Saturday, December 24, 2005


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.

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.


Friday, December 23, 2005


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.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


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.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005


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.

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.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005


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.

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?


Monday, December 19, 2005


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.


Sunday, December 18, 2005


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.

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.