The Cellar Door Publishing review column was designed to carry out Cellar Door's expressed commitment to promoting the comic book industry, as a whole. The review column focuses on books our reviewers feel have been overlooked. All reviews are positive, making them recommendations more than reviews.In order to maintain the objectivity of the column, Cellar Door books will not be reviewed or recommended by our reviewers.
REVIEW FOR OCTOBER 9th
Punks The Comic:Summer Special #1
Written by: Joshua Fialkov
Art & Design by: Kody Chamberlain
Published by: Digital Webbing
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans.
Humor is always hard to pull off successfully in a mainstream comic format. It's something only a few writers seem to be able to pull off well consistently; surrealism even more so.
Punks wins on both counts.
From the cover alone you can tell what kind of a ride you're going to be in for. It has the four main characters are prominently displayed; one with a first for a head, one with a fire-breathing skull, one with a dog's head and one who's a still-living Abe Lincoln. Not your average collection of individuals, and definitely fitting in with the bizarre and shocking parts of the definition of punk.
Upon reading the first few pages, I was instantly reminded of the 1980's BBC sitcom, The Young One's, and was pleasantly surprised to find a recommendation for the dvd at the end of the book. That's not to say that the book is (as the creators themselves jokingly describe) a 'shameless ripoff' in any way, shape or form. The book shares the same spirit of anarchy and character interaction invoked by said tv series, which is a very good thing.
The plot of the book revolves around the oddball bunch of housemates becoming involved in an Earth ensnaring alien invasion, and the possibly even more important task of disposing of... well, let's not spoil too much here. Let's just say they've got their priorities straight.
The art and design of the book was a large part of my enjoyment.
Chamberlain takes a much underused approach to the artwork, using what I can only describe as cut and paste photography montage interweaved with original art, giving the book a real retro pulp style - very much in keeping with the anarchistic material of the time, even down to the simple color palette used within the book.
Every element of the design has been considered here, as it should well be.
Traditional paneling and dialogue patterns are thrown aside for a very striking graphic feel that just adds to the humor and helps to convey the strangeness of the characters in a better way than standard pencils and inks probably would, giving texture, depth and realism to them; an important factor when using surrealism to tell a story.
In keeping with the Summer Specials I remember from my youth, Punks also features 2 interviews, the first a very tongue-in-cheek one with Rick Remender, and the second with iconic designer Art Chantry. There’s also bonus facts about the life of Abe Lincoln, giving the reader more added extras for their money, all of which are equally as enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny as the main story.
And I know how easy it is to just throw out 'laugh out loud' whenever good humor is mentioned. I tried my hardest to avoid using the term within this review for fear of cries of cliché, but it just wasn't possible; this is a genuinely funny comic book.
Buy it, or face a punch to the testes!
REVIEW FOR SEPTEMBER 18th
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!
By: Fletcher Hanks
Edited with an Afterword by: Paul Karasik
Published by: Fantagraphics Books
Reviewer: Len Kody
Stardust, the Super Wizard, has finally cornered the leaders of the large and well-dressed Fifth Column gang of spies and scientists who have vowed to “end democracy and civilization forever!” The lesser leaders of the gang turn into icicles and melt away. Other leaders are transformed into rats and are chased through the streets of New York by Stardust, who has morphed into a panther. The rats are run off the docks into the river, where they drown. Except for the top leader, the infamous Yew Bee, whom Stardust transforms into a rat with a human head and delivers directly to the offices of the FBI.
“I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!” is an anthology of found comics by Fletcher Hanks from the late 30’s and early 40’s. They were collected and edited for Fantagraphics Books by Paul Karasik, who says of them, “This stuff is impossible to find. Nobody saved them ‘cause Hanks worked on second-rate characters for third-rate publishers.” Not quite the classic Kirby or vintage Bob Kane of the Golden Age we’re all familiar with, these comics read like brightly-colored dreams, with all the accompanying fuzzy logic. In his Afterword, Karasik compares Hanks’ crude work to the simple directness of Greek myths. And what are myths but the dreams of an entire culture?
Like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” or “Slumber Party Massacre,” “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!” is best appreciated as an artifact of its time, rather than enjoyed at face value. The comics shouldn’t be read, but “read into.” Karasik encourages this kind of meta-cognition in his very own Afterword, a comics story where he recounts his investigation into “Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?” I was reminded of the film “Ed Wood” as Karasik provides his often uncomfortably close look at the personal life of the comics artist. Hanks was, indeed, a flawed, talented and troubled man whose life ended tragically on a park bench in New York city.
If they ever create a comics version of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the stories collected in “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets” would provide excellent fodder. One can hardly resist a snarky comment or derisive chuckle as, in page after page, the government, capitalism and the forces are law and order are under threat by the agents of chaos and destruction. In one episode, the bad guys use their anti-solar ray to stop the Earth’s rotation and destroy gravity. But they must first charge the Earth with a hydraulic balance ray to keep the water on the surface, and magnetize all automobiles and ships so that they’ll stay put, too. With heavy chains around their waists that firmly anchor them to the ground, the bad guys succeed in sending the entirety of Earth’s population hurtling into outer space! They have unlimited access to “the whole Earth and all its wealth.” Though what good all that loot would do on an uninhabited planet is never really discussed because Stardust is already on his way via highly accelerated light waves in his Tubular Spacial! With his radiophonic thought-recording ray, Stardust plants a seed of doubt into the mind of the gang’s leader, Gyp Clipp, and Clipp guns down his other two associates. “Now I’ll have it all to myself,” Gyp says with a sinister sneer. Meanwhile, Stardust encircles the Earth and discharges long attractor beams towards the drifting millions of Earthpeople, making sure to “deposit each one in the proper place!” Then, in a flash of polychromatic light, Gyp is in the crushing grip of the hulking Stardust. The hero hurls the terrorist into space toward his punishment, a “floating prison of eternal ice” where, in his frozen condition, he’ll live forever - “To think about your crimes!” It is an ironic fate for the bad guy, given what we’ll eventually learn about the conclusion of Fletcher Hanks’ own life.
In the late 30’s and early 40’s, it must have seemed like the entire world was spinning out of control. With the future of Europe called into serious question by the spread of the barbarous Nazis, it undoubtedly appeared that the fall of all civilization, everywhere, would soon follow. And in those uneasy days before the US committed to engaging in the Second World War – the days that make up the whole of Fletcher Hanks’ comics career – the anxieties surrounding spies and terrorists bent on the overthrow of the government, and spectacular technology capable of slaughtering millions, was right there, beneath the surface of the daily lives of Americans. Like how dreams and myths distort the ordinary and make it fantastic, like how fairy tales and the atomic parables of comic books and B-cinema always seem the best vehicles for conveying and concealing unspeakable truths, the stories collected in “I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets!” are simple, even crude, but they are merely a colorful mask for the complexities of the dark times that produced them. And I’ll bet that themes of fear and anxiety will resonate just as well with early 21st century audiences.
REVIEW FOR JULY 31st
Created and Written by: Robert Venditti
Illustrated and Colored by: Brett Weldele
Published by: Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Good dystopian science fiction takes an aspect of our current reality and exaggerates it to the point that we fear its development, but we can still see the steps that will take us to that hopefully preventable, bleak future. 1984 did it with government monitoring of its citizens, Terminator did it with our dependency on technology, Brazil took bureaucracy to oppressive levels, and both 12 Monkeys and 28 Days Later presented us with fearful scenarios of rampant disease. Robert Venditti gives us an all too possible future based on out current obsession…The Internet.
Some say we are living in The Computer Age and what you are doing now, reading an review of a comic book online, is a a sign of that computer age. Email, MySpace, chat rooms, message boards, online games are all, some say, disconnecting us from the real world. Laughing with friends at a cocktail party has been replaced with LOLing in an on an Instant Messenger. For some of us, our icons and avatars are known more than our actual faces. Now, take that to the next step, and you’ve got Venditti’s The Surrogates.
In the future, we won’t have to worry about disease, or crime, or personal appearance, or handicap. That’s because of Surries, Surrogates: Robotic avatars that we control from the safety of our home. Built to look how we want to look and able to transmit the physical experience while recording it for future pleasure, Surrogates have changed society. Think of it. Drinking a beer and getting the buzz without the harmful effects. No longer worrying about crime because it gets recorded. And even if something bad happens, you just have to repair the Surrogate, not actually get injured yourself. Equality in the workplace is finally achieved, because the Surrogate applying for the job could really be anyone. Not that everything is perfect, because that girl you’ve been hitting on could really be a 6’ 6” man.
But then someone starts targeting Surries and frying them with a sort of electromagnetic assault. Lieutenant Harvey Greer is called to investigate the man whom he begins to call Steeplejack. Steeplejack seems to want to destroy Surrogates with one word: Live.
But when Steeplejack turns from individual assault on Surrogates to apparent industrial espionage, Greer begins to suspect that he’s dealing with someone satisfied with frying one Surrie at a time.
But Harvey, who hasn’t seen his flesh and blood wife and hasn’t felt the rain in many years wonders if, maybe, Steeplejack is right. He follows his investigation in person, without his Surrogate, and focuses on The Prophet, a representative of the Dread Reservation that is the center his anti-Surrogate religion comprised of the disenfranchised poor who are unable to purchase Surrogates. Will Greer be able to figure out who Steeplejack is and what he’s up to before he succeeds?
As stated, The Surrogates is good dystopian science fiction taking an element from our current lives - the burgeoning cybersociety - and exaggerating it to the point where it becomes scary. While the technology may be a long way off, the mentality of living life through the detached safety of a robotic avatar is present.
But beyond that, Venditti gives us an exciting and intriguing crime drama. Venditti also provides lots of supplemental material to help transport us to the world of The Surrogates. With newspaper articles, TV interview transcripts, and advertisements, Venditti gives us clues about the events in his world’s past that lead up to the story we are reading and helps create the mood of that world.
It’s not all mood and mystery as Steeplejack gives us some exciting action scenes, and Weldele does a great job of depicting that action. Weldele does a fabulous job throughout, moving the story along in carefully detailed panels, which speak for themselves, some without a bit of text in them. There’s no question about what you are seeing in his dark, moody panels, some of which are more enthralling than the events in the story.
The Surrogates gives us well-written action, mystery, drama, and social commentary, through a setting in an all too plausible future, with amazing art. That’s good science fiction that should be experienced first hand.
REVIEW FOR JULY 10th
By Daniel Harrison
Available at www.phlegmcomics.com
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
As ironic as this sounds, if you're reading this, it's probably impossible for you to go to your local comics shop and pick up a copy of the book that is this review's focus.
But bear with me, I am going somewhere here, I swear...
My interest in comics has taken a strange turn in the last few years and I find myself more enthused by the small press and fanzine scene than most mainstream titles and publishers. I grow tired of rehashed plots and endless, mindless crossover tie-in titles. To me, that's why this review column is such a valuable tool: it highlights very different types of comics, by very different reviewers.
The focus of my review this month is Phlegm Comics.
Phlegm is a small press comic produced by English artist Daniel Harrison.
Each issue is 52 pages full of pen and ink goodness, ranging from short satirical strips, to self examination, to one page gags.
I honestly can't remember why I picked up the first issue. I think it was the sheer simplicity of the cover - a cardstock made from recycled tabloid newspaper that just stood out as unique on the shelf at first glance.
Once inside, I was treated to some of the funniest scribblings I had seen in a while, including social commentary on the education system, corporate business and the devil. As well as strips featuring Mouth - "Britain's Best Youth;" and Coot, the psychotic err... coot.
The following issues continue with more humorous adventures and develop into a more graphic style, leading up to the latest issue (#6) which is an all illustration issue made up solely of litho printed postcards featuring some of the strongest design work I've seen in a while, both in pen & ink and spray paint.
The postcards help show the huge scale and detail of the mural work the artist engages in, inspired by/featuring the characters and drawings used within the comic.
My reason behind bringing this well crafted publication to this column is because of the web presence of the title.
There are many images from each issue in the online gallery at the title's website, as well as photographs of mural work and a regularly updated blog, all of which should hopefully be able to justify my keen interest and above words.
There is also international shipping available on the issues at the site store, so if the preview imagery does strike a note with you, then it is possible for you to get your hands on it outside of the UK, and at a reasonable price, in my opinion, given today's mainstream market pricing.
REVIEW FOR JULY 3rd
By Rick Veitch with Alan Moore and S.R. Bissette
Publisher: King Hell
Reviewer: Len Kody
Reading Rick Veitch's Shiny Beasts is like watching the Twilight Zone on acid.
That's the quickest, most hackneyed way of describing the graphic novel anthology just released by Veitch's own publishing imprint, King Hell. Shiny Beasts is a psychedelic journey back to the late 70's and early 80's. Veitch describes this interesting time in comics history and in his own career:
"I was trying to penetrate an industry that was in serious decline. Comics' fifty year old business model, seriously out of touch with readers of my generation, was collapsing. There was a new cultural zeitgeist in the air, driven by both humor (Saturday Night Live) and fantasy (Star Wars)."
It's a time that reminds me of the state of things only a few years ago. We'd gone through our own boom-and-bust cycle in the early nineties, very similar to the Silver Age and the years that followed it. By the beginning of the 21st century, the market had given the comics industry capitalism's classic ultimatum: innovate or die. And just like in the early 80's, American comics were reinvigorated by cultural cross-pollination. Today, it's no secret that Japanese manga is a big influence on many comics creators. The wonderfully weird stories in Shiny Beasts - such as Veitch's collaboration with S.R. Bissette, "Monkey See," where amphibious monkeys eat humans piloting hot rod submersibles, or "Solar Plexus," where a man who loves the sun accidentally destroys the universe - were inspired by European cartoonists like Moebius, Bilal and Druiellet, who were blowing minds in the U.S. in the pages of Heavy Metal.
Heavy Metal became such a force on the American comics scene that Marvel did what Marvel does when the bold and the brilliant create something new and exciting - it copied the hell out of it. Marvel's answer to Heavy Metal was Epic Illustrated. Epic's mission was to publish "stories that pushed boundaries but still 'made sense' in a traditional way." All of the stories contained in Shiny Beasts first appeared in Epic Illustrated in some form or another, but in 'Beasts they are presented to Veitch's own specifications - a "director's cut," if you will. So, in the book's title track, "Shiny Beast", you get the full impact of the contrast between the gray world of the mute protagonist and the overwhelming, disorienting color of the world outside his door, unmuddied by twenty-year-old limitations on printing and paper stock. (Veitch's use of color is one of the more striking features of Shiny Beasts, actually, and it's what originally drew me to the book.) Mistakes have been corrected; there were a couple of pages transposed in the first printing of "Solar Plexus," for instance. And some of Veitch's more ambitious experiments in form - such as the pull-out spread in "Shipmates" that illustrates the physical length of a gigantic space ship while also documenting the chronological length of the ship's long, sad life - are seen in Shiny Beasts as Veitch originally conceived them for the very first time.
For all its unconventional wackiness, the stories in Shiny Beasts are firmly anchored in a foundation of solid plot and authentic characters. Veitch's collaboration with Alan Moore on the story "Love Doesn't Last Forever" is a prime example of this book at its best: short, interesting, intricate stories with an unexpected ending. "Love Doesn't Last Forever" is about the spread of an intergalactic venereal disease, but, as is always the case with Moore's stories, there are multiple layers at work simultaneously, and hidden jokes for those of us clever enough to find them.
And Shiny Beasts is a well-rounded read. More than just bone-chilling gore or spaced-out insight. Veitch throws a good amount of humor and whimsy into the mix. Sometimes when you least expect it, as in "Conquest of the Banana Planet." What starts out as a Stanley Kubrick space odyssey takes a sharp right into Three Stooges slapstick. But even at his most light hearted, Veitch never looses his edge. For the man who crossed the farthest reaches of space to consume the forbidden fruit of the Banana Planet finds himself literally consumed by the bananas he so coveted.
So, if you're a fan of well crafted short stories, outer space, psychedelia, robots and the sex lives of mythical creatures, Shiny Beasts will satisfy you.
Here's some preview pages online.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 26th
By Jeph Jacques
Read it online at www.questionablecontent.net
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
What happens when you take a bunch of dysfunctional yet endearing characters, combine them with a dash of indie rock references and life drama, add in a lot of humor and then throw the whole mix out on the web for the world to see? You get the long running web comic from creator Jeph Jacques, Questionable Content.
Launched in 2003, Questionable Content initially followed the life of Marten Reed, a twenty-something indie rock nerd who was just trying to find his way though life. The early strips find humor in the travails of daily life - work, love, anthropomorphic personal computers, etc. From these first few comics, however, the seeds of long time relationships are sown, as Marten meets Faye (not coming soon to a theater near you), a meeting that will forever change his life in unexpected ways.
Faye Whitaker recently moved from Georgia, and she and Marten share many interests. She views him as only a friend, and while he is outwardly okay with that, inwardly he wishes that there is something more between them. Their relationship takes an interesting turn, however, when Faye accidentally burns down her apartment, and, with no where else to go, she moves in with Marten. This works out better than one might expect, as Marten gains a female friend who is unafraid to tell it like it is and help him makes some sense of his love life, and she gains…well, she gains a home, as well as a true friend. Things change and evolve between them over the course of the nearly 900 strips. In good comics, as in real life, everyone changes over time.
What began as a story about one person quickly becomes a tale of two, and then three. But even now, when the cast of QC contains more than 20 recurring characters ranging from a former construction worker turned romance novelist to a pizza delivering superhero, Questionable Content still tends to focus on Marten, Faye, and the third person, Dora.
Dora Bianchi is the owner/operator of Coffee of Doom, the coffee shop where Faye works. When initially introduced, she’s into the whole goth lifestyle, but is otherwise a pretty cheery and outwardly confident woman. She is, in many ways, similar to Faye in terms of personality, and she and Marten hit it off pretty well. Just as with him and Faye, Marten’s relationship with Dora changes through the years.
All of this talk of relationships and love might leave one thinking that this is a soap opera in comic form. While that is true in a certain sense, there is also quite a bit of laughs to be had. Faye and Marten play off of each other quite well, as Faye (and later Dora) is quite aware of just how easily she can push Marten’s buttons. Jeph Jacques also likes to poke fun at indie rock clichés, hipsters, Goths, and anything else that strikes his fancy. For an indie rock fan such as me, so much of his humor rings of absolute truth.
It’s hard to talk about a comic such as this, which now has more than nine hundred strips to its name, since there is just so much that has gone on. It’s almost impossible to explain everything that makes it so good. I haven’t even brought up Pintsize, Marten’s chaotic AnthroPC (exactly what it sounds like, an anthropomorphic personal computer), who can turn any situation into comedy at the drop of a hat. And he’s just one of a dozen great minor characters that add so, so much to the comic’s world.
Really, the best advice I can give for someone wanting to get into Questionable Content is to just start at the very beginning, and work your way through them. There is no better way to get a feel for the characters and their world than to just experience it all from the start. It may take some time to read them all, but really, the effort will be well rewarded, as you get to know Marten, Faye, Dora, and all of their insane friends.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 19th
The Secret #1-4
Written by: Mike Richardson
Art by: Jason Shawn Alexander
Letters: Clem Robins
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Clark Liles
In my opinion, a good, scary horror comic is hard to come by. There are a number of wonderful horror comics out there, but I can’t quite call them “scary”. They are gory, such as the adaptations of the horror greats like Nightmare of Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th, or they are human melodramas like The Walking Dead, or they are action-thrillers like Warren Ellis’s Black Gas. They are all wonderful horror comics, but they are not scary. Then Dark Horse Comics released The Secret. I almost didn’t pick it up. It was a last minute “what the hell” decision, and one of the best random decisions I've ever made as comics reader.
The Secret has the standard, classic set-up: high school kids screwing around become the target of psycho-killer. But writer Mike Richardson still inserts a twist or two into the old formula. Tommy is hoping for the time of his life when he’s invited to a party with the high school upper class and the chance to hit it off with the girl of his dreams, Pam. But the night can’t be all fun and games, and it’s not because some of the party-goers give Tommy a hard time for being an outsider.
All they were doing was making some harmless prank phone calls. Pam’s prank call turns bad when she says to the person on the other end of the phone, “I know your secret.”
Soon, Pam disappears.
What follows is Tommy’s attempt to find out what happened to Pam. This is a switch from the typical teen horror motif. The plot moves along not because the killer keeps killing, but because our protagonist refuses to let the antagonist get away.
Naturally, Tommy’s attempts to get help are ignored, and he makes a few mistakes while on his quest. Pam’s disappearance gets linked to another woman’s disappearance, but the police cannot find anything else to follow up on. And Tommy loses credibility with the police after some missteps.
The first issue of The Secret is the most striking. That was the issue which, when I closed the back cover, I was creeped out. The all-too-plausible pranks of teenagers, the dark turn of events, and Jason Alexander’s moody art come together to create an eerie tale. I will admit that I don’t generally like the art style that Alexander uses on The Secret. I often find it too chaotic and dark to tell what is going on in panels, but here the uncertainty of what I’m looking at, and the deep, dark lines and shadows aid the feel of unease. But I do not want to leave out the effect that Clem Robins’s letters have on the mood.
