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AICN COMICS REVIEWS 52! RED SONJA! AND A WHOLE MESS OF INDIES!!!!!

#2 5/10/06 #5

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

52: WEEK ONE
THE TOURIST
RED SONJA #9
Indie Jones presents I AM SPARTACUS
Indie Jones presents CTHULU TALES #1
Indie Jones presents LITTLE STAR
Indie Jones presents…
CHEAP SHOTS!

52: WEEK ONE

Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
Art: Keith Giffen (breakdowns), Joe Bennett (pencils), and Ruy Jose (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

It’s an ambitious project. A weekly series, unfolding in about as real a time as a comic can get. One issue a week for fifty two weeks, focusing on that missing year that takes place between the end of the INFINITE CRISIS and the ONE YEAR LATER re-starting point which has already hit most of DC’s line of super books. Despite its pitfalls and slight missteps, I found myself to be one of those in the “I liked INFINITE CRISIS” camp. I recognize its flaws. I recognize that the message it was trying to convey was a bit convoluted as it seemed to shift from condemning the current status of the DCU to acknowledging it to cuddling it and taking it out for a steak dinner, then it sort of veered off by raping it and torching its quivering remains. But I have to admit, for seven plus months, INFINITE CRISIS was the first book I would read when I got home from the comic shop and the one I was thinking about when I finished the weekly stack. I wanted to see what was going to happen. To me, it was an event. A successful event. Successful in that it did in fact turn the DCU on its ear and make people take notice. Now that it is over, though, these guys at DC still have a lot of fixing left to do. More so than ever, the DCU is a mess.

Enter 52.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m getting pretty jaded about all of these events and crossovers. DC barely lets the corpse of the last event grow cold before hitting us in the face with a new “event.” But I feel that above all else, DC should be commended for keeping this massive INFINITE CRISIS crossover tightly together over the last few months. Issues that tied into INFINITE CRISIS often came out in the same week. There were very few burps in schedule that I noticed. All in all, DC kept the crossover high and tight.

And that’s why I am kind of rooting for 52.

The issue is a pretty strong one. Focusing on some of the second tier or tertiary characters of the DCU, this issue sails along smoothly, reintroducing you to who the stars of the DCU are now that the Big Three are MIA. Leading the pack is Booster Gold and, for me, this is what made this issue shine. Booster has always been a character ripe with potential and one of the few outstanding personalities of the DCU. He’s a showboat. A ham. Not so much a hero as he is an opportunist who recognizes that a lot of good things come with doing good deeds. He’s no squeaky cleaner. He’s not above selling himself for profit and fame, an aspect of his character highlighted by the many product placements he has decorating his costume. I love it that Booster has become a fighting, flying NASCAR racecar covered with sponsors, always worrying about his public image first.

Other great characters such as the Question, Renee Montoya (from GOTHAM CENTRAL), Steel, and the Elongated Man are allowed to shine, each reeling from the events of INFINITE CRISIS and the drama leading up to it all. The story is pretty seamless. You can tell a lot of collaboration has gone into this series. Writers like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid have steered the DCU into a specific direction over the last year. There are bits and pieces I could guess came from a specific writer (something tells me it was probably Morrison to come up with Booster’s product placement costume…it seems like something he would think up and the brunt of Montoya’s story will probably be covered by ex-GOTHAM CENTRAL writer Rucka), but this really does seem like a labor of love for this group of some of the most talented writers in the industry.

But this is by far not a perfect comic. Ralph’s suicidal ideation and Booster’s flipping-the-fuck-out sequences are two tiny missteps that seemed a bit out of character, but by the end of this issue I was intrigued and excited about this series.

One thing’s for sure, the art team of Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, and Ruy Jose is top notch. From facial expressions to details and camera angles, this is an art team who knows how to do old-school super hero cool. It’s a clean crisp style that allows these heroic figures a chance to shine and doesn’t get in the way of telling a powerful story.

