Saturday, April 16, 2005


Click here to go to Part One of this column

This time around, I’m digging through a ton of issues from Devil’s Due Publishing. 35 of them, actually. This portion focuses on some of their licensed material.

MU #1-2
Written by Andrew Dabb and Manson Khan and Drawn by Mark Lee

MU is apparently based on an online role playing game. Now, let me open and honest right now, because this applies to the next two books I’m going to review as well. I don’t play video games. Not at home, not at work, not at the mall. I’ve never so much as owned a Nintendo, let alone a Playstation, X-Box, or whatever else. So I know fuck-all about the games these books are based upon. Got it? So that has no bearing on how I feel about the comics.

This book has what feels like a pretty standard fantasy scenario: long ago, an evil god came to the land and conquered most of the world. He was stopped by two warring wizards who united as one to bring him down. Unfortunately, a thousand years have passed, the kingdom is weakening, and the evil god looks to be returning in some form or another. Only a wizard considered to be mad seems to realize it, however, and he engages the services of a young warrior on a quest to aid him in preventing the god from returning and destroying everything.

Like I said, nothing very fresh there.

What makes MU readable, though, is that it does its best to stand on the gas pedal and plow through its lack of originality. There’s an effort here to simply ignore the familiar trappings and just try and entertain the reader. It isn’t always fully successful, but I can appreciate the effort. The one truly terrific element to the book is the art by Mark Lee. I’d call what he does “compu-manga,” and he’s kind enough to provide a primer on how to do it at the end of the story. Grade: B-

Written by Ken Siu-Chong and Drawn by Alvin Lee

This book, however, is much stronger. The premise is at least interesting: a powerful entity that consumes planets and their inhabitants decides to start seeding worlds so that they will grow “tastier” over time, and he can return to them for a better meal. That includes Earth. Of course, rather than superheroes, the seeds have sprouted catwomen, demonic creatures, succubae, and other oddities.

Wisely, Siu-Chong quickly puts the world eater in the background, and puts his focus on the lives (and deaths) of the strange creatures populating the Earth. One story spotlights a girl brought back from the dead and her Frankenstein monster of a brother; another follows a catwoman who only wants to get a good role on Broadway, but her feet are holding her back. There’s a certain charm to the way the scenario for this “universe” is thought out, and I appreciated that some of the less-familiar paths were traveled.

The weakest aspect of the book is the art. The layouts range from the uninspired to the confusing, and the coloring simply overwhelms some portions of the book in the early issues. There is improvement as you get through issue four, but Lee and the Udon crew are capable of better. Grade: B+

Written by Ken Siu-Chong and Drawn by Arnold Tsang

I didn’t mention this problem with DARKSTALKERS, though it was present. I had all published issues to work with. But the Udon crew demonstrates quite well how to make new-reader unfriendly comics with this book.

Dear Gentlemen: I don’t play the video game. I haven’t read the first ten issues of your comic. That shouldn’t prevent me from enjoying your work. But if you don’t bother to welcome new readers with a RECAP page I can’t. Not the way I should be able to. If a new reader isn’t made comfortable, your sales are in for some nasty surprises.

All I can tell you, really, is there there’s a conspiracy being run by some bad guys, and a crew of good guys out to stop them. They mostly seem to be made up of characters from the game. One woman apparently used to work for the bad guys (she was brainwashed, I think), and when she joins the good guys, one of the goodies is suspicious because brainwashed girl killed her father.

The intrigue and unpredictability that Siu-Chong brings to DARKSTALKERS is lacking in this title, though (amusingly) the art here is considerably better. Tsang brings a rather loopy and over-the-top element to his manga stylings, and it looks really good. The colors are more in control here as well. Grade: C

G.I. JOE #37-40
Written by Brandon Jerwa and Drawn by Tim Seeley

There’s a single key element to successfully writing the main (continuity heavy) JOE title: remembering that the book, at its core, is a military soap opera drama. The fights are never what really matter; instead, it’s all about the characters, the interplay, the double crosses, and the obstacles facing the cast that don’t involve bullets.

Jerwa understands this quite well.

Reading this much of the book in one sitting, you get a good grasp of Jerwa’s gift for soapy plotting. Sure Cobra is out there, and they’re a big threat with their new weapon. Sure, the Joes are going to have to face down the snakes and stop them, in the process blowing up a lot of stuff. But the hook is the intrigue behind the Joes being in trouble with the government and getting a new military leader. The hook is in The Baroness being pregnant with Destro’s baby and facing assassination from a vengeance-seeking Cobra Commander.

I have always had a soft spot for the Joes, from the time their first issue came out from Marvel when I was a kid. I never expect literary brilliance from the title; I expect to be solidly entertained by fun characters and solid action. That’s all I ask. And Jerwa delivers. Grade: B+

Written by John Rey Nieber and Chuck Dixon and Drawn by Various

RELOADED is sort of the comics equivalent to the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA television series. The JOE concept was re-imagined from the ground up, continuity free. I guess you could also equate it to Marvel’s ULTIMATE titles.

What this does is provide an opportunity for new readers to sample the title and characters. However, this is sort of hit-and-miss as far as how it’s executed.

The cast is shrunk and tightened up, which is a wise move. That allows you to invest in characters that are drawn more fully, and spend more time in the spotlight. But beyond that, there doesn’t feel like there’s an enormous amount of difference between this and the main title. There’s one character whose allegiance has changed, but aside from that… not much in the way of changes.

I’m torn about this. If you’re going to go this route, why not make deeper and more fundamental changes? The point is somewhat moot now; the title will be vanishing as the company re-launches and refurbishes the entire JOE franchise, but I can’t help but think that maybe RELOADED as it appeared was misconceived. The comics were perfectly entertaining and Chuck Dixon really brought some intensity to the book when he came on board, but I don’t think it will be mourned. Grade: B-

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

He's Back!

Not only has old buddy Chris Allen opened up his own website, he's also brought back his classic column, Breakdowns. This is good news for comics reviewing, indeed.

Chris has been someone whose work and opinion I've respected greatly since the moment I began reading his stuff, and he's never dull. Go forth and check him out.