GO HERE AND READ PART ONE OF THIS COLUMN, THEN COME BACK, OKAY?
Welcome to my first-ever COLOSSAL COMICS COLUMN CROSSOVER! Thanks for stopping by, and please, bookmark this place and keep coming back, especially those of you who just read my column at The Shoot. This is a fun little place, and I’ve been using it a lot more as of late.
To catch you up, whether you read part one or not, I’ve been taking a look at the breadth and diversity of the Image Comics line. It’s pretty exciting, really; Image has risen far above its roots under the guidance of Jim Valentino and Erik Larsen, becoming the most committed mainstream publisher in the area of creator-driven works and the variety they offer. Let’s jump back in to the mix.
WALKING DEAD #16
Written by Robert Kirkman and Drawn by Charlie Adlard
I’m starting right at the top. WALKING DEAD is, quite simply, one of the ten best books being published in comics, period. Kirkman has created a darkly apocalyptic tale of a zombie-plagued world and those trying to survive the hunger of the dead, and every issue the story takes twists and turns that no reader without telepathy could ever anticipate. I like to believe that I’m a pretty shrewd guy, and I’ve read more than my share of comics, but somehow, Kirkman manages to surprise me at least once every issue. There are no sacred cows in WALKING DEAD, and no sacred characters, either. Death lurks around every corner, and as the book progresses, the complexity of how the zombie “virus” works gets more fascinating. Making the book even better is the terrific art of Charlie Adlard; Adlard is one of those artists whose work is best left in black and white, like it is here, as his phenomenal eye for detail and character is almost inevitably ruined by computer colors. If I were making a list of people I’d want to draw comics written by me, Charlie would be on that very short list. Seriously- buy this book. It’s great. Grade: A
SAVAGE DRAGON #120
Written and Drawn by Erik Larsen
SAVAGE DRAGON is really something to behold and appreciate. 120 issues, written and drawn by Larsen… that’s pretty damned impressive. Larsen basically only has Dave Sim in front of him. But what’s really impressive about DRAGON is that after all this time, it’s still a stupendously gonzo bit of comics creation. Larsen has always subscribed to the theory that bigger isn’t better (but it’s a good start), crazier isn’t crazy enough, and anything resembling a sense of normal proportion (whether in body or personality) must be eliminated. Right now, Dragon has reluctantly been drawn into the 2004 Presidential Election as a third party candidate, even though he has no interest in governing. Of course, that doesn’t deter his running mate from using a Dragon robot, or a wildly pissed former-superhero from showing up at his house to use the dimensional portal in the basement. If that sounds pretty loopy to you, that’s because it is. DRAGON is best enjoyed for what it always has been: the comicbook equivalent of a B-movie. And in this case, I give that grade as a tribute.
AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS #2
Written by Mark Andrew Smith and Drawn by Dan Hipp
There’s been some interesting buzz building around this book, and reading it, I can see why. There’s a simple and goofy charm to JOY BUZZARDS that many comics seem to lack these days. Take the setup, for instance: the Joy Buzzards are a rock and roll band, and while they tour, they also solve mysteries, fight giant robots, and investigate the paranormal. This issue finds them assisting a young woman on an archaeological expedition, and of course things go awry; rather than finding a nice simple cave, they stumble into the resurrection of a terrible god, and much worse:
KILLER VAMPIRE ROBOTS.
Sure, there’s some tonal disconnect between the art and the story, with each letting the other down at times in the book, but you can cover that up if you bring enough infectious spirit to the proceedings and you give the reader a good reason to throw up their hands and just play along. And in this case… KILLER VAMPIRE ROBOTS. Yeah. Grade: B
NOBLE CAUSES #7
Written by Jay Faerber and Drawn by Gabe Bridwell, Kris Justice, and Fran Bueno
NOBLE has been one of the niftier comics soap operas since its inception, but with this issue, it really feels like Faerber is really hitting his stride. Taking some time away from the multitude of subplots and soapy maneuvering, he focuses the bulk of the issue on the reunited Race and Liz, and their efforts to build a normal relationship. It plays as a sweet slice-of-life tale, as Race actually (working against cliché) does spend a day living at normal human speed and not jumping in to use his powers at the slightest hint of need. There’s some humor in the situation as well; Liz is used to breakfast in bed, but she’s definitely thrown by the idea that she has to wait for it when it’s cooked in normal fashion. This issue also continues a fun little backup story by Brian Joines; Joines is a witty fellow, and I’m still waiting for him to ship me a plot of issue one of the book we plotted two years ago at SDCC. Hey Joines- whatever happened to our flying monkey pirates, dude? ;-) Grade: B+
CASE FILES: SAM AND TWITCH #12
Written by Marc Andreyko and Drawn by Paul Lee
I’m actually reviewing this out of order, so I apologize. This is the final part of a storyline, but Andreyko does a very nice job of filling in the blanks for the new reader, and the front cover recap is also very effective. Sam and Twitch are following the trail of a killer, and the victim’s lover has gotten wind of the killer’s location before the title characters can stop him from heading off for revenge. What follows is a terrific bit of drama. While there is a smidge of action in these pages, the real action takes place in the characters and their movements. Andreyko keeps his script tight, and his dialogue to a minimum, allowing Lee’s lovely art to carry the story and its actors to a logical and earned conclusion. I also appreciated the truly gray nature of the lover’s actions; you can easily put yourself in his place and ask yourself what you’d do. The two issues of this book that I’ve read recently were a real revelation. This is one of Image’s best titles, no question. Grade: A-
SMALL GODS #7
Written by Jason Rand and Drawn by Juan Ferreyra
I reviewed the trade of issues one through four a couple of weeks ago, and I really liked it a lot. It had a lot of spirit and some real grit to the characters. I don’t mind telling you that I was really looking forward to digging into this one when I saw it, but boy, did I feel disappointed when I was finished reading it.