I know many of you are pissed at DC right now. I know many are fed up with crossovers and events. I find myself, more and more, feeling the same way these days. For years, comics were trying to be stand-alone. Now they’re all interconnected. Somewhere in between, a cohesive and inclusive, yet interesting in and of itself comic universe is out there. Somewhere in between, you don’t have to buy all of the titles to understand the story, but could see that the events are happening in the same universe if you pick up a few. But aside from my feelings towards crossovers and events, as I look at this 52 comic and the original route it plans to go in order to tell its story, I have to admit that I am intrigued, interested, and as far as this issue is concerned, entertained.


THE TOURIST

Writer: Brian Wood
Penciler: Toby Cypress
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

For the past couple of years, the name Brian Wood has become synonymous with quality comic books. Starting with the Indy sensation DEMO and now currently with two of the most critically acclaimed books on the market (DMZ for DC's Vertigo, and LOCAL from Oni Press) it's become pretty much a no-brainer in this reviewer’s mind to instantly order anything solicited with Brian's name on it. Therefore, enter THE TOURIST.

THE TOURIST is a decent sized Original Graphic Novel put out through Image comics. It's the story of a former Special Forces soldier, simply named Moss, who has abandoned his former profession for more lucrative (i.e. illegal) pursuits. One day, Moss wanders into a small town off of the North Sea and into the lives of a single mother and her daughter, and turns the town on its head. Said lonely single mom and Moss fall in love almost immediately, but the locals are both jealous of this relationship and suspicious of this stranger’s intent, as well they should be since his purpose there is to case the area and perpetrate a very profitable drug smuggling scheme via a local oil rig that supports the village. So what's a man to do when it comes down to choosing between two things that people rarely find in life, love or wealth?

Overall, I would put this OGN in the "enjoyable" column. The main appeal is that it is a very reasonably priced book at just ten dollars and entertains fairly well with a somewhat intriguing story and a nice cast of characters. There's some genuine emotion in this book as we get some glimpses of the rather immediate relationship between Moss and single mother Julie Tucker and how they gel together and why. Moss himself works well as your typical "wandering badass" type—that cool customer with a plan that has delighted so many in classic Westerns and modern day action flicks alike. These are elements that work very well in this graphic novel format.

The one thing I thought the book lacked was its ability to maintain a high level of suspense. Obviously, given the circumstances of Moss and Julie's relationship and Moss' line of work, you can see there is going to be a point where the two come to a head and cause lots of friction. But when it finally does, it just comes out sort of flat. You never really feel that Julie and her daughter are in any danger until it actually happens because of their association with Moss and it just kind of hits you blatantly in the face when it does. It's not often I'll say this, but I think this might have worked better as a mini-series with some tight cliffhangers to build the tension. But all said and done, there's enough genuine feeling in here that it tells a very competent tale of opportunity and loss.

Artistically as well, the book has some really great high notes but a decent bit of missteps. The main issue is that a lot of the pages are way too simplistic and seem rushed. Obviously, just working in black and whites, there's going to be some depth missing that coloring can and usually does hide. But there are more than a few pages where there seriously are just a few squiggles and lines that make up some scenery and some semblance of human shape. Plus I noticed a lot of unusual, uh, "nosery.” So many times, in a serious moment, you'd be looking at the face of the character talking in the center of that panel and there would just be two dots for nostrils or some weird "w" shape. It would almost make the character's face look, I dunno, "piggish." But it's a shame because it's obvious with some of the more detailed pages that this Toby Cypress has some genuine goddamn talent. Some pages are so atmospheric and there's some very in-depth ink work that remind me so much of the art of another indie phenom, Paul Pope. Again, like the writing, I'd put the art in the "competent" area, but I can tell that with some craft-honing, there will be some great stuff coming from this guy in the future.

So the book has faults, but at the same time, it's only a ten-spot and for ten bucks, it delivers. It's definitely rough around the edges, but it has some really good moments and, at the very least, it shows a lot of potential from both parties involved in its creation. There's better stuff you could be buying right now, sure, but if you have some loose bills and an hour to kill, THE TOURIST is worth a try.


