(Click title to go directly to the review)
ESSENTIAL WEREWOLF BY NIGHT VOL 1
ULTIMATE X-MEN #66
Comics Catch-up: THE LOSERS #26-30
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents MIDORI DAYS
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents DRAGON HEAD: BOOK ONE
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents THE WORLD EXISTS FOR ME V.1
Indie Jones presents…
ESSENTIAL WEREWOLF BY NIGHT Vol. 1
Written by Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella
Art by Mike Ploog, Don Perlin, Gil Kane, Tom Sutton, Gene Colan, Werner Roth
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
MARVEL SPOTLIGHT must have been considered artist Mike Ploog's book, what with WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and later GHOST RIDER. Mike Ploog was the cornerstone of Marvel's horror wave in the early to mid-1970s. Sure, Gene Colan's TOMB OF DRACULA had an elegance and beauty, but it was Mr. Ploog's books that made everything drive-in gaudy (with the illusion of drive-in gory). In addition to the horror series launched in SPOTLIGHT, Mr. Ploog's pencils also produced the brilliant MONSTER O' FRANKENSTEIN series for Marvel.
It's no slight to Mr. Ploog to say that you'll miss the color (although the black and white is better than using the modern color process for these kinds of books. They should be the old, colored dots on cheap paper for the proper effect). His work is the comic book equivalent of Hammer films. In fact, the movie werewolf that Jack Russell most resembles is Oliver Reed in Hammer's CURSE O' THE WEREWOLF. With Gene Colan's work, you can see how the color just sort of got in the way. In WWBN, you can only imagine how the color added to the mood.
Marvel's '70s horror wave. To be able to appreciate it, you'll have to free your mind from the concept of the comic book shop. In comic shops, the mutant/alien is normal, sort of like at Xavier's School. Maybe comic shops are some sort of twisted experiment designed to ghettoize the geeks and keep them from interacting with normal people. Put all the geeks in one place and no one else has to listen to them. Come to think of it, comic book review sites and their message boards serve the same function.
But WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and its' ilk bayed at the moon from inside convenience stores. You know, where normal people went for a pack of cigarettes between cartons; a beef jerky stick, a Moon Pie and a Slurpee when they have the munchies; overpriced milk when they'd run out after the supermarket has closed for the night; PLAYBOYS; sodas and rolling papers. These places always had either a spinner rack or a 2-4 bin wide hanging rack crammed full of comics. Usually, these racks were place near the front of the store within view of the clerk because we geeks (at least then) were notorious shoplifters.
I personally assisted in the theft of an entire spinner rack when I was 12 years old.
I had a geek friend at the time, a guy who is now a California Highway Patrol officer, who turned out to be an even bigger shoplifter than I was. He claimed to shoplift all his comics, which I respected. The guy was a great shoplifter. Once, after a particularly successful convenience store raid, we went into a donut shop across the parking lot. The crazy sonuvabitch reached around the case when the donut lady wasn't looking and snagged four glazed.
Then came the day when he told me about an older friend who was into comics, and had both a car and a plan. There was an actual newsstand in the next town over, extremely rare in Southern California. They kept a spinner rack on the sidewalk with an incredible selection of comics. Would I like a third of those comics for free? I think I nodded and said, "Fuck yeah."
My friend and I waited in his front yard until this primer Barracuda turned the corner and almost jumped the curb. My friend's friend, a 14 year old whose parents were stupid enough to buy him a car, yelled at us to get in. He drove like he was already trying to get away with the haul. Running lights, cutting off people for no reason, crossing the double yellow into the oncoming lanes to pass. I wished my Dad drove like that.
We were going to pass the newsstand, scope it out, then circle back. But no one was outside. Our driver pulled up within six feet of the curb and my buddy and I jumped out. I was scared but there were a ton of comics in the rack. Comic lust is more powerful than fear. We grabbed the rack, spilling comics all over the sidewalk, the driver shouting swear words at us like he was some kind of drill sergeant. The whole rack went into the back seat. Then only problem was that I had to ride back there with it, which was kind of uncomfortable and risked messing up the comics. The advantage was that I could pick the best ones to start reading. I didn't see anyone coming out of the shop until we were turning the corner. We got away with it, and I still have some of those comics in my garage here at El Casa Del Maverik. I wish I had the spinner rack but my buddy sold it to this other geek friend of ours and it stood in his room at least through high school.
This ought to illustrate why convenience stores thought it was important to keep an eye on their "customers" who came in for comics. For a time, those spinners and wall racks were grisly places, plastered with the images of living vampires, man-wolves, golems, sons and daughters of Satan, one very important Lord O' The Vampires, and even a man-thing. Often, these covers were brightly colored because these weren't written from the vampire's point of view but from the geek's point of view. For example, as with Hammer films, pulp fiction and most B-movie horror, the monster was often menacing or carrying off some gorgeous babe.
Aside from a TOMB OF DRACULA crossover, maybe the most famous story featured here is a GIANT- SIZE CREATURES which told the origin of Tigra the Were-Woman (which means man-woman, but Tigra was more of a cat-woman or tiger woman). The bad news is that all Marc Spectre fans will have to wait a couple of months for ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT VOL. 1 to see our favorite silver clad vigilante / Batman ripoff's first appearance, because this book doesn't go that far into WWBN's run. And I just can't imagine ESSENTIAL WEREWOLF BY NIGHT VOL. 2, which would contain a battle between the Werewolf and Iron Man, something too stupid even for me.
Soundtrack: HOW WILL THE WOLF SURVIVE? by Los Lobos, HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF by Duran Duran, WEREWOLVES OF LONDON by the late Warren Zevon, and BARK AT THE MOON by Ozzy Osbourne.
Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Pencils: Travis Foreman
Inks: Derek Fridolfs
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
I’ve always been a huge fan of mythology. I discovered the Big Book of Greek Mythology in my school library when I was in the fourth grade and I don’t think there was a week in grades 4 through 6 that I didn’t return the book only to check it out again. I loved those tales of morality and heroism, explaining events like the rising of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and all of the gods, heroes, and monsters in between. In middle school, I dove into the world of comic books and found that, like the Greek and Roman myths of old, these modern tales of heroism held me in rapt attention, and do so to this day. One of my favorite heroes was Thor, God of Thunder. Hopping on during the classic Simonson run, I began to fall in love with the world of Asgard. At the time, Norse mythology was unfamiliar to me, but I soon gobbled up every book I could find about the Thunder God and the family. Even through the tough times, when Thor became Thunderstrike, when he fought the armies of Set with the Captain, through the Thor Corps and Code:Blue and the death of Odin and the TALES OF ASGARD series where the Asgardian Gods were sent to live as humans on Earth, I followed the book religiously. Then Michael Avon Oeming came onto the book to write the end of the Thor saga and I found myself, for the first time, hating the book. So when I first heard that Oeming was set to write the adventures of a new deity in the Marvel U, you might say that I was less than interested.
But I gave ARES a shot. The art looked cool enough and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to pick up the first issue. And I’m glad I did.
This book starts out with a bang as an epic battle between Hades and the rest of the Greek Pantheon at the base of Mt. Olympus takes place, leaving the gods in despair and forcing them to call upon the help of their wild dog of a war god, Ares. Ares is not well regarded throughout Olympus, but after the war is over and Ares stands victorious, he goes to Olympus to take his rightful place among the higher gods. But the gods deny him this right. Ares, hurt and pissed, leaves Olympus forever and decides to live among the humans. And this is where the story starts getting interesting.
I have to give Oeming credit. This guy really does do a great job with this single issue. The action starts hot and heavy. The quiet parts resonate beyond the page. Oeming is starting fresh with Ares and making him both a sympathetic hero and one to be feared. I really enjoyed the set-up, casting Ares as someone who is looking for acceptance and approval from his peers and being denied of it. Once Ares is on Earth, there are a lot of little moments that stand out as both original and thought provoking. Ares has a half-human son who is starting to take on some of the aggressive tendencies of his father. Ares himself is struggling with living in a modern world when faced with everyday things like parent-teacher conferences, the IRS, and issues regarding the equality of all humans. Oeming also sets up a truly palpable threat that happens towards the end of this issue, one that will make me tune in for the next issue for sure.
The art was huge factor in my liking this book as well. Travis Foreman does a great job of making Ares look like an imposing figure. I love the fact that Ares is a good two feet taller than everyone else in this book. He really is an imposing figure in the panel and the shock of seeing such a massive monstrosity of a man is conveyed effortlessly on the faces of all of the rest of the human cast. The collaboration between the artist Foreman (inked impressively by Derek Fridolfs) and the writer Oeming is extremely well done. The placement of panels is especially cinematic, pacing the page, not the entire book, for the maximum in suspenseful effect. There’s an expecially well done series of panels as Ares suits up for battle towards the end that really gets the blood pumping. My only complaint is that the panels Foreman uses in the opening battle sequence are a bit too small. I can appreciate the fact that he wanted to convey so much action on a single page, but some of the panels are so small that I can hardly make out what that action is. It was an especially brutal battle scene opening the book and the fact that some of the action was obscured is a shame.
