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#18 8/16/06 #5

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

52 WEEK 14
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM V.1
Indie Jones presents PARIAH #2
Indie Jones presents WASTELAND #2
Indie Jones presents CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE
Indie Jones presents…
Tales From the Crevice: ONI DOUBLE FEATURE


Writers: Sean McKeever (story 1 & 2), Kurt Busiek (story 3), Peter David (story 4), Fred Hembeck (story 5)
Artists: Patrick Oliffe, Casey Jones, Kano, Nick Dragotta, Livesay, Vince Russell, Alvaro Lopez (story 1), Chris Giarrusso (story 2), Patrick Oliffe, Al Vey, Pam Eklund (story 3), Rick Leonardi, Al Williamson (story 4), Fred Hembeck (story 5)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Man, I had a blast reading through this comic. It’s a thick and girthy book. Similar to the GIANT SIZE HULK book that came out a few weeks ago that I picked up at the same time. Both books offer some of the best stories about Spider-Man and the Hulk that I’ve read in quite a while. Reading these two books took me back to Saturday mornings when SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS and THE INCREDIBLE HULK were slotted back to back and I was planted firmly in front of the television every Saturday to watch it. Sure it’s that nostalgia feel that was a chief contributor to my liking of this book, but there is a lot of other stuff to be said about this one as well, so I’m going to break the issue into its five parts and tell you why it’s such a damn fine read.

Story one is an original tale, planting the team-up of Spider-Man, Iceman, and Firestar firmly into Marvel continuity. The team-up isn’t overly complicated; basically, the three characters kind of run into each other and team up for a while. After some news reporters catch Firestar giving Spider-Man a kiss on the cheek, Spidey has to work fast to mend fences with his wife and avoid sleeping on the couch, so he plays matchmaker between Iceman and Firestar. Of course, things go awry in true sitcom fashion. Watchers of the old show will recognize an appearance of Videoman and appreciators of fun super-heroics will love this story. Sean McKeever has once again shown that he is one of the few writers today able to make Spider-Man a fun character to read again. Aside from Dan Slott, there’s no one I’d rather see tackling a Spidey book than him. When Marvel finally decides to bring the fun back to Spidey, I hope Mr. McKeever is towards the top of the list.

This first story also stood out because of the top notch artwork. Patrick Oliffe is one of those talented artists that you don’t see in Wizard or on the high profile books, but his style incorporates a sense of old school with the detailings of today. The true surprise in this story was the panels contributed by Kano. I first heard of Kano from his days at GOTHAM CENTRAL. There he was able to visualize the realistic world of cops and procedures and make it all look interesting. Here he’s in the fully colored world of costumes and capes, villains and heroes and he makes the transition without a hitch. In fact, I prefer his superhero stuff to his more realistic stuff from GOTHAM CENTRAL and I loved his work on that title.

Story two is my McKeever as well and it’s a clever cartoon poking fun at the secret identity problem (or lack thereof one) at Marvel these days. Spider-Man is walking around the Daily Bugle in full costume and no one knows it’s him. Iceman and Firestar are doing the same. It’s a funny little ditty with a lot of elbows and barbs at the current state of Marvel comics. McKeever shows his wit and snark prominently throughout.

Another thing that makes this issue special is the fact that it reprints some older tales of Spidey that a lot of today’s readers may not even know existed. One such treasure is UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN. Before the whole ULTIMATE hullabaloo, THIS was the comic revered as THE Spidey title. Like Bendis’ ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, writer Kurt Busiek took Spidey back to his roots, telling stories that happened in between the early issues of his ongoing series in regular Marvel Universe continuity. Unlike ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, Busiek isn’t reduxing the wheel; he’s telling original stories that fit the timeframe. Busiek shows us his attention to detail in these stories (a talent he later showed us on his current run on CONAN), paying close attention to continuity and making it all work. If anyone out there wants to read some great Spidey stories, seek these UNTOLD TALES out. This issue reprints an early untold tale featuring a Man-Bat like character of Busiek’s creation. It is the perfect example of what to expect from the rest of the UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN series. Patrick Oliffe provides the art and once again rocks.

Another great incarnation of Spider-Man was from the 2099 line that ran through the late 80’s. Peter David rewrote the Spidey origin and set it in the future. I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of Marvel’s 2099 line when it came out, but SPIDER-MAN 2099 was one of the few series I actually followed. David brought his usual wit and sense of adventure to this series. The second issue, reprinted in this book, tells Spidey 2099’s origin and shows us how different this Spider-Man is from our present incarnation.

The book ends with a lost gem by Fred Hembeck. If there is an artist I would most love to see have a comeback, it’s be this guy. With his swirly knees and cartoony style, this writer/artist makes every story he does truly original. This entry follows Peter Parker before he became Spider-Man as he has a run in with Hydra. It’s fun stuff that is a great break from all of the dour stuff that’s happening in Spidey’s regular books.

All in all, this book highlights all of the best aspects of the Spider-Man character. It’s completely kid friendly and if those at Marvel had a brain in their collective heads, they would release something along these lines in conjunction with the upcoming movie to draw more children in to reading comics. If I had a child, this is the type of comic I’d want him/her to read. And those of you who still think of the good old days will eat this up too.


Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Publisher: DC/Wildstorm
Reviewer: Baytor

It’s been a long while since we’ve had a proper Garth Ennis series. His only ongoing series since PREACHER and HITMAN shut down all those years ago has been THE PUNISHER, which reliably offers up the thrills, but is lacking any long-term goals. So it is with great anticipation that I come to THE BOYS, which is slated as a 60-issue limited series.