RED SONJA #9

Writer: Michael Avon Oeming
Artists: Mel Rubi and Pablo Marcos
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: Sleazy G

When this series first launched, I was hesitant to pick it up. The character’s history is mired in controversy, as is the publisher, so I had a feeling things might not go so well. Still, when I saw Mike Carey was co-writing with Michael Avon Oeming I figured I’d take a chance. It started out okay: Carey seemed to have the basics of the genre down, and there were some cool/creepy snake-dude adversaries. Hell, he even managed to get away with something few people are willing to attempt: he had the hero hack through a room full of children (well, demons in child form, but still…). It wasn’t starting any fires, and I may not have been blown away by what I was reading enough, but it was decent and had some cool twists thrown in so I stuck with it.

Then, a month or two ago, I noticed a sudden dip in quality. And by “dip” I mean it went from “not bad” to “really, really bad”. I mean, it went from okay issue to stinkin’ the joint up issue without warning. It was so lousy I caught myself wondering “who the fuck wrote this? It ain’t Carey”, at which point I flipped to the front cover and confirmed he had left the book, leaving only Michael Avon Oeming to write.

Bad idea.

The thing about comic books in general is that you have to walk a line where you have to use the ideas and the lingo without coming off as a clichéd hack, and that just ain’t happening here. The first issue after Carey left was full of really half-baked narration panels, dialogue that sounded like it came out of “Lord of the G-String” (like nobody else caught that late nite on Showtime?) and action that had lost its edge. Those, along with strong evidence that neither an editor nor any spellchecking software were employed in the production process, were enough to give me a migraine. I’ve hung in for the last few issues hoping it would improve because issue 12 is supposed to have a “shocking reveal” as to who the villain is, even though Vegas bookies have the odds at 8 to 1 right now on Thulsa Doom. Me, though? I say smart money’s on Sandahl Bergman. Not her character from the movie, mind you—actually Sandahl Bergman.

I’ll grant that issue 9 here isn’t quite as bad as the first non-Carey issue (which was wretched). This issue just manages to seem like it’s trying to hard and still comes off as clichéd. If you’re looking for a tale of a hardened warrior training a young girl to be a killer, it’s not too bad, and getting to see her first kill and its aftereffects is nice. The girl’s surprise at finding it didn’t affect her the way she expected is a decent idea, but could have been executed with a little oomph. There is one quality moment, though, and credit where it’s due: the girl asks Sonja why she dresses so provocatively considering her past and her attitude towards men. Sonja seems a little taken aback, and after thinking about it, says she thought she was doing it to distract her opponents or make them think her weak…or maybe, subconsciously, it’s her way of drawing the kind of filth to her that raped her when she was young, getting her revenge over and over again. I admit to being taken a bit aback by both the elegant simplicity and psychological depth of this explanation, and it’s the one thing that gives the series a glimmer of hope.

It really is just a glimmer, though, and I have to lay the responsibility for that at the feet of the publisher. Dynamite really is a crappy venture from pretty much any angle, all flash and very little substance. The regular SONJA series was given no time whatsoever to build a loyal following or garner praise—within a month or two of its launch there was a flood of one-shots and miniseries that have been overpriced, low on story and frankly hard to give a shit about. Seeing as how Dynamite is run by the same people as Dynamic Forces, their focus is on only one thing: profit. Every single issue of this title to date has had at least four “variant” covers, which is fuckin’ ridiculous. There’s no call for that—unless, of course, you come from the side of the business that still focuses on limited edition foil-embossed covers signed by the artist that literally never sold at cover price (limited to 500 copies! Only $49.95!) and overpriced busts and statues. What does that mean? Well, it means that every month you have four cool-lookin’ covers, but the art inside is fairly standard and the writing is middling at best. The focus isn’t on the characters, dialogue or stories—it’s on a flashy gewgaw designed to suck in all the crows who can’t resist picking up something shiny. I don’t know what sales are like on this book, but I can guarantee they’re inflated and based on multiple purchases due to the variants.

It’s no surprise, really—Dynamite is just harpooning one license after another and cranking out variant merchandising of mediocre product left and right. Ever think you’d need four covers per issue of a half-baked miniseries starring Ash from “Evil Dead”? Well, apparently somebody does. And apparently those same people need ‘em for the likes of HIGHLANDER, XENA and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, too. The house ads in these issues are soul-deadening, too: lithographs of the variant covers, red foil on the variant covers, black and whites of the covers, trading cards of the covers, and on and on and on in more unnecessary variations than any sane person could conceive or require. It may be a fine way to run a small collectibles company and make a decent profit off the suckers, but I gotta say, it’s no way to run a publishing company.

