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AICN COMICS REVIEWS THE LONE RANGER! MYSTERY IN SPACE! PEKAR'S AMERICAN SPLENDOR! AND MUCH MORE!


[EDITOR'S NOTE: Posting of this article was delayed earlier this week due to site-wide technical issues. Apologies!]


#21 9/7/06 #5

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

SLOTH HC GRAPHIC NOVEL
ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 5
DETECTIVE COMICS #823
THE LONE RANGER #1
MYSTERY IN SPACE #1
THE CROSS BRONX #1
AMERICAN SPLENDOR #3
THE ALL-NEW ATOM #3
Indie Jones presents ATOMIC: ELEMENT X STUDIOS ART BOOK
Indie Jones presents…
CHEAP SHOTS!

SLOTH HC GRAPHIC NOVEL

Words and pictures: Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Sleazy G

I’ve never read anything by Gilbert Hernandez before. I completely missed out on his work on LOVE AND ROCKETS with his brother Jaime somehow. I didn’t start buying comics until I was in high school, and at first I was too excited about finding a whole store full of heroes I loved reading about as a kid to really be into the more mature indie stuff out there. It took me a while to get into stuff like RAW and EIGHTBALL, and the Hernandez Bros.’ stuff just slipped past me.

That being the case, I honestly had no idea what to expect from SLOTH. The ad copy said it was about a teenager named Miguel who wills himself into a coma for a year, then wills himself back out of it, but moves extremely slowly due to muscle atrophy. An unusual concept, sure, but one I thought might play out in relatively linear fashion. And while I guess that’s partly what the novel is about, at least early on, it’s not really what the novel is about. Like many works created in the magical realist tradition, it’s also about identity, love, and fate.

SLOTH is the story of Miguel, the high school junior who willed himself into a coma for a year, as well as his old girlfriend Lita and his best friend Romeo. The three were in a band together before Miguel went comatose. Miguel is trying to gradually reintegrate into his high school and home lives as well as his band and his relationship with Lita. Where many of us would be horrified to be stuck moving in slow motion, though, there are certain aspects of it that Miguel is more accepting of. He knows the way people deal with him has changed, though, and he knows there’s something Romeo and Lita aren’t telling him.

There’s a nearby lemon orchard, and there’s a local legend about a mysterious goatman. Supposedly if you lock eyes with the goatman he can take your place, forcing you to become the goatman until you can pass the curse to someone else. The trio goes there one night to try and videotape any weirdness they can find, and that’s where the story makes an unexpected change in course.

Up to this point, I was starting to think maybe SLOTH wasn’t my thing. It was well written and well drawn, but to be honest, Miguel’s internal monologue was a little too familiar. He was a teenaged male who felt a little disillusioned, a little unsure of his place in the world, and a little melancholy. Relatable, and touching upon some universal themes to be sure, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Just as I was wondering how I’d feel after I’d read another half a novel of this material, though, Hernandez went in a direction I couldn’t have expected. I don’t want to give away too much and ruin it for anybody, but the closest parallel I can think of is David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”. The change introduces different perspectives, reframes Miguel’s whole situation, and explores his friends’ characters in a fully unexpected manner. In doing so he also gave more relevance to Miguel’s story in that it made me feel complacent—sure enough that I knew where I stood that I didn’t notice the carpet being pulled out from under me. I ended up enjoying the story much more than expected as a result, particularly the areas that focused on Lita. A story I wasn’t sure of at the halfway point suddenly became one which impressed me with its unique approach.

The art does a wonderful job of complementing the story here. It’s not just that Gilbert Hernandez has such a distinct and personal style; it’s that the art and story become inseparable. There are moments where the story and art combine so perfectly it feels like you’re looking through at storyboards for a filmed sequence, but not in that “Michael Bay blockbuster” way that so many comics go for—it’s a much more dreamlike experience. There are some sequences in the novel which work extremely well, and I could go through it and find at least a dozen or two images or panels that work so well they could be pulled out of context and put on a postcard and still be arresting.

As a first-time Hernandez reader, I came away from SLOTH highly impressed. The art is wonderful and the story managed to keep me hooked and go in a direction I wasn’t expecting. I’ll admit that I’m still unsure of how I feel about the ending—it felt a little abrupt and a little unresolved—but it’s made me spend enough time thinking about it that I want to reread it. That’s high praise as far as I’m concerned, and reason enough to recommend the OGN to anyone who thinks they might be interested.

ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 5

Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby, John Romita, John Buscema
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

Note to our buddies at Comic Pants, the universe's newest review blog, many of whom are comic retailers when they're not reviewing: Dudes, don't leave the dumb guy in the store alone! While you were all out back with the dry heaves, I left without paying for my copy of ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 5! I mean, you leave the dumb guy in charge, you're sort of asking to be ripped off...

This volume wraps up Jack Kirby's run on THE FANTASTIC FOUR. Approximately 105 issues, plus assorted annuals and king-sized editions of a comic he created. Jack's work was revolutionary but it didn't revolutionize comic book art because no one else could do what he did. In later volumes, we'll see homages by talented guys like Rich Buckler and certainly any early Barry Windsor Smith superhero art was a love letter to Kirby, but you could simply tell it was a tribute.

I see Jack as the Big Idea Guy. A non-psychedelic Grant Morrison. People always say that Morrison packs in too many ideas and doesn't develop them. That would make Stan Lee, the FF's co-creator, Brian Michael Bendis on steroids. Mr. Bendis always gets the opposite criticism of Mr. Morrison: he takes a single idea and stretches it too far. Personally, I don't believe either of these charges are accurate, and they don't exactly apply to Stan and Jack 100%. Maybe 70-80%.

But I used Morrison and Bendis as a comparison to put the Kirby/Lee partnership into a modern perspective. If you haven't read early FF, with considerations to the times the comics were done, think of it as Bendis as a writer creating a comic with Morrison as an artist/plotter. I wait for the responses from those of you who have taken this too literally.

This volume has some long stories that today would be called story arcs. We're talking an extended stay in Latveria as Doom's guests. We're talking house hunting with the Mole Man and the Skrulls, leading into Planet Thing. We've got the Mad Thinker and those damned androids of his. Best of all, we've got trouble from Namor and Magneto during an Atlantean invasion of the surface world that was touched upon by Alex Ross in MARVELS.

Essential fans will want this volume simply for the sixties-era photos of the Marvel Bullpen gang near the end. You've got a bearded Stan looking hip and dapper; Jack with tall hair and a short stogie between his lips looking like one of Meyer Lansky's hired guns (this would probably have offended Mr. Kirby, but to me, that's a mighty compliment). Neal Adams looking cool; Steranko dark and mysterious; everyone else representing the day...and damned if Roy Thomas' wife wasn't cute, just proving the ladies are attracted to dudes who are into comics.


DETECTIVE COMICS #823

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciler: Joe Benitez
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Alright, I think I've noticed something about my overall enjoyment of the great Mr. Paul Dini's run on the Caped Crusader: I really don't think the one-and-done format works out well with his writing style.

I'm not saying these three issues he's done so far haven't been enjoyable, but I think the limiting of them to 22-pages has really hurt the overall storytelling of some pretty entertaining tales. This particular issue at hand I think is a prime example of what I'm talking about. Everyone bitches about "decompression" in comics these days; well I say this book suffers way too heavily from "compression". There's just too much crammed into 22 pages to really get involved in the story. The issue basically goes like this:

Some weird plant elemental entity attacks Poison Ivy at Arkham. Ivy narrowly escapes and takes refuge under Batman and Robin's watch. Batman examines Ivy's last hideout and finds video footage of what the beast was and where it came from. The monster (called Harvest) finds and attacks Ivy and the Bat and Boy Wonder fight it off. Harvest may or may not be dead.

The pacing has to move at such a fast pace to accomplish all this that you're never really given time to wonder what's going to happen next, it just happens. There's no suspense. A giant rampaging elemental beast finds and attacks Batman in his home base, and in the matter of seven panels or so the threat is dealt with. I think two-parters would work much better with these sort of "whodunits" that Dini is trying to tell. Just a bit more fleshing out of the story. We all know that Dini more than arguably anybody understands Batman, but even the best of writers can't always pull off a full and engaging story in just one issue (Warren Ellis' FELL from Image being a huge exception to the rule).

Also, this month's choice of artist didn't really help much either. I've never been exposed to Joe Benitez's art before, but I can definitely tell it's much more suited to pin-ups that a full fledged comic. When the art is one, it's on. Ivy looks very sexy and curvaceous in quite a few shots and Batman looks quite imposing, but there's a lot of unnecessary posing and large shots taken up to accommodate his art and that doesn't jive with this kind of storytelling. There needs to be a lot more panel to panel flow than that and less room used on unnecessary splash shots to drive the story visually as well as verbally. I think that's why the previous two issues worked so well under the pencils of the very capable Don Kramer and J.H. Williams III (who is pretty much the best visual storyteller in the business).

