Saturday, December 22, 2007

Written by Mike Maddox
Drawn by Pradeep Ingale
Published by Virgin Comics

Centuries ago, a statue fell to earth that allowed the bearer to control the four elements of the world, and it led the planet to ruin. Only the foresight of a select few allowed humanity and the Earth itself to survive, and they split the statue’s power amongst other objects and hid them around the globe. Then they banded together to create a society dedicated to not only making sure no one ever uses that power again, but that sees to it that magic stays solely in the realm of illusion. Unfortunately, a power-hungry member of that society has decided that he wants the statue’s gift for himself, and anyone in his way must die. Now, a special effects technician and his dead partner’s daughter must band together to stop the world’s climate from a magical armageddon.

This is quite an unusual way of bringing the character that did those TV specials a few years back into the spotlight again. That man’s purpose was to expose how tricks are done, and I personally avoided watching- I didn’t want to know. This book actually offers up a sort of “purpose” in doing such a thing, as it serves to keep illusionists from seeking genuine power. Hmm.

The script follows the classic hero’s journey; a man possessed of gifts he barely understands loses his mentor, discovers a conspiracy centuries old, and must dive into this world, discover his inner strength, and save the world. But this is not a bad thing: there’s a reason that the hero’s journey is one of the strongest and most reliable tropes in fiction: when it’s done well it works. And Maddox’s story and dialogue absolutely do. Tom, the protagonist, is very likeable, and possesses just enough of a skeptical sense about him that he doesn’t easily buy in to what he’s being told in concern to real magic, but he also isn’t so stubborn that he ignores the things happening around him, either.

Unfortunately, the book has one enormous Achilles’ heel, and that’s the art. Ingale’s work is stiff, his characters are un-involving, and his grasp on anatomy and movement is poor. In fact, during the climactic fight, I honestly couldn’t tell you precisely how the villain is defeated, because the art doesn’t make it clear at all. It lacks pizzazz, and when you’re dealing with magic and illusion, that ain’t so great.

At five bucks (and laying beneath a stunning cover by the brilliant Brian Stelfreeze) that makes MASKED MAGICIAN a tough call, purchase-wise. Cheap, but not pretty. Sort of like the person sitting next to you at last call. Whether or not you want to go home alone is entirely up to you.


Friday, December 21, 2007


All books from Dynamite Entertainment

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti
Drawn by Nigel Raynor

Thus begins one of the stranger crossovers in recent memory: Painkiller Jane versus The Terminator. In the present, our indestructible heroine takes out a helicopter in a gun battle, decides not to start a gunfight with 100 armed men, and chooses instead to drink herself silly with her best friend. In the future, John Connor and his resistance fighters alter one Terminator’s trip through time and send it further down the line and into the restroom at Jane’s favorite watering hole.

Much to my surprise, this actually works pretty well, maybe because of the slow pace. It isn’t until the end of the issue that both plots dovetail. Therefore, both tracks read exactly like their regular books, and since PAINKILLER JANE is always a ludicrously violent and hilarious treat… score. And Palmiotti has a solid grip on writing the TERMINATOR world as well, offering up strong material in the short scenes here that we got out of the complete recent series that DE put out.

Kudos are also in order to Nigel Raynor, who has moved from being one of the shakier artists in the DE stable to one who really seems to be growing and learning at a quickening pace. This looks like the best stuff I’ve seen from him; maybe getting him away from GALACTICA was just what he needed.

Good fun all the way around.

Written by Brian Reed
Drawn by Edgar Salazar

Typically, one of the quickest ways to turn me off to a comic book or film is to have the sentence “based on a videogame” play a part in it. The second quickest way to make me ignore a comic is to have the words “cover by Michael Turner” in the solicitation copy. So MERCENARIES started out buried in a pretty deep hole. But…

…This is one of those rare times when I turn out to be wrong. Because MERCENARIES is a skillfully executed comic.

Three mercenaries, along with their “home” operative, set themselves up for hire and take on all the tough jobs. Their current assignment pits them against a faction of the Chinese army, always a tough one, and when one member of the group falls into the hands of the bad guys, it begins to get complicated. After all… even though they’re doing the job for money, they don’t have to agree on how to execute their objectives. That’s why they aren’t exactly a true “team.”

Brian Reed has come to prominence as a writer at Marvel, but it’s his recent Image book THE CIRCLE that’s sort of made him worth watching in my book. He has a real good grasp of how to put together an action sequence, and for a book based on a videogame, he manages to string together some characters worth reading about. It helps that Salazar has serious chops as an artist. His work is dynamic and has some grace to it, but he also knows his way around the use of shadow and perspective.

And that Turner cover? It isn’t of a woman with balloon breasts that dwarf her head, allowing Mike to keep his fly zipped and concentrate on things like composition and anatomy. So it’s pretty sharp. Just like the interiors.

Written by Kevin Fahey
Drawn by Jonathan Lau

The best BATTLESTAR book from DE so far was ZAREK, which told the origin of the infamous terrorist turned political prisoner. The reason it worked so well was because it fit into the framework of the show, but didn’t feel slavish to it. Using that template, this series follows in its footsteps, beginning with a look at the background of everyone’s favorite narcissist villain, Baltar.

We open with scenes of the childhood on Aerilon reference in the show. Baltar is the son of farmers, his quest to better himself and rise above his station, yet held back by the failures of his imagination and the equipment he repairs and tries to make more efficient. We also jump forward, to two years before the Cylon armageddon, and see his first meeting with Caprica Six and the early developments in their relationship. And it works; it works within the framework of what we know about Gaius, but it also is a strong enough story that it would work without the trappings of the show.