My qualms with Dynamite were a big part of why I was hesitant to pick this series up. For the first half-dozen issues, this book was a guilty pleasure—something I hated myself for buying every time I saw the ads crammed into the back for an unrelenting stream of valueless titles and related merchandising. Once the quality of the writing took a dive, though, it pretty much sealed the series’ fate for me: the rare bright moment in this issue just isn’t enough for me to see past the sub par writing and the lack of attention the publisher is paying the actual stories. The book’s already off my pull list, and from here on out I’ll probably just check in once in a while to see if it’s still as disappointing as I expect. It’s a shame that the title started out with a hint of promise only to see it squandered, but I’ve learned my lesson—damned if I’ll keep getting burned by Dynamite at four bucks a pop for any of their dreck.


I AM SPARTACUS

Dan Wickline: Writer
Ilkka Lesonen: Artist
Publisher: Cellar Door
Vroom Socko: Not going for the obvious joke

So far, I’ve read both of the books released by the fine folks at Cellar Door Publishing, CHANCE OF A LIFETIME and SHOCKING GUN TALES. CHANCE is an exploration of superhero themes and morality, along the lines of ASTRO CITY. TALES is a pistol themed anthology that manages to go “out there” on more than one instance, the best example being a Wild West shootout where one of the duelists pulls a disintegration ray. I’ve also seen some of the early work on MINISTER JADE, a fantasy set in China’s Middle Ages with artwork to match. And then there’s this book, I AM SPARTACUS, a fully painted science fiction story set in the near future.

If you want to pigeonhole Cellar Door as a publisher, feel free to try. Me, I’ve given up.

The story here is a familiar one in comics. A monolithic corporation holds the city of Los Angeles in an economic vise. Its chairman, one Mister Halloran, has a gift for manipulating others to serve his ends. He is cold, he is nasty, and he gets what he wants. His only problem is the hooded madman who has just killed his personal aide by bludgeoning the bastard to death with his own car, then writing “I am Spartacus” on the fender with the victims own blood. This, of course, is only the beginning.

In other words, the basic story is V FOR VENDETTA set in the Delta City of ROBOCOP. What makes this story work is the way Dan Wickline builds the tension between the characters. The mystery of Spartacus and his identity is an intriguing one, and it has a payoff that not only twists like a corkscrew, but works amazingly well. I couldn’t help but laugh at the final page, it’s just beautiful. As to the work by artist Ilkka Lesonen, it fits the story like a glove. It’s moody, dark, and seriously creepy. It reminded me somewhat of the art in the comics adaptation of THE VAMPIRE LESTAT.

Cellar Door is a constant source of surprise. Besides the books mentioned above, there are two more on the slate for this year that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m certainly eager to see them up close though. If they’re anything like this one, at the very least they’ll be an entertaining read.


CTHULHU TALES #1

Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

I'm generally not a huge fan of "horror" comics. But I am a fan of anthology comics. Plus, I'm a fan of BOOM! Studios. Slickly professional comic books running the entire gamut of just about all possible genres in the comic book medium, though a bit heavy on the Zombie stuff for my taste. But I found this CTHULHU TALES anthology set within the shared horror universe created by H.P. Lovecraft to be a very good horror comic. Lovecraft is an interesting writer and an even more interesting phenomenon. In his impact upon horror writing, he's right up there with Poe. For modern horror writers, I would say his influence has overtaken Poe.

Probably my first encounter with a Lovecraftian horror was as a little kid reading an issue of the original Wein/Wrightson SWAMP THING. In that story, Swampy came face to face with this tentacled beastie from hell (or something like that-details escape me now some 30 years later). What I remember, though, is the creepy feeling the comic caused in me that kept me coming back to be scared again and again. Over the years, I was exposed to Lovecraft through Philip Jose' Farmer's Lovecraftian pastiches and schlocky films like RE-ANIMATOR. It's only in the last couple of years that I've made a point of reading some actual Lovecraft poems and stories. And here's the thing that sticks out to me. More than just the gore and the gross, there is a morose sadness to so much of what he wrote. I'll find myself feeling melancholy one moment and then nauseated the next. Lovecraft also realized that the most frightening horrors are not the external creatures from the Cthulhu pantheon of demons he imagined; the most frightening horrors are found repressed deep within each person's secret thoughts. I remember Bernie Wrightson once saying that, to him, "horror" is an image of a perfectly dressed, shaved and coiffed man in a nicely pressed suit, standing on a city street. You first notice the handsome face with the big white smile, but then you glance down and notice a single, small, drop of blood on the top of his shined and buffed shoe.

I think Lovecraft would agree. And this full-color anthology is an excellent and faithful extrapolation and exploration of Lovecraftian horror.

The first story is "The Beach," written by Michael Alan Nelson with art by Andrew Ritchie. Very unsettling story about what ungodly things an otherwise reasonable man might do when faced with sure knowledge about a coming horror. In this case, the coming horror would be Cthulhu. The second story is "Love's Craft," written by Johanna Stokes with art by Filip Sablik. This story focuses on the Arkham Sanitorium. Yes, for those not in the know, Gotham City's "Arkham Asylum" is a literary tip-of-the-hat to Lovecraft's Arkham, which was often a part of his stories. The human mind cannot truly come face-to-face with the horror of Cthulhu and maintain sanity. This sad story delves into both the temptation of and the curse of indulgence in Cthulhu.

The third story, "Witch Hunter," written by Andrew Cosby with art by Lee Carter, examines the theme of "holes." Holes in reality; holes in society; holes between dimensions; holes in our hearts; holes in our souls. Very strong story and likely one that will be followed up on in future issues as the "Witch Hunter" continues his search for "The Harridan" who stole his daughter's soul. For my money, the creepiest story was the fourth story, entitled "Quality Time." Written by John Rogers and illustrated by Andy Kuhn. They take the old cliché about parental quality time versus quantity to give a terribly disturbing comeuppance to an unreliable dad. The kid-friendly cartooning style of the artwork made this very adult story that much more unsettling and uncomfortable. Most frightening of all is that the big "reveal" at end is left to the reader's imagination. I loved that. My second favorite story was the fifth, called "Cthulhu Calls." Writer Casey Grey and artist Mark Badger present a classic tale of the jilted girlfriend and how a clever boy attempts to get out of the relationship unscathed. This time, though, the "girlfriend" is a very crushed and heartbroken Cthulhu. Which can't bode well for the boyfriend. But the image of Cthulhu outside holding the jam box over his/her/its head like John Cusack in SAY ANYTHING made me laugh out loud. Fantastically funny with a horrifying last page.

The final story, "The Oddly Amorous Phineas Flynn and the Troublesome Trouble He Got Himself In," is a piece of writing and cartooning genius from the troubled mind of Keith Giffen and the twisted brush and pen of Ben Roman. All I gotta say is watch out for who you carry a torch for. Funny and gross-out at the same time. The perfect topper to an outstanding issue. This one needs to be remembered when it's time for award nominations.


LITTLE STAR

Story and Art by Andi Watson
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

I’m not a father. I’m not married. Hell, I have trouble just keeping a relationship going for more than two months. Typically, I read stories where dudes beat the snot out of other dudes. Maybe that’s my problem, but that’s not important now. This is a comic review not a therapy session. Just because my reading preferences point more towards capes and KA-POW!s doesn’t mean I can’t like other stuff too. On the surface, I wouldn’t be the reader one would typically think would enjoy a book about the trials and tribulations of a new father, but after reading LITTLE STAR, if I were married, if I did have a child, I’m pretty sure I’d act just the way the father does in this story.

