ASTONISHING X-MEN #26
Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Simone Bianchi Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Optimous DoucheOne of Ellis’ greatest gifts is his ability to change voice on a dime, a necessity for anyone that tackles a team book, at least a team as diverse as the X-Men. As much as I loved Joss Whedon’s run (aside form the hellacious delays), his writing style bathed each character in varying degrees of snark. Sarcasm has its place in this world (shockingly says the guy from Joisey), but it can become grating when each team member’s sole goal is to “bring the funny”. Not everyone in the world is funny, sarcastic or has the ability to bandy about quips with the rapidity of Chinese Olympic ping-pong players.
By being able to let go of his ego and slide into the skin of each X-Men team member, Ellis makes even the most boring of archetypes, like the stoic team leader Scott Summers, intriguing without sacrificing his true personality. Many writers need to rely on shattering the status quo with Summers to make him interesting, like Morrison’s quarter-life crisis version, but Ellis squeezes out gorgeous characterization by letting Cyc (and frankly all of the team) just revel in being themselves.
The first part of this story last issue slogged a bit in exposition, introducing the X-Men’s new “Mutant Sanctuary and Petting Zoo” inside the true city of brotherly love; but with ASTONISHING X-MEN 26 Ellis‘ pretty words and Bianchi’s even prettier pictures recovers gracefully by starting this issue at 30,000 feet focused on a team of “right meets might” mutants prepped to enter the equivalent of hell on earth. A damn fine recovery and launch point to what was one of the most engaging and enticing X-men issues I have devoured and then devoured again.
Aside from a talent for portraying team diversity, one of the other things I have always enjoyed about Ellis’ yarns is his ability to bitch-slap science fiction with real world implications and repercussions (think the “Sliding Albion” series in AUTHORITY). This time around the “What If?” focus is on an inter-galactic vessel junkyard smack dab in the center of the third world. Spewing toxins from alien engines, but ripe with black market technologies, this alien land of Sanford & Son is scoured by the downtrodden of society. Of course, the impoverished waifs auto-piloted one of Storm’s “weh, I was an impoverished waif” speeches, but that’s OK, I’ve always hated Storm and her ethereal kumbaya bullshit. Again, characterization well played.
The mention of aliens in the last issue scared the shit out of me for two reasons: I truly was expecting to be subjected to the triangle headed and orgasmo rolled back eye sockets of the Shi’ Ar, or a “Secret Invasion” crossover. Thankfully there was not a Shi’ Ar nor Skrull to be found, but rather a new alien, with a calm but defiant attitude, a big glowing box, and forewarnings of the unstoppable Annex.
Between all of the explosions, fresh takes on team dynamics (including a pretty funny fast-ball special) and a mystery that has me salivating for the next issue, it is taking all of my restraint right now not to gush out a blow-by-blow synopsis of the book. You know what though, that wouldn’t be fair to you or the creators. I couldn’t do this work justice, and you would be missing out on one hell of a great comic.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. Optimous is looking for artistry help, critical feedback and a little industry insight to get his original book AVERAGE JOE up, up and on the shelves. What if the entire world had super powers? Find out in the blog section of Optimous’ MySpace page to see some preview pages and leave comments.
Writer: Kurt Busiek Artist: Mark Bagley Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: JinxoI know I know, many folks have already given up any faith in TRINITY but I’m still reading and I am going to defend it...barely.
I mean, okay, the series starts off with a huge and exciting premise: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are all linked as a powerful trinity into some massive, possibly galactically important event! Sounds cool. Only then instead of seeing anything epic and amazing along those lines we get our heroes duking it out with Grape Ape From Outer Space and his Salacious Crumb sidekick. And then we get a group of oddball “villains” - who include a super intelligent ape who loves romance novels – who are on a weird scavenger hunt for hero artifacts and tarot artifacts… as I’m writing this even I realize it sounds like a mess.
First off, I’d like to start with the weaker part of my defense. I put up with COUNTDOWN. Made it all the way through even though I wish now I hadn’t. THAT weekly series was a disaster. By comparison, I don’t think this is nearly that bad. And I have faith despite some trouble coming out of the gate that unlike COUNTDOWN, this book actually has a plan and is actually going somewhere.
The problem is I think in this case Busiek may have overplanned. I think he has planned out a rather elaborate story whose main point IS this big Trinity event. But he’s setting it up so that that event is causing multiple offshoot stories and adventures that will interact and build on each other until we finally get to the BIG payoff. The only problem is up front we’re excited for the big payoff. Who wants to dick around with lesser stuff first? If you don’t all the “lesser” stuff better be kick ass. Admittedly, Grape Space Ape isn’t kick ass. However, given that a short time ago I was reading a Superman story where an alien was stealing all of Earth’s wonders and selling them on Space Ebay, it wasn’t the worst I’ve read.
With this book I feel like a kid who is promised a trip to Disneyworld, only the parents take him there by a long car trip. And then they decide to take the scenic route. And then they get lost on the scenic route. And then the whole way dad wants to stop at every half assed attraction along the way. Meanwhile we don’t give a crap about anything but getting to freaking Disneyworld. We’re just shouting, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Just get us to the goal. And any stops or detours on the way better be really worth the bother.
Space Sasquatches aren’t worth stopping for in this case. But the reason I’m sticking with the book is, dammit, I still believe we’ll make it to Disneyworld. I’m willing to wager the book will improve and that unlike with COUNTDOWN the end will be worth the trip. And not only that, this issue presents the first detour worth stopping for. I have to say I actually enjoyed the side trip to the world of the Crime Syndicate Of Amerika. I liked their schemes. I liked watching Superman’s cheese slipping off his cracker. Ahhh…slightly crazy Superman…good times. And I really enjoyed the gags dealing with the quick “tour” of the Crime Syndicate World. When the Girl Scouts come asking you to buy cookies, for the love of God don’t take any chances! Just buy the cookies!
So, not a ringing endorsement by any means. But for the moment, assuming they make more truly fun stops along the road, I’m sticking around. And, Busiek, all of us here in the back of the Family Truckster demand a stop for ice cream! And no more stops like the Museum of Amish Wonders. One more of those and it’ll be right back to a chorus of, “ARE WE THERE YET????”
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
WELCOME TO HOXFORD #1
Words & Art by Ben Templesmith Published by IDW Publishing Reviewed by Ambush Bug"Hmmm..."
That's what I muttered when I put this book down. An utterance of interest and curiosity. I can't say that I know exactly what's going on here in Ben Templesmith's new book, but what he did reveal in this first act, I have to say it did leave me intrigued.
WELCOME TO HOXFORD looks to be a horrific prison story. Hoxford is a facility where only the worst of society's psychopaths, murderers, rapists, cannibals, gang bangers, mattress-tag tearers, and other no-goodniks are sent to be dealt with when they prove to be too unstable for regular prison or rehabilitation. Comparisons to HBO's OZ series are inevitable and justified here. We start out with a back-story of one inmate as seen through his eyes. I like the way Templesmith structured this intro as we are not necessarily given all of the information, but just enough to know that the person whose eyes we are seeing through has had a pretty fucked up life involving abuse, humiliation, trauma, and terror. This makes the reveal panel a huge payoff, where the camera shifts and we get to see the end result of all of these years of torment as Ray, our eyes for the first five pages of the book, cradles a dead policeman in his arms and smiles from ear to ear. This is a shocking reveal and really sets the tone of the book and lets you know that there will be lots of bloody and macabre shit going down.
The way the rest of the inmates are introduced on the bus ride to Hoxford is a bit cliché, with the inmates' sole bits of character the crimes that they committed. It's not the most original way of introducing these characters. Sharing info not related to the prisoners’ crimes may have been a bit more inventive (Guido. Loves kitties. Never misses an episode of “Judge Judy”.), but it does set the tone that this group of individuals are the worst of the worst. So although the method of introduction may not have been groundbreaking, it did get the job done.
What happens next? Well, that's where the "Hmmm..." comes in. Seems this Hoxford facility is funded by Russians. It's sealed off from the rest of the world. All staff is in-house and it's privately funded. Once the inmates enter Hoxford, the warden assures them that they will never get out. Plus there're the little details where one guard is tossed a raw steak as a reward and another licks an inmate's wound made during a shower room brawl instead of sending the inmate to the hospital. Some weird shit is going on behind the walls of Hoxford, Templesmith just isn't showing his cards yet.
If you like Templesmith's art as much as I do, I probably don't have to explain why I bought this book. His warped and skewed panels and characters are some of the most horrific images ever to grace the pages of comic books. Templesmith has a knack for suggesting just enough of the blood and grue to give every panel of every page the ability to unsettle. If you don't like Templesmith's work, there won't be anything here to change your mind. This is pure Templesmith in all his gory glory and I loved every panel of it.
Although Hoxford is said to be impenetrable, Templesmith does introduce some developments that are sure to muss things up. There's a nosy female psychiatrist and an inmate that looks to be more than a match for the horrors that are going on behind the walls of Hoxford that are bound to shake up the status quo. But Templesmith has never failed to entertain me with his art, from books like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT to his own property that he writes and draws in WORMWOOD: GEMTLEMAN CORPSE. This seems to have a much more serious tone than WORMWOOD and Templesmith gives promise of something truly horrific looming in the darkness. There were elements of WELCOME TO HOXFORD #1 that were somewhat by-the-numbers, but the quality of the art and the promise of something truly horrific made me "Hmmm..." loud enough to warrant another visit to Hoxford.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out a five page preview of his short story published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 (AVAILABLE NOW at Muscles & Fights.com.) on his ComicSpace page. Bug was recently interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics about indie comics, his own artistic process, the comics industry, and other shades of bullsquat. Look for Bug’s follow-up this Fall in MUSCLES & FRIGHTS!
X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY #1
Written by: Sean McKeever Art by: Mike Mayhew Published by Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandI had no desire to pick up an X-Men book this week, but as one of the only books not tied into “Secret Invasion” I thought I'd at least piece through the book to see if it would hold my interest. Right from page one the stunning painted art by Mike Mayhew astounded me beyond belief, enough for me to include X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY in my weekly pile.
X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY is just that - an origin of the little psychic girl who could. It's also a story that nearly any comic or movie fan already happens to know. Jean Grey is a psychic, she can't control her power totally, and Professor X helps her. If you had to sum up the entire issue with one sentence and be satisfied with it that fits the book pretty much to a 'T'.
The issue shines once Jean Grey comes to live at the X-Mansion with the X-Men. During this time she abandons her fellow X-Men who go off to battle a certain Master of Magnetism. It's here where a young Jean Grey walks the streets of North Salem and is forced into a situation that quickly makes her rethink her life as a mutant, as a superhero, and as a person who is bigger than just herself.
The downside to this book is you have a great writer like Sean McKeever who is limited because of the boring subject matter. We come straight into the book with a haunted Jean Grey alienated from everyone and Professor X coming to save the day. It would have been nice to show what happened to Jean prior to the very first page of the comic. Basically it just seems like a retold origin from “X-Men: The Last Stand” with a nice ending tacked on.
The upside includes Mayhew's breathtaking artwork that rocks this book from the very first panel. Of course from first glance everyone might say, "Hey it is an Alex Ross clone" but Mayhew is his own artist and really brings a depth and beauty to your average mutant superhero title. I can almost feel how bored McKeever was to write the story - many of the panels feature minimal dialogue to make way for Mayhew's art. In this case, as we are rehashing Grey's boring origin, that lack of dialogue showcasing the art is well received. Perhaps not the best book of this origin series, but X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY certainly packs a great punch. However I personally can't wait to grab the next issue featuring Beast - something tells me his origin story might be a bit more fun.
Ryan McLelland has worked in movies and comics journalism for the past several years before joining the @$$holes here at AICN. Ryan’s comic work has already graced comic shelves with Arcana’s PHILLY, WISE INTELLIGENCE, UPTOWN GIRL, and THE SENTINELS ANTHOLOGY. He rarely updates his blog but when he does it can be read at www.eyewannabe.com
Words: Phil Hester Art: Brook Turner Publisher: Image Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeComing into this review of GOLLY! by Phil Hester I really wanted to be selfish. You see, I absolutely adore Mr. Hester's art. I loved it on GREEN ARROW. I loved it on ANT-MAN. I also really love a Question sketch that I received from the man two WizardWorld Chicago's ago. And I don't ever want him to stop, but now it seems more like he's got the writer's bug. I've seen and bought any number of miscellaneous books from him the past few months: THE ATHIEST I picked up in trade, FIREBREATHER has a new volume that just started up recently and even had a new issue this past week, and now we have the first issue of GOLLY! right here in front of me. I want to say this is crap. I want to say that this is a pathetic facsimile of a comic book and that he should go back to his drawing table where he belongs. I almost want to add the ultimate insult and say that I'm pretty sure I could write a better comic book than this in half a drunken haze and he should be damned ashamed because if anyone actually pays any regular attention to my reviews here they'll know I can barely string two coherent sentences together...
I want to, but I can't do it...Fuck this book was great.
The solicit I read for this a couple months back said "For fans of PREACHER and THE GOON" and that right there got my attention. When I saw that Hester was writing it then I knew from past exposure to his writing chops that this had to be ordered. I'm damn glad I did. The story goes like this: The Apocalypse has been called off. No one, not even God himself really cares to be bothered with initiating it, but there were plans set in motion eons ago by the darker side of things that will bring it about anyways unless their chosen, uh, "champion" Golly Munhollen - carny extraordinaire - can stop it. Lord save us all, except apparently he doesn't give much of a damn.
Given, the conceit of the book plays out a lot better than my little summation up there. Most of the first half of the book is set into playing the normal cards: the setting of the book, a little insight into your main character, the tone of course, and what I think will be one of the best things about this book, the supporting cast. When it comes time for Golly to be set upon his more or less holy mission, it's just priceless. Especially since Hester deftly shows us in the span of about a third of a comic book what a complete and utter fuck up and ne'er-do-well he is. Basically all he does as we spend our first day with him, besides get declared a champion of the Lord, is clean up some vomit after one of the carnival sideshows goes badly, gets himself knocked out cold by the carnival strongwoman on a bet, and then lose half his winnings from a first place derby finish from said incident. If that doesn't say "lovable loser" I don't know what does, and every incident in the book just gets funnier and funnier as they move along.
To talk about the art a little (since I spent the better part of the intro using art as a lead in, might as well) I can definitely say this looks to be a perfect case of the pencils fitting the subject matter. Brook Turner's style is a little on the dirty side that I can dig. There's a solid bit of detail, nothing crisp but it does what it's supposed to as it carries the story from panel to panel. It honestly reminds me a lot of John McCrea as far as the linework goes, for the HITMAN fans out there: a little gritty, but highly serviceable. I think sometimes the kind of linework he was laying down was getting a little too muddled in the inks, and a couple facial expression here and there were a little under-developed or generic looking but overall it did it's job and did it admirably to round out the whole package.
It's only the first issue, so of course this statement could come back to bite me on the ass, but I think GOLLY! is going to be something pretty special. As I laid out above, I think this book has all the elements for a great running story: fun characters, cool premise, a setting that will make for all kinds of hijinks and a great sense of humor to carry it all. This is the kind of creator driven project I can see myself wanting to get behind for years and years to come, even though I honestly don't even know if that's the plan for this book. I hope that's the case though, and I hope a good chunk of you at least give this the fair shake I think it deserves it. I didn't want to end on something so cheesy and easy as this line, but what the hell: By Golly, we have a winner!
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, and a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
BOOSTER GOLD #11
Writer: Chuck Dixon Penciller: Dan Jurgens Inks: Norm Rapmund Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImpI jumped on this title last month, having read good things about Geoff Johns’ and Dan Jurgens’ “Quantum Leap”-esque take on Booster. After this month’s issue, I think I just might have a new favorite monthly here. Why? Two words:
I don’t know what it is about the character, but ever since I saw a black & white reprint of Batgirl’s origin from 1966, “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” I’ve been a huge Killer Moth fan (give me a break, okay? I was only seven or eight, and I didn’t see Killer Moth’s goofy color scheme until years later). Here was a character with a neat concept—the Batman of the criminal world—and a pretty cool motif. There was only one problem: nobody really seemed to do anything interesting with him. Over the years “Killer Moth” became synonymous with “loser.” He ended up being relegated to the lower tiers of the Batman’s rogues gallery, his final humiliation culminating in the pages of DC’s ill-advised UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED mini-series, where Killer Moth sold his soul to the demon Neron to be transformed into a giant bug rechristened “Charaxes.” Though this may have delighted “Mimic” fans everywhere, I missed those stripey tights.
This is what I love about the BOOSTER GOLD series: the time-travel theme allows for forgotten (or in this case misplaced) characters such as Killer Moth another chance in the spotlight. Dixon spins a tale of what the lethal lepidopteron’s career might have been if he had been a little luckier, and Jurgens’ “old-school” artwork melds perfectly with this tale of time gone awry. One of my favorite visual details: when Booster is disguised as Killer Moth, his robotic sidekick Skeets is wearing a tiny pair of moth wings in order to blend in with the gang.
Like I said, this is becoming one of my favorite titles, if for no other reason than it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. In a time when event books and big character shake-ups seem to be the status quo, it’s nice to read a comic like BOOSTER GOLD, where every issue is a mini “what if…?” kind of story, continuity isn’t the be-all end-all, and the hero isn’t a grumpy putz. And where a guy like Killer Moth can be cool… or at least, less lame.
DRACULA MEETS THE WOLFMAN (One-Shot)
Writer: Steve Niles Art: Francesco Francavilla Publisher: Image Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugