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#17 9/8/05 #4

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

HOUSE OF M #6
SERENITY #1-3
Y: THE LAST MAN #37
NIGHTHAWK #1
FELL #1
VILLAINS UNITED #5
Indie Jones presents: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? #1
CHEAP SHOTS!
Q & @ with Cellar Door Publishing’s Jade Dodge

HOUSE OF M #6 (of 8)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist:
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewers: Vroom Socko



Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that this issue features the heroes proclaiming that this fight must be one without any restraint? Does this mean there was restraint when the X-Men fought Dark Phoenix, or the Age of Apocalypse? That the Avengers were restrained when Kang took over the planet recently, or when the Masters of Evil destroyed the mansion? That both groups were holding back against Onslaught?

Also, am I the only one amused that these guys are going in to attack Magneto right in his lair, when even they admit that they don't know what they're doing? Hell, they don't even know that Magneto is the one responsible for all this, or that he even remembers if he is.

I know I'm not the only one who had a laugh about She-Hulk's impression of Janet Jackson.

I really have to laugh at one character, (the one Marvel character I loathe over all others…yes, even more than Gambit) who's the only one to actually say that, y'know, we're better off here. Do we really need to change things back? Of course that's not going to happen, since Marvel doesn't have THAT kind of balls. But wouldn't it be much more interesting if things did stay this way?

I want to like this series, I really do. It gave us Hawkeye back, after all. But at this point, it just feels so forced, so... phoney. If this is the foundation for the next few years of Marvel stories, I'm not exactly looking forward to them.


SERENITY #1-3 (of 3)

Writers: Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews
Artist: Will Conrad
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee



We've had some calls to review the just-completed SERENITY miniseries, but for the life of me I can't figure why. If you’re a newbie to SERENITY (which is to say, if you missed the TV show, FIREFLY, that inspired it), the mini makes for a pretty poor primer and there’s not a whole lot to sink your teeth into. And if you're even remotely a fan of FIREFLY…you're already buying the mini. In fact, you might even be buying multiple copies, what with each issue sporting multiple covers of fave characters.

Now: I should spend a paragraph or two bitching out the return of the multi-cover phenom, which is in fact innately lowdown and vile, but I have to admit: I'm grudgingly impressed with the array of talent Dark Horse has arranged here, from Bryan Hitch to J.G. Jones to John Cassaday to Jo Chen (you'll remember Chen from all those fine covers she served up for Marvel's RUNAWAYS. Her cover rendering of my fave series-babe, Kaylee, captures the character to a T).

Oh yes, I'm a fan of the show. Looking at the failed space western objectively (cancelled at eleven episodes) I can see its flaws, even see why it didn't click for some. But I definitely count myself among those who were able to plug into its vibe - who liked the Chinese slang interspersed between the “I reckon’s” and “y’all’s”, who enjoyed a lead who embodied the idea of the principled ex-Confederate soldier, who thought Jayne was the funniest lowlife this side of Shane on THE SHIELD, and who fell for stealth-hottie Jewel Staite as surely as they’d fallen for stealth-hottie Alyson Hannigan on BUFFY. And if you could do that…man, it was just ridiculously fun. I was even devotee enough to ask funnybook writer Brian Vaughan about rumors of his own FIREFLY love when I interviewed him a ways back. Check it - Vaughan nerded out big-time:
"I think FIREFLY is the best thing Joss ever did. Not only am I interested in the movie, I'm such a geek for that show, I'll probably be waiting in line overnight in a homemade browncoat costume. Come throw eggs."
I bet he bought multiple covers. I know someone is buying 'em, anyway, 'cause Dark Horse has gone through multiple printings and done absolutely gangbuster sales on the mini. But is it any damn good?

Yes. Yes, but too damn short and insubstantial, so it loses a star or two. Let's start with the good news, though: First off, the dialogue is just spot-on perfect for the characters. And why shouldn't it be? FIREFLY headman Joss Whedon penned the story alongside one of the series' writers, Brett Matthews, and Matthews did the scripting. They absolutely deliver on the SILVERADO-meets-BUFFY repartee which you can see a sampling of in the snazzy Mexican stand-off that opens the series (previewed here). My one and only scripting gripe is that the Chinese slang is a flop in comic form, where it’s actually written as indecipherable Chinese symbols and so loses contextual impact for roundeyes like m’self.

But that preview also showcases the series’ second bit of good news: the art. Will Conrad's new to me, but he's as strong with capturing likenesses as any comic artist I've seen, and even manages to avoid the trap of the art going all stiff from photo-referencing. He nails Mal’s low-key anger and his occasional hang-dog look, Jayne’s constant pissed-offedness, Wash’s dopiness…all of it. And he brings a bit of budget even the relatively high budget TV series couldn’t afford, as when Shepherd Book stages a getaway in…well, I think it’s the giant moon buggy from the old Moon Patrol arcade game. Anyway, it looks rockin’ cool. Nice change from that li’l ATV they were always tooling around in in the series.