I seriously can’t wait to read the second issue of this miniseries. Oeming has improved greatly since he dropped the ball on the final issues of the last THOR series. This issue is almost enough for me to forgive him for that. Now if only Marvel could just get their act together and put out a new THOR series as good as this one.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #66
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Penciler: Tom Raney
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Okay. Brand new creative crew time. Time for the shit to hit the fan and us to go in a "BOLD NEW DIRECTION!!" right?
First issue out on his limited run and our new storyteller Mr. Robert Kirkman instead decides to take the time to set the stage a little. This issue, Part One of an arc titled "Date Night", is basically all setup and the opportunity for Kirkman to show us that he understands the personalities of all these characters to a 'T'. He understands things like the little hitch in Cyclops' "fearless leader" persona and how it all crumbles down when it comes to his Jean Grey. Wolverine = quiet badass and tough guy but with a heart of gold. Nightcrawler is an outcast amongst outcasts due to his appearance, and so on and so forth. It's a very good exercise in showing that he knows his material and that he knows how to write them in the proper light. All of that understanding plus just the right amount of teenage angst, ala INVINCIBLE, and the tone of the book is already pretty dead on.
The other thing of note in this mostly low-key story is the new Ultimatization of a longtime Marvel Universe character, Lilandra of the Shi'ar. Though, like most things ultimate, the circumstances are a bit different around this version of Lilandra. Instead of being a part of Charles Xavier's past and a longtime love of his, this is his first encounter with her. And instead of being the Empress of a large alien empire, this time around she's the leader of a rather radical church movement... well, for now she is anyway. We'll have to wait and see what Kirkman develops with this.
Also, we get some side developments like the return of Sabretooth, and a major turn for the better with Rogue, as it seems after the incident with Gambit in her final encounter with him in the ULTIMATE X-MEN ANNUAL, she can apparently touch other people now without the normal drawback. And boy, is she eager to put it to use. There're other developments all over the place too, but they're more little personal moments than anything driving the main flow of the storyline so I don't want to bother describing them all. Just know that given the premise of the issue they're all very fitting, and again, all very well depicted by Kirkman.
Oh, and since I went ahead and did all that gushing over one half of the new creative crew, I'd feel bad if I didn't mention that Raney brings some very good artwork to the table too. Now, given all the work I've seen from the man on OUTSIDERS and STORMWATCH I think it's safe to say that his best attribute is his knack for very kinetic action. Well, obviously there's none of that here, but he still turns in a very good effort. He does a great job of conveying the proper emotions via the facial expressions of the characters and brings a lot of details to the settings their in to make the pages feel a lot more "full" instead of seeming like it's just a bunch of talking heads. And even though he isn't doing anything kinetic, the splash page where draws in the returned Sabretooth just has the character oozing bad-assery. When the action gets going I only expect things to get better. This is definitely a great crew they have here. The longer it lasts the better.
So many comics, so little time. As much as I love to read ‘em, I just can’t seem to catch up with my stack of comics. Pretty soon, I have quite a few issues of the same series stacked up. When that happens, I like to sit down for an afternoon and play catch-up. Comics Catch-up, that is.
THE LOSERS #26-30
Writer: Andy Diggle
Artists: Jock, Colin Wilson, Lee Loughridge (Colors)
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
THE LOSERS is one of those comics that I wish I would have reviewed on a more consistent basis since discovering it. It’s one of those books that you kind of take for granted. It’s so damn good, everyone who is anyone must know how good it is and praising it on a monthly basis seemed to step into the realm of stating the obvious. Well, we’re smack dab in the middle of the last arc of this series, and THE LOSERS looks as if it will end its #32 issue long series with one hell of a bang.
Basically, THE LOSERS is a story of adventure, betrayal, loyalty, conspiracy, friendship, honor, and what it means to be an American in this day and age. The Losers are a rag-tag band of soldiers, set up for a crime they did not commit. The government they served proudly is now after them. They don’t know who their allies are, but they know who their enemy is. His name is MAX and his vile acts have plagued the Losers since they came together many years ago. MAX’s pockets run deep and so do his filthy dealings. He’s Kaiser Soze. He’s the unseen evil behind all of the Loser’s troubles. He’s the one they want to get ahold of. THE LOSERS is about one group of soldiers’ pursuit of revenge and redemption.