Sure, the art is still beautiful. The action is nicely done. But the story really feels flat. The character focus has changed now; we’re following a psychic con man named Bobby, and Bobby is on the run from corrupt cops who want him dead. Now, as standard as that plot is, it doesn’t bother me. But saddling Bobby with a stripper girlfriend (or she at least works at a club)? And playing coy with her post-coital nudity? It takes the story into areas that just aggravate you. Plus, she also teaches Judo. It’s a bit much to ask the reader to swallow. It also adds confusion. Is this a mature readers book? If it isn’t, why isn’t it? The language content and body count would suggest it is, so there needs to be a commitment one way or the other. At some point we need every form of entertainment to forget about Janet’s tit and just tell stories that look and feel real. These guys are capable of better; I hope we see it next issue. Grade: C+
JACK STAFF #7 AND BURGLAR BILL #2
Written and Drawn by Paul Grist
Paul Grist is one of those guys who should be selling about 80,000 copies of every comic he makes, and it’s brutally unfair that he doesn’t. Take JACK, for instance; issue seven is a stunning work of art, as Grist continues telling multiple stories set in multiple eras while setting new ones in motion. But none of it feels forced, confusing, or over-written. Indeed, Grist offers up some amazingly experimental artwork, particularly in a sequence where the book drops the color except for the green of a character’s jacket. And there’s a reason for that. BILL is a more light-hearted book, following the adventures of a genial and somewhat introverted thief. In fact, Bill barely speaks at all in what I would consider to be a fairly dialogue heavy book. Instead, Grist allows Bill’s reactions to express the directions the story takes. As a bonus for both books, I’d point out that Grist is one of the best creators at presenting interesting female characters in his works. He also displays the very dry and surprising humor that his fellow Britons are so well known for. Buy his books; they’re really good. Grade: A-
FREEDOM FORCE #1-2
Written by Eric Dieter and Drawn by Tom Scioli
I’m not the audience for this book. Let me just get that out there so you can take my words with whatever grains of salt you like. This is what I would call a “Kirby tribute” book, written and drawn in the King’s style, circa 1974. And for it’s ambitions in that, I would call it successful. Every page, every stilted bit of dialogue, reads like it could have come from Jack’s pen thirty years ago. The books are filled with retro charm from front to back. But to be blunt, I have never ever liked tribute books of this nature. In fact, I’ve generally hated them. I used to have the strong desire to take every issue of Ron Frenz’ THOR off the shelf and give them to the homeless to burn for warmth at night. Therefore, I’m going to leave this book gradeless, as I cannot judge it fairly. I’ll leave it to someone with more distance to judge.
Written by Robert Kirkman and Drawn by Ryan Ottley
And so we come full circle with more Kirkman. INVINCIBLE has been one of the more fun and lively superhero comics on the stands from the moment it hit, and while it has been surpassed in popularity by WALKING DEAD, you can still see Kirkman’s enthusiasm and love for the title in every page. What’s really nice is seeing the book reach issue twenty; it began as part of a group launch of titles, and none of those other books has survived. After some struggle, though, INVINCIBLE proved it had some staying power. These issues get back to the core focus of young Mark Grayson and his struggles to balance his personal life and his life as one of the most powerful heroes on the planet. Keeping a secret identity is kind of a bitch, you know? Especially when your girlfriend has begun to think you’re a drug dealer because you’re always answering your pager and running off. Or worse, she just thinks you’re a coward. This second scenario is one of the best bits in recent memory, as it’s a quiet homage to the early Lee/Ditko SPIDER-MAN issues and Peter Parker’s problems. One brewing problem with INVINCIBLE: there are enough issues out now that the plot and characters have grown quite complex, and it’s time to start a front cover recap/intro page. Larsen can live without one in DRAGON because he effectively uses exposition to inform the new reader, every issue. This is NOT Kirkman’s forte. Grade: B+
Thanks for joining me for the big column crossover. Keep watching this space for more reviews, lists, essays, and blog memes.