And that says a lot. To make me empathize with something I have yet to become takes a pretty powerful story. Luckily, LITTLE STAR has just that. Broken into six lengthy chapters, this graphic novel highlights the fears and resentments, the joys and pains, the pleasant memories and the sacrifices, the happiness and the sorrow that every new father goes through. Simon Adams bumbles through his life. He wants to provide a good home to his wife and daughter, but like many men, he’s a dreamer. One of the ongoing themes of the book is the fact that Simon fantasizes about being something that he is not and something that he, in all likelihood, will never be. In wonderfully rendered fantasy sequences, Simon is an astronaut free-floating in vast space. This fantasy becomes reflective of how Simon is living his life. He’s a man not in control of his destiny. He can’t accept the roles of father and husband (although he seems to sincerely want to) and can’t put away the dreams of what he thought his life would turn out to be. Real life decisions such as whether or not to take a full time job, what house to buy, and how much time is appropriate to spend with his family are all stressors squeezing Simon like the pressures of the endless vacuum of space against that space suit in his fantasies. Simon is not a bad man. He’s just one of those guys whose dreams have been interrupted by real life. LITTLE STAR is a story of how one man grows up and realizes that doing so isn’t such a catastrophic thing as many perceive.

What is so effective in this story is the fact that writer Andi Watson skillfully puts Simon into one stressful situation after another and makes it all seem fresh and entertaining. In one especially effective sequence, Simon loses his daughter in a department store. How many times has this story been told? How many times has this happened to you? This is very familiar territory whether you are the one who’s lost or the one searching. Watson lets this scene unfold with great skill, showing mild panic evolve into sheer terror as Simon looks for his daughter. Simon’s overactive imagination doesn’t especially help in this scenario either. Watson’s simplistic lines and shades tell so much with so little. This book is filled with entertaining real life moments like this that are told with an honesty and insightfulness that you seldom come by.

I completely identified with Simon in this book. I too am a dreamer and if I do have the pleasure of marrying and having a child of my own some day, I could see myself having these same feelings, worries, and concerns. LITTLE STAR is a powerful read. If it can spark emotions in this sooper-hero reader, it can do the same for anyone. Put down those over-hyped crossovers and check this out. You just might learn something about yourself or something you may need to learn some time down the road.


WOLFSKIN #1
Avatar Press

Like other comics from the Avatar line, this Conan-esque yarn by Warren Ellis has a scad of variant covers, but don’t let the nineties marketing ploy fool you, it is a pretty damn entertaining read. Not much by way of deep thinking is going on, but artist Juan Jose Ryp does make some finely detailed panels. Reminiscent of Ron Lim and Glen Fabry, Ryp doesn’t shy away from the red stuff as Wolfskin hacks and slashes his way through many an enemy warrior. Others have touted Warren Ellis as a genius. I’m not really one of them, as I feel many of his books too often resort to text-book readings of popular science discoveries, but this down to earth barbarian story was pretty hard-hitting and highlights Ellis’ more interesting storytelling skills. I have to admit, though, Ellis has a great sense of dialog. With lines like “I will eat my enemy’s flesh and consider your problem” how can you not like this book? - Ambush Bug

THE TROUBLE WITH IGOR
Slave Labor Graphics

THE TROUBLE WITH IGOR is like hitching a ride through a madman’s dream. It’s a silent, stream of consciousness-type tale about a freaky hunchback-like child who finds a penny, falls into a well, wears an octopus for a hat, and has a murderous death puppet on his hand which kills people with a tiny scythe. And that’s just in the first fifteen pages. It’s twisted, it’s warped, it’s gruesome, and most importantly, it’s fun. I was definitely reminded of JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC, the works of Edward Gorey, and TV’s THE ADDAMS FAMILY as I read through this tale by Christopher P. Reilly and Gus Fink. One adventure flows into the next. New characters are followed for a while and then the focus returns to Igor. It’s one of those quickly devoured gems that makes you start reading it over again as soon as you finish it. - Ambush Bug

JEREMIAH HARM #1
BOOM! Studios

This series continues to highlight the best aspects of creators Keith Giffen and Alan Grant’s writing styles. It’s full of snark and wit and the main character is as tough as a comic book character can be. But again, the true highlight of this book lies in the art as Rael Lyra once again rules with his AEON FLUX-inspired art. The action is bloody and violent, Giffen and Grant bring the funny, and the plot thickens as Harm is forced to pause his fight to the finish with the deadly Ayoma Skyver in order to make short work of some thugs who stumble into the middle of their flirtatious dance of death. This issue crackles with energy as Skyver can’t decide whether she wants to fight or fuck the jaded Harm. Fun sci fi action, this one is. - Ambush Bug