Powerfully told by the modern master of comic book action, Andy Diggle, THE LOSERS’ arcs read like movies with edge of your seat thrills, big-budget action sequences, and situations of dire circumstance. All of the events that play out are set in the real world. No one has super powers. No one does stuff that a human with the proper training couldn’t do. Diggle firmly plants this story in the world outside our window. A world where suspicion rules, where allegiances are fluid and untrustworthy, where the government cannot be counted upon.
One of the things that makes this comic truly special is the cast of characters. Clay is the leader of this group. He’s a man whose life is the mission and nothing else. He’s someone who has lost so much and would do anything to keep this team together and safe to achieve their goal. Cougar is the silent warrior of the group. He’s the Wolverine. The Snake-Eyes. The man of few words. The one whose every action counts for something. Jensen is the tech guy. Nerdy, annoying, chock-filled with snark and smart-assery. The rest of the group would kill him if not for the fact that they need him. Pooch is the loyal driver and mechanical guy. Always the one to say “I’m too old for this shit!” but his sense of loyalty always brings him back into the fray. And Aisha is the x-factor. She’s the newbie to the team, equally, if not more so deadly, with an agenda of her own. Reading that last paragraph seems like the cast synopsis of just about every action movie from the eighties and nineties. But that’s what makes this book so endearing. It takes those tired clichÃ©s and makes them fresh and fun. Not by modernizing them or twisting them in some ham-fisted, square-peg-round-hole sort of way, but by just telling straight-up, intriguing and intense stories. Andy Diggle is a phenomenal action story teller. He’s one of those guys who could read the directions on a frozen pizza box and make it sound like a knuckle-biter. With just a few years of experience in the big leagues, Andy Diggle has proven to be the premier action storyteller of today.
A three-issue story arc called “UnAmerica” can be found in THE LOSERS #26-28. These issues pull back the curtain to reveal MAX’s plan and true face. This plot has been hinted at from the very first few issues of this series and it’s a doozy. Paying close attention to shifts in the tectonic plates in the Persian Gulf, MAX becomes a world threat as a new island rises due to undersea earthquakes. Dubbing this land New Jerusalem, MAX declares this land his and officially becomes a world power by declaring war on anyone who enters his airspace. At the same time, the Losers are on the trail of nuclear missiles stolen by MAX’s troops from a sunken Russian submarine. The Losers find themselves in a ghost town in the heart of Chernobyl, the perfect place to hide nuclear weapons. This arc is a race against time, as MAX comes closer to nuclear retaliation and the Losers get closer to the missiles. Diggle juggles action on a personal level involving a captured Pooch and the Losers’ fight to get to him in time and action on a bigger scale involving MAX and his interaction with the United States government.
Issues #29 and 30 literally deal with the fallout from the events of “UnAmerica.” This is the Losers’ last stand against MAX. This final arc of the series seems to be wrapping everything up into a perfectly plotted package. As MAX and the Losers courses come closer to collision, it is apparent that this will be the last Losers mission and not everyone will come out of this intact. Alliances are broken, dreams are shattered, people will die. And we still have two issues to go in this final arc! Entitled “Endgame”, this series proves that a truly great comic can come to a truly great conclusion.
Rounding out the excellence in this book is the art. The man known only as Jock is a true visionary in today’s comics. The relationship between story and art is seamless. Jock’s vivid action scenes communicate intricate movements in just a few panels. He has given each member of the Losers an instant recognizability without making them look as if they always have to wear the same clothes to do so. Lee Loughridge’s colors have complimented Jock’s art from the get go, plainly texturizing the panels to fit the mood of that section of the story. The panels are angular and vivid during the intense action and square and cool at times of calm. This art team is a master of highlighting the story and making it all work together. Artist Colin Wilson stepped up to give Jock a rest for the “UnAmerica” arc. His work is reminiscent of late Frank Miller and early Steve Leialoha. Very expressive. Very thick figures. Very nicely done and a worthy substitute for Jock. But this series has always been Jock’s and it will be his stellar interiors and iconic covers that will always be tied to THE LOSERS.
Although the creative team of Diggle and Jock may have one of the most “Beavis and Butthead”-like giggle inducing names, there isn’t a creative team out there that can top what they have accomplished with this series. They did this without bells and whistles, without hype and selling out. They told the adventures of the Losers the old fashioned way, through rock-solid storytelling. I’m not sure why this series is set to end in two issues. Maybe sales were low. Maybe the creative team told their story and wanted to move on. Whatever the case, THE LOSERS is a true standout in DC’s Vertigo line and it’s definitely a book that will not be forgotten when it reaches its final issue. Pick up the trades. Pick up the last two issues. Don’t miss this series. It’s one of the best.
Creator: Kazurou Inoue
Reviewer: Dan Grendell
An Overview of Volumes 1-3
This is a strange manga. I can hear you now, "All those things are weird. They have crap like Freddie Mercury in a Japanese high school and kids who carry animals around in balls." And you wouldn't be wrong. This, however, is really odd. And that's what drew me to it.
Seija Sawamura is a badass. He beats people up with his "Devil's right hand", and then goes home and thinks about how lonely he is because no girl gives him the time of day. What he doesn't know, though, is that a girl named Midori has had a crush on him forever. She's always wished she could be a part of him, so one day he wakes up and she is his right hand. A little miniature Midori, naked from the waist up, where she kind of merges with his wrist. Makes sense, right? Wrong! That doesn't make any sense! What are you smoking?
Anyway, the manga is about Seiji dealing with his new 'problem' (including scenes like the one where he does a bunch of pull-ups one-handed so Midori won't be hurt and then is so sore he can't hold himself to pee with that hand, so Midori takes care of it. Yep, it goes there) and the burgeoning relationship between the two. It seems Midori's larger body is in a coma while she moonlights as a hand, and she occasionally returns to it so as not to worry her family, but she always goes back to her Seiji. It's really pretty creepy, in a goofy way.
In fact, that about sums up this manga. Pretty creepy, but a hell of a lot of fun.
DRAGON HEAD: BOOK ONE
Written and Illustrated by: Minetaro Mochizuki
Published by: Tokyopop
I’m a huge fan of survival/end of the world horror. Everything from movies like Romero’s LIVING DEAD films to TV shows like the BBC’s 70’s show SURVIVORS to novels like Robert McCammon’s SWAN SONG to comics like Kirkman’s WALKING DEAD; I love them all. If there’s anything that creeps me out more than society completely falling apart and leaving humanity defenseless against the unknown I can’t think of what it is. If a story’s got some sort of awful disaster that leaves a small band of people to fend for themselves against monsters/demons/crazy humans I’m pretty much all in. Yes, a lot of the time I end up being incredibly disappointed by a lot of material spawned from this genre but every once in a while I come across a gem that just gives me the heebie-jeebies. Sure, it’s the idea of survival horror that freaks me out but it’s rare that something is presented intelligently and skillfully enough to really follow through and leave me with a lasting impression, especially in the medium of comic books. As a matter of fact there are only two comic projects that I can think of that truly got to me enough to send chills down my spine. The first being the aforementioned WALKING DEAD (at least the beginning of the run) and the other being Alan Moore’s FROM HELL. Heck, FROM HELL even gave me nightmares the first time I read it. It sucked me in that much.
So how does DRAGON HEAD hold up when compared to the previous works I’ve mentioned? Well, let’s just say FROM HELL and WALKING DEAD need to make room on my bookshelf for this fantastically creepy manga by Minetaro Mochizuki. That’s high praise, I know, but DRAGON HEAD deserves it.
DRAGON HEAD is the story of three teenagers who have survived a train crash. On the way to a school outing the train that they are on heads into a tunnel and due to some unknown disaster it never manages to make it out. The train becomes trapped in the tunnel and the ensuing crash kills everyone on board except for the three protagonists who, before this incident, were complete strangers.
And that’s it. That’s pretty much the story. Well, at least for this first volume. Doesn’t seem too scary does it? But think about it. You’re in a dark tunnel, in a train crash, surrounded by dead bodies and there’s no way out. Now that is scary.
Now normally the situation itself wouldn’t be enough fodder for a horror comic but Mochizuki is an absolute master at setting a dreadful mood through his artwork. Actually, Mochizuki is smart enough to know that the less you show the more there is for the reader to be afraid of. The creator of DRAGON HEAD truly knows the worth of a still or quite panel. Throughout the book Mochizuki uses large chunks of black panels to interrupt the narrative and give the story its moments of tension. Not only that but he’s also able to skillfully use shadows in his panel work to set a mood. As I continued reading this book the sense of absolute foreboding and helplessness were palpable within its pages as you’re reminded over and over again that these kids are totally screwed. For them, they are in an absolute no-win situation and the author knows how to convey that brilliantly. Hell, for most of the book it’s just two of the kids discovering each other and getting the hint that no one’s coming to rescue them. By the time they’ve discovered the third teen one of the first two is on the edge of sanity and seems about to spill over into LORD OF THE FLIES mode as if things weren’t already bad enough.
