that it lacks balance, as we suddenly shift to an exposition-laden scene at the end of the issue that nearly drags the rest down like an anchor. Will be keeping an eye out for issue one, no doubt.

STUPID COMICS #3
Written and Drawn by Jim Mahfood


Loves me some Mahfood. As a Tempe resident, I’ve been privileged to follow his work for a long time, and this issue of STUPID COMICS is even a bit more fun, because most of the material originally appeared here in Arizona in the PHOENIX NEW TIMES. Still, many of Mahfood’s themes are universal, whether it’s his pokes at the stupidity of government or his tirades against manufactured pop culture. He isn’t for everybody, but he’s pretty much always for me.

FERRO CITY #1
Written and Drawn by Jason Armstrong


“THE MALTESE FALCON with robots” best describes this tasty little slice of cyber noir. Armstrong gives us a protagonist we’d have no problem seeing Bogey playing (though Brian Dennehy is the more modern choice) and a murder mystery wrapped around the civil rights movement of Circuited-Americans. Densely plotted and told, this is a nice antidote to the number of new books that seem to ship and decide they don’t need to tell you anything right away and you’ll still come back. Armstrong gets a nice pat on the back and thanks from me on that one.

PVP #0
Written and Drawn by Scott Kurtz


I happen to really enjoy PVP, and it’s hard to quibble with the $0.50 price tag, but this brief collection of highlight strips to introduce the characters and background of the book feels a little haphazard and not as tight as it should. The strips Kurtz chose are good, but they leave a certain lingering sensation that something is missing, and I can’t help but feel like a pointer to where the original strips could be found would be a solid idea. Since they’d been plucked from storylines, the new reader could have known right then where to go and read the full story. The brand new strip featuring the origin of Skull is dandy, though.

GUN CANDY #1/THE RIDE: MARDI GRAS #1
Written by Doug Wagner and Chuck Dixon and Drawn by Brian Stelfreeze and Sanford Greene and Jason Pearson


GUN CANDY is a prequel to the adventures of Laci, the teenaged assassin made infamous by Stelfreeze’s art the in THE RIDE trade paperback (see part one of the column), and given room to play, Stelfreeze completely cuts loose in gonzo fashion. Absurdist layouts, over-the-top violence, gratuitous sexuality, you name it… Stelfreeze has found a way to put it in here and make it look glorious. The pure neo-porn cover for his side of the flipbook adds to that dimension as well (trust me- go find it and look at it). I almost felt sorry for Dixon having to share with this stuff; his story is really very good, his artists do an amazing job of bringing a very dark and cynical story to life, and it damned near gets swallowed whole by its companion. On the other hand, maybe the pervs picking up the Stelfreeze cover will discover the excellent stuff awaiting them on the other side when they would have ignored something of this quality before. Looking forward to issue two.

SEASON OF THE WITCH #0
Written by Jai Nitz and Drawn by Kevin Sharpe


It’s gorgeous to look at. Has solid action. A good heroine. But once again, I say: tell the reader something in your story. Apparently, if you read the notes in the sketch section, etc, the heroine of this book slides back and forth between our world and this fantasy one, but nothing in the sequential pages would explain that, not even her mentioning of Missouri. It’s all well and good for Nitz to note that he’s putting some time between the solicits of issues zero and one so he can use this one to get orders and interest up, but he’d have been better off actually explaining what the story is going to be about. And if it’s supposed to be a book that appeals to teenaged girls, maybe it would be a little less icky for them if an orc didn’t call the heroine a whore, huh?

/Mason

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

YAY! MINI-COMICS!

Alrighty… time to start digging through the San Diego pile.

STRANGEWAYS
Written by Matt Maxwell, Drawn by Luis Gurana, Cover by Steve Lieber
Available from the Author


The horror-western genre will add a new face this fall when the first issue of this book hits the shelves via Speakeasy Comics. In the meantime, you can easily enjoy and appreciate this nifty preview of what looks to be a darkly entertaining story.

STRANGEWAYS brings together cowboys and werewolves (where most stories in this genre seem to have an affinity for cowboys and vampires). That means a different type of action being brought to the page, and a different depiction of the western landscape, one moodily developed by Gurana in shadowy, scary tones.. Maxwell’s story finds us focused on the travels of a carriage and its occupants, and as the genre demands, they find themselves traveling in lands that maybe they should have avoided.

Of course, if they did, the story would be damned dull, and over quite quickly.

We’re given just a glimpse here of what’s to come, but it’s made apparent that there will be thrill, chills, and gore aplenty to give the reader a visceral experience. Matt’s a friend, and I know how much time and effort he’s put in to making this book a quality read, right down to the beautifully gruesome cover by the great Steve Lieber. It’s cool to read this and see how it’s all paying off for him. I’m expecting big things from STRANGEWAYS once the pamphlets start shipping in November.