A big part of that must be credited to Fahey, who writes for the show itself. His Baltar sounds exactly right, and you can easily imagine James Callas uttering every single word that appears on the page here. He also gets strong support from Lau, who turns in much sharper work here than what he did on the recent PEGASUS one-shot.

The original GALACTICA’s Baltar was a one-note caricature, as John Colicos ate enough scenery to keep him going to Weight Watchers for life. But Ron Moore’s Baltar is a much more complex and fascinating character, vain and self-serving, yet with a spark of inner strength and vulnerability. Week in and week out, he’s been the most riveting piece of the show. Starting off this series by putting him in the spotlight was the best possible move, and the book delivers on that promise.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Written by Mark Waid
Drawn by Paul Azaceta
Published by Boom Studios

The final two chapters of Mark Waid’s clever little procedural arrive and do a bit better job of showing the strength and flexibility of the concept. John Doe, who’s life’s mission is to put names to the anonymous dead, is approached by a woman who claims that her twin sister is among those in Potter’s Field, and she has a recent assault by local thugs to prove it. But of course, there’s a lot more to her story than that, and it could likely mean the end of Doe’s entire operation if he isn’t careful.

Doe himself is an intriguing heir to The Shadow, using a network of operatives to ferret out information about frozen cold cases and getting them closer to being written in black. In issue one, we got a slight one-off of a story; good, but nothing that really let the concept of what having a Doe running around a city would mean. But here, Waid allows more of the local New York flavor to kick in, and expands the character universe in order to give some dimension to the obstacles that someone doing this sort of work would face. Thus, it’s a far more gripping read, and there feels as though there’s something at stake for everyone involved. That makes for good comics.

Of course, it helps that Azaceta continues to grow as an artist, and his work is much more suited to this book than it was to TALENT. With a book with noir roots, like this one, you need someone who can deliver darker, edgier work on the page, and this stuff looks terrific.

The one problem I see here is that there needs to be more, especially for the eventual trade paperback. Right now, the added material is pretty slight. So… sequel anyone?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Written by Matthias Wolf
Drawn by Carlos Gomez
Published by Razor Wolf Entertainment

Heimen Dale Jr.’s existence has gone… astray. He’s awakened to find himself in an insane asylum, with no clue how he got there or why he’s now incarcerated. All he has are his early memories and his dreams. The memories are of he and his father, and how he taught him to quietly learn how to stand up for himself, and of the girl next door, Denise, that he fell in love with and married. Seemingly a pretty standard existence. But his dreams… those are something else entirely. His dreams are filled with one brutal, bloody fight after another, as he’s continually murdered in battle with some of history’s greatest warriors. Now he must begin to piece together exactly what has happened to him, before he completely loses his sanity and the ability to withstand the pain he feels upon waking up from those fights. And what he’s about to learn will be unlike anything he could have imagined. Ever.

Debut graphic novels can be a tricky thing; writers often struggle with story structure, pace, and dialogue, and artists are usually pretty green as far as storytelling capability. But UNBEATABLE manages to defy those problems- Wolf’s script is strong, he juggles multiple pieces of the story with grace, and the characters are genuinely interesting on the page. He also does an excellent job of offering up solid clues as to what’s really happening without slapping a huge neon sign on the page that says “Clue Here.” Going back through the book, he actually makes the book’s final revelation fairly obvious, but it certainly wasn’t upon first read.

Gomez also turns in strong work, shifting back and forth seamlessly between the various milieus Wolf places the character, and showing an adept ability for portraying action. He also does well with characters and faces, which makes it easier to dive fully into the story.

I think the highest complement I can pay UNBEATABLE is this: lacking space, I rarely find myself keeping a lot of debut graphic novels from small publishers. They don’t turn me on enough to merit a spot in the collection, instead getting donated to friends, schools, you name it. But UNBEATABLE is a keeper, earning a permanent place of honor on the bookcase.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Written by Troy Dye and Tom Kelesides
Drawn by Collin Fogel
Published by Ape Entertainment

A young goblin boy named Gorim is a rebel without a cause no longer in GOBLIN CHRONICLES, a new kid-friendly fantasy book that follows a pretty standard path in setting up its uber-plot. Gorim loves to read and create, where goblins are a war-like race, and that doesn’t sit well with his parents. In fact, each race in the GOBLIN world (troll, elf, goblin, shape-shifter) is constantly fighting, thanks to the manipulations of the Dark Queen who rules the land. However, there’s a greater purpose to her keeping the factions fighting; there’s a prophecy (there always is) that says four will band together and bring her down… and you can probably guess that a little goblin boy who prefers to read than fight is destined to be one of them.

There’s nothing inherently offensive about using the standard tropes of a fantasy story, so I’m willing to give the book a pass on that, because they’re executed with competence and charm. However, the book does get bogged down on the artistic side; Fogel’s art is static and lacks dynamic movement, and the color scheme is murky, making it difficult to tell the goblins and trolls apart. The dialogue could use a bit more punch as well, but it’s acceptable as is, as opposed to some of the art issues.

One other thing I’d point out- the target audience here is definitely younger by nature, making publishing this as a miniseries a questionable call. Indy publishers are already ignored by a significant percentage of comics shops, making this a tough sell to a limited market; the real sales potential here is in bookstores for the collected edition.