For the most part this book centers around three teenagers figuring out what they’re going to do while trying to navigate their way through a train crash in a pitch black tunnel. I know this doesn’t sound like the stuff of true horror but the storytelling is so well paced and the situation so well presented that I found myself not being able to put the book down. DRAGON HEAD sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go. It focuses on the terror of being in an absolutely horrible situation and it does it incredibly well. I mean, honestly, who needs monsters when the things that most of us are really afraid of are things that could possibly happen in real life? What DRAGON HEAD does is present a scenario that many people could imagine being in and uses that to bring fear to the forefront. It’s a real testament to the skill of the author that he’s able to pull it off because in many hands I’m sure this book would’ve come off as a complete snore. Instead it ends up being a brilliant piece of comic book horror.
One final note to those of you who’ve seen the Japanese film which is based on this manga. Do not let that tepid piece of filmmaking dissuade you from picking this book up. Trust me. They are complete polar opposites. While elements of the story seem the same (I’ve only read the first volume of the manga after all. The film condenses all ten books into about an hour and forty-five minutes.) the techniques the director of the film uses are in complete contradiction with what the author of the manga presents. While the manga uses dark shadows and still panels to convey his work the film is turned into a lousy, over the top action piece. The film and the manga could not be more different in terms of presentation.
As far as I’m concerned DRAGON HEAD is a book that I’ll be eagerly awaiting new volumes of. It is comic book horror at its finest. It’s just too bad that I’ll have to wait until April for the next volume but if volume two is as good as this one then it’ll be more than worth the wait.
THE WORLD EXISTS FOR ME V.1
Artist: Chiho Saitou
Reviewer: Dan Grendell
S&M what now?
I'm confused, and my head hurts a little. That's my reaction to this time-traveling romance manga, whose premise just left me scratching my head. It goes a little something like this: A devil named "R" (why he doesn't have a full name, I don't know) had as the source of his powers the Book of S&M (I know, but he was a devil after all). Then some guy stole it, cut it up, and made two papier-mÃ¢chÃ© dolls out of the book - a boy named "M", and a girl named "S".
Cut to a girl on a school trip outside Paris, rejected by a boy. Immediately afterwards, the train crashes, a kid who looks 8 years old named Sovieul saves her by using the "S" doll to take her to 17th century France where she is immediately arrested as a witch. She discovers she now has a green gem in her chest linking her to the doll, meets Machiavello, another time-traveler who has a red gem in his chest that links him to the "M" doll, escapes to the 15th century and is chased there by Machiavello who wants her body so he can have the 'full power' of "R", and continually pines for the boy who rejected her initially on the train.
Yeesh. Oh yeah, and Sovieul is in love with her too.
There was so much happening in this book and so much of it was just plain odd that the romance aspect just got lost for me. And that's a shame, because Saitou's art really lends itself to a romantic story. Very Gothic but expressive, with a lot of focus on costumes and the eyes, this is classic romance manga art. It's just pretty. I was reminded of REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA, and that really isn't a surprise - that's another Chiho Saitou work, though she has definitely progressed since then. Action is stronger, and details too. Be-PaPas also wrote UTENA, and though this has a similar feel, the writing is more confused and overfull, like too much is being laid in at once.
Overall, I found this to be pretty to look at, but the story got in its own way. Is it a romance with fantastic elements, or a fantasy with romantic elements? Right now, it's just confusion.
ELK’S RUN #4
I first heard about this book after reading Vroom Socko’s excellent review of issue #3 last summer. Since then, I have digested every issue of this series and found it to be one of the most spine-tingling reads I have read in ages. Never have I been more invested in the outcome of a story than I am with this one. The secluded town of Elk’s Run is threatened with interference from the outside world. Recognizing that their parents are a little bit of bat-shit crazy, four kids decide that they need to get out of town…and fast. This book has a tempo, a heartbeat that is ever-present. And as each issue goes by, the beat gets faster. Search out the first three issues of this series and buy issue #4 released last week. You won’t be sorry. - Ambush Bug
Writer: Brendan Deneen
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Publisher: Markosia Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
Generally, when given the opportunity to review a new Indie comic, my self-imposed rule is to write it up only if I have something positive to say. That's not to say that the review does not sometimes contain negative criticism, just that I have to feel like the positives dominate and the negatives would be improved by constructive feedback. Now, I will confess that I've read a lot more Indie comics than I've reviewed here at AICN, and this is simply because either (1) it was good enough but did not inspire me to comment, or (2) I just did not have anything overly positive to say on the record. The standard I set for an Indie comic is still the same as what I would expect from one of the big 3 or 4 publishers…but I filter it through the fact that the creators are usually fresh to the comic book profession.
And now that I've gotten that out of the way, on with the review.