At the end of the day though, this is still Paul freakin' Dini writing Batman stories. They're not bad, but they just happen to have a glaring flaw. Maybe once JHW3 returns to this book after finishing off the last SEVEN SOLDIERS issue this title will streamline itself a little more and we'll get some really good, and maybe even great, single shot stories.


THE LONE RANGER #1

Writer: Brett Matthews
Artist: Sergio Carriello
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

THE LONE RANGER #1 is your typical modern age superhero first issue in every sense of the word. It's what I've come to expect from a first issue these days, which unfortunately means that it takes a concept that is filled with possibilities and misses the field goal by this much. The main problem of this book? Not a whole lotta Lone Rangering going on between the covers.

I understand that this is an origin story. I understand that the big payoff is when the hero dons his mask for the first time and becomes the icon that everyone knows and loves, but why the fuck couldn't this have happened in the first issue. I've had it with this slo-mo style of storytelling.

If the title of a first issue and the cover of a first issue shows a hero in costume doing this or that, then dammit, that character should appear in the goddamn comic at some point! I'm not asking much. A reveal at the end with our hero in full costume would be nice, teasing us to see the hero in action later. But this issue has no such thing.

Basically, this first issue ping-pongs around a timeline showing "important events" in the soon-to-be Lone Ranger's life that actually just serves as padding to make it to the end of the book. He has some meaningful moments with his brother and father. He has some discussions about what is right and what is wrong. Then he gets shot by some scallywags and is left for dead. In the end, a mysterious Native American saves his life and we're treated by a page-wasting splash of said Native American in the sunlight. To top things off, the last page has no "To be continued" tag or anything indicating the end of the story. It just ends and then inundates us with seven pages of ads till the end of the book and I'm left feeling as if I've walked out of the theater with five more minutes left in the movie.

I understand that story structure is a liquid thing. A writer has a choice to follow a formula or deviate from said formula when and if he feels the need to do so. But I also know when I've felt satisfaction after putting a comic down, and I can't say that I felt that when I finished this read.

In the end, I felt as if this was a typical first issue of a Marvel comic circa four years ago to present day. The type of comic that relies on the fact that you, as a reader, are sucker enough to buy into not only an issue with the bare minimum of story, but that you are sheepish enough to come back for a second issue in a month. The problem is (and it's the problem that will eventually nail the coffin on this series) that this is not a Marvel comic. It's a Dynamite comic. A comic from a company without a sheep-like fan base to rely upon, despite Wizard's constant fluffing. And what flies at Marvel does not fly with other companies.

The thing that is really too bad is the fact that what we get with this issue actually isn't half bad. The artwork is reminiscent of recent work by Luke Ross on JONAH HEX if crossed with Joe Kubert and peppered with a dash of Sal Buscema. It's dirty, with unclean lines and definition. The panels have a lived in feel; perfect for a Western comic. And the story is kind of strong with some definite resonant moments depicting why the Lone Ranger turns out like he does.

The problem remains that this is not a first issue of a comic, but the first chapter of a trade. But the simple fact is that I didn’t buy the first chapter of a trade, I bought a single issue of a comic book. There's no Lone Ranger to speak of. Tonto shows up in the last page. Silver is nowhere to be found. All we get is a bunch of indistinguishable cowboys doing stuff that probably will have some kind of resonance with the creation of the Lone Ranger down the line, but no payoff whatsoever by the end of this issue. The time when companies could release this type of story and call it a comic book is long past. The time has come when readers should let companies know that they don't want snippets of comics. They want their money's worth. THE LONE RANGER #1 shows potential, but it is not worth the $2.99 price tag. With a character as recognizable as the Lone Ranger, Dynamite should've taken advantage of that and had him on page one. That's not the case with this issue and despite the quality of what we got, what we got, in the end, wasn't much.


MYSTERY IN SPACE #1

Writer: Jim Starlin
Artists: Shane Davis (pencils), Matt Banning (inks), and Jim Starlin (pencils/colors), Al Milgrom (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

If the fanboys had told me a year ago that I'd be buying a comic book starring Capt. Comet and The Weird and digging it, I might've just spat Yoo-Hoo through my nose right into their faces.