The set-up centers on a group of elite secret ops types who are tasked with keeping the super-powered community in line. Ennis is known for the piss-take on super-heroes and you can almost smell the urine in the air on this one, but the opening chapter plays the concept reasonably straight, although his contempt clearly shows. The only super-hero scene in the book centers on a disinterested super-speedster by the name of A-Train, whose “battle” with a super-villain is little more than a sucker punch with disastrous consequences for the resident Simon Pegg look-a-like of the group, Wee Hughie.

Now, I’m not always a fan of Ennis’ take on super-heroes, finding he lacks any great skill with the genre, but based on this one scene, I think he has a good take for his writing skills. It combines the large super-powered community with little interest in normal law & order (ala Kingdom Come), a brutal disregard for human life (ala Alan Moore’s Miracleman), and the “it’s over in a blink of an eye” aspect of a street fight, all of which moves the focus away from the super-hero brawls and toward the aftermath of their behavior in a more or less realistic setting.

Without a doubt, Wee Hughie’s plight is the heart and soul of this book. Ennis spends a few pages building him up to a moment of sublime happiness, and then rips his heart out. It’s here that Darick Robertson really shines, conveying the shock and sadness of Hughie with nary a word of dialogue from Ennis. He is a man adrift with grief, disconnected from the world around him, and only at the end does he have the sort of vocal outburst that’s the fictional norm after such a tragedy, and that is but a pale shadow of what Robertson conveyed on the previous pages.

The only other member of the 5-man team to be introduced here is Butcher, who is a study in excess. So much so that I suspect Ennis was testing the editorial staff to see if they’d really let him get away with whatever he wanted to do. If you read Ennis’ FURY, you saw him pull the same stunt there, with the character cursing and screwing his way through the first issue, as if daring someone to tell him he can’t do it. Lacking any sort of context, this is largely uninteresting (and only mildly amusing), save for providing a lot of the necessary exposition of the set-up. The character isn’t miles away from his Punisher and Nick Fury, so it’s my hope that he’ll settle down to a quiet atrocity in an issue or two, much as he did with both of those characters.

This isn’t quite the knock-it-out-the-park homerun that I was hoping for, and certainly not on par with his debut on PREACHER and HITMAN; but the parts of this book that work, really work and far outshine the bad. The focus on super-heroes is somewhat worrying, but he managed to make it work in HITMAN and does a good job with it here, so I know Ennis is capable of doing quality work in a super-hero universe so long as he doesn’t venture far out of his comfort zone. We’ve still got a number of hurdles to clear before this book can be called a genuine success, but it’s managed to get itself out of the starting block well enough and I eagerly await its second issue.


Writers: Steve Englehart, Joe Lansdale, Stan Lee
Artists: Marshall Rogers (pencils), Al Vey (inks), Rafa Garres, Jack Kirby
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

What does it say about Marvel Comics in 2006 that the most consistently excellent and entertaining series of the year has been their summer sleeper "Mighty Marvel Westerns?"

Each one-shot in this series has been better than the previous. I thought there was no way, that last month's story "The Man Called Hurricane" was the story to beat, and damn if Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers didn't pull it off with their story "Black Homecoming," featuring The Black Rider.

I'm pretty familiar with Marvel and DC's western heroes, not obsessively so - just generally so, but The Black Rider is a character I don't recall at all. When I picked this book up off the stand, I expected him to be an all-new character created for this summer event series. Based on the text piece included in the comic, The Black Rider is a pre-existing character and one of Englehart's very first jobs for Marvel was on The Black Rider back in the 70s.

I totally dug this story. It started out normal enough with a few clever twists on the standard comic book western. First of all, the story took place in New York City. So we've got a masked Texas gunslinger tracking some sick flesh-peddling of underaged Chinese girls in New York City. That right there was cause enough to hook the reader. But the sly play on the classic secret identity fits right in with the classic pulp adventurers, including the Scarlet Pimpernel (fop by day, masked hero by night). The Black Rider rides a white horse, the fastest horse in the west, named Satan. Doc Masters, the Rider's bespectacled secret identity, schleps around on what appears to be a sickly old nag named Ichabod. Yep. Even the horse has a secret identity. And it works like a storytelling charm.

Remember how I mentioned the old pulp adventurers? The Lone Ranger was the Western precursor to The Green Hornet and here, it really appears that Englehart intends The Black Rider to be the Western precursor to The Shadow. Check out that cover by Rogers and Powell and tell me that isn't supposed to be The Shadow in western garb! Not to mention that Englehart's characterization of The Black Rider is extremely compelling. Just as The Shadow is rather insane in his obsessive devotion with exacting justice, so is The Black Rider. He does not fit the cookie-cutter cowboy hero mold and Englehart should be justly recognized for doing something new here that evokes the classic pulps. The Black Rider got the pulp section of my brain ticking and makes me want to tackle a bit of research and see if he does or doesn't fit into the Wold Newton genealogy with a direct lineage from Doctor Morris (Doc) Masters to Kent Allard/Lamont Cranston.

And for the hardcore Marvel Zombies out there, this story actually ties into Marvel continuity in a pleasing and smile-inducing way which I won't spoilerize for you.

The second story is a freaky little round-the-campfire-haunted-gun story that only Joe Lansdale could produce. Now sure, this is technically a story starring the old Marvel character, Gunhawk. But the truth of the matter is that this is Lansdale's tribute to the old E.C. horror classics and Gunhawk's appearance, while integral to the twist revelation at the end, could've been any old Marvel cowboy since they were all the fastest guns in the West. I won't spoilerize this one either, but take a moment to think about what might be the downside of a request of "The Devil" to make you "The Fastest Gun Alive." There's a number of clever ways to tackle that, and Lansdale pulls in Gunhawk to make his version the story pay off.

The artwork for the Gunhawk story is by Rafa Harres. Great mood-setting for the creepy atmosphere that Lansdale obviously wanted to set up for the story. Reminiscent of Mike Ploog in his cartooning style and use of shadow. I'd like to see this guy take on Plastic Man for awhile because he also reminded me of Jack Cole by way of Will Eisner too. A great combination of identifiable artistic sources resulting in strong storytelling totally suited for the story Lansdale wanted to tell.

To round out the package, Marvel throws in two really short Rawhide Kid stories by Lee and Kirby. Worth checking out mainly to see Kirby at his prime cranking out the best looking Western stories the comic book medium had seen. And he made it look effortless.

My highest recommendation for the week.

52 – WEEK 14

Writers: MG3
Anchor: Keith Giffen
Pencils: Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Art Thibert
Origin of Metamorpho Backup
Writer: MG2.3
Artist: Eric Powell
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Squashua

Witness with me the introduction of their latest accomplishment in diversity as DC Nation, which gifted us with a lipstick lesbian Batwoman a few weeks ago, unveils it's most controversial and literally hugest character ever when 52 begets the one and only Fat Isis in all of her grossly rotund glory. Hey, hey, hey, diversity! Say it with me! All they need to do now is give us Tall Isis, BA3, Aunt Marvel, and Can Adam and our Black Marvel Family collection is complete!

I'm sorry. That was out of line and I'm not usually so insensitive. I know I shouldn't have gone there, and the other @$$holes warned me of the potential for backlash from the community, but I had to take the chance. I just couldn't locate an ethnic slur that incorporated either "Adam" or "Adrianna". I even checked Wikipedia and found nothing, so to fall back to the lowest common denominator and refer to those filthy Canucks was my only option. I just hope you'll respect me in the morning.

This issue we peruse a number of the ongoing storylines and witness them weave together. The Question and Montoya visit Black Adam's poorly marketed paradise on Earth and foreshadow their fates, Will Magnus works on his Metal Men and makes his final visit to the cell of Professor T.O. Morrow, prompting a possible formal inquiry from the “world-famous” Elongated Man, and we realize that radioactive angst can turn the Man of Steel into a rusted weeping bitch. Aside from the witty dialogue and ever encroaching mystery, there's no formal “BIFF! BAM! POW!” style action, with the sole exception being a nameless scientist taken down, but if that's your bag why are you reading this series anyway? 52 is for the meddling kids among us. I can't wait to see Old Man Hunter under that Supernova mask.

The final pages present the highly requested origin of Metamorpho, which does not mention the Outsiders or his counterpart, Shift. This leads me to believe that some of these future backups are simply origin stories, and will likely not delve deep into any insignificant post-origin history.

All in all, this issue delivers and is a keeper.


Writer: James Hudnall
Artist: Dan Brereton
Publisher: Image
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

"My life ended yesterday. Jake Riley is no more."

It's about damn time THE PSYCHO was collected into a trade. It came out in 1991, for god's sake, and DC released it then. Thank you, Image, for taking a 15 year old series from another publisher and collecting it so people besides me can actually read it. (I'm a Dan Brereton fan, so I had the issues already.) This is from a time when James Hudnall was much more prolific as a writer (though he was never really ALL that prolific). Early ESPERS, INTERFACE, DC work, CHILLERS - that all came out around the same time, give or take a couple years. Brereton, meanwhile, had just finished his first series, THE BLACK TERROR, and the NOCTURNALS were still a twinkle in his eye. The time was ripe for collaboration.

The basic idea of THE PSYCHO is a good one, and one that has been examined plenty of times since but rarely so well. What if superbeings existed for real? How would they affect the politics of the world, because, inevitably, they would? In THE PSYCHO, instead of discovering the atomic bomb during World War II, the US discovers a formula to make superbeings. Or, as they call them, F.C.O's (freelance costumed operatives). Pronounce it Fucko, it'll fit in with the feel of the story best. Fuckos are also known as psychos, cuz so many of 'em are crazy. They make one who kills Hitler and ends the war, except Europe gets to keep her colonies. Cuban Missile Crisis? Nah, same guy killed Castro. Of course, the Russians stole the formula, so a Cold War still rages. Who better to be President and keep the Russkies down than the guy who killed Hitler? He knows how important fuckos are.

He's also paranoid, because he knows from experience that one fucko can kill a world leader and he doesn't want that to happen to him. That makes him easy to manipulate. Enter Jake Riley, an ordinary US spook undercover in the nation of Aldaria to find out why they have so many fuckos. Then his boss, who is manipulating the President, screws him over and the Aldarians take his woman. Jake doesn't much like that, and he kinda loses it. One dose of XDL later at a black market shop, Jake's a fucko and it's time for some revenge. 'Course, Jake is even less stable than before...

This story is a hell of a lot of fun, and it's because of both Hudnall and Brereton. The world that Hudnall creates, filled with fuckos and corruption, insanity and greed, is dark as hell but a great place to read about. The alternate history is fascinating, and it's obvious he put a lot of thought into it before putting it out there. Brereton, well, what can I say? The guy is my favorite artist. I love the way he uses color and isn't afraid to use bright and dark together, I love his painting style, and his ability to give details with just hints of shapes is just brilliant. This is clearly early work, much looser than even NOCTURNALS: BLACK PLANET, but even his early work blows me away.

A great read in a beautiful package, THE PSYCHO is like a lost gem recovered from the depths. This is the real deal.


Written by: Andy Hartnell
Art by: Nick Bradshaw & Jim Charalampidis
Published by: Wildstorm Comics
Reviewed by: the savage sword of superhero

Finally, a comic book has come along that actually lives up to its name. How is that you ask? Well, because ROKKIN is one heck of a rockin’ good time.

Ouch. OK, I didn’t mean to go into full Joel Siegel pun mode on everyone. I hope that you all can forgive me out there in comic book land.

With ROKKIN’s first issue I was a bit wary. As I’ve written before I’ve never been a huge fan of the fantasy/sword & sorcery genre, especially in comic book form. It’s rare that I’m actually able to fully get into a book from the Dungeons and Dragons mold but when I saw some of the preview art online I knew I had to give this book a quick looking at when it came out. I bought the first issue and was subsequently just blown away by the artwork. ROKKIN is truly a beautiful book to behold. Nick Bradshaw’s pencils are lively and cartoony while maintaining the visual edge that all successful fantasy books require. Detail is the name of the game when it comes to Bradshaw’s work and every page, hell, every panel is a fully realized fantasy world. The artwork here reminds me a bit of a combination of Todd McFarlane at the height of his powers mixed in with a bit of Humberto Ramos. While that comparison may immediately turn some comic readers off (I myself am not really the biggest fan of McFarlane’s work) Bradshaw and digital inker and colorist Jim Charalampidis manage to give the linework such a smoothness that they are able to capture the style of the best of the European graphic novel artists.

While I’m mentioning the colorist here I have to go all the way and just say that Charalampidis’s work here is absolutely stunning. I don’t know how much this guy is getting paid but it’s not enough. The coloring in this book takes on a life of its own and is the biggest reason why the book works so well visually. Honestly, there were times when I thought I was looking at an animated cell from an old school Disney cartoon when I looked at this book. Disney never made a movie about barbarians hacking a giant monster’s eyes out but if he’d had the balls to I swear it would have look like this. Yes, Charalampidis’s coloring is that good.

As I said before, though, the first issue got me interested but it wasn’t enough to get me fully on board. It was just typical origin stuff and I was hoping that with the next issue we’d move a little further into the story so I could get to figure out where this story might be going. I’ll say right now that I shouldn’t have been concerned. With issue two the origin story continues but there’s enough absolutely crazy fantasy stuff in this comic that I just ended up loving this book. Want evil looking villains with giant horns on their helmet? Check. Want giant monsters that’ll chomp you down in one bite? Check. Need armored maidens in uncomfortable looking yet sexy breastplates who can kick ass yet look hot doing it? Check. ROKKIN’s got it all.

So, yeah, at this point I’m looking forward to some more ROKKIN. I’m hoping that this book is doing well on the stands because if there’s any indie book out there right now that should succeed it should be this one. ROKKIN just hacked and slashed its way to the top of my pull list and if this team maintains the amazing level of quality that it’s brought to this second issue then it’ll stay there for a long time to come. Rock on, ROKKIN!


Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Steve Scott (pencils)/Wayne Faucher (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

I expect any regular readers of the @$$holes know my stand on SHADOWPACT.

I love it!

So, why, after a total rock for 3 issues, was issue 4 just…bleh? Dunno. So, I went back through it to try and figure out why it didn't work for me.

I'm thinking that it started on the second page when it said: "This adventure takes place after the DAY OF VENGEANCE and INFINITE CRISIS, but before the events of the first issue of SHADOWPACT.


There's such a thing as storytelling momentum. And after the conclusion of the exciting first story arc, I'm all ready to find out what happens next. Instead we get a yawner about some dumbass concept of a demon retrieval unit trying to take Blue Devil back to Hell or something. Not to mention that the idiot demons trying to catch Blue Devil, I think, are intended to be some sort of homage to a couple of characters I remember hating in the awful NEVERWHERE mini-series I never bothered to finish. So, Mr. Gray and Mr. Green are these stupid looking demons - Mr. Gray is skinny and Mr. Green is fat - and all I can think of is that awful Neil Gaiman TV mini-series and that further sours the comic.

The giant red lizard fight with Blue Devil was a huge waste of time, too. Just like the rest of the comic. Don't waste your money. Hopefully next issue gets the book back on track and moving forward.


Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Baytor

NEXTWAVE is the most cheerfully adolescent comic on the stands today. This, depending on your point of view, is either a blessing or a curse.

Personally, I love it. There hasn’t been a single issue that hasn’t made me laugh out loud several times. The best part about the book is that if you’ve read even a single issue, you know whether or not this book is for you. Grab an issue at random (preferable an odd numbered one to come in at the start of a story), read it, and if you didn’t have a thoroughly delightful time, you need never feel compelled to pick up another issue to see if it “got good”. Each story is two parts and the second verse is same as the first.

NEXTWAVE is a moment of zen goodness. It is the sort of comic that knows that questions like “why can’t Lois Lane figure out Clark Kent is Superman?” or “is The Thing’s thing… you know?” don’t deserve anything resembling a serious answer, but ask them anyway just to see what sort of nonsense they can come up with. Characters exist as a collection of unchanging personality quirks who are put through the paces of a wind-up high-octane plot. No one learns anything, there’s no dangling sub-plots save for the central dilemma of Nextwave battling the Beyond Corporation and Dirk Anger every month, no romantic entanglements, not even any real sense of danger, as none of the characters seem to care whether their teammates live or die. Stuff ‘splodes and there’s just something delightfully Old School about that.

Sure, every so often some serious-minded fan attempts to point out how horrible and disrespectful this is, but much like a principal attempting to explain to a bunch of junior high students that there’s nothing clever about making jokes about Mrs. Rottenbush’s name, it’s greeted with silly comments such as “NEXTWAVE is a scrotum full of razor blades” or “NEXTWAVE is a teddy bear on opium” and that usually puts a quick end to intelligent and reasonable conversation about the book.

Here’s what you need to know about this issue. The Beyond Corporation (the resident bad guys) have made contact with Rorkannu (one of Marvel’s many devil/costumed super-villain hybrids) to contract the use of The Mindless Ones to run amok in the small town of Shotcreek, Colorado, and Nextwave kicks them until they explode. Characters kibbitz about the prevalence of characters named “Captain ” or their experiences being hit on by The Avengers when things aren’t exploding, we get to see Mindless Ones on skateboards, and there’s the promise of more Mindless Ones explosions next month.

And it’s brilliant. If you’re not buying this, you’re a Communist.


Creator: Kazuo Umezu
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

"I just couldn't believe that my mother had died, that she didn't exist anymore."

One of the early offerings in terror from famed Japanese horror master Kazuo Umezu, THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM plays on one of the earliest fears we have: separation from family. Specifically, children separated from their parents. To a young child, nothing is scarier, and the residual fear remains with us as adults long after we move away from our parents and have our own lives. The sight of a lost child, weeping for his missing parents, just touches something inside us. We think "Poor thing!" and, subconsciously, "Glad that's not me or my kids." Well, given how one child makes you feel, imagine an entire schoolful.

That's the basic idea behind THE DRIFTING CLASSROOM. One day, for an unknown reason, an elementary school is caught in a sudden earthquake and disappears. The children and teachers soon discover that the school has actually been transported Elsewhere - another dimension, perhaps - and that only sand and rocks can be seen outside the gates. Phones, radios, and televisions no longer work. All contact with the outer world has been lost. Now, imagine that you are one of the teachers trapped inside that school. How would you react? And what if you were a student, maybe 8 or 9 years old?

The faculty stuff down their own grief and try to keep the kids calm, but that's no easy task - the school is like a powderkeg. It becomes even worse when one child escapes his teacher's control and tries to leave, only to drop dead as soon as he hits the desert outside. Lies and stories convince the kids that their parents are fine and that things will get better soon, but those will only work for so long. Meanwhile, the school's food supply is already close to exhausted...

Umezu works the psychological edge of horror hard in this manga, and he does it well, telling the story from the point of view of a student who had an argument with his mother that morning. Using a child means you feel every horrible new discovery more deeply, and it really twists the knife. Umezu's artwork is great for this, able to show the exuberance of childhood and the creepy effects like the sea of sand or people losing control with equal proficiency. An excellent use of grays and blacks really helps bring the more disturbing scenes home.

Japanese horror has been fairly hit or miss with me, and this is most definitely a hit. I don't know if there is anything out there in the sand or not, and honestly, it doesn't matter. Just being trapped is scary enough.


Written by: Orlando Harding
Illustrated by: David Miller
Published by:
Revolution Comics
Reviewed by: superhero

In my first review of PARIAH I was pretty harsh on several elements of the book’s story. Certain things weren’t spelled out clearly enough for me or just out and out didn’t make any sense at all. While I appreciated the effort of the story they were trying to tell I just felt that the whole thing didn’t completely jibe. The art of the book wasn’t perfect but there was some real potential there with the artist displaying a Michael Turner type quality that I couldn’t deny might be appealing to comic fans while not being what my cup of tea artistically.

So what’s changed with the second issue? Well, unfortunately, not much.

While I will say that the pieces of this part of the PARIAH story make more sense than the last issue the story still seems a bit off to me. This issue thankfully avoids much of the long winded dialog which plagued the first issue but ends up trading it in for, in my opinion, some silly attempts at lighthearted humor. This includes an attempt at casting Tupac Shakur as the main protagonist’s guide in the opening pages of the book. For some reason the main character of the book, in addition to being exiled from heaven for his sins, is banished from heaven to atone for the sins of the deceased rapper as well. While this device might have actually been made interesting in a “John Wayne speaks to Jesse Custer in the pages of PREACHER” kind of way, in this book Tupac is portrayed as incompetent boob. As it is the whole sequence comes across as a bit which is neither necessary to the plot nor interesting in any way. Once banished to Earth the action begins for the hero of the book and there’s some interesting stuff here and there but it ends up mixed in with the aforementioned silliness and ends up lacking any real weight.

Miller’s art seems better than the first issue in that the storytelling flows well with what he has to work with. His figure drawing is still incredibly stiff even though there is a bit of dynamic energy to it. Where the artist really impressed me was with his ability to capture Tupac’s features almost perfectly. Miller really has a great ability to capture realistic features with his line work. I can’t tell you how often I’ve read a comic where a character was supposed to look like an actor or celebrity and looked nothing like the actual subject. Not so here. While Tupac is never really identified by name Miller is able to bring the point across that the angel that the protagonist meets in heaven is actually the murdered celebrity in the afterlife.

Once again the actual physical book itself is an incredibly well put together package. The pages are slick and the colors are professionally done. For an indie book, heck for a mainstream book, PARIAH is a well put together package. If anything the creators of PARIAH know how to put together a professional looking comic book.

In the end I’m more than willing to admit that PARIAH just isn’t for me. For the record, the creators of PARIAH actually asked me to review this second issue. It’s not like I’m getting a thrill out of giving this book another not-so-great-review. If anything I was hoping that the potential that I saw in the first issue might have been fully realized in this second issue. No such luck. PARIAH is still a bit of a mess and I think that the writer of the book might serve his story better by finding an actual collaborator to help him craft his tale.


Writer: Antony Johnston
Penciler: Christopher Mitten
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

I want to get this out of the way right now: This book is going to be something special. There is such a large and compelling tale to be spun here, and already I'm drawn in and can't wait for more.

The first issue just gave us a basic taste of the book’s setting/premise and a little bit of an intro to some of our players on the stage Mr. Johnston is setting. We saw a wandering loner with some strange, almost "mystical" abilities named Michael and were also introduced to a somewhat spunky lady by the name of Abi. We get to take in the sight of what the world has become, we run into some pesky little beasts called Sand-Eaters, we learn about what the culture of humanity has become like and so much more.

This issue here takes us on a bit of a spiritual journey. We start to find out some of the religions that have developed since the fabled "Big Wet". As Abi leads her troupe to one of the few remaining outposts of humanity, a city known as New Begin, a campfire story is told about the legend of Mother Sun and Father Moon and how they rained vengeance down on humanity in punishment for what humankind had become. It's that kind of "Biblicality" that makes this book feel so important. There are just some huge storytelling aspects to this whole environment; it honestly feels like Johnston is telling his own Book of Revelations story or whatever in comic book form. Tons of big ideas and lots of likeable characters make this a very riveting read.

The art is also a great aid to the saga at hand. The character designs admittedly may be a little on the simple side and because of it some of the figures seem to resemble each other too much, but there's a lot of depth to it. From a storytelling standpoint there's great transitions from panel to panel with perfect shots to create the right atmosphere for the time. Plus, the panels are always filled, a huge selling point for me on art. I hate blank space in the background. There should be something back there to at least give some depth to the panels, and there's plenty of that here, despite the fact that most of the environment is just desolate wastes and there's not much to work with. It's just good overall visual storytelling.

These days it seems like more and more books like WASTELAND here are just getting buried under way too many big hype books or "event fever". I'm here now to say don't let that happen to this comic. There's a story here like none other and that is well worth your three bucks. I'm expecting big things out of this book, and can already see this as a very rewarding experience in exchange for your hard earned cash.


Writer: Tom Waltz
Artist: Casey Maloney
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

"Where we are from is not important... what matters is where we want to go."

I missed this mini-series when Shooting Star released it several months ago, but with its second life in trade with IDW I'm getting another chance and I'm glad. At first blush CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE seems to be a story about revenge and zombies, with some military stuff thrown in, and I can get behind that, but there's a whole 'nother layer here that just makes the book better. It's really about letting old pain and hatred go and moving on with your life, not allowing the past to shackle you. And I can get behind that too.

The Orphans, a trio of special ops soldiers with no living relatives, are dropped into the Middle Eastern nation of Stinwan to investigate a report of mass children’s’ graves. They find the graves, all right - but they’ve all been dug up. Their new orders are then to hunt down and kill Akbar Assan, the renegade Stinwanese Colonel who is systematically committing genocide on the Kilipanese people of Stinwan, including the children, so no more Kilipanese will be born. The graves are his handiwork, though why they are empty is a mystery.

Before I go any further with the story overview, let me just say that zombies and such are kinda creepy, but a guy who commits genocide and murders thousands of children so they WON'T BREED is fucking scary.

Though the mission seems a bit difficult, what with all of Assan's troops, the Orphans head out to do their duty, and everything seems to be going fine until they begin having strange dreams of their dead families. Even weirder, the Lieutenant starts seeing zombie children, who beg him to help them find the way - but the other guys can't see them. When they find a town under attack by Assan's men and attack, all goes well until some try to escape to warn their boss. Another zombie appears to the Lieutenant, begging him to let one man escape, something that puts his life and the lives of his two men in great danger. Just how much faith does he have in these zombie children?

I honestly wasn't expecting to like CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE as much as I did. I figured it would be a military operation/zombie revenge book and that's all, but it kept surprising me with more and more depth and character development. At the end, I truly didn't know which way it was going to go - whether the zombies were going to get Assan or not. Maloney's art is strong for this style of book, his facial expressions able to really convey emotion well which is important for the kind of story being told here. The use of greyscale instead of color really does the art justice, and fits the story better as well. The layout of some panels was just inspired - especially the first view of the many graves, which sent a shiver down my spine. They just go on and on over hill after hill, and it's brilliant.

CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE is not your ordinary zombie book, and I'd be hard-pressed to really call it a zombie book at all. Really, it's a drama, and a very well done one at that. Kudos to Waltz and Maloney for this early effort.

Silent Devil Comics

I read this one while watching a recent episode of DEADWOOD and the two go together like Bendis and beat panels. This is a very well crafted Western/horror tale. It’s paced evenly in two parts and tells a simple yet touching tale of sacrifice. Death literally rides a pale horse into an old Western town and comes to claim the life of a young girl. The girl’s father challenges Death to a duel in order to save her life. The outcome is not pretty, but poetic and well told. The artwork is truly outstanding stuff from someone or something called Se7enhedd. It’s painterly in a Ben Templesmith/Ted McKeever sort of way. All gritty and dark in spots with just the right amount of detail to let you know what’s going on. The design of Death himself is really nice. I especially like the pointed spikes jutting from the back of Death’s sunworn leather jacket. This is one of those stories with a definite ending, but one you wish would go on because the reading experience was so enjoyable. I picked issues one and two up at Wizard World Chicago and I’m glad I did. - Ambush Bug


Although I’m not a fan of the splash page, I have to say that this book was a surprise to read. Told in Widevision where every page is a double page “widescreen” panel flanked at the top and bottom with text, this story is a good introduction to the character of The Phantom. Honestly, my only experience with the character is through the awful Billy Zane on steroids movie, but I know the character has quite a history and following so I decided to give this book a shot. Artist Paul Guinan does a great job of illustrating the prose and having enough going on in the panel to warrant the widescreen/double splash treatment. His characters are soft and vivid, depicting the details of the jungle with a painterly yet photorealistic style. Writer Joe Gentile has a good handle on the myth of the Phantom and all of his ambiguity as the story is told from an outsider who doubts and challenges the Phantom’s power and reputation. And this is a 70 page book, so the double splashes don’t feel like filler. I’d like to see more books given this widescreen treatment. Moonstone seems to have quite a few old school adventure properties in their stable and if the production value of this book is any indication, the company is fully capable of producing some amazing comics. If you’re like me and always wondered why people thought a guy in a purple leotard running around the jungle was cool, check out this book and you’ll understand why. - Ambush Bug

Ronin Studios

This was a very impressive debut issue featuring a nice take on the super-powered criminals in prison motif. When I started this book, it took me a while to establish a foundation of rules which this story follows. I wasn’t clear if the powers the narrator was talking about were real or if they were just figures of speech. Turns out this is a story about a prison with super-powered inmates, but because most of the story is told in such a realistic way, the melding of super-hero fantasy and realism was hard to establish. Once that was firmly clarified, though, it made the danger that is suggested as the story goes along all the more palpable. This issue follows the journey of one law enforcement officer as he gets recruited to work at the world’s worst super-villain correctional facility. We don’t really see much by way of super-powers, but the threat and dangers these inmates are capable of are illustrated well by words from writer Grant Chastain. This issue sets up the threat nicely and has me looking forward to the main character’s first days on the job which look to be coming up soon in the next issue. - Ambush Bug

Moonface Press

In this day and age when you have to have a character bible, twenty five issues of backstory, and an ear firmly planted to the internet for story clarification, this series of books from Moonface Press is a welcome sight. This company promises well versed stories in a single issue. Their first story is HERO KILLERS and it delivers in spades. This is a very fun story featuring a slew of creative characters. When a hero gets too hard to handle, the Hero Killers are called in to deal with it. This group of villains have a set of rules and are very business savvy. They’ve been successful by following a strict doctrine, but are tempted by big money to break these rules. The results are less than fruitful for our team of mercenaries. Although the ending of this story seemed to come a bit out of the blue, I found this single issue story to be thoroughly entertaining. The foreword promises that these issues can be digested in one issue, but that some of the characters may appear again in other single issue tales, and I’m glad to hear it because the character designs and powers are pretty original and I’d hate to never see them again. Splitting a story into chapters can be an effective way of storytelling, but it’s not the only way. Moonface Press is offering an alternative and I have to applaud them for doing it. This is an impressive first attempt. - 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.

Marvel Comics

What the hell is wrong with me? I gave this series an unfavorable review a while back and what do I do when I see the second issue on the shelves? I pick it up. And dammit if I didn’t get burned again. The thing that pissed me off the most is the thing I pointed out about Daniel Way’s writing in my previous review—that is, I learn more about the story from the recap page than I do reading the actual story. Sure, everything is there in issue one, but the mish-mash of images in the final pages of the intro issue left me wondering how things turned out with Ghost Rider springing from the surf and back onto Earf…I mean, Earth. Well, it’s explained in this issue, not in the panels themselves, but in the text on the first page. When the only way your story gets a little clarification is by having it typed out and shoved in your face at the beginning, there’s a problem with your communication skills and that problem has been evident in a lot of Way’s work these days. The term “Looks good on paper…” is the best way to apply criticism here. Top it all off with a lot of snore-inducing panels, a ho-hum fight with the Devil, and the WOLVERINE ORIGINS type splash/teaser to a big fight next issue on the last page and you have me proclaiming that if I pick up another issue of this series, you can all personally light my skull on fire. - Bug


I’m not of the opinion that origins make very good stories. There are certainly exceptions, such as Spider-Man’s origin, but far too many comics and television shows start off with weak debuts before settling into a comfortable and entertaining formula. FUTURAMA, EUREKA, GILLIGAN’S ISLE… all examples in which the first episode merely sets the stage for the adventures that follow, and, at least in my opinion, not nearly as entertaining as what was to come. The first issue (and likely the next few) of DEADMAN falls into this pattern. The great bulk of it centers around the mystery surrounding the lead’s death and his return to the land of the living, much of which told in a dream-like state where we can take nothing for granted, as the details change depending on his state of mind. Not even his powers are defined. Does he have the power to take over people as the original Deadman, Boston Brand, did, or does he simply inhabit his now dead body? The first issue doesn’t seem to take any firm stance on any part of his origin. This weakness of narrative is compounded by the lead character, Brandon Cayce, being a bit of a whiny loser who seems to perpetually live in the shadow of his brother, so he’s not the most likeable or even interesting of characters at the start. There’s nothing really bad about the first issue, as the writing and art are serviceable, but there’s nothing here that really grabs you by the throat and says, “READ THIS!” I sense some potential here, so I hope that the origin story will be fairly brief and not the usual six-issue arc that is so common in this write-for-the-trade age, because there’s only so long “not bad” can hold my interest. – Baytor

Ultimate Marvel Comics

I'm actually not a very big fan of annuals because they seem to just be either a disposable tale or something that should have really been a part of the main book but instead was done elsewhere in order to fluff up some extra sales once a year. But I've actually been very impressed with one Mark Millar's recent run on the ULTIMATE FF main title and now that LUCIFER scribe Mike Carey is coming onto the title I wanted to use this Annual as a means to see if he's got the chops to follow up on said run with some of the same quirks and somewhat mind-bending ideas that made Millar's run enjoyable. Plus, the more Stuart Immonen art the better. And in the end this was a rather fun tale. Carey actually did something that I didn't think was possible, and that was to flesh out the Mole Man to the point where I was actually interested in and entertained by his back story. There's some really great off-the-wall humor in here combined with the same extremity in the action that made this a very fun read. The art transitions between Immonen and Irving Frasier were a little jarring, but overall I'm glad I ended up sucking up purchasing another damn Annual and am looking forward to what Mr. Carey can pull off in his UFF stint. - Humphrey

Dark Horse Comics

Although I liked this little break from the more writerly style this title has always had going for it since its launch at Dark Horse, I have to say that I’m glad Mignola’s arc on the title is over. Mignola and Nord definitely outdid themselves in the visual department, but storywise, notsomuch. I found this issue in particular to be especially predictable. It ran just about an issue too long and seemed especially drawn out to fill the page quota. I’ll be interested to see what happens when Truman jumps on this title next month. It’ll be a return to a more writer-centric type of tale. Cool visuals can only go so far (did early Image teach us nothing?!?!). Sure, Conan isn’t a deep character, but to me, the level of storytelling has always separated this fascinating character from being just a dude wearing fuzzy britches carrying a sword. - Bug


HELLBLAZER has never been one of those books that’s inspired any sort of loyalty from me. I love the character of John Constantine, but there’s been enough runs on the book that I didn’t care for that I usually just check him out whenever I hear there’s a new writer on board. To start off, I was really surprised to see Map, a character introduced way back in Warren Ellis’ brief run, because Constantine’s friends have the life expectancy of mayflies. Guess it just took a bit longer this time, because Map is dying and he calls in Constantine to help save London from an incoming mystical threat, as some mystical force or other is attempting to inspire chaos in London. Despite the mystical trappings, this is more of a “ripped from the headlines” style story of religious terrorism on public transport systems… albeit one that involves some ill-defined attack, possibly involving a straight razor. I can’t say this one-shot adventure is a particularly compelling one, but I enjoy the writing enough to want to check out Denise Mina’s seven issue arc that preceded this one. She definitely seems to have a handle on the character and knows how to play the mystical mumbo-jumbo to serve the plot, instead of getting obsessed with the details of Constantine’s magical life. - Baytor

52 – WEEK 15
DC Comics

A Booster Gold-centric issue featuring a major turning point in his participation in the 52 storyline. This issue was a well paced swan song for our showboating hero in Gold. Now, I’m not sure what’s going to happen next with this character. Is he another character in disguise? Was this issue’s heroics all a scam to make Booster look like a hero? I’m not sure. But I liked it and this series continues to be a shining example of how to do serialized storytelling the right way. - Bug

It Came From The 90’s
Vroom Socko

It is a sad truth that not everyone who reads comics is going to go for stuff outside the “mainstream.” Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. There’s plenty of amazing and interesting stuff out there for people only interested in superheroes. Me, I love the indie stuff, but it took a while to win me over. Sure, I’d read some non-DC/Marvel books back in the 80’s, but that was limited to the funny animal shit. Turtles, Hamsters, Penguins, Bears… And then there’s Cerebus, who’s his own animal in every way imaginable. The early 90’s introduced me to Evan Dorkin’s work, which had an obvious impact on my reading habits. Throughout all that, I was still a superhero fan first and foremost. But there was one book that managed to tip the scales, that opened my eyes to just what was out there in independent comics.


It was the first issue that did it, really. Everything I heard about it said, “Buy Me.” There was a new Milk & Cheese for starters, along with a Kevin Smith-penned Jay and Silent Bob story illustrated by the great Matt Wagner. Rounding it out was a story by a pair of creators from my neck of the woods, the Pander Brothers, whose work I’d seen the year before in the phenomenal Dark Horse book TRIPLE X. (But that’s another show.) That story happened to be a two-parter, and with the second issue came my first exposure to the work of Paul Pope. It was an experience to rival the scales falling from the eyes of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. I was hooked.

More issued followed, and I was introduced to more and more names that would become important to me. Jim Mahfood. Scott Morse. Ed Brubaker. Eric Shanower. Judd Winick. (This being before he got it in his crazy head that his stuff fit with writing superheroes.) And the Queen of Cool herself, Chynna Clugston. Not to mention that it gave me a glimpse at stuff from Paul Dini that didn’t involve the Bat.

There were gag stories, horror stories, sad stories. There were tales of loss, of close calls, of getting stoned, of slackers and buds. All that, and an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman story to boot.

It’s been almost ten years now, and to this day I am an Oni fan. I do my best to take a look at as much of their product as I can, and while they publish plenty of stuff that isn’t to my tastes, there’s nothing they’ve done that I would con
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