So if you’ve been missing the whole crew of loveable smugglers, yes, the series delivers. It’s like meeting old friends, and hey, they’re even well-drawn and terrifically in-character!

Beyond that…it’s a bit lightweight. The first issue could almost be a slightly extended teaser sequence from a given episode. A good teaser, opening on a deal gone bad and following the ensuing gunplay and chase, but a teaser nonetheless. After that, there’s some business with the crew’s likeably skeevy old employer, Badger, even as they’re unknowingly pursued by a vengeful old foe backed by the mysterious Blue Hands. I’d forgotten about the Blue Hands and their pursuit of Simon and River, but clearly they’re going to play a role in the movie (I’m avoiding spoilers, so don’t kick my ass for being the last to know). Their arc remains unresolved, all but wrapping with a “to be continued in SERENITY: THE MOVIE!”, and that can’t help but put a damper on things. Even going into this book knowing it was a bridge between TV and film, I wanted an ending that felt like an ending and not like a set-up.

We do get a resolution to the vengeance plot, though, and some surprise shake-ups in the crew that I presume sets up the movie’s casting. Particularly enjoyed the unrequited-love stammerings between Mal and Inara, a scene that actually managed to tug at the heartstrings, same as the show at its best. Not to say the series gets too soft. Fans of the Mal who kicked a guy into his ship’s engines and who wouldn’t stop poking his foe after their sword duel will still get some memorably roguish moments.

Long story short: yes, fans should absolutely pick up this mini or put their hands on the trade when it hit. And if you needed me to tell you that, you probably aren’t a fan. For such folks, I recommend some space opera that’s a little more self-contained: maybe Stan Sakai’s SPACE USAGI or the recent indie breakout, RUNNERS (reviewed here).

Seeya at SERENITY’s premiere on the 30th, and if you were one of those lucky bums who caught an early screening, just keep it to yourself. I hate you.


Y: THE LAST MAN #37

Writer: Brian K Vaughan
Penciller: Pia Guerra
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee



So... you wanna know what this latest issue of Y: THE LAST MAN is about? Well, I'll give you a hint...

PENIS!!! MAN-MEAT!!! SCHLONG!!! TEH LOVE SAUSAGE!!! EVERYBODY WANG-CHUNG TONIGHT!!!



*cough*

Well okay then...

So finally, after three years (both in our time and the time passage in this book) Yorick and company have finally set foot in Australia to search for Yorick's girlfriend Beth. But despite Yorick's desire to get out and start searching for her immediately there's a snag: Ampersand is still out there, kidnapped, and the priorities of the crew need to be shifted towards getting to Japan and finding him, or else hope of using whatever it is that kept him and Yorick alive to bring about a new generation of males. And all at the same time, we're introduced to one Paloma West, a reporter dead set on still finding any traces of the fabled "Last Man" who looks like she may have just gotten her wish...

So now the breakdown. This issue brings more of the same that we have come to expect from this book month in and month out. Vaughan takes some time to get our new antagonist introduced, and while doing so gives us some more tidbits on the daily lives of those on the planet without men. Stuff like a discussion on how the gossip rags are still thriving, how the skyline is clearer because of less pollution via so many factories being shut down, and less trees being used. It's little details like that that makes this book much more vivid, in my opinion, and makes it all so much more of a richer read. We also get a bit of a fallout conversation between Dr. Mann and 355 involving the events between them in the last arc, and how it may be affecting 355's state of mind involving how she handles Yorick and his impulsiveness. Basically she starts taking the "kids gloves" approach as she is willing to let Yorick roam around Sydney for a few hours and check out a lead on Beth's whereabouts while the ship they plan to ride to Japan to look for Ampersand takes some time to restock. Obviously though, Australia's a big place, and the hopes of finding Beth just like that are one in a million, but the lead Yorick and 355 originally follow does turn up some new info as to Beth's whereabouts, giving us something to hold onto while the events that follow this revelation transpire... those being Paloma West's discovery of Yorick, and the sausage fest that ensues.

I have to admit the final page is about as big a cliffhanger as you get, even coming from Vaughan who has shown himself to be the master of them. At the very least the events in that last panel will make the rest of the arc very intense as I assume the whole purpose of it will be to get back and destroy the evidence. And if they fail, well then what we got here is pretty much the grounds for anarchy given the state of the world in this book. Lots of potential here indeed. And while it's always excellent, Guerra's art this issue is particularly stunning. I'm not sure what's changed, maybe it's sharper colors, but everything here just seems so much more... solid or something. I dunno what exactly, but it's fantastic.

So yea, anyway, another great issue, blah blah blah. If you're not reading this already go out and buy it now, blah blah blah. There's naked penis in it so if you're into that then, well, there ya go and so on and so forth.