HORRORWOOD #1
Ape Entertainment

This is a fun noir tale set against the dark backdrop of Hollywood where fame has a price and not everything is as it seems. I liked the stylistic art by Brent Schoonover using only reds, blacks, greys, and whites to tell the moody tale. Writer Brandon Terrell places the reader firmly in the 1950’s as a bartender is forced to track down a father she disowned after a mysterious magician walks into her bar. She crosses paths with a wounded circus strongman and the beginnings of a mystery develop. This issue has the same type of spooky noir feel many of the better episodes of the sadly cancelled HBO series CARNIVALE had. It didn’t help that the title of this chapter is called “Carnevil.” Promising stuff. - Ambush Bug

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.


ARES #4
Marvel Comics

I guess if any miniseries deserves a quiet before the storm issue, it’s this one. So far, the action has been furious from page one of issue one. But this issue skids the momentum to a halt with its dependency on discourse and recapping. If this were any other series, I’d be super-pissed, but I’m willing to give this issue a little leeway due to the amazing writing, highly original action scenes, and fascinating new takes on old characters in the first three issues. With the way this story is going, I’m hoping for a powerful finish, but this was a wheel-screecher of an issue for me and had me wondering why this miniseries had to be five issues when this fourth issue could have been summed up in a few panels. This issue does have its moments of great writing, though:
And so the poem of war goes on and on through generations and time.
The echo of one battle fades to give life to another.
Such is the cycle of life and death, for men and gods alike.
For the love of father and son, the gods stand shoulder to shoulder.
After endless bloodshed, they have reached the walls of Mikabushi’s Hell!
Troy was for a woman. This is for a boy…
Nice. Can’t wait for the last issue of this miniseries. - Bug

X-MEN: DEADLY GENESIS #6 (of 6)
Marvel Comics

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Brubaker’s work thus far in both the DCU and over at Marvel, but this series left me pretty “meh”. Banshee is dead, Professor Xavier comes off like a huge douche worthy only of pity and loathing, and a big new villain is introduced. Sometimes, though, the whole “missing or evil lover/sibling/friend” thing gets a bit old. The sudden introduction of a heretofore unknown third Summers brother feels too clichéd—it sounds like something a daytime soap writer would come up with. His suddenly appearing, being massively overpowered compared to his brothers (and the rest of the team) and then running off into space to take on an entire empire comes off as forced and excessive: a slow build to his decision would have made a lot more sense. Brubaker did introduce some interesting new mutant kids along the way, and seeing that Darwin will stick around is nice since he was the best of the bunch, but it’s not enough for me. I’ve never much cared about the Shi’ar anyway, and with the tepid response I had to the mini I doubt I’ll be sticking around to see what happens next. Sleazy

JONAH HEX #7
DC Comics

Luke Ross’ last issue and as it says on the first page in the credits, “We’ll miss ya!” Although, sometimes, Ross’ art was a bit distracting in his tendency to make Jonah Hex look exactly like Clint Eastwood, I have to admit that he provided some of the finest art I’ve seen in a Western comic in quite a while. His painterly take on the Old West made everything look as if it were taken straight from an old weathered “Wanted” poster. Jimmy Palmiotti and his writing partner Justin Grey continue to tell some great stand alone stories starring our favorite scarred bounty hunter. Some issues are stronger than others. This issue’s deus ex machina involving a bolt of lightning was a bit too convenient for my tastes, but this series is about cowboy toughness and it certainly delivers that in spades. And since I didn’t get to cover it last month, Jonah Hex delivers the best line I’ve read all year when a wicked nun gets blown away with a shotgun, Hex points down to her corpse, and says, “Put THAT in a cheap box.” Now that’s fucking tough and it’s the Hex I love reading. - Bug