Robins utilizes every aspect of his letters in creating the mood of each panel. Word bubble designs are used to show panic, fear, and despair. His sound effects have distinct font designs to separate them from spoken words. What's most unusual is that the antagonist's words are displayed as sound effects, like what he says does’t come from a person, but are carried on the wind. Robins’s letters carry the feeling of a detached, deranged, violent voice coming from nowhere. He deserves equal credit for this terrifying tale.
So, if you like horror, don’t be left out of The Secret.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 12th
Written by: David Hine
Publisher: Active Images/Image Comics
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
Many people will know David Hine for his current writing, be it for his revitalisation of Spawn or for some of the darkest writing seen in the non-Max segment of the Marvel Universe with Son of M.
Less people know that he's a talented artist in his own right and his series Strange Embrace, published by Atomeka Press back in 1993, is part of the reason for his current work.
I first heard of the work ten years later when it was reprinted by Active Images, and now it's being re-released as a series by Image, in colour for the first time.
Strange Embrace is set in the present day and tells the tale of Sukumar the delivery boy and one of the houses he delivers to.
Or at least that's where the story starts.
As the pages unfold in what Hine himself calls "A psycho-sexual, modern gothic, horror mystery" we, the reader, get a glimpse into a shocking Victorian world of family values, secrets, deceit, lies, madness and brutality.
The characters and their interlocking tales fill you with a sense of intrigue that draws you in from the first dream-filled page.
The story and artwork still hold up today and offer a lot of things that many comics today don't, but should.
It doesn't follow the traditional linear rules of comics, re-telling the same story from different perspectives and viewpoints, switching between times and eras, and almost completely shifting the focus of the tale midway through the story in a most unpredictable way. Yet it works, and in such a way that it's easy to see why there is film interest in the book from major studio's; the pages practically ooze texture and dark realism.
The villain of the story, Alex, has the look that stays with you long after you've finished reading.
His twisted grin is a very strong, powerful image that sums up the character and his actions so well. Hauntingly so.
I really can't say much more about him without giving away too much of the plot. Or at least one of them.
That really is the beauty of Strange Embrace; how all the individual characters stories connect at the end through this one protagonist and his grin.
The Image version is coloured by Rob Steen, widely known as the artist of Ricky Gervais' Flanimals, and while it's done spectacularly the black and white version works for me personally a lot better, helping to convey the darkness of the story and the eras it interweaves through in a very Poe/Hitchcock-esque manner.
Yet there are people out there who won't pick up black and white books so I commend Image for bringing it to a wider audience, as this is a story that I genuinely do believe will appeal to people willing to give non-superhero comics their due.
REVIEW FOR MAY 29th
The Unusual Suspects
Written by: Dan Wickline
The Artists: Butch Adams, Daniel Cooney, Mark Dos Santos, Homeros Gilani, David Hedgecock, Nat Jones, Billy Martinez, Mike Mayhew, Josh Medors, Chris Moreno Marat Mychaels, Rafael Navarro, Tone Rodriguez, Dietrich Smith, Taki Soma, Rich Stahnke, Ben Templesmith, Dean White
Publisher: Top Cow Productions
Reviewer: Clark Liles
The comic industry is a funny thing. Dan Wickline showcases many of its eccentricities in The Unusual Suspects, a graphic novel published to benefit the Hero Initiative, the non-profit organization for comic creators in need of health, medical, and quality-of-life assistance. But the book’s cause isn’t the only thing that’s good here; Wickline’s story and the work of the various artists are worth the purchase.
The tale is a fairly simple one: two friends having dinner as one tells the other of his attempts at working in the comic industry. The main characters are believable. Their conversation is laced with familiarity, humor, and barbed jokes at each other’s expense. It’s Wickline’s realistic dialogue between these good friends that helps drive the comic.
But witty banter isn’t all the book has to offer. Wickline has proven himself skilled at writing many different genres, such as Horror (30 Days of Night: Spreading the Disease), Mystery (I am Spartacus), Science Fiction (Blood-Stained Sword) and Fantasy (“Dragon of the Northern Pass” short story in Metal Hurlant). But with The Unusual Suspects he shows us his skill at humor and satire.
Wickline shines a colorful light on the follies of the comic industry. The friends discuss comic pitches that have failed, and through this discussion Wickline, along with many great artists, take to task such industry standards as revamps, crossovers, mega-events, the meaninglessness of death in comics, fans, and the “jumping on the bandwagon” tendency with successful properties. Wickline’s satirical comic pitches are clever and allow his collaborators to show off their artistic talents.
So do the math…good writing, good humor, good art, and a good cause make for a great book. I suspect you will enjoy this unusual book just as much as I did.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 19
Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir
By Graham Roumieu
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Bigfoot. Oh sure, we’ve all seen the blurry photographs, the out-of-focus film, the trashy tell-all ‘novel’ written by Kitty Kelley. But what do we really know about this gentle enigma with the oversized feet? What do we know of his habits, his interests, his struggles with personal demons? Where is the book that tells Bigfoot’s story in his own monosyllabic words? Well, wait no more, for that book is here.
Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir tells the true story of his life, straight from the Sasquatch’s mouth. It’s here in all its glory: the rise of Bigfoot, his stardom brought on by blurry footage and amateur photography, and the crushing fall that came after. Bigfoot lived the classic superstar life: the booze, the drugs, the small woodland animals, the parties with Andy Dick, everything. He found, however, that he was unable to accept the inevitable fall that accompanies every rise. He finds himself trying harder and harder to recover his lost stardom, dealing with depression, and generally trying to get by as a Bigfoot forgotten by the people who once adored him, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.
Through the crude but effective drawings and diary style writing, you really come to understand Bigfoot’s struggle with life as he now finds it, and indeed, come to find out all about the man…ape…thing himself. Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir is touching, honest, and above all, quite funny, indeed. Highly recommended for anyone seeking to find the true Bigfoot behind the legend.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 22
By Cathy Hannah
Available from Shortpants Press or Quimby's
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
Winter Beard is the self published graphic novel from 2005 Xeric Foundation grant winner Cathy Hannah.
The book is autobiographical. It tells the tale of the author falling in love with her best friend Mike. She’s unable to tell him that she records their days spent together, and apart, with the ultimate goal of making a comic to give to him. It’s the very comic I’m now holding in my hands and typing about.
The result is a beautifully drawn, heartfelt tale of emotion and real characterization, full of her thoughts, feelings and worries. Whether it be something as simple as standing in line, setting up a VCR or shopping for fruit, Cathy captures it all in her own style. Obvious comparisons will be made to Craig Thompson and Jeffrey Brown (a topic Cathy herself touches upon), but, for me, her book rings so much truer. The emotion practically oozes from each page and panel.
As I read it I really found myself hoping for Cathy just to tell him, and wanting for everything to work out, which is a big achievement seeing as I have no connection to the people involved. This is a book where the characters truly did write themselves; I believe these events actually happened and that the author has truthfully transcribed the events, flattering or not. The dialogue conveys this through its combination of wit and awkwardness – which isn’t to say that it’s clumsy; far from it, each word is replete with raw honesty. They’re words that I can imagine myself using in a similar situation.
The artwork is very minimal, in a style akin to Thompson, Brown or Andi Watson. This helps to keep the story simple, allowing the reader to focus on the characters and their mannerisms, while still providing a polished finished product.
It ends with an epilogue chronicling what happened after the book is given to Mike and how he felt after reading it. I’m obviously not going to spoil the ending for you but I will say that it’s a fitting end to the tale and not an anti-climax, all adding up to a very worthy addition to anyone’s graphic novel collection.
REVIEW FOR FEBRUARY 1
By Rich Koslowski
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Elvis Aaron Presley was born January 8, 1935, became the world’s first and possibly greatest rock star, and died on August 17, 1977...Or did he?
There is a lot of literature about The King and how he didn’t really die. Tabloids have faithfully reported how Elvis has been spotted, apparently trying to lead a quieter life, frequenting truck stop diners, or how he was taken by (or returned to?) alien visitors. Bruce Campbell played a wonderful aged Elvis living secretly in an old folks’ home and fighting an ancient evil mummy in 2002's Bubba Ho-Tep. Post-mortem Elvis stories are not unknown.
But Rich Koslowski’s tale of Elvis alive today is one that most stories don’t have: heart and sincerity.
The King is really the story about journalist Paul Erfurt, a former tabloid reporter trying unsuccessfully to make it in the world of serious journalism. His last chance seems to be reports that an Elvis impersonator wearing a golden mask is, in fact, no impersonator at all. He is the real Elvis. Erfurt focused on Elvis sightings when he worked for the tabloids, but can he turn it into serious journalism?
In Las Vegas, Erfurt meets The King. Don’t call him Elvis. He is The King. The King wants Erfurt to report on his return. He knows Erfurt’s tabloid work and trusts that he, above all other journalists, will ask the important questions. Erfurt sets about his investigation by interviewing the inner circle of The King’s entourage, a shady bunch of characters who have had their lives changed by their encounters with a King who gave them something to believe.
Through Erfurt’s investigation of The King, Koslowski forces Erfurt to question the nature of belief and faith. See, it seems that The King is The God of Song, or he claims to be. He says that being a demigod is all about belief and as long as the people believe, then you are a god. The tabloid articles have started to dry up, the people don’t believe Elvis is out there. He’s returned to get them to believe again. Erfurt, being one of the best Elvis tabloid reporters, is instrumental in the attempt.
This graphic novel, as I said above, has heart and sincerity. The real mystery isn’t who The King really is. Erfurt’s mystery is, “Who is Paul Erfurt?” The reader’s mystery is about the nature of faith and belief. In The King, Koslowski asks, “Which is more powerful...Truth or Belief? Which is more important?”
Koslowski provides quotes from Elvis as well as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and others to frame his story, echoing the questions posited in his tale about the nature of Elvis. Koslowski’s art carries the feel of Las Vegas: the seediness, the shadiness, and the hopelessness.
Koslowski and The King help us to discover the power of truth, belief and faith and the role that mystery plays in them. You don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy this book, although I am. All you have to do is open this book with an appreciation of mystery, a question about truth, and uncertainties about belief, and, while I won’t claim you will find the answers here, if anywhere, you may just close the book having thought a little more about these concepts.
At least it will sure get you closer to some answers than American Idol or Desperate Housewives. Have faith.