Back in November at the WizardWorld Convention in Dallas, DC V.P. Dan Didio shared a tidbit with the audience I was a part of about the way he and his executive editorial team work. And I thought it was an interesting insight. Dan said that every week when the new comics come out, he and Bob Wayne, or some other warm body, take an entire work day to rummage through copies of every comic book published that week from other publishers. They read through and discuss them. The goal, he said, is primarily to measure up the competition but also to spot up-and-coming writers and artists that they think might be a good fit with DC Comics. I don't know if this has been the practice in recent years at Marvel but I do kind of remember stories from back in the days of Stan Lee and Julius Schwartz that were similar. Anyway…the reason I even mention it is that I want to call attention to Brendan Deneen, the writer/creator of SCATTERBRAIN, by the big guns like Didio and Quesada. For a first time out of the block, it's a damn well-written comic book.
The setting is an extremely brutal and noir-ish crime-ridden town called Devil's Hopyard. The language is harsh enough to even make an AICN Talkbacker blush. SCATTERBRAIN is not really a super-hero comic, but the eponymous hero, Scatterbrain, is a supernaturally powered vigilante. Functioning much like a Dementor (from Harry Potter), when Scatterbrain touches a criminal he pulls out that individual's greatest fears and "makes them experience it a hundredfold."
In concept, the character shows himself to be inspired by characters like The Shadow, Batman, Ragman, and Tatterdemalion, but the setting and storytelling make him unique from that bunch (similar to how distinctive characters like The Spirit and The Question can be different from each other even though they are both hardboiled vigilantes dressed in light blue suits with fedoras).
What Deneen does so effectively in this comic is let the story unfold in a modern and very cinematic way. He begins the comic with Scatterbrain already well established in Devil's Hopyard and jumps quickly into the action to bring the reader up to speed on who the title character is and what he can do. Then he pulls back to focus on the character who is our narrative point of view, Detective Jack Anderfold. He's a classic alcoholic, life in the toilet, hard-nosed cop who doesn't have much tolerance for nuts like Scatterbrain. Problem is that both Anderfold and Scatterbrain seem to have the same target in their sights - The Shroud - a ruthless butcher of a gangster who rules the fear- and crime-ridden streets of Devil's Hopyard.
Deneen uses Scatterbrain's mere existence to drive and push the story along, but turns this comic into a character exploration drawing the reader along with Anderfold as he wanders through his misbegotten life of screwed up relationships. It's harsh stuff. It's depressing stuff. But I found it increasingly gripping as the story unfolded because I wanted to find out what happened next to this man.
On the art side, Szymon Kudranski brought an eerie, expressionistic look to the art - at times, very evocative of Dave McKean and Bill Sienkewicz. Kudranski brought a dark, shadowy, and moody feel to every page and paced the story very well. I never felt a sense of static storytelling at any point in this comic. Every panel and page had movement to the art. My only complaint, and it's a very minor complaint, is that there were moments where I could not distinguish between the faces of some of the male characters because of the expressionism and darkness. I might recommend bringing in just a bit more source lighting when focusing on characters interacting that are not necessarily too distinctive. And that's one thing about this comic; the characters are very "real" seeming - not two-dimensional. Also, on the art side, I have to compliment the letterer, Richard Emms, for fine work in balloon placement and special font usage. The main text font was different than the standard comic book font and I liked it a lot. I also want to give positive feedback on something as simple as the paper stock. Neither the cover nor the interior papers were the standard glossy that I'm accustomed to, but I liked the look and the feel of the comic in my hands. All in all, just a top-notch production effort from Markosia.