SHE-HULK #7
Marvel Comics

Sexual harassment superhero style. That's what we have in this latest issue of SHE-HULK. Former Avenger and intergalactic playboy Starfox is on trial for the supposition of his using his pheromonal powers to lull unwilling Earth females into his bedroom. And while you might be figuring this is just another case of "superhero witch-hunt" the best part of it is that it's actually true. Starfox is a panty chaser and he's damn good at what he does. And we see some rather dramatic and hilarious results from this revelation as they turn an old friendship between Shulkie and her teammate into something pretty volatile. This is just another great use of almost forgotten C-level and lower characters by Dan Slott to tell a tale that has both laugh out loud moments and does well to build the character of our heroine. Well done as always. - Humphrey

FIRESTORM #25
DC Comics

Dickhead Batman lives! This issue offers proof positive that although Bats may have had a few nips and tucks here and there by DC editorial, making him more of a heroic…uhm…hero, he still can be characterized as a complete douchebag. Our fledgling Firestorm stumbles into another encounter with Killer Frost, this time with Mr. Freeze in tow to add to the carnage. Although the bumbling and fallible hero angle is a bit overused these days, I have been enjoying this series, but the lecture by Bat-Cranky in the end really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I do have to say that artist Jamal Igle shows real promise in this issue. His figures have some of the most realistic, yet dynamic poses and posturings I’ve seen in a mainstream super hero comic. These types of details often go unnoticed, but his characters are grounded perfectly and give off the feeling of real stature, musculature, and weight. A nice looking book. - Bug

ANNIHILATION: SUPER-SKRULL #2
Marvel Comics

One of the stronger ANNIHILATION miniseries. Even though the presence of the Kid Skrull is a bit annoying, I understand why writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach is using the character: to offer a fresh and outside perspective to the story. And he does this well in this issue as the Super-Skrull scorches his way through the Negative Zone in search of his son. Along the way, Grillo-Marxuach utilizes the Super-Skrull’s various FF-inspired abilities in extremely inventive ways. You can tell the writer is having a blast writing the inventive fight scenes. I’m not too keen on this crossover as a whole, but this series is one of the best of the bunch. - Bug

CAPTAIN ATOM: ARMAGEDDON #8 (of 9)
WildStorm Comics

When Captain Atom bounced out of the DCU and landed in the WildStorm Universe, we were told it would be a good way to get a tour of the WSU from the perspective of somebody who had never seen it before. We were also told he posed a threat to the very existence of the WSU, but I assumed it was just going to be one of those traditional comic book stories where by the end of it everything worked out okay and things ended pretty much how they started. Turns out that’s not the case, though. In this issue we see Captain Atom take on the Authority single-handedly, and he manages to take out Apollo—no mean feat. We also see a longstanding WSU member get his frikkin’ face blasted off (looks pretty dead to me—even blew that hanky off his face), and we already know Captain Atom is gonna end up in the DCU but there’s no guarantee it’ll be a smooth transition. Not the flashiest series, but Will Pfeifer’s done some solid work here and thrown in some real surprises (Atom hittin’ it with The Engineer? Can I get a hellzyeah for liquid metal-on-metal action?). Worth a look-see this issue and next to see how Cap gets back home and what aftereffects it may have on the WSU, if you’re a fan of that kinda thing. Sleazy

THE BATTLE FOR BLUDHAVEN #3
DC Comics

I HATE HIPPIES! Ugh, hippies. *pant*pant* Hippies…BAD! The playing of their bongos and the wearing of their baggy clothes and the eating of my cheetos and the reeking…the reeking…ohhh god, that god-awful reeking! Needless to say, we’re three issues into this miniseries and I already have a character I’d love to see perished…violently…involving an orifice and a sideways two-by-four. I mean, this series has some interesting turns. The revelation that the government is holding Captain Atom hostage as some form of nuclear battery is pretty cool. Father Time is obviously Uncle Sam undercover. It’s nice to see Monolith resurrected from his cancelled series. And the Human Bomb sequence was downright bad@$$ in this issue. But Hippy-Man AKA Firebrand has to be the most annoying revamped character ever. Who’s with me to start some kind of poll to get the guy written out of the series? Or better yet, howzabout a sit-in? What am I sayin’? That’s hippy-talk! I’ll just borrow Buzz’s shotgun and Blue Beetle the guy myself. - Bug

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