REVIEW FOR OCTOBER 10
By David B
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Epilepsy is a disease that is, even in this day and age, something of a mystery to a lot of us. Unless you have known someone who suffers from it personally, its effects can seem strange, almost alien. It can be hard to make people truly understand what the person is going through. There are experiences that can only be shown and felt, not described, things that can only be made sense of via the visual medium, by being made to feel as if you are actually there. Epileptic, by French cartoonist David Bouchard, does a wonderful job of showing the reader exactly how it feels to deal with that pain, and how it feels to have to stand by and watch as someone you love fall deeper and deeper into the clutches of his disease.
Superficially, Epileptic tells the story of David’s older brother, Jean-Christophe, and his struggles with a very serious form of epilepsy, one that causes him to suffer grand mal seizures often. But looking deeper, Epileptic is much more about the author himself, and the various ways he deals with the feelings his brother’s illness brings on.
Jean-Christophe becomes sick at a young age, but modern medicine is no match for his disease. The doctors want to cut him open, to pry, to experiment, all with no guarantee it would do any good at all. In the end, his parents instead turn to ever stranger forms of alternative medicine, in the hopes that one of them will be the silver bullet, the thing that will kill the monster stalking Jean-Christophe, once and for all. They do all of this as a family, joining various communes and societies as needed, uprooting their lives time and again. As such, David and his family are exposed to a staggering amount of divergent schools of thought, as well as many a strange character.
David is a very visual person, and as such, he describes all these experiences in a metaphorical way. The various svengali that David’s family turn to are often depicted as animals, and avatar or a totem meant to represent some core aspect of that person’s character. He describes his internal conditioning, his defense mechanisms against both the disease and the anger it engenders, as a literal suit of armor, one that grows to completely encase him as his life progresses. He describes each new concept they come across in an entirely visual way, and as such breaks them down in a way that makes them easy to at least comprehend, if not understand. In many ways, this is the prototypical graphic novel, in that it is a story that could not possibly be told in another medium. Without the interweaving of narrative and image, the story would not have the impact that it does.
This is a brutally honest book. It never flinches as it looks back, and more than a few times paints the author in a less than flattering light. But in doing that, it serves to humanize David even more to the reader. One can hardly blame him for his occasional feelings of resentment, of anger, even hatred, and each instance serves to underscore just how hard it was for all of them to go through this. The story lays out the lives of these people in all its painful detail, and is often quite emotionally draining to read, but the effort is well worth it. In the end, you may just come to understand what it truly means to be Epileptic.
REVIEW FOR OCTOBER 3
By Mick Bunnage & Jon Link
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
Britain's well known for several things. If you forget about The Beatles, The Queen, Tea, crooked teeth, 2000AD and David Beckham and you're left with one thing: Comedy.
From Monty Python through to The Office, British comedy has always stood out from its US counterpart with a quirk of sarcasm, one liners and general absurdity.
Modern Toss continues that tradition.
The "Orange Whore book," comprised of the first two sold-out issues of the series, hits the ground running at full speed. There's no messing about, the cover alone prepares you for what's inside by introducing you to one of the title's main characters: Mr Tourette, Master Signwriter.
The crude, simple artwork may put many people off on first glance, but it helps to get to the core of the humor, the one liner that captures the situation, and life itself, instantly. Highlights include 'Work'("I can't come in today, so fuck off" - A phone call we all long to make every now and again);
Insect Jackass; as well as the continuing escapades of Mr Tourette and Alan, the family member with some serious self-destruction issues.
The series is currently up to issue 4, and has produced two late night animated television shows over on Channel 4 - the station that gave us Ali G and Ricky Gervais' first break. Yet the animated series doesn't sell out and keeps exactly the same style and hilarity of the book.
The very nature of the book and its style makes it incredibly hard to for me to “sell” here, but I'd be doing a great title a huge disservice if I didn't at least try.
As it itself says: "Modern Toss - the stink of excellence in a world gone tits up."
And I personally don't want to live in a world where that doesn't make perfect sense.
REVIEW FOR SEPTEMBER 26
Living in Infamy 1-4
By Benjamin Raab, Deric A. Hughes, and Greg Kirkpatrick
Publisher: Ludovico Technique
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Several months ago, I reviewed a comic book entitled Living in Infamy. In that review, I stated how it was a story of people trying to hide their true nature. The people? Former super villains who have turned states’ evidence. Their true nature? Killers, megalomaniacs, and madmen trying to live a quiet, average life.
This month, I want to return to Infamy to let you in on a little truth... If you haven’t picked it up, you are making a grave mistake.
One of the things that struck me about Living in Infamy is the amount of pride the Infamy crew has taken in their covers. I find it discouraging to see Spider-Man and Superman covers that could be put on any Spider-man or Superman issue. Not so with Living in Infamy.
John Cassaday starts us off with Living in Infamy #1. He gives us a light-hearted cover with a guy getting his morning newspaper in his robe, bunny slippers, and... helmet? Issue one echoes the tone of Cassaday’s cover. Plenty of whimsical moments as former super villains play a casual game of poker and, as men frequently do, giving each other a hard time about those little secrets from their pasts that no one else knows about. You have Wells Johnson, bound to an unseen entity that seems to act more like a nagging wife than a trans-dimensional being bent on conquering our world. The mayor of Infamy was once the Masked Mentalist, a not-so-successful villain who used a hypno-wheel. There’s also Chiller, the ice cream man; Shotgun, the ex-mafia hit man who lives with his mother; and the Mechanic. Living in Infamy is the Mechanic’s story.
As the character on Cassaday’s cover shows there’s something amiss, so does Raab’s first issue. With all the flippant male bonding, there’re also more serious events: possible marital betrayals; a mysterious murder; and The Baron, the person from whom Tom Blackbridge, the Mechanic, is hiding.
Howard Chaykin lends his talent for issue #2, another colorful cover with a body shot of a policeman holding an ice cream wrapper in an evidence bag and a strange gun. Again, Living in Infamy’s story reflects its cover. While the cover is colorful and the gun being held is whimsical in its design, the actual scene is ominous. Clearly, a crime has been committed.
The inhabitants of Infamy have to come to grips with some bizarre occurrences in their little desert town, such as a murder involving a man being frozen in a block of ice. The Mechanic’s marriage continues to suffer as Tom and his wife Shana argue over whether or not to tell their son, Tyler, the truth. Meanwhile, we learn more about the mysterious Baron Skarr.
The subtle allusions to something ominous on the covers completely fall away with Chris Bachalo’s cover to #3. A cover inspired by Rio Bravo movie posters, we see three of our main characters, tense in expectation, in the shadow of a grasping claw or hand. Equally, the allusions to some bad goings-on in Infamy fall away. #3 brings us to the climax as Skarr’s Headhunters have found The Mechanic, and Tyler learns the truth about his parents. All of our characters are being forced to face truths about themselves, and the normal people of Infamy have to face truths about their town. Shotgun, Mr. Watanabe, and the Mechanic are prepared for a fight on the cover. Inside the cover, we find the fight.
Tim Sale’s cover for #4 gets us to the end of our discovery about the truth of Living in Infamy. The cover is a visual representation of the truth. Living in Infamy is a dark tale of truth, as Sale shows us Tom Blackbride, the Mechanic, standing on the line that encircles Infamy, keeping its villainous citizens in, and protecting Blackbridge and the rest from the truth of their past lives. The cover is presented in the style of an old, worn pulp magazine cover, fraying on the edges, just as the lives of the Living in Infamy cast have begun to fray.
And fray they do as the Mechanic confronts Baron Skarr for the first time since he betrayed him. We learn the truth about the mysterious murder, the Chiller’s secret, and something about Tyler, as well.
Raab leaves the tale open. We have plenty of resolution, but he keeps the door slightly ajar, and I can only hope that means he may guide us back to Infamy one day. Because Living in Infamy is about truth, both the noble truths of humanity as well dark and dirty truths, the truths that fray our happy concept of reality. US Attorney Clarence Darrow once said, “Chase after truth like hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat-tails.” In Infamy, we see that sometimes the truth chases us. Sometimes being set free by the truth can be painful. But in Infamy we also see what Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran Warns us, “Say not ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’” Raab leaves a possibility for a return to Infamy to learn more about the inhabitants of the small desert community rife with secrets, and to see Tyler seek out the truth about his parents.
I’ll leave you with one last truth...a couple of weeks ago, Living in Infamy #4 came out and the series came to an end. So call your Local Comic Shop, search online, find Living in Infamy #1-4 from Ludovico Technique. You’ll be glad you did.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 27
By Alexander Danner
Read it online here
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
In my opinion, there is no greater outlet for experimentation with the conventions of storytelling than the avenue of web comics. Needing little other than a web-space to host their work, creators are essentially free to allow their imaginations to run wild, pushing sequential storytelling in new directions…
A good example of that is Alexander Danner’s Panel One. Panel one is simply that, a mostly blank square comic strip panel, seeking to answer the existential questions: why am I here, what is my purpose, am I alone in this world? Instead of turning into insufferable pretentious navel-gazing, however, Panel One quickly discovers that he is in fact not alone, as he is joined by a somewhat brusque Caption, and later by the embodiment of the English Alphabet, who would rather be known as Phoebe, if it’s all the same to you. What results is a series of, well, adventures, for lack of a better term, mostly centered on semantics and linguistic discussions. Each character in the story takes on a distinct personality almost immediately. Panel One is introspective, adroit, some might say stuffy…Caption is free spirited, argumentative, thought-provoking and profane all at once (often to the consternation of Panel), and Phoebe is, well, Phoebe. She is somewhat egotistical, what with being the basis of written English language and all, and has a tendency to get on Caption’s nerves especially.
The three of them are eventually beset by a villain, because as their arguments become more and more impassioned, their spelling suffers. Phoebe tries to warn them of this, but to no avail. Their poor spelling eventually brings about the avatar of the internet age, the living embodiment of leet speek, a beast known simply as TEH, which they are still in the process of dealing with even now.
All of this is told in a typical 4 panel style, but what makes it different is that the format itself are the characters… it’s a story with no characters, that’s full of character. It’s funny and intelligent, inventive and experimental… and very much worth reading. Check it out, and be sure to check out some of Danner’s other works that are linked on the same site, like Portraits of Nervous Children, which appears to have just started recently, but is already pretty interesting, and the flash cartoon 5 Ways to Love a Cockroach, which is exactly what it says.
EVIEW FOR JUNE 13
by Steve Perkins
Published by Image Comics
Reviewer: Phil Thomas
Diamond code JAN061797
Upon turning to the solicitation for Pacify, the first thing that caught my eye was the artwork, a beautifully illustrated splash of a man with a giant fly's head, and I was instantly sold. I didn't even need to look at the text, the art stood out that much.