These are characters on the vague fringes of my memory banks. Capt. Comet popped up in my copies of THE SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS back in Jr. High and The Weird popped up while I was in college. I remember kind of liking Comet's name but that's about it. I remember being bored by The Weird and not bothering to finish the limited series. I know Comet popped up in the RANN-THANAGAR WAR, which I thought was cool but now I can't really remember anything about it other than the artwork. Is that bad????

Comet himself is a character mired in the scientific illiteracy of the 50s and for some reason, as opposed to Adam Strange, is a space-hopping adventurer who has just never found his place in a world of super-heroes. Writer Jim Starlin actually addresses this very cleverly with an origin recap by Comet's pet bulldog, Tyrone. Yes. That's what I said.

The main story stars Capt. Comet and deals with death and resurrection. Starlin's take on the character is a super-strong freelance telepath who hangs out on a deep space station populated by alien rejects from FARSCAPE. Sort of a hard-boiled film noir private dick set in space. The story picks up with Comet reflecting on the fact that he was dead just two hours ago. Starlin moves the narrative forward with flashes backward to the event of Comet's death and his rather quick resurrection. Starlin tells this story in grand old-fashioned space opera style reminiscent of Heinlein, and he does so very well. It's not hard science-fiction but it's mind-expanding cosmic concepts about life and death presented in an exciting format.

It's a fantastic set-up that embraces the past but sets up Comet for modern sensibilities. He's populated Hardcore Station with a supporting cast made up of this cute but dangerous female alien with an eyepatch and the wisecracking talking bulldog, Tyrone. Starlin's writing is perfectly complimented by the artwork of Shane Davis. Checking out his list of accomplishments online demonstrates that Davis' main claims to fame before this book were primarily Marvel books - which would explain why I've never heard of him. (Extremely limited exposure to Marvel books for at least the last 10 years, I must confess). Davis is one of the best fairly new mainstream artists I've seen.

After a number of years of lackluster "new talent," DC and Marvel have really upped their game recently with a small flood of outstanding "new talent," of which I would put Davis right up their in the top 5. Very much in a style similar to Mike McKone, Davis does not bog down the storytelling with pinup poses, but chooses instead dynamic angles, solid figure work, and artistic detailing (not random lines covering up poor anatomical skills). The color work by Jeremy Cox is a strong complement to the art team of Davis and Banning. Maybe a little textural overkill on Tyrone's fur, but other than that, really fine work.

Now, what to say about the second story featuring The Weird? Anybody else remember Starlin's "Metamorphosis Odyssey" that was serialized through the early issues of EPIC ILLUSTRATED? That verbose mystical style of science-fiction narrative is what this story of The Weird reminds me of. Again, Starlin is examining grand concepts of life and death. The thing is that The Weird just looks so damn…weird…that I actually have to get past the visual to glom onto the fact that the resurrection of The Weird is just as gripping and interesting as the resurrection of Captain Comet. Which makes sense, considering that their respective resurrections are tied directly together.

Artistically, Starlin knows how to tell a story visually and he has a unique style all his own. The opening two-page spread showcases some gorgeous color work by Starlin. I've noticed that recent ink work by Al Milgrom has been his best work in years, and The Weird is no exception. A fine example of an old-school artist whose work I was not ever particularly fond of until now. He has gotten better in recent years. My only criticism of the art on The Weird is simply that as good an artist as Starlin is, he can't for the life of him figure out how to draw Superman's hair. He makes Superman look like Joe Pesci with muscles. Bottom line, though, MYSTERY IN SPACE has the makings of an excellent series.


THE CROSS BRONX #1

Writer(s): Michael Avon Oeming and Miles Gunter
Penciler: Michael Avon Oeming
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

One half of the creative crew of the brilliant and critically acclaimed POWERS (and yes, despite we here at AICN getting a rep for Bendis hating, I do believe POWERS to be brilliant comic book making) is out doing his own brand of crime-fiction alongside NYC MECH creator Miles Gunter, a combination I couldn't help pass up when I saw it solicited. And I've very glad I didn't because this first issue of the slated four issue mini-series was definitely one of the highlights of my reading this past week.

THE CROSS BRONX starts off simple enough, a brutal gangland hit takes place and we're off to catch the killer! But things don't turn out to be as simple as the lead detective, Rafael Aponte, would like to hope. In fact they take a very unusual turn as they lead to the involvement of the family of a deceased cop and his viciously beaten and raped daughter. How they all figure into everything remains to be seen, but there's a hint of the supernatural in the air which brings a very unexpected twist on a book that looked to be a straight-forward crime thriller from the get go. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see there's a lot more meat to this title than I expected, even though I was on board form some gritty crime drama.

And yes, this book is very gritty. From the gangland assault that kicks the book off to the brutality realized on the young girl I mentioned before, this definitely isn't a book for the squimish. There's also a sub-theme of lost faith running through these pages as it seems our lead, Detective Aponte, has had a little bit of a falling out with the big guy up in the sky. There's lots of subtle and not-so-subtle iconography throughout the book, and I can see that it's going to clash heavily into the possibility of some sort of "spirit of vengeance" type spin... or maybe it's all subtrefuge? All's I know is I'm intrigued by it and like how it fleshes out an already very tragic and atmospheric story.

The art is what you should know and have come to expect from Oeming. If you didn't like it on POWERS, then you won't like it here. But if you love it like I do, then you'll be delighted to have more of it. MAO's (ooo.. neat abbreviation!) art is very moody, very gritty, and he's no novice when it comes to gore as well. I've always like the squared jaws and somewhat simple lines of the characters, but there's a lot of depth in them, and some really good storytelling. Add in a nice heavy dose of black ink and you've got great art doing what it should be doing, adding depth to the overall tone of the book.

This is definitely a nice little book and a great little break from the constant bombardment of "CIVIL WAR this" and "52 that" that seems to be all you get beat over the head with if you try and look at anything comics related. This should shape up to be a nice, tight little story that'll be an easy and welcome re-read when it's all said and done. And more crime fiction is always welcome in a medium where there's usually only maybe a handful of them on the stands at any given time. Speaking of which, buy CRIMINAL by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips while we're on the subject. It'll probably be light-years better than anything else you're buying and needs all the support it can get. So we have spoken, so it shall come to pass. Cheers...


AMERICAN SPLENDOR #1

Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: Dean Haspiel, Ty Templeton, Hilary Barta, Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Reviewer: Baytor

How to explain Harvey Pekar to the uninitiated? If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got a fair idea of what to expect, although they cherry picked his decades of work for the most entertaining and dramatic material. Pekar practically created the auto-biographical comic, inspiring a generation to chronically their similarly uninteresting lives, usually to dismal, boring results. And, truth be told, there’s usually a fair amount of that in Pekar’s work, some of it being rather self-indulgent. But when he’s on, it’s funny or touching or brutally honest, or, at the very least, has a couple of good moments to carry you on to the next tale.

That’s the other thing, most of his work is rather short, and I’ve long been an admirer of the comic short. If you don’t like one tale, stick it out and there’s a decent chance the next one will be more to your liking.

This new mini from Vertigo features four stories… five if you count the one-page gag illustrated by Glenn Fabry on the cover, which takes a quick pot-shot at his own curmudgeon image. That’s easily my favorite bit in the book, followed by his two two-page shorts that are little more than misanthropic jokes; one belittling the uncultured masses, the other featuring a defensive flight attendant. Less successful is the opening tale about his parent’s later years, which never really rises above the level of interesting or touching or insightful, just being vaguely sad. The remaining tale is the longest of the bunch, focusing on Harvey needlessly worrying over three fairly minor problems: his teenage foster daughter not keeping him informed of her comings and goings, an escaped cat, and his attempts to get the New York Times to pay him for a story he did for them. While an uneven tale, it’s a fairly good example of Pekar’s style, taking a trio of boring and mundane problems, and taking a peak into his mind to see how he’s powerless to stop himself from making a big deal out of everything. While not a major insight, it’s got a reasonably humorous payoff.

I guess AMERICAN SPLENDOR is a lot like life. It’s not nearly as interesting as we would like it to be, nor does there seem to be any grand point; but you can enjoy it if you don’t worry too much about that.


THE ALL-NEW ATOM #3

Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: John Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Squashua

"That is not dead Which can eternal lie, Yet with strange aeons Even death may die." -- H.P. Lovecraft

When declaring a new Lovecraftian entity, unless said being wears a thousand masks, the task of providing a name becomes a cosmic balancing act between satisfyingly creepy and downright silly. The empyrean daemon must come across as wholly alien, yet be memorable enough without deriving from "Zarkon," the overused moniker officially embedded in the geek racial subconscious. Hints of tantalizing familiarity may encroach, as with the Egyptian-esque Nyarlathotep or the bordering-racist Shub-Niggurath (Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young) and care must be taken to allow pronounceability by the entity's supplicants; use of apostrophes and hyphens are not unheard of in the quest to simulate that-which-man-may-not-emote. With these parameters in mind, writer Gail Simone has gifted Ivy Town with the ominous M'nagalah the Cancer God, both a success as a classic riff on Ubbo-Sathla and a failure to escape this reviewer's ridicule (CC).

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C. Clarke

After two-point-three lackluster issues (recall BRAVE NEW WORLD) of nothing really happening, the short Asian man finally hits the flowing underground river of poo with this issue, which brought me back from the brink of dropping the series by pulling me in with unexpected and gratuitous Lovecraftiness as well as setting multiple intriguing plots in motion. One can definitely taste the Grant Morrison influence, examples of which include both joy with the aforementioned Cthulhu-gasm and dismay at the use of "QQQQQQQQQQQ" as an audible word from a high-science bug warrior. The plot primarily centers on a conflict between science and magic (super-science?) permeating beneath and about Ivy Town, with The All-New Atom caught right in the middle. The text is satisfyingly thick and the multiple scenes are sufficiently varied that I feel this is one of the few books on the market that provided a proper bang for my buck.

"Stick with me [and the error will be resolved]" -- Bill Willingham, writer of SHADOWPACT

For those of you interested in the nitty-gritty of the plot, one mystery is solved in that we finally receive an explanation for why the character known as Panda is drawn with dark circles under his eyes. It's intentional, not an art faux pas, and not due to AIDS like a Judd Winnick yarn. It's all due to SPOILERXtXhXeXXXhXeXrXbXSPOILER. In addition, a certain gigantic villain steps up to the (dinner) plate, simultaneously skeeving me out and making me suspect this storyline takes place a few months before the current bi-monthly WONDER WOMAN plotline. Either that or we've got another case of Superman-in-SHADOWPACT syndrome.

"Read what Lea had to post on a neighbor's computer while wearing her pajamas at: Livejournal.com/users/divalea ... Finally, if I understand the story correctly [...] it was Lea’s daughter hearing the smoke alarm that allowed the family to get out in time, so for [M'nagalah’s] sake, do everyone you love a favor and CHECK YOUR SMOKE ALARMS. Donate (PLEASE) to her paypal account at: divalea@gmail.com " -- Gail Simone

There are only a couple of drawbacks to this issue, but they apply to the series in general. The first is the use (or abuse) of distracting and seemingly irrelevant quotes throughout the text. The second is the concept of Dwarfstar, who is possibly an "evil Atom" character. With TEEN TITANS' revelation of the teen Atom known as Molecule, these days it seems that every character at DC is being provided with both a diametrically opposing number (a Bizzaro to Superman) and a teen sidekick (a Supergirl or -boy). I don't know if there is a coordinated plan in place or if this is all just coincidence, but without an Earth-3 and Earth-Teen to ship these duplicates off to, it's getting to be a bit of a juggling act for the fanboys.

"I get no sense from Morrison's work that he has any “love for the genre.” I get the same vibe I get from Moore -- a cold and calculated mixing of ingredients the writer knows the fans like, but to which the writer himself has no evisceral connection. Nostalgia without being nostalgic, as I have dubbed it." -- John Byrne

The art is fellow @$$hole Dave Farabee's bestest buddy John Byrne all the way. To me, that means meticulously detailed (and beautifully rendered) backgrounds and John Byrned people. His own politics aside (a wonder he didn't try to influence Gail to rename M'nagalah something racist like Golkahnahda, the Floating Frozen Feculence), you already know whether you love or hate Byrne's art. I didn't care for it with DOOM PATROL, but I really like it here, with the exception of the Byrne Mouth. "Byrne Mouth" is synonymous with (Gil) "Kane Eyelashes" as both distinctions are easily recognizable in the work of a comic artist considered by many to be a master, and they are both distinctions that do not appeal to me. As an aside, I used Google to search for "Byrne Mouth" to see if anyone had coined the phrase yet, and interested parties should cross-reference one "Drew Leavy".

"Squashua, enough with the fucking quotes man, they get it! And where the hell is that GIRLS review you promised me?" -- AICN @$$hole Ambush Bug

This issue is a pick-up, and I recommend it to any cosmic horror fan that might be on the fence. I'm going to continue reading the storyline next month, but I hear that Byrne is no longer on the series and despite the issues I have with his art (and politics), it's a shame he had to go, but I understand and respect the decisions behind it. Eddy Barrows has art duties next issue, so we'll see how it all works out. At least it'll still be Gail Simorrison at the helm.


ATOMIC: ELEMENT X STUDIOS ART BOOK

Artists: Amado Rodriguez, Bernie Gonzalez, Carlos Barros, Chang Vang, Marcus Muller, Tim Irwin
Publisher: Element X Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

One of the biggest thrills I get from going to comic book conventions is checking out the Artists' Alley. It's a place where people are filled with hope. It's made up of the little guys--the types of guys who have been in the industry for years squeezed right next to those who are just starting out. Dreams are made, people are discovered, and inspiration and admiration is floating around everywhere in this area. Sketch pencils and sharpies work overtime as the artists do what they do best for all to see on drawing paper, comics, or any old flat surface. Anyone who has ever moseyed past the tables full of comics, website information, and merchandise knows that quality is sometimes hard to find. You'll see a lot of knock-offs, a lot of hacks, a lot of desperate people trying to call you over to their table in hopes to sell their product and be heard and recognized and remembered. But every now and then, if you're lucky, you'll stumble upon some actual god-given talent. I've found something admirable and exciting every year I've gone to the Wizard World Chicago Artists' Alley and this year is no different.

This year I had the privilege of meeting some of the artists that make up Element X Studios. These guys seemed like a nice group of gents, eager to break into the industry. They were kind enough to give me one of their art books. Now, I don't make a habit of reviewing art books. Art is a tough thing to describe in words sometimes. It's much easier for me to talk about story structure or the way one character was handled or refer to some story I read about featuring some hero I loved back when I was ten. But art is a different monster all together. Too many times, art evokes emotions that are hard to put into words. It's even harder to talk about a book full of sketches and pinups because there really is no context with which to place the image. Sitting down to review this book proved to be a challenge for me. But hell, I'm always up for a challenge. I once did a 1,000 word review of a Guy Gardner action figure, fer cryin' out loud, so a review of an art book can't be too hard.

The guys at Element X Studios know how to package their talent. ATOMIC is a girthy art book that dives right in to pimping the artists’ individual talents and a visit to their website seals the deal. These guys are a talented crew borrowing inspiration from artists throughout the history of comics and across genres of popular culture. Respect for their craft is evident and shows in each carefully constructed and professionally presented piece. ATOMIC features the art of six of Element X’s artists. Click on the links for examples of the artwork featured in the book.

First featured is Amado Rodriguez. Stylized, but grounded in reality, Rodriguez’ artwork reminds me of Japanese ink paintings where the artist must first become master of the realistic image, then allows himself to veer off into personal style. His images are very definite blacks and whites with few grey in-betweens. This often places the images in stark definite backgrounds which intensifies the mood of each image. His depictions of samurais and geishas are deliberately lineated by lights and darks, but still have an intimate line structure. Rodriguez does a great job of making both ancient images seem modern and lending a classic feel to present day subjects.

The work of Bernie Gonzalez shows a lot of range. Some of his art has the type of hyper-real high detail seen in your typical Geof Darrow comic, while others go down a more suggestive route. His more realistic images pay a lot of attention to space and the manipulation of the eye through linework. His figurative work is equally impressive as seen in Gonzalez’ LITTLE BLACK BOOK, a separate ashcan art book filled with pics of seductive hotties like this one and this one. Gonzalez seems to have a great understanding of space and a surplus of appealing things to place into it.

Carlo Barros work is not featured on the Element X Studios website, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Barros has a Joey Mad feel to his work. His figures have that Americanized Manga flavor crossed with Aeon Flux like extended torsos and limbs. His figures are highly detailed and full of futuristic imagery.

Artist Chang Vang is another artist not featured on the website, but prominently throughout the art book. Although his contributions are more sketch-like in nature, his pencil work gives off a delicate and soft feel. Bodies are filled with gentle curves and exempt of harsh angles and line work. There’s a feathery tone to all of his work be it a picture of a female model, a punch-drunk boxer, or an ancient tiger-warrior. Vang shows great range as well in this book.

Marcus Muller shows a great handling of style and vision. He’s definitely got a great imagination and the skills to make those images look realistic. His work has an animated feel to it. He seems to pay close attention to make each panel cinematically eye-catching. And his figurative work shows a great attention to detail and design.

Last featured in ATOMIC is Tim Irwin. His work reminds me of Adam Pollina and Dale Keown with its fluid quality and his comfort with rendering the human form. This is another artist with a talent for depicting harsh imagery with soft linework. He’s got a sense of humor that matches his sense of style. One with a classicist eye and a talented pencil-stroke.

Click through these above links and enjoy the artwork of these skilled artists. These guys have the professional know-how to team up and work together to package their talents in a nicely presented art book and website. Every big name artist started out somewhere. Tomorrow’s hot new talent may very well come from a small group of artists like this. Element X Studios definitely has the talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see big things to come from this group in the coming years. Check them out before they become big and you can be among the select few who said, “I knew about these guys” long before Marvel or Wizard tries to act as if they discovered them.


TALENT #3
BOOM! Studios

Much plickening of the thot in this issue. What started out as a comic reminiscent of LOST has turned a bit more metaphysical in nature as forces of good and evil appear to be popping up in our multi-talented hero’s life with more frequency. But have no fear, you reality hounds, the plot quickly returns to earth as our hero, Nicholas begins to realize his purpose and master the talents he picked up from the his fellow passengers who died in the plane crash. Artist Paul Azaceta lost me a few times because some of his characters look similar to others, but his artwork had the right weight and shades to convey the vary dark and intriguing story. Recommended. - Ambush Bug

WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE – Birds, Bees, Blood, & Beer #2
IDW Publishing

Ben Templesmith is proving to be pretty talented at creating interesting characters with horrifically beautiful looks. This issue marks the debut of antlered publicist of the infernal court, Nybras and his psychopathic pet Leprechaun as well as a blob-like butcher of demonic meats named Nysroch. I love seeing the way these characters bounce off of each other and the way Wormwood interacts with them in such a nonchalant manner. Although his mannerisms are similar to Cal MacDonald, Wormwood distinguishes himself in the monster hunting detective biz by being a true gentlemen about it while Cal stumbles through his cases with all of the subtlety of a ADHD toddler/Tasmanian devil gene-splice. I’d love to see a pairing of these two detectives. But in the meantime, this story is developing nicely as a truly creepy bad guy appears and there looks to be nothing but trouble in store for Wormwood and company on the horizon. - 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.


NIGHTWING #124
DC Comics

The cover is this issue features Nightwing diving off a building which is exactly what I felt like doing as I plodded through Bruce Jones’ uneventful and dense story that’s been running through the last few issues. Dull and unimaginative, this story; setting Nightwing back in New York and into the mob and modeling scene, proved to be yet another snoozer. One of these days Nightwing will be handled more creatively. He’s one of DC’s biggest stars and yet he’s stagnated for years. Here’s hoping that Marv Wolfman will breathe new life into this title. Its pulse is at its weakest right now and desperately needs some resuscitation. Nice artwork by Robert Teranishi though, but it doesn’t help. This one’s a stinker of the smelliest sort. - Bug

RETRO ROCKET #3
Image Comics

This came out a little while ago, but it’s still worth mentioning. This is one of those underdog stories that you don’t often see in comics. In many ways, this is a LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD story for the robot age. Out of date automation, Retro Rocket, must battle a galactic menace. Because his circuitry is ancient, he was left unaffected by the EMP blast which took out the rest of Earth’s defenses. So it’s up to the unlikeliest of heroes to save the day. You can’t help but cheer for Retro as he continues to keep up the good fight and try to get the girl despite the odds. In an age of squeaky clean heroes, here’s a hero that just plain squeaks. RETRO ROCKET is a true surprise that should be sought out when packaged in trade if you missed the single issues. - Bug

PUNISHER #37
Marvel MAX

The word from @$$Hole HQ is that we’re starting to sound like a broken record every time a new PUNISHER arc from Ennis comes along. But I really don’t care, because these are some of the best Punisher stories to pop up in ages. Ennis continues to build a new mythology for our skull-clad vigilante, this time bringing back the Russian general that tormented Frank in the “Mother Russia” storyline from a while back. Expect gunplay. Expect punishment. Expect great action. And expect no Spacker Dave, thank god. - Bug

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