FLYTRAP #1
Written by Sara Ryan and Drawn by Steve Lieber
Available from the Artist


If this were the only thing I had returned from San Diego with, I would still consider that trip to be a huge success.

I’ve made no secret about it: Steve Lieber is my favorite comics artist, and if I had my choice, he’d be the first person I’d hire to draw just about anything I’d want to write. There’s very little he can’t do, from high-level action heroics, to quiet, talking heads. Few people have his level of versatility, and few ever will.

This little book finds him working with his (very) talented wife, Sara Ryan, again. Their first effort, ME AND EDITH HEAD, was a supplemental project to her excellent novel EMPRESS OF THE WORLD. This time out, they start fresh, introducing us to public relations ace Maddy. Maddy is a nice normal woman with a crazy job, an asshole of a boyfriend, and too much to do with her life in too little time. However, the intervention of an alternative circus starts a tumble of dominoes that leave her with a new direction in life.

FLYTRAP is just about perfect. In fourteen pages, we get a well-rounded portrait of who Maddy is, what moves her as a character, a feel for the “world” she lives in, and a solid step towards who she is going to become in the next phase of her life. If this were published by Marvel, it would have taken six issues to get to this point. Wonderful stuff.

COOL JERK 2005 SAN DIEGO SAMPLER
Written and Drawn by Paul Horn
Available at the Cool Jerk Website


I picked up Paul’s 2004 effort last year and was immediately smitten with his sharply wicked sense of humor and lack of reverence for, well, everything. I even put myself on his mailing list, and now I get the weekly strip e-mailed to me. So I guess you’d call me a fan.

COOL JERK follows the denizens of Spittle Beach, primarily wiseass Armpit and his superior-in-every-way girlfriend Puppy as they roll through their normal lives battling the forces of stupidity, inanity, and pop culture horror. Horn has been doing the strip for about fourteen years now, so he’s solidly found the voices for his characters. He also only does a strip a week, so you don’t get the sense of burnout or exhaustion that you find in many other long-running strips.

Paul does real-world artistic stuff and does JERK for fun at this point, but I’d like to see him roll the dice and start talking to Image or Speakeasy or someone about finally starting to collect the JERK strips in trade paperback. He deserves to find a larger audience for the work, and I think it’s out there; besides, once in a while, it’s nice to get paid for doing what you love.

ASTRONAUT ELEMENTARY #5-7
Written and Drawn by Dave Roman
Available from the Author


ASTRONAUT ELEMENTARY is a book I always look for when I go to a show. Dave Roman’s “mini-manga” is one of the few being produced in this format that has an all-ages reach in its storytelling, and I like being able to pass it around to the younger set in my life.

The titular school is located on a space station somewhere out in the far reaches of the universe, and its student body is comprised of the best, brightest, and oddest that the galaxy has to offer. The primary story here in this triple-sized effort focuses on a robot named Cybert who has been sent to the school to destroy another student. Amusingly, this doesn’t get him sent to the principal; instead, he is given a far worse fate: a trip to the guidance counselor, whose job it is to make him see how limiting his career goal is. It’s even funnier than it sounds.

Other stories follow the Cybert’s target, a young gay student named Spike, and Team Feety Pajamas (a group of kids who believe they’re bullies who run the school). Each segment is drawn in Roman’s wonderfully whimsical style, and those segments are packed with story. Previous issues were eight pages each, but this one is truly triple-sized, with 24 pages of packed-to-the gills goodness. I hope Roman soon finds the opportunity to publish all the AE stories together in a nice collection.

WANNABEE #1
Written by Rich Johnston and Drawn by Thomas Reidy 3rd
Available from The Vicious Circle Project


When I saw this on the table, I couldn’t resist it. I swear, I actually heard a booming voice say, “The power of Satan compels you to buy Johnston’s book!”

Just so you know.

So what has comics’ biggest rumor monger done this time? WANNABEE is the story of a time traveler who has come backward to live out his dreams of becoming a big-time comic book writer. His conveyance draws him to an ambitious young woman named Julie who shares that dream. Together, they work to try and find success by bringing together Alan Moore and Marvel Comics for a dream project.

Nah… that’s the end of trying to describe this thing in serious terms. Fuck that.

WANNABEE is really just Johnston taking the odd crap he’s heard and absorbed over the years and living out a personal parody and fantasy of himself and his quest to write comics. Roberto kidnaps Alan Moore, shaves him bald, and tries to use him to get a series of his own greenlit by Joe Quesada. And you’re telling me Rich hasn’t tried this already?

Sell me another one.

Still, it’s mostly harmless and inoffensive, and Rich doesn’t try and play it too broadly. Reidy’s art is too inconsistent to do the book any favors, but it could have been worse: Johnston could have drawn it himself. WANNABEE isn’t anything great or fantastic, but it settles in for pleasantly dumb and diverting, and that may just be enough to call it a success.

/Mason