After a search online for Perkins I was treated to more amazing artwork from a comics newcomer who fit right in with Williams, Sienkiewicz, Kieth, Mack, Wood and Templesmith.
I pre-ordered it the next day.
Two and a bit months later and I was finally able to get my grubby little mitts upon the book.
I wasn't disappointed. By artwork or plot.
Pacify tells the tale of Sarcophaga, a human/fly hybrid; the result of an attempt to create a male capable of producing life without a female. The man responsible for said genetic meddling: Sarcophaga's father—the most powerful businessman in the world.
However, Sarcophaga's appearance isn't necessarilly a drawback. He has the added bonus of a constant emission of pheromones, making every female he comes into contact with want him. Naturally he did what any male would do and using his power for the good of all mankind became a Hollywood superstar.
Despite the fame, fortune and constant string of women his life still lacks one thing; revenge upon his father who he blames for the suicide of his mother. A quest through which Perkins brutally slices through Hollywood, pop-culture, advertising, sexism, family values and American industry with hard-hitting satirical content and black humor at every step, even delving through the third wall on occasion.
Perkins is a talent to which I shall be keeping an eager eye out for in the future, and I encourage you to do the same.
REVIEW FOR JUNE 6
Kilroy is Here
Written by: Joe Pruett
Art by: Ken Meyer Jr and various others
Published by: Image Comics
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Joe Pruett’s Kilroy is a supernatural being drawn to places of great human suffering and misery, and most frequently these places are scenes of horrific acts of war. The mysterious Kilroy is drawn to these atrocities in order to protect and defend the weak, and avenge the dead. Kilroy does not age, but he hungers...he hungers for the lives of human monsters who commit these inhuman acts.
Kilroy is Here collects Pruett’s Kilroy work from Negative Burn, where the character premiered and his series of the same name, as well as shorts from a variety of titles. With Kilroy, Pruett takes the mythology behind the World War II expression graffitied wherever US Soldiers were present, “Kilroy was Here” and creates an ominous stranger who wanders from place to place seeing the worst that humanity has to offer and doing his small part to counteract it.
In these stories, Kilroy visits Tiananmen Square when up to 800 students and intellectuals protesting the Chinese government were killed; Sarajevo during the war between Bosnians and Serbs; Mogadishu, Somalia in 1992 while factions fought for control of the small African country; Cambodia years after the Khmer Rouge; Germany during World War II; Rosewood, Florida years after a white mob destroyed the black town; Vietnam during the war; and he even pays a visit to Billie the Kid. Not only does Kilroy visit historically disturbing settings of human horror, he also visits smaller disquieting events that occur worldwide everyday, such as the woman who is stalked but can’t find assistance in human laws, the child beaten by his father, a homosexual man beaten to death, and even inhumane acts against animals.
With Kilroy is Here, Pruett presents a collage of humanity’s worst. It makes you think, “How could such a thing happen?” It makes you wonder, “How can we prevent such things from happening?” And it makes you wish, “If only Kilroy really was here...”
REVIEW FOR MAY 30
Wormwood Gentleman Corpse The Taster #0
Art and Story by Ben Templesmith
Published by IDW Comics
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
How I love Ben Templesmith. His style of art is sketchy, out of focus, and terrifying. As evidenced by his work on 30 Days of Night and its various minis, I have grown to appreciate his work--to smile at its darkness, to welcome it with each project he works on that I encounter.
This time someone recommended this one to me, as opposed to me finding it myself (which is a welcome change--Thanks, Shannon)
She came in raving about this book, and I sat down on my lunch break, kicking back a Corona (or two) and read it at Pizzaria Uno.
The customers stared at me as I laughed aloud. As i yelled, and yes, even cheered this book.
As the title suggests, this is a 'taster', an appetizer, if you will, for an upcoming series, not only drawn by Templesmith, but written by him as well.
If this taster is any indications, Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse is off to a good start.
The premise of the comic is simple: Imagine if a strip club was really hiding a dimensionality window into all sorts of nastiness? What if the strippers were supposed to watch that doorway to make nothing nasty made its way into the world?
What if they weren't paying attention....?
Templesmith has an unexpected (but very welcome) comedic timing on this book. The dialogue is 'tongue-in-cheek', and as horrible as the events are, you can't help but laugh at the situations going on around the patrons of the strip club.
Some members become infected with a nasty parasite, and it is up to Wormwood, our undead corpse, to save the day?
Is he up to the task? And if he is, how can he do it?
This 'taster' has totally gotten me pumped for the mini series due out in July.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
REVIEW FOR MAY 23
Jack Staff: Soldiers
Written and illustrated by Paul Grist, Colors by Phil Elliot
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Superhero stories are everywhere, this much is true. A cursory glance of any rack at your local comic shop will show you a veritable sea of superheroes, stories ranging from the great to the mundane, and all flavors in-between. For a book about a superhero to truly stand out in that sea of four color super powered beings, it would have to do something truly extraordinary, be it telling a story no one has ever told before, or even just telling that story in a different way, one that is not commonly seen. In Jack Staff: Soldiers, that is exactly what Paul Grist does.
Soldiers tells a tale that initially looks like one you have read before…a super powered person is accidentally unleashed in a small town, and manages to destroy much of it before Jack Staff, then Britain’s greatest hero, was able to stop him. What makes this book so good, though, is the way that story is told… there are layers upon layers of details built, as Grist shifts the story between the telling of what happened that day in Castletown twenty years ago, and the events of the present day. The story is told in a circular way, in that you see events that have happened again and again, but each time you see them, you are armed with more details of what is really happening. Therefore, each time you see the same event again, you understand more and more what it is really showing you. It reads like a mystery that gradually reveals itself to the reader, layer by layer. By the end of the book, you come to realize that everything you read, everything you saw had a place in telling the story, no matter how unrelated it seemed at the time.
So, looking for something that stands out from the typical superhero fare? Looking for a well told, clever story? Well, look no further than Jack Staff: Soldiers. It really is a stellar example of the unique sort of storytelling that can only be done in a comic book, and well worth the read. Check it out!
REVIEW FOR MAY 2
Big Max #1
Writer – Dan Slott, Artists – James W. Fry and Andrew Pepoy
Published by Mr. Comics
Preview Available Online at http://www.mrcomics.ca/
Sky Ape: King of Girls #1
Writers – Tim McCarney and Mike Russo, Artist – Richard Jenkins
Published by AiT/Planet lar
Available Online at http://www.khepri.com/pub-AiT2.html
Thunder Monkey #1
Created by Lee Oaks
Published by Dream Bug Productions
Available Online at http://www.dreambugproductions.com/
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Gorilla Grodd, Giganto, Detective Chimp, Beppo the Supermonkey, the Red Ghost’s Super-Apes…Comics and simians have gone together like peanut butter and bananas…if you are Elvis. Well, this week…we go APE!
First off, from Dan Slott, we have Big Max, the Primate That Lowers the Crime Rate. Big Max is the brightest member of the New Liberators, which is why Old Glory has become his mentor. Max and his monkey sidekick Shakes still make mistakes, but the super strong gorilla still comes out on top against a supervillainous mime.
Slott, well known for his antics in She-Hulk, GLA, and The Thing, gets Big Max hitting our funny bone as he fumbles through an encounter with Knock-Knock, a failed comedian trying to bomb a comedy club, and assumes his secret identity of Homer Sapien, employee of Link’s Gorilla-Grams. This is great comedic work from Slott and company.
Next, we have Sky Ape: King of Girls. Sky Ape’s been a cult hit since the turn of the 21st Century, and he’s deserved it. Excitement and clever humor are your catch phrases for these titles.
In King of Girls, Sky Ape must stop Derrick Williamson, King of Girls, before he turns “socially retarded, sexually inept losers into well-groomed, stylish lotharios.” The problem? He also trains them to use women rather than commit. And can Sky Ape survive the even greater danger…can he tolerate the inept Victory’s Thirteen?
Last but not least, we have Thunder Monkey. Thunder Monkey actually takes a back seat in his first appearance with the story belonging to Knuckles, a lowlife loser owing money to the local crime family, the Corona’s. Knuckles, from a bed in Crestview Hospital, explains to a state attorney how the Corona’s came to collect, and how he encountered Thunder Monkey.
Lee Oaks developed Thunder Monkey starting in high school as a bootleg comic, then into a college comic strip, and has finally brought it into official comic book status. Oaks’s monkey is a bit more straight faced than the previous apes mentioned as a serious drama unfolds involving a Mexican mafia, the Alacran. There’s more too Thunder Monkey than meets the eye, and I’m not just talking about his missing eye and scar. This book is more complex than the standard funny monkey fare.
So, with the infinite crises overloading the comic industry, and the drama of civil wars disrupting your books…aren’t you in need of some fun? Well, these simians are for you. Three options with different tastes: Slott’s Big Max with high speed slapstick action; Sky Ape: King of Girls, with its witty humor; or Lee Oaks’s more serious take in Thunder Monkey. Apes and monkeys haven’t been this big in comics since the Silver Age, and these three titles all have appeal.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 18
East Coast Rising
By Becky Cloonan
Published by TokyoPop
Reviewed by Ron Thibodeau
Before we discuss the book, let's first talk about its creator, Becky Cloonan. I first learned
of her talents when she teamed up with Brian Wood for the acclaimed DEMO series.
This was a 12 issue series, where Becky got to show off not only her artwork, but to show
us the various moods and styles she could create. Color me impressed.
Becky is also the illustrator for the book American Virgin being published under DC comics
Vertigo imprint. Amazing book, and at first I thought that Becky's style didn't fit the story. I realised
that it was the first time I had seen her work in color. I was reading the first issue, and there was a
scene where the main character does a jump on his bicycle off of a wooden ramp. That particular panel
made me rethink my earlier decision, and I realised that DC knew what it was doing in having Cloonan
illustrate the series.
Now, Becky lands at TokyoPop with her new series, which will contain three volumes, East Coast Rising.
The book opens up with pirates sinking a ship. The action spills out across both pages, as we see the ship hit,
and then sink. One lone survivor, a young boy named Archer is left floating amongst the waves. But Archer is
not all that he appears to be, at least in regards to his past.
He carries with him a secret. A secret that two bands of pirates eventually will end up warring over. I will leave Archer
and his mysteries for you to discover when you read the book.
As for the pirates, themselves, they fill the bill of what you would expect--surly, lanky, pierced, and tattooed. I like to think
of them as pirates for the new millenium. I am assuming that it is sometime in the future that this takes place, as most of
the action takes place on the high seas in and around New York City and New Jersey.