Considering that this is only the first issue, I was pleasantly shocked by how quickly paced the storytelling was and that last page where Anderfold comes face to face with Scatterbrain was a twist that completely got me. I can't wait for the second issue to find out what happens next and that is always my highest compliment for the first issue of a new series. If you are the type of reader who is always looking for hardcore, pulp adventure in his comics, then you can't go wrong with SCATTERBRAIN #1 and I recommend you go preorder it from your local comics shop right now. I have a feeling this could be one of those Indie sleeper hits. Loved it from cover to cover.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
DESOLATION JONES #5
A lot of blanks are filled in on this issue. We get a lot of insight on just exactly what happened to our title character in the Desolation Tests that he endured to make him the man he is today, and it sure as hell ain't pretty. Forced to remain awake for an entire year while experimented on, injected with all sorts of chemicals and god knows what all the while, it's no wonder the character is as messed up as he is. Plus a lot of developments in the present tense as Jones starts to piece together all the details in his case to find his employer’s missing Hitler Porn, and the real case behind it all. It's all laid out very well, and is actually a nicely tied up little "mystery". This book is equal parts sad, tragic, funny and violent, and it all looks beautiful under the pencil of Mr. J.H. Williams III. I can't wait to see how this arc wraps up. - Humphrey
DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON #1
Superheroic bail bondswomen. Wow. My only other experience with this profession comes from multiple viewings of JACKIE BROWN, but the idea of mixing the world of bail bondsmen and superheroes is one of those ideas that make you hit your head and say “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?” This miniseries (written by the same writing team that brings us the truly great JONAH HEX series and the truly underrated HAWKMAN series) may be one of my most favorite concepts to come from Marvel in a while. Misty Knight and Colleen Wing were super cool back in the POWER MAN & IRON FIST days, but the coolness factor has been amped up to 11 with this issue. Sure, you could see this as Marvel’s version of BIRDS OF PREY, but it’s a version with an original concept and cool characters attached to it, so I don’t mind. The back-and-forthings between Wing and Knight are great. The battle with the Rhino is even better. And Khari Evans and Palmiotti’s art makes the two ladies look scrum-dilly-icious. This is yet another pleasant surprise from Marvel. Check it out. - Bug
Boy, is this story arc lame or what? I mean, I understand DC may be spreading themselves a bit thin with all of this INFINITE CRISIS stuff going on right now, but it seems that all of the talent is going towards smaller books and big titles that should always have a stellar line-up are getting the short end of the stick. In this issue, the Key is nuts and manipulating Manitou Raven’s wife (ugh, why’d they ever kill off Apache Chief in the first place?). Green Arrow is tussling with Batman because he is possessed by Envy of the Seven Deadly Sins. And Black Canary is just kind of there for no good reason. But wait, weren’t the Seven Deadly Sins taken care of by the Shadowpact in the DAY OF VENGEANCE SPECIAL? Or how’zabout when the Seven Deadly Sins were absorbed into the villain Sabbac and then into Katana’s sword over in the last OUTSIDERS arc? I’m no math wizard, but that’s about a dozen or so too many Seven Deadly Sins running around in this “more cohesive, more interconnected” DCU. Methinks this crossover business doth crumble under its own weight. - Bug
BAD PLANET #1
Picked this comic up solely because of the cover art. Check out the Badass Alien design on the cover. Just click it. I’ll be back here when you’re done absorbing all of that bad-assery.
Ahh, you’re back? Good. Pretty cool, eh? Well, too bad, butt-steak, because that’s the only time you’re going to see Badass Alien in this issue. Set-up is the name of the game here. It ain’t a bad set-up, but couldn’t these guys at least put Badass Alien in the book for a panel or three? Horror-meister Steve Niles teams with actor Thomas (bad PUNISHER, good THURSDAY) Jane wrote it and unlike Niles’ collaboration with Rob Zombie on BIGFOOT, I’m having a harder time distinguishing who wrote what in this issue. All in all, this is a nice little book with some great art by Marvel MAX PUNISHER’s Lewis Larosa, but the old THIS COVER DOESN”T ACTUALLY OCCUR IN THIS ISSUE blurb should have been used here. I’ll pass final judgment on this one when Badass Alien actually shows up. Until then, I’m curious, yet cautious. - Bug
GREEN ARROW #58
Dammit, will the powers that be at DC stop beating the shit out of Connor Hawke? I swear to god, first the guy gets shuffled off to minor leagues just as he was kicking major glute as the all new, all different Green Arrow when Kevin Smith decided to bring back Ollie. And now, since the beginning of this series, he’s been used as a punching bag and bullseye for every villain with a grudge. In this issue, Connor and Speedy are blowed up real good by Merlyn and Dr. Light. Connor wakes up on a stretcher, pissed at DC editorial for once again shuffling him into the hapless victim category. This is a decent issue, but three issues of Green Arrow fighting ineffectively against Dr. Light is too long for my tastes. - Bug
In last week's column, I wrote up an angry rant about the production mess that was TEEN TITANS #31. In that rant, I incorrectly attributed the terribly illustrated CAPT. CARROT segment to Todd Nauck, who was the only penciller other than Tony Daniels listed in the credits. Turns out that was wrong and I wanted to do an up front and public apology to Todd who, it turns out, actually pencilled a number of pages of the TEEN TITANS story. Still no word on who the DC production team used to crank out those substandard CAPT. CARROT pages, but don't blame Todd.
CORRECTION NOTE AND APOLOGY SHOUT-OUT TO TODD NAUCK
Sorry for the mix-up Todd. Glad to hear it was not you who turned in that mess. - Prof. Challenger