NIGHTHAWK #1

Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Steve Dillon
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewer: Ambush Bug



I have to admit, I shuddered when I heard that while SUPREME POWER is taking a breather and being de-loused of all of those swears and boobs, we were going to be treated with a pair of miniseries focusing on two of the main characters in the vast tapestry J. Michael Straczynski has woven, namely Nighthawk and Hyperion. I mean, the last miniseries to spin out of the stellar Marvel MAX series was DOCTOR SPECTRUM which was an exercise in awfulness all around. In that mini, Doc Spectrum lies comatose for six solid issues while battling demons in his head. To top it all off, this was a story set in the past of the ongoing SUPREME POWER series, so any danger Doc Spec had to face in the miniseries wasn’t very much of a threat because the reader knew that it wouldn’t be long before he was out of the coma and bumping mackerels with the fish-girl in the ongoing series. The one thing these miniseries has going for them is that they seem to be occurring within the current continuity of the SUPREME POWER series somewhere in the break between SUPREME POWER Marvel MAX-stylee and the more all audience-friendly Marvel Knights relaunch of the series set to hit the stands in a few months.

NIGHTHAWK is the first miniseries out of the gates and it’s off to a great start. Although I know Daniel Way has been around for a short while, this is the first book I’ve read by the guy, and if this book is any indication of this guy’s talent, I will be checking out more stuff from him in the future (especially since he’s due to take over the HULK writing chores when Peter “I’m the only man who writes HULK right” David leaves the book).

Credit has to be given to J. Michael Straczynski first and foremost for creating (or reimagining, I guess is more accurate) the Nighthawk character. As I stated in last week’s CASTING COUCH feature, I always thought Nighthawk was a douche. He’s a wannabe Batman with moronic Wolverine claws and nipples on top of his wings. He even wore a bird on his head. Sure, my fellow @$$Hole and close bud, Buzz Maverik, went out of his way to make Nighthawk into a cool sounding character last week in the TBs with an elaborate tale of intrigue and tragedy, but to me, he’ll always be a Douchey McDouche, the Wannabe Batman. So for JMS to actually make me give a fig about this character is an achievement all its own.

SUPREME POWERS’ Nighthawk is still a non-powered protector of the streets and still a Batman knockoff, much like the rest of the cast of this series is a re-imagining of Marvel’s original team of DC knock-offs, Squadron Supreme. But this Nighthawk is an African American millionaire who focuses on crimes that are race related. This is an interesting angle to pursue because the idea of a race-focused hero is a difficult one to pull off. Handled too lightly and the character could come off as one-note and trite. Handled too seriously and he could come off as preachy. Race is such a touchy subject for anyone to delve into anyway. Many writers choose not to walk that tight rope and ignore it altogether. But JMS has proven with SUPREME POWER that he isn’t one of those writers and neither apparently is Daniel Way.

Now, I don’t know if Daniel Way is white, black, or polka dotted, but this guy knows how to write a pretty heavy story focusing on race without making it sound like an all-day seminar on race relations. My main problem with BLACK PANTHER (Marvel’s other book focusing on an African American character) is that writer Reginald Hudlin seems to be writing from a pulpit. After a few issues of that series, I found myself inundated and drowning with one factoid after another about how powerful the nation of Wakanda and its heroes are. Hell, by the way Hudlin put it, the Panther would have no problem handing the Beyonder, Galactus, and all of the Elders of the Universe their asses in a vibranium ashtray. That coupled with the fact that he wrote many of the white characters as caricaturally and stereotypically racist turned me off of the book completely.

Daniel Way handles these same issues with a lighter hand without making the story a fluff piece. Not once did I feel as if I was being lectured on racism. Way wisely chooses to show racist actions without outright telling you about them and he makes you think and doesn’t give easy answers to boot (something of a sacrilege these days). Issue one of this miniseries focuses on a man named Steven Binst, a pharmacist who, on his free time, developed a poison with no antidote. He started out testing on mice, then moved up to larger animals, and finally decided to test it out on one of his customers at the pharmacy. That customer was a black woman and because of Steven Binst’s actions, that woman and her family died. Did Binst, a white man, choose to test his poison on this woman because she was black? Binst isn’t saying anything, leaving the reader and all of the characters around him to formulate their own opinions as to his motivations. Writer Way could’ve easily written this character as a bed sheet brandishing bigot, pissed of at a certain group of people because of the color of their skin, but he doesn’t (at least he doesn’t in this issue), and I hope he doesn’t stoop to that level as this series proceeds.

In this issue, Way tells a smarter tale than that. He’s got a villain who may or may not be a racist and a hero who’s focus in his war on crime is race related. I know I’m side-barring a lot in this review, but when I was first introduced to Freudian theory in college I went around pointing out the phallic or vaginal significance in everything from STAR WARS to Charlie Brown. It took a long time to realize that sometimes, a cucumber is just a cucumber and a Sarlacc Pit…well, c’mon, we all know a Sarlacc Pit is a pussy with teeth, now, don’t we. But my point is that it was an awakening for me to recognize that there may be something to Freudian theory, but later I came to the much wiser realization that Freudian theory isn’t the end-all be-all in understanding things. Same goes for those who put the only focus on race like our hero Nighthawk.

It could be that I’m giving this miniseries and writer Daniel Way too much credit. The character of Steven Binst (who looks to be becoming Nighthawk’s own version of the Joker) could turn out to be a completely stereotypical racist. But maybe he isn’t. Maybe it’s not race related and the killing was completely at random. Wouldn’t that be one hell of a story to have a hero going after a criminal for one reason and only to find out that the reason in question wasn’t a factor in the crime? And wouldn’t that be one hell of an eye opener for our hero that everything isn’t so black and white? This is a level of sophisticated storytelling that has been abundant in SUPREME POWER and maybe it’s what I’m hoping to see in this miniseries too. So far, so good.

I found the first issue of NIGHTHAWK to be entertaining, smart, subtle, and full of potential. I have no idea if Way is going to take the high or low road with this one, but with him writing and the phenomenal Steve Dillon on the art chores (I could write a whole review focusing on the talent of this guy, but I’ve ranted long enough), I’ll be sure to stick around to find out.


FELL. #1

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G



Buy it.

No, really.

There are a lot of great writers in the industry right now—writers who tell high-quality stories with the characters we all know and love. What the industry has very few of, though, is writers who are willing to take risks and experiment with the form. Warren Ellis is one of the few in mainstream Western comics writers willing to take those kinds of chances, and he deserves a lot of respect for it. The new series FELL. is his current experiment, and it’s one well worth checking out. Ellis has caught a lot of flack over that whole “decompression” thing from people who think it’s the only trick he’s got, but that’s not even close to being the case. The truth is it was an exercise, an attempt to introduce new ideas and approaches to storytelling into Western comics. It works sometimes and falls flat others, but the important thing was to try something new and use it to tell a story in a way we haven’t seen before. FELL. is exactly the same sort of thing. The concept is a simple one: make an affordable comic—one that costs a buck less than everything else on the stands—and make sure each issue tells a complete story. No drawn-out arcs, no “Part Five of Seven”. Get in, tell the story, get out, do it cheap.

So is it successful? You betcha. One of the ways Ellis is able to bring the series in at only $1.99 an issue is that it’s got less art than the average comic—the whole story is told in only 16 pages. There is also an additional four pages of supplemental text in the back, where Ellis can add backstory, share his thoughts or fill us in on the real-life stories that he’s using as the basis for a lot of the issues. This means Ellis has really picked up the pace in the main story, cramming a lot of information into each of those pages. It’s a dense read, and Ben Templesmith’s art really helps communicate everything you need to know. Some of Templesmith’s art in the past has leaned towards the impressionistic side, so his work here surprised me a bit. It’s clearer and more detailed than I’ve seen in the past, and that’s crucial when you have a limited amount of space to tell your story. He ably communicates people’s attitudes, postures and emotions. Templesmith makes some interesting choices when it comes to the angle of the reader’s POV that I really dug—in particular the way the final panel on page 15 echoes the second panel on page 3 and what it tells us about the characters in those panels.

I’m sure by now you’re starting to wonder what FELL. is actually about, so here’s the rundown: Detective Richard Fell has just transferred to a new precinct. It’s a shithole precinct by the name of Snowtown, and it’s the kind of place that’s been pretty much written off by everybody as unsalvageable. Fell is cast in the Sherlock Holmes mold: a sharp observational eye leads him to quickly make pronouncements that make him seem borderline psychic, but he then goes on to explain everything he has seen that led him to his conclusion. Sure, it’s a conceit that only works in fiction because in real life there are too many possible factors to really be certain, but it’s an entertaining fictional conceit that works well here. Fell accidentally walks into his first case in his new precinct when he rents an apartment only to find his neighbor’s dead body being hauled out. In short order Fell meets his new boss (cantankerous old bastard who cares about nothing), his new friend (emotionally scarred, potentially crazy-dangerous chick bartender) and solves the murder of the guy who lived next door (let’s just say there’s only one way you should consume alcohol, and it doesn’t involve tubes or colons). There’s also a lot to suggest that as Fell solves each issue’s mystery he’ll be uncovering more and more clues as to just what the hell is wrong with Snowtown.

Sure, some of Ellis’ hallmarks are here. There are cranky, snarky characters. There’s a very dark streak. There’s gonna be some ugliness, so keep it the hell away from your kids, as if you didn’t already know that. Some of his other hallmarks are here too, though. It’s smart, quick writing with emotionally honest moments at the most unexpected times. There’s dreamlike imagery followed by something that brings you crashing back to earth. Most importantly, though, there’s a risk, and it’s one I’m glad to see Ellis take. I mean, come on: a top-notch writer/artist team who’ve decided to stick their necks out like this? A densely packed, 16-page done-in-one series with a text backup piece? Give it a shot. It’s cheap, it’s good, and it’s a little different from everything else you’re buying.

So buy it. Really.


VILLAINS UNITED #5 (of 6)

Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Dale Eaglesham (pencils)/Wade von Grawbadger (inker)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger



VILLAINS UNITED is one of those series that to really be able to enjoy requires the reader to (1) check his or her brain at the door, and (2) either ignore past continuity, or (3) be blissfully ignorant of said continuity. When I read a comic like this one, I’m grateful for the current en vogue disuse of thought balloons. I mean, can you imagine what this comic would look like with Simone’s voluminously overwritten dialogue balloons everywhere fighting for space with Stan Lee-style thought balloons?

What I mean by checking one’s brain at the door has to do with the utter absurdity of this entire comic book. The degree of reality suspension required to accept that the “Secret Six” here could actually still be alive is completely off the scale. Now that I think about it, “absurd” is the word du jour for the second most enjoyable INFINITE CRISIS mini-series prelude.

The opening fight with Monsieur Mallah is absurd on so many levels. Mallah has never been a ranting man-eating giant ape before. He was a simple French-speaking gorilla with a penchant for firearms and a pal named “Brain.” Here he’s suddenly the size of Gorilla Grodd and superstrong – enough to survive with practically no ill effect two huge knives plunged right into his lungs. If nothing else he should have collapsed along with those lungs. Then there’s the absurd comment that the Secret Six need only one of the Madmen alive. What the hell for? That’s never explained that I caught.

Then there’s, oh my gawd, the Fearsome Five – all four of them! Geez I hate when characters pop up like this that make me realize I don’t know what the hell’s happened. Mammoth is standing around with some sort of Viking hairdo and beard thing going. His sister now looks like a hooker. I thought Psimon got his brains blown away 20 years ago and then there’s some nameless bald black lady wearing practically nothing. Not very fearsome. Oh, and Lex Luthor is dressed in a gay-looking pull-over. Put the man in a suit or green and purple armor. And the jokey bit about Vandal Savage inventing cannibalism – groan. Rag Doll and the revelation that he’s had his naughty bits removed – groan.

But here’s the good thing about this series: Catman, Deadshot, and Scandal (even though she also dresses like a hooker). These three characters are what keep me coming back to this book and they don’t disappoint this issue. Unfortunately I hate Cheshire, Ragdoll, and Parademon. Parademon because he’s a non-character. Ragdoll because he an unsettling freak. Cheshire because she’s just such an utterly irredeemable slutrag. The Catman and Deadshot alpha-male preening hits a high point in this penultimate issue once Catman realizes it was Deadshot who slaughtered Catman’s pride back in the first issue. Yeh, Deadshot’s a total bastard, but he’s an appealing bastard and Catman’s heroic transformation has just hit all the right notes through the whole series.

Back onto the monkey though, I doubt most readers even know who Monsieur Mallah is, so the fact that this characterization bears no resemblance to his original characterization probably doesn’t bother anyone but me. Unfortunately, it also sparks one of those annoying DC frustration ticks since the Doom Patrol “never existed” before Byrne’s recent reboot means Monsieur Mallah basically has no reason for existence here. What stories of any consequence has he even appeared in that are not Doom Patrol-related? And he’s not the only one to get a wholesale character rewrite. This Parademon guy. Parademons are personality-less. They don’t have characters. They are mindless grunts for Darkseid. Take one away from Apokolips and he’s basically useless. The fact that this guy has any thoughts going through his head aggravates me. It started in ID CRISIS, but The Calculator is essentially an entirely different character than he was originally. A much better character, in my opinion, but he’s still completely different and there doesn’t seem that as much effort was put into explaining the logical and believable evolution of his character as, say, the change in Catman from lame to great. Deathstroke seems somewhat out of character to me as well simply by his involvement with the Society. I honestly cannot imagine him conceding leadership to Luthor at all. Maybe that means Deathstroke is really Mockingbird. Nah.

Now, just to irritate the talkbackers, I got questions: Why’s Capt. Nazi bald? Why’s JoeyDaQ included in the double-page spread of super-villains? Who’s that evil version of Mr. Terrific with “Foul Play” on his jacket? Who’s the green guy whose head looks like a Velociraptor’s toenail? Why does Scandal call Tweedledee an “aberration”? Howcum Talia looks like some American college girl gone wild instead of the exotic leather hot-suit Talia I remember? Why the hell does anyone care about Lady Quark? Why does The Corpse Bride ad creep me out?

By issue’s end, we don’t know who Mockingbird is (though I suspect it’s probably just Lex playing both sides) but we do know who the traitor in the bunch is and the Six are faced with a whole double-page spread full of villains bearing down on them with blood in their eyes. Next issue will surely be a grand free-for-all. Looking forward to it. So far, it’s about the only thing written by Simone that I have any fondness at all for. However, I don’t want to give it too much thought.


WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? #1

Remixed by Keith Giffen and Mike Leib
Art by Wally Wood and Bill Molno
Publihsed by BOOM! Studios
Reviewed by Ambush Bug



The premise of this book will be the selling point alone here. It’s one of those ideas that make you giggle at the sheer absurdity of its inception. Apparently, Keith Giffen happened upon an old Wally Wood war comic at a flea market and thought it’d be a hoot to restructure the thing into a spoof war comic using the original artwork. Like the flawed, but fun movie KUNG PAO: ENTER THE FIST, this comic takes old material and makes it enjoyable all over again.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? #1 is a fast and fun read. It’s the kind of lighthearted take that you don’t see too much these days…but enough about DC comics (I kid, I kid). Like many books with a comedic tone, there are a few groaners interspersed among the guffaws, but for the most part I had a great time reading this issue. The first story, “The Combat Crazy Cuties of Coyote Ugly Company” features a pretty effective visual gag in casting the male lead character as a women. This shift in gender changes the whole perspective on the way this story unfolds. “Hearts and Minds” makes some sly comments on American ethnocentricity with its racist hero arriving to “save” an island of “savages” caught in the middle of the war. And the funniest bit has to be “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and its stars Very Easy Company which comments on homosexuals in the military. It’s lighthearted. It pokes fun at military traditions without being acerbic or anti or pro war. Basically, this book touches on some issues that many take pretty seriously, then gives the reader a slap and says “C’mon. Unclench, buckaroo. This is a comic book yer readin’ after all.” which is just the type of snap back to reality we all need in this day and age.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to comment on a new Wally Wood comic again, so I’ll do it here. Wood provides some stunning visuals, all frame worthy. His characters strike heroic and memorable poses and his attention to detail and placement in the panel is top notch. If the word balloons weren’t so funny, it’d almost be a sacrilege to remaster this artwork in such a way. But Giffen has done all of us a favor by bringing attention to one of the great classic comic book artists

When this Wally Wood comic was first published, I’ll bet it brought a lot of enjoyment to the kids who forked over a shekel to read it. Many years later, in a time when war is constantly in our faces, Keith Giffen and Mike Leib have done the same thing. Here’s hoping Giffen stumbles upon a few more old comics that he can remaster in the future.

Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.


THE BAKERS #1

Kyle Baker’s not just the best cartoony cartoonist since Sergio Aragones, but he always writes kick-ass solicits for his work. For his bio comic of Nat Turner: “It’s like GLORY, except if Morgan Freeman got hanged and skinned in the end.” For the decidedly more light-hearted family humor of THE BAKERS: “Lil, Ike, Jackie and Mom try their best to collect Dad’s life insurance, but he just won’t die!”

Now I’m not a family man, but man did I love this book. And I didn’t mention Sergio Aragones just to name drop; Baker’s stuff distinctly calls to mind Aragones’ “no dialogue” comics, like his strips for MAD and his ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS for Dark Horse. With an animator’s sense of timing, Baker exposes the pains of fatherhood, from being booted off the couch to make room for the kids to trying to keep a leash on all his rugrats when he goes shopping. Not every humorous comic needs to be ARSENIC LULLABY or JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC, and I really enjoyed seeing something a little warmer and grounded in the familiar (but still packed with plenty of paternal suffering). Fun links: Model sheets for the Baker family: Jackie, Mom, Dad, Ike, and Lil. Animated version of one of the strips. A li’l cartoon that gives the book’s flavor. Much goodness! - Dave

GOTHAM CENTRAL #35

Part three of "Dead Robin" here and things are somehow getting even more intense. Last issue brought us the great twist of a second dead body being found dressed in a Robin suit, and that brings us to this issue and the chaos that is ensuing from it. The event has been leaked to the press almost as soon as the body is found, and a positive ID on the victim has given Crispus and Montoya a lead towards how the killer is scouting his prey, and exactly what ties it has into the early-press angle that we have been approached with. And we also have the real Robin making an appearance that you would think would be emotionally charged, but is pleasantly off-beat. The pacing of it all stays great pushing its sense of urgency but also pulling back at times to let us take a breather and get some character moments in. The unfolding of the mystery is very intriguing to watch, and the art team seems to finally have hit their stride and gives the book a great visual match towards the crime-drama atmosphere. All in all this is about as good as you get for a setup to the final issue of the arc. - Humphrey

X-MEN: COLOSSUS BLOODLINE #1

Surely I didn’t read that right. I couldn’t have. There’s just no way a writer could be so desperate for stories that he’d intimate that…Colossus is secretly related to the mad monk of Russia, Rasputin!

Besides, didn’t Hellboy already kill Rasputin? - Dave

SEVEN SOLDIERS: GUARDIAN #4

I’ve been tight lipped about Grant Morrison’s ambitious SEVEN SOLDIERS project so far, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been impressed. GUARDIAN may not have been my favorite SEVEN SOLDIRS mini (that distinction is reserved for SHINING KNIGHT and KLARION), but it was an interesting read. Out of all of the miniseries so far, this one has been the most grounded in reality. Morrison’s usual loo-loo-koo-koo logic is still there, but in this mini the Guardian provides the much needed voice of the everyman (a voice that isn’t always present in the lion’s share of Morrison’s books). GUARDIAN is the most readable of all of these series and even when the wonkiness explodes in this issue, Guardian is there to tell us how nuts this whole thing is. Pretty insightful of Morrison to recognize this about the creations that hatch from that noodle of his. - Bug

OZ: THE MANGA #3

I finally got my Kalidahs! Yes, when I reviewed the first issue of OZ: THE MANGA a few months back, those half-tiger/half-bear monsters were among the weirder, scarier elements of Frank Baum’s original WIZARD OF OZ book that I was most looking forward to seeing in comic form. And writer/artist David Hutchison comes through quite nicely with realistic tiger heads and bear bodies that are inked almost pure black. Swanky. Much more the Fairuza Balk Oz than the Judy Garland Oz.

The issue also features one cat beheading and the Tin Woodman’s limb-hewing origin, again straight from the book. Gotta love old-school fairy tales, eh? But don’t sweat the seeming goriness – it’s all appropriately restrained in presentation. Now bring on the winged monkeys, dammit! There’s a new generation of punk kids out there in desperate need of being scarred for life! - Dave

INCREDIBLE HULK #86

Rumor has it that Peter David became jaded and uninterested in his previous classic run on the HULK due to the fact that editorial mandate made him compromise his storyline in order to make room for Marvel Universe spanning crossovers. This resulted in some of the weakest HULK issues David ever wrote and eventually lead him to leave the book. Now that David is back on the title, what do the ad wizards at Marvel do? They tie David’s story in with some useless crossover once again. Thanks Marvel, for fucking up Peter David’s HULK once again. This is the first time I’ve been interested in the Hulk in years and now for the last few issues of David’s current run on the series, there has to be the taint of the HOUSE OF EHH all over it. - Bug

GHOST RIDER #1

Memo to Garth Ennis: the angel shit is played out, bro. I first saw comics portraying Heaven as not-so-nice, Hell as not-so-bad, back in the early Jamie Delano issues of HELLBLAZER, and he might’ve cribbed it from Moore’s SWAMP THING. It was pretty interesting then…back in 1987. Now, nearly 20 years later, and the Heaven/Hell stuff has been done to death a hundred times over in various Vertigo titles, not the least of ‘em being your own PREACHER. So just quit that shit. Some stoner kid puts down three bucks for a Ghost Rider comic, he damn well wants to see Ghost Rider in it, not 18 pages of angels and demons and a page or three of the latest iteration of Garth Ennis’s love affair with grotesqueries: Arseface/Fuckface/Pee-Pee-Hole-Face…we’re running out of orifices here, Garth!

Long story short: this new GHOST RIDER is probably about as good as the movie’s going to be. - Dave




With Vroom Socko


Some of you may remember my review a few weeks back of SHOCKING GUN TALES, the new anthology from Cellar Door Publishing. Well, thanks to a delay or two, the book was finally made available this past Thursday. Since this is the first book that Cellar Door has released into the wild, I thought it might be interesting to have a chat with the publisher, the lovely Jade Dodge.

Vroom Socko: What's an attractive woman like you doing in a business like this?


Jade Dodge: That could very well be the most flattering start to any interview in the history of interviews…well, I began writing “seriously” at the age of seven. Initially, I wrote plays, which were heavily influenced by “The Twilight Zone”, and then added stories and comic strips shortly thereafter. And before you ask, no, you cannot see my elementary school era comic strips. I’m just going to pretend I lost them long, long ago… since the age of seven, I’ve been interested in writing for just about every creative medium under the sun, but when it was all said and done, comic books were the best fit for the types of stories I wanted to write.

The extremely talented Matt Camp and I created a series called SHADOWS. Our first choice for a publisher was Image. So, we put together our submission package, sent it off to Image, they accepted it, and the rest is history.

Do you have any plans to write comics for Cellar Door, possibly including more SHADOWS?

I would LOVE to write for Cellar Door, and other publishers, as well. It’s just a matter of getting Cellar Door to a place where it doesn’t need the constant attention of a newer company. I have committed to a couple of short stories for anthologies. As far as anything more substantial than that, all I can say is, soon… ish… soon-ish…

How did Cellar Door Publishing come to be? Also, is the name meant to be a Donnie Darko reference, or a Bendis/Ultimate Goblin reference?

Cellar Door, first and foremost, came out of my love for comic books and publishing. Also, discovering new books that are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, or creators with a passion and enthusiasm that rivals my own, is extremely exciting for me. This is also directly related to what Cellar Door is referencing. Our slogan is “What’s in the Cellar?” My vision of the cellar is this dark place where all of the brilliant books are hidden from the world. The cellar holds the books that perhaps aren’t mainstream enough, or are perhaps too controversial, or any other various reasons why an otherwise wonderful piece of graphic literature may have a difficult time being published. Small publishers can afford to take risks that big publishers cannot. And that’s not a slight against big publishers; it’s just the way of business. If a big business, in any industry, takes a huge risk and fails, it could quite literally bankrupt them. If a small business takes a huge risk and fails, times will be tight, but they will recover.

So, I feel it’s my duty, as a small publisher, to open the figurative cellar door and provide a venue for the books within the cellar.

What are the books you currently have lined up?

Currently, we have SHOCKING GUN TALES, CHANCE OF A LIFETIME, HEADCASE, the WEST MEMPHIS THREE benefit anthology, and the American McGee properties. The Cellar Door site features descriptions of the books, as well as previews and animated trailers for both SHOCKING GUN TALES and CHANCE OF A LIFETIME.

Where did the concept for SHOCKING GUN TALES come from?

SHOCKING GUN TALES is actually a Chimaera Studios creation. It was one of the first projects pitched to Cellar Door. The cover alone summed up both the high quality and willingness to take risks that are key elements of this company. So, I felt it was a perfect fit.

Will the Cellar be the official home of more work from Chimera Studios?

Chimaera Studios has projects at several different publishing companies. So, we are but one member of their extended family.

What can you tell us about the projects you're developing with American McGee? And just how did you wrangle THAT deal?

We’ve signed a deal to publish graphic novels based on the American McGee properties BAD DAY LA, AMERICAN MCGEE’S OZ, and AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM. BAD DAY LA is a tongue in cheek look at a day where everything that could go wrong does: zombies, terrorists, natural disasters, with a little political commentary thrown in for good measure… As far as the other two projects, all I have to say is, what American McGee did for “Alice in Wonderland”, he’ll be doing for the land of Oz and your favorite fairy tales, as well.

Like many people, I felt American McGee’s Alice was brilliant and absolutely gorgeous. Due to the quality of his storytelling and art design, I felt his projects were perfect for this medium. So, I asked him if this was something he had considered, which he actually had for quite some time. He and his company, The Mauritania Import Export Company, simply hadn’t found a publisher who shared their goals and vision. It became pretty apparent in our early conversations that we were on the same page.

What sort of creative talent do you have in mind for these books?

We’ve had quite a bit of interest from several creators who would like to be involved with these projects. Really, the most difficult part is going to be finding artists appropriate for these projects. There’s a definite style people associate with American’s properties. And I feel it’s important to keep the style of the graphic novels consistent with the style of his other projects.

It seems like dozens of comic publishers have been crawling out of the woodwork lately. How do you intend to distinguish Cellar Door from the rest of the crowd?

If you look at the smaller publishers who have experienced longevity, they’ve all done a wonderful job with developing a brand. When you think of Image, you get a specific idea in your head of the books you can expect from them. The same can be said for Slave Labor, IDW, Top Shelf, and so on. They don’t just throw out a bunch of whatever. They spend time picking specific books that fit the brand they’ve established. And considering the fact literary publishers are entering the comic book market, the smaller publishers who have not taken the time to carve out their unique niche are going to have a tough time competing.

Branding is important in every line of business. American McGee has done a wonderful job of this. You think of American McGee and you get a definite idea of what you can expect.

I believe the Cellar Door “brand” will become more apparent as more titles are released. But as far as basics are concerned; first, the covers need to be eye catching and artistically appealing. I think this is very important. Definitely not the most important thing, but I feel the quality of the cover gives people an impression of the quality they can expect on the inside.

Second, I’m looking for original or unique material. Stories that make my heart skip a beat. A great example of this is CHANCE OF A LIFETIME. I swore I would never publish a superhero book, simply because Marvel and DC have carved out that niche already. But then I looked at CHANCE OF A LIFETIME. It was such a unique take on the superhero genre I absolutely had to publish it.

Third, they must be of high quality. And I realize that term is so vague, which is one of the reasons I said it would become apparent as more titles are released. But basically, I have to be head over heals(sic) in love with a book in order to publish it. For me to think a book is good isn’t good enough. It has to blow me away. It has to meet the standards I’ve set for Cellar Door books. I want people to come to expect a certain level of writing and art from Cellar Door titles. That’s why I’m very choosey with the books I select. And I think that’s good business, really. If the publisher isn’t as passionate about the project as the creative team, how’re they going to convince the rest of the world to be?

Where do you see this company in the next five years?

The question which the superstitious hate to answer… I’ll be sure to knock on wood or rub a rabbit’s foot after this one… In five years, I envision Cellar Door to have expanded its library quite a bit. In five years, people will have a better idea of what they can expect from Cellar Door. Because of the fact that SO many publishers come and go, I know people can be apprehensive when a new company comes along. And this is totally understandable. But I’m doing what I can to instill trust in our potential readers, so I can assure them we WILL be around in five years. One of the top reasons publishing companies fail (and this is true of comic book and literary publishers) is that they grow too quickly. And it’s very tempting to do. Companies that grow quickly give the illusion of success. But I do want Cellar Door to be around for years to come. So, we’ll be the tortoise, if it means I’ll be speaking with you in five years about where Cellar Door will be on its 10th anniversary.


I’d like to thank Ms. Dodge for her time, as well as her answers. SHOCKING GUN TALES is available in comic shops everywhere. For more information on Cellar Door, check out their website.

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