On the NY side of things, we have Cannonball Joe, and his crew who man "La Revancha", the fastest ship in the east. It is
the crew of La Revancha which ends up picking Archer out of the water and saving him from Lee, and his band of cut-throats
who make Jersey their home base. Their ship is 'The Hoboken', which is a modified amphibious assault vehicle.
Archer takes to the crew of La Revancha and ends up staying on, after making a deal with Canonball Joe. He is assigned
to Drake, the cook (a surly, burly guy who totally appealed to me) and starts to develop a crush on Abby, the woman who pulled
him from the depths at the beginning of the story.
A secret mission to infiltrate New Jersey under cover of darkness goes awry, and the book ends with one hell of a sea battle, and
a cliff-hanger that will want you to run back when volume 2 is released.
Damn I dug this. It had me on the edge of my seat. Becky's art style manages to strike a balance, walking the fine line between
serious and playful. There are scenes where the characters become a bit more 'animated', generally when they are surprised or
hit with something unexpectedly. Their features become a bit more exaggerated and silly, in the 'manga' style, and it always gave
me a chuckle.
I would have preferred to see this book published in a larger format, but I really can't complain about anything else. I know there are some
very 'traditional' manga readers out there who will not read anything but japanese manga. Tokyopop has really been a leader in publishing
American-Manga (for lack of a better word). It is nice to see a company going after readers like myself, who haven't quite come around to
manga, or the way of reading the traditional volumes.
Why Aren't You Reading....
Written by Brian Vaughan
Pencils by Tony Harris
Published by Wildstorm Comics
Ex Machina is written by Brian Vaughan. This is the same guy who is setting sales through the roof on Y: The Last Man, but I don't
hear very many people talking about Ex Machina.
The story is simple: Mitchell Hundred is elected mayor of NYC. Big deal, right? Well, it is, because Mitchell Hundred is a former
super-hero known as 'The Great Machine'. He was called that due to his ability to 'communicate' with machines. A simple word or
two from Mitchell can defuse a bomb or cause a cell phone to ring. He wasn't without his enemies, but after 9/11, Mitchell realised
that he could make more of a difference on the ground in the city, than up in air.
This book tackles real world politics, and isn't afraid to shy away from controversial stances. Issues such as art vs. censorship, gay marriage,
jury duty, and having a domestic terrorist attack during a protest march on the streets of New York have all been tackled by this series.
The latest tpb just came out, and that particular story 'Fact vs. Fiction' was just nominated for an Eisner Award. Give it a shot, and see
what everyone's (not) talking about. And then show it to your friends....
Still not sure? Try the entire first issue for FREE:
Strangers In Paradise
by Terry Moore
published by Abstract Studios
Having won scads of awards, including the Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series, and the GLAAD Award for Best Comic Book, I can
not recommend this series enough. This is quite simply the most honest portrayal of human emotion I have ever seen in a comic. No other book has
driven me to tears, to laughter, to rage, or caused me shout at the top of my lungs on a crowded subway "S**T! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU JUST DID THAT!"
The story of Strangers in Paradise focuses on a small group of characters, and then introduces a large revolving cast as you get to see more and more of the
SiP world through their eyes. The main focus is on Francine and Katchoo, two friends who have known each other for years. Katchoo is a blonde, tough-talking,
cigarette smoking hard-ass. She has always had a crush on Francine.
Francine is a neurotic, slightly overwight brunette who self-esteem issues who loves her friend, Katchoo--just not in that way.
Add two men into the mix, David, and Freddy Femur, Francine's on again/off again boyfriend, and you have the start of some very interesting
stories. The action heats up when figures from Katchoo's past show up. But these are not your normal 'friends' from the past...these are
gun-toting female assassins who hve their fingers in many of the country's goings-on. And they have unfinished business with Katchoo.
Heart-breaking, full of real emotion, and bullet-blazing action, Strangers in Paradise is the book that everyone should be reading.
REVIEW FOR APRIL 11
True Story, Swear To God
Created by Tom Beland
Published by Clib's Boy Comics
Trade paperbacks available from AiT-Planetlar
Issues available from Clib's Boy Comics
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
Ever since I got back into reading comics several years ago, I've been dedicated to branching out in my interests. I still enjoy a good superhero tale, don't get me wrong, but I was starting to get the feeling that there was so much more I was missing out on in the world of indie comics. Indeed, that's why we do these reviews, to point out what we think is flying under the radar, and needs to be hoisted up into the public eye. I think I've been successful in that attempt to branch out, and as a result, while I don't actually read as many comics as I used to, what I do read is very good indeed. It's become a situation where I look forward to picking my books up very much each week, excited to see what's going to happen next in the various stories that I follow. There are tales of heroism, tales of mystery, tales of… mystical librarians who travel the universe in search of overdue books. But the tale I look forward to continuing more than any other is the story of Tom Beland's life, told in the pages of True Story, Swear to God.
True Story, Swear to God starts off as with the retelling of a chance encounter California based cartoonist Tom Beland had at an amusement park with the soon to be love of his life, Puerto Rican journalist Lily Garcia, and the trials and tribulations of their ensuing relationship…as their relationship blossoms, so does the series, delving more and more into Tom's life with Lily, and his burgeoning comic career as well. Beland manages to weave his tales with equal parts humor and pathos, but nothing ever feels forced or contrived for the sake of story.
In fact, what makes this book so intriguing, so absolutely engaging to me is the feeling that it faces the subject matter with total honesty. I never get the feeling while reading that Beland is hiding something from the reader, or that he is dressing up a situation to make it more ‘readable', but rather I am given the impression that he is giving me a window into Tom and Lily's lives, and showing me all there is to see, good and bad. Although few of us have likely had to deal with having the person you love live in another country, it is still easy to relate to what they go through, because they encounter situations many of us have likely run into in our own lives. As a result, I come away from each issue feeling like I have caught up with friends that I haven't seen in a while, rather than feeling like I have read about a two-dimensional character's latest adventure.
This is a book with characters that are real people who actually feel like real people. I cannot overstate how much of an achievement that really is. All too often I come away from auto-biographical comics feeling like I was shown the idealized version of the author's life, the rose-colored (or more often tear-stained) glasses version of what really went on. I never feel that way when reading True Story, Swear To God.
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. Even if auto-biographical type indie comics “aren't your thing”, I think you'll quite enjoy True Story, Swear To God. It bears all of the emotional weight that a true story of a real life romance should, with healthy doses of really funny moments (Tom drunk at Wondercon from issue 16 is a wonderful example of both). So go on and ask your retailer to get the trade paperback, Chances Are, for you, which covers the first five issues of the ongoing series, and see for yourself. Chances are, you'll love it as much as I did.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 21
Corporate Ninja #1-2
Created, Written, and Drawn by Matt Mocarski
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Available Online at http://store.slavelabor.com/
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Imagine…you are a wealthy, powerful corporation. Your existence is a continuous battle of wits against your one natural enemy…the consumer. So, when you cannot seem to best your opponent, whom do you call? The Corporate Ninja!
In issue one, a fish company is lead astray by its most honored of soothsayers…The Memo. When The Memo proclaims a faulty marketing strategy in order to ensnare the new “female consumer”, the Blue Fish Corporation seeks help from the only person a troubled corporation can turn to…The Corporate Ninja. It's the Female Shopper versus Corporate Ninja. Who will be the victor?
In issue two, the Llama Corporation, a tobacco company, markets Cigapettes, cigarettes for your pets. A brilliant marketing move as sales soar. But, is there such thing as too much success? As supplies of Cigapettes dwindles due to overwhelming sales, pets now deprived of their tobacco fix are turning violent and killing owners for their human cigarettes. Can Corporate Ninja cure the violent nicotine cravings of our cuddly friends?
With Corporate Ninja, Matt Mocarski gives us a scathing satire on big business and its marketing practices. Irrational deductions based on short-sighted marketing studies; Marketing strategies which target those who should be unmarketable; Consideration of the profit margin and only the profit margin…They all get hit by Mocarski in Corporate Ninja.
Naturally, as with any good satire, Mocarski keeps his tongue in his cheek. The head of the Blue Fish Corporation is a pirate, both a silly character and a satirical commentary on the heads of big business corporations. The Joe Camel debate is referenced in Llama Corporation from issue two. Both issues are laced with good, silly humor. However, Mocarski shows a skill at handling controversial issues as he seems to criticize indoor smoking laws while at the same time the very addiction to nicotine to which smokers are victims.
Satirical commentary on marketing and big business in comic book form: A wealth of material in a medium rich with possibilities. Yes, you should pick up this funny, intelligent comic…but I'll tell you when he hits on the marketing of comic books…just in case.
REVIEW FOR MARCH 14
Paul the Samurai
Created by Ben Edlund
Written by Clay Griffith
Art by Dave Garcia and Jeff Whiting
Available for purchase Here
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
The Tick is a name most comic fans know, either from the various television exploits, or from the variety of Tick comic series… but not as many might remember what I consider to be the best thing to come out of the entirety of the Tick universe, Paul the Samurai.
Paul first appeared in the pages of the Tick early on, when he came to America to battle the ninja leader Sagin, his sworn enemy. Upon the completion of his quest, however, Paul found he lacked the funds to return to Japan, and decided to open up an investigation services to make the money to one day return home. Thus the stage was set for Paul's adventures in a series of his own.
Over the course of a three issue mini-series and the ten issue regular series that followed, Paul found himself investigating all manner of bizarre cases, from the case of a former US automaker executive who blamed his sudden lack of a job on the foreign automakers, and took vengeance on them in the form of a giant robot built from a Buick Roadmaster, to a tussle with corporate sponsored superhero Paul Bunyan, and his eye-candy sidekick Babe, to tracking the minions of his former arch-nemesis to the sunny beaches of Hawaii, and so much more. Parody still has a big place in this book, as Paul will find himself facing off against foes that readers will find strangely familiar in many cases, but it manages to create a mythos of it's own that builds and expands with each issue.
If you are a fan of the early days of the Tick like I am, then you'll find much to love about this series... I feel that Paul the Samurai maintained the heart and the tone of the Tick series very well, perhaps even better than the Tick itself did, all the while expanding upon the premise of the character. Check it out!
REVIEW FOR MARCH 7
Mouse Guard #1
Belly of the Beast
by David Petersen
Published by Archaia Studio Press
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
Mouse Guard tells the tale of former soldiers who now act as pathfinders, bodyguards, and escorts to their own community. David Peterson, handling both art and story, introduces us to a world inhabited by mice. This is a riveting world, full of danger and intrigue. I would recommend this book for readers of all ages.
In the first issue, we are introduced to three of 'the guard'. Lieam (a red-furred scrapper), Kenzie (who appears to be the leader of the three), and Saxon (who is a bit snippy--and therefore, my favorite) are trying to find a missing grain wagon--and its owner.
The simple mission of finding the missing merchant takes a dangerous turn, as the group discovers just who/what they are dealing with. A hasty retreat leads them into the more thrills, and finally, the mystery of the vendor is revealed...which leads to another mystery altogether-- one with dangerous repercussions.
This is truly an all ages book. As an adult, I can appreciate the themes and story being presented. I would also have no problem giving this book to a young child. Using animals as the characters allows Petersen to portray violence, but no harsher than what you may actually see in nature. The panel layout is broad, open, and surprisingly detailed. The greens and browns of the forest, as well as the coloring used to differentiate the mice from one another only draw you deeper into the story. Petersen also has a fine grasp of conveying emotion, whether it is a smirk, or a certain pose, you can tell the emotion the characters are conveying. High points for the panel where Lieam stares down his foe, ears flattened, with a look of grim determination on his face. The page that precedes it, that displays his opponent, is breathtaking.
Issue 2 arrives in April, so the book appears to have a bi-monthly schedule. The wait is going to drive me crazy, but after reading the first issue, I know it will be more than worth it.
For more information on the book, you can go to http://www.davidpetersen.net/ . This will include a 9 page preview of issues one and two. Give it a shot, and then contact your retailer to get you some!! Tell 'em I sent you.
REVIEW FOR FEBRUARY 21
"It's a Bird..."
By Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
I'm often given a hard time because I'm not a superhero reader anymore. Most of what's out there just isn't to my taste the way it was when I was in my early teens. But nobody even tangentially connected to comics can deny the potential in the archetypes of our greatest superheroes. These are our modern myths, and they have a fractal complexity to them. The more you peel away from them, the more there is. Many of the industry's favorite modern writers have made their mark exploring this territory, from Alan Moore on downwards.
Steven T. Seagle has thrown his hat into this ring with "It's a Bird..." and proves he's up to the challenge. Seagle's semi-autobiographical story picks up Superman and holds him up to the light, letting it reflect off each angle and show us once again why Superman can and should still be relevant as a myth coming up on seventy years after two Jewish boys pulled off their magic trick. But what's more, he shows why Superman can be relevant to an individual, which is a significantly greater feat.
"Steve" is a comic writer who has just been offered the "Superman" title. One of the higher-paying gigs in the business, and certainly one of the most recognizable outside of the comic fandom. But he doesn't want it. What good is the story of an invulnerable, invincible man from another world when your real life is the opposite--a world of shaky relationships, a missing parent, and most of all a genetic disease that looms in the shadows, more threatening and terrifying than any four-color supervillain? And why does everyone around him seem to have a greater appreciation for this icon than him?
Throughout the story are small vignettes, each one taking an aspect of the Superman mythos and analyzing it, juxtaposing it with the real world, dissecting and deconstructing it... efforts by a man to explain not only the Man of Steel, but his own life. It's these scenes in particular where the artwork really shines. At times the book looks like it was written as an anthology by a host of creators, rather than a single writer and artist team.
Whatever side of the superhero mainstream you may choose to stand, "It's a Bird..." is a reminder of why we fell in love with superheroes in the first place, and why they're still worth embracing.
REVIEW FOR FEBRUARY 13
Written by Andrew Dabb and Boussourir
Art by Boussourir
Publisher: Slave Labor Graphics
Available Online at http://store.slavelabor.com/
Reviewer: Clark Liles
Welcome to Vaistron, home to prostitutes, robots, mercenaries, bounty hunters, headless cults, cannibals, road killers, and a mayor who gets by on his catch phrase, “Everything's A-OK!”
To survive in a city like Vaistron, you have to be tough, and few come as tough as Gabriella Bukowsky, Road Killer. What starts off as just another day in the sky looking for opportunities for money quickly turns into a series of misadventures after her car gets totaled. In order to get the money necessary to repair her car she kidnaps the girlfriend of the wealthiest man in town, and trashes a temple of the headless cult, the Freeminders. Making matters worse is Rekoton, Gabby's porn-obsessed robot. After all, the hostage would never have been exposed to cannibals if Rekoton wasn't thinking about sex all of the time. Throw in the indestructible bounty hunter Rob, and Gabby's day can't seen to get much worse. However, I suspect, Andrew Dabb and Boussourir will keep heaping the punishment on poor Gabby in the next issue.
Vaistron is a fast-paced story full of humor, sex, and violence. Dabb doesn't waste comic pages with talking heads and pensive looks…it's action, action, action. Boussourir's art is exciting and chaotic, apt for the city of Vaistron.
Can you pass up a book with robots, explosions, cannibals, humor, and sex? No, you can't…Buy the book! You know you want to.
REVIEW FOR FEBRUARY 6
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja
Written and drawn by Chris Hastings
Find it online at http://www.drmcninja.com/index.html
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
More than anything else when I look for a web-comic, I look for something that will make me laugh. I enjoy drama as much as the next person, and I do enjoy the comics and web-comics that push the envelope and make me think, but when it comes right down to it, there is nothing more satisfying to me than a humorous tale. Lately, whenever I need a good laugh, I need look no further than the Adventures of Dr. McNinja, a web-comic created by Chris Hastings. Born from a drawing based on the creator's username at the Something Awful forums, Dr. McNinja has grown beyond a mere avatar, into something that has achieved must read status for me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
As the name might imply, the main character is a ninja. But he is not merely a ninja, no, but also a doctor, though his specific discipline has never really been nailed down… in one issue, he's a podiatrist (performing dentistry), the next he's a pediatrician… but really, it's irrelevant. All you need know is that he is a doctor, and really, you don't even need to know THAT. All you really, really need to know is that no matter where Dr. McNinja goes, zany madcap action is sure to follow.
In his first adventure, McNinja is horrified to find that McDonald's has appropriated his name for a new burger, and decides to take back his name with extreme vengeance, uncovering a horrible secret in the process. In the second adventure, McNinja encounters a strange virus that turns children into…lumberjacks. His third adventure, still underway, finds McNinja coming face to face with his hereditary arch-enemy… the pirate. Each ‘issue' seems to hone the satirical nature of the strip, and already I find myself reminded of the Tick as I read; especially in the way the main character seems to ride the razor's edge between satire and self-aware parody.
There is a lot to like in this web-comic, even if you've grown tired of ninjas, or doctors, or doctors who are also ninjas. It's funny, it's really well drawn, there are even little notes hidden in the image metadata, which give a sort of ‘creator's commentary” on each page, and are often quite hilarious themselves. On top of all that, it's free! What could be better? So go on, head on over to www.drmcninja.com and have yourself a good laugh, on me.
REVIEW FOR JANUARY 31
Godland TPB Vpl. 1
Co-Created by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli
Design by Richard Starkings
Colors by Bill Crabtree
Lettering by Comicraft's Bob Steen, Albert Deschesne, and Jimmy Betancourt
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
These days in comics, everything seems dark and dire. To offer up as evidence, I give you the remodeling done on 'House of M', The death and rebirth of 'The Other', almost every DCU hero going through a mid-life CRISIS, and the decimation, annihilation, and upcoming Civil War of the Marvel Universe.
Where can one go to read exciting stories about intriguing characters that will appeal to 'all ages'? By 'all ages', I mean a book that can appeal to both younger and older audiences alike.
I can safely say, I think I found that book in Godland.
The first thing that grabs you when picking up the book and flipping through it is Crabtree's amazingly vivid colors. The colors, literally, leap right off of the page and into your brain pan. It is a day-glo, retro, art style that suits this book perfectly.
The book itself is set in present day, but the art style is reminiscent of the old Jack Kirby art from the late 50's/early 60's.
The story centers on the Archer family. Adam and Neela are the adventurers of the family, both involved in the country's space program. Neela is a very competitive female, and tired of being treated like a woman. She wants the respect accorded her brother, Adam, whom she feels she is equal to.
Adam, however, is a very special case. He is the only surviving member of a doomed space mission to Mars. He could easily have perished with his crew, had he not encountered beings who gave him great powers.
Now, back on Earth, Adam and Neela (along with their other two sisters, Angie and Stella) live in Infinity Tower. The building was specially designed by the government to house Adam and his special powers. This allows them to watch Adam to make sure he stays within control of the government, as well as using him for important missions.
The conflict comes in the form of a large meteor from outer space that crashes into the Great Wall of China. Adam is dispatched to take care of the problem, but finds out that there is much more than a meteor at play here.
I don't want to give too much away, because the joy in reading this book is finding out all the fun surprises and in-jokes. The book bounces from moments of super-hero fisticuffs, to a sort of satirical look at the genre itself.
To illustrate the point, there is one scene, in which Adam is battling a giant space dog. In doing so, he starts taunting/talking trash to his opponent, much like 89% of super heroes do when battling a villain. The humor of the scene comes, when Adam becomes aware of what he is doing. "Why am I verbally taunting this thing?', he asks himself. "Am I such a poseur that I can't help myself?" That line had me laughing out loud, and I knew I was in for much more than an homage to the Lee/Kirby tales of a bygone day.
The villains are just as colorful and interesting as our hero (who also gets his 'origin' told in these issues). The villains also have a very interesting look. My favorite 'baddie' is Basil St. Cronus, who walks around in a suit similar to the one worn by Mr. Freeze in 'Batman'. But his head is actually a fishbowl (think Mysterio, but more of an oblong shape to the 'fishbowl') filled with liquid that holds his skull, which can usually be found floating sideways.
What happens to him shouldn't happen to a dog, but it is funny as hell to read about.
This is a book I could feel totally comfortable giving a 10 or 11 year old. The bright colors and visual representations of the characters are instantly inviting. I found myself pouring over the art, looking to take it all in. But, just because I would feel comfortable giving the book to a young child doesn't mean that an adult can't get just as much enjoyment out of the book.
The story doesn't 'talk down' to adults or kids, but presents itself in the manner of those old Silver Age stories. If you are a fan of the old Kirby repertoire, I would highly recommend this book. If you are looking for a little light hearted fun in a comic world full of 'grim and gritty' situations, then look no further than Godland.
REVIEW FOR JANUARY 24
Buddha (Vol.1: Kapilavastu)
By Osamu Tezuka
Reviewer: Michael Peterson
Osamu Tezuka was and is to Manga what Will Eisner was and is to American comics. It was he who took inspiration from Disney (including the wide, cartoony eyes) and crafted a style that is virtually inescapable in Manga even today. His best known creation, Astro Boy, is a pop culture
icon on both sides of the Pacific; but it is his more ambitious works, including "Adolf," "Phoenix," and "Buddha," that most display his craft
"Buddha" is the biography of the "Blessed One," interweaved with the stories of original characters who serve to not only shed light on the world he was born into, but also illustrate the need for his teachings. In this volume, Tezuka has the guts to begin before Buddha is born--he barely appears, here.
The story that is told, however, is epic in scope already. A friendship formed by those thrown together by fate, crossing each of the class boundaries, blossoms only to be dashed apart. It's only Tezuka's love for his characters and his charming sense of humor that uplifts us, and reminds us that hope is soon in coming--out of Kapilavastu.
REVIEW FOR JANUARY 17
Middle Man #1-4
Created and Written By Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Illustrated By Les McLaine
Publisher: Viper Comics
Available Online at http://www.vipercomics.com/shop/shop_categories.asp?cat=6
Reviewer: Clark Liles
There's more to reality than the real. There's the surreal, the unknown, the unexplained, and the unfathomable, and when these clandestine elements of reality rear their mind-boggling heads…The Middle Man steps in.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Radio free Javi) leaves writing for television and movies behind to give funny books a try…and does so with a resounding success with The Middle Man .
In this first miniseries, the story is actually less about the title character and more about his hand-picked assistant, Wendy Watson. Impressed with Wendy's calm resolve in the face of a genetic monstrosity spawned by a lab accident at the facility she's temping at, The Middle Man asks Dubbie, as he calls her, to leave the temp service and join him in his job of “fighting evil so you don't have to.”
Shortly after joining The Middle Man in his organization of absurd secrecy, they begin investigating the mysterious deaths of several crime bosses. You say that doesn't sound like the case for the world's most covert operative? It is…when the murders are committed by a genetically enhanced, super-intelligent ape!
Through it all, Wendy struggles with her new role. She does not want to be treated as anything but equal, insisting on joining The Middle Man in his dangerous exploits, but then becoming concerned that in doing so, she will become the perpetual damsel in distress.
Grillo-Marxuach presents this tale by deftly weaving the absurd, the humorous, and the serious into a gripping tale. And don't worry, it's not just a man versus monkey story as the truth behind the criminal simian isn't fully revealed until the fourth and final issue. He also peppers the tale with plenty of mystery: Who really is the non-cussing ex-Navy Seal who is The Middle Man? What really happened when Wendy's father's plane tragically and mysteriously crashed? We'll have to look to the next Middle Man series as well as the upcoming Legends of the Middle Man series exploring the Middle Men of the past for those answers.
This is a fun read, everybody. How can you pass up a secretive but forthright super-secret operative and his amateur assistant going up against poo throwing gangster chimpanzees? Simple: You can't.
REVIEW FOR JANUARY 10
Hero Squared #1-3
Written and created by Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis,art by Joe Abraham
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Available online at http://www.boom-studios.com/herosquared.html
Reviewer: Matthew Bylsma
There is a theory that states that in an infinite universe, anything is possible…that every action we don't take spins off an entire new universe built off of that possibility. For one Milo Stone, a twenty-something wannabe filmmaker and unmotivated slacker, this theory is proven to be absolutely true, as he comes face to face with… Milo Stone, a.k.a. Captain Valor, superhero extraordinaire from a parallel universe born from a chance encounter this earth's Milo never had. As shocking as all that is, though, the sudden arrival of a super-heroic version of himself quickly becomes the least of Milo's worries…
Indeed, in any universe where heroes exist, there must naturally be foils, and one exists for Valor in the form of Lord Caliginous, an unspeakably evil mastermind who bears a special grudge against Captain Valor. Evil though Caliginous may be, however, it is hard to not draw comparisons to one of Giffen's other creations, Manga Khan… they are both megalomaniacal, they are both ever scheming, heck, they both even have smart-assed toadies, though Caliginous' Sloat is far more obedient than Manga Khan's L-Ron ever was…
In fact, there are a lot of similarities to be found between Hero Squared and the Giffen/Dematteis era of the Justice League, in that they find a way to perfectly balance the dramatic tension with moments of laugh out loud hilarity, such as a squad of alien invaders finding themselves quite unable to faze a group of New Yorkers during an attack, or Sloat peppering his phrases with terms learned from his word-of-the-day-calendar…
Similarities aside, though, what Giffen and Dematteis have given us here is an interesting premise, and executed it well. Even the things which seem familiar at first never quite turn out how you might expect them too, often resolving in ways you might never expect. It's a fun ride, one worthy of standing side by side with the other great tales given to us by Giffen and Dematteis over the years. Really, if you are a fan of the Justice League International, or a fan of the recent I Can't Believe it's Not the Justice League mini-series, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to read this mini-series…it's the same magic, in an (infinite) universe all it's own. And if you've never read a Giffen/DeMatteis book before, this is a great place to start.
REVIEW FOR JANUARY 3
Reviewer: Ron Thibodeau
The end of the year is upon us (at the time of my writing this), so it's time for a retrospective of some good stuff you may be missing.
Dracula Vs. King Arthur (Silent Devil) When I was a kid, I used to love those old Universal Horror Movies. Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf-Man, etc. were fun to watch. Every now and then, there would be a Dracula vs. The Wolf-Man type of film, and I loved those the best.
That's why I love Dracula VS. King Arthur. This is a battle I never expected to see. The fact that the art and writing are top notch is just the cherry on the cupcake that is this book. Not only is the writing way up there in quality, but the art by Chris Moreno is the icing on the cake! Very detailed border panels in the first issue (look like woodcarvings of a bygone era), and a talent for expressing emotion highlight the tale.
Elk's Run (Speakeasy Comics) This is a title that had to jump from one publisher to another, but well worth it to find (or ask your retailer). This is quite simply a story of town which has drawn back away from the rest of society. In the hills of West Virginia, this sleepy town is on the verge of an uprising.
Joshua Fialkov keeps the story moving with each issue being told from a different character's perspective. Instead of ‘rehashing' events, this style of story telling actually opens up the story more than I expected it too. Motivations, ideas, dreams, and hopes are all expressed by these characters who find themselves in a town like no other. The age old battle of the younger generations ideals vs. their parents ideals gets a whole new spin, as some of the local children realize that what their parents are doing ‘for their protection' seems to do more harm than good. Check out this book for a tale of a town slowly realizing that their way of life is about to get turned on its ear.
School: A Ghost Story (Deftoons Cartooning and Comics) You may remember that I reviewed the first issue a while back, and raved about this book. Issue 2 is a much stronger book, with clearer art (less muddy in the inking process), that explains more than a bit of what is happening to Lindsey Buckner. You see, Lindsey was murdered, her body never found.
Now, her ghost is trapped in the walls of a brand new school. Why is she there? Why hasn't she passed on? Since she can't remember who murdered her, might the murderer be in the very school her spirit is trapped in. And just who are the evil ‘smiley' ghosts, and what do they want from Lindsey? The answers are both surprising and amazing to behold. Brian Defferding takes his time in revealing the secrets, but that doesn't mean the book is slow paced—quite the contrary! This book is not available through Diamond, but if you are curious, you can go to Brian's site to order the book (as well as look at previews, and interviews regarding this story: http://www.deftoons.com )
Runoff (Oddgod Press) Seek and ye shall find. Always on the lookout for the offbeat, I hit the mother lode with this one. Created by Tom Manning, Runoff presents similar themes to the aforementioned ‘Elk's Run'. This is another book set in a small town where things are awry, but the two tales are polar opposites of each other.“Elk's Run” deals with a situation that the townspeople, themselves, created, Runoff deals with a town that is hit by something beyond their control.
It starts when a hunter is found massacred and torn apart. The local authorities believe it is the work of a crazed local Native American man who wears a pirate cap and has a pet monkey. They bring him in, only to discover that more murders are happening all over town. To make matters worse, anyone who crosses the town line finds themselves permanently trapped in the town, and unable to leave. With mass chaos building, and tourists who unwittingly took a wrong turn stranded in the town, they set up a tent community in the town square.
But, lining up people in the square is basically lining up lambs for the slaughter all in one place. Who/What is murdering the people of the town? Why can't anyone leave? What is the strange floating ‘cube' creature with the big smile that is seen near some of the deaths? And how scary is it when you are surrounded by a pack of wild wolves who suddenly start to speak? Funny, creepy, odd, and off-beat, this one bears checking out. Two OGN's are available, with the third due next year.
Revelations (Dark Horse) Paul Jenkins made me a fan through his ‘Sentry' mini-series at Marvel years ago. So I was quite happily surprised to see him as the writer of this mini, which deals with a murder at the holiest of places—The Vatican. He introduces us to a cynical police detective, Charlie Northern, summoned to Rome to investigate by an old friend to look in on the case.
Charlie is brusque and rude most of the time, and it makes sense when it turns out that he has lost his faith in the church years ago. Smoking too many cigarettes, and asking too many questions not only endangers Charlie, but those around him as well. Who murdered the successor to The Pope? And will Charlie be able to deal with the answer if/when he uncovers it? Great story, that is enhanced by the art of Humberto Ramos.
I was very pleased with Ramos' style. A few years earlier when I first saw it, it seemed all weird angles, corners, and lines. His style has softened for this book, which sometimes makes his characters appear younger than they actually are. His style has definitely evolved over the years, and he really gives these characters life.
Last but not least:
Dampyr (IDW) IDW has reprinted the long running European tale ‘Dampyr'. This book introduces us to Harlan Draka, a shyster who claims that he can get rid of problems of a supernatural nature. He is a liar, who sets up situations, in order to appear as if he is saving these townsfolk from evil forces. Taking their money, he moves on to another town to find other marks.
Imagine his surprise, then, to discover that he is actually a ‘dampyr', the offspring of a human woman and a vampire father. Now, on the hunt to discover who is father was, and why these powers are his, Harlan confronts enemies both new and ancient. Each monthly volume is a little larger than digest sized, and contains one complete story in the saga. Those new Ashley Wood covers are amazing, but I wish I could see the original cover art for the series.
While this sounds like a ‘typical' vampire story, it is far from it at all. Harlan accumulates allies along the way, including Tesla—a cut throat vampire woman who has joined Harlan in his quest to rid the world of the vampire race…even if it means her end, as well. Also, a soldier, Kurjack, joins them, on many of their adventures. But, in the end, this story is all about Harlan and his quest—a journey I look forward to every month.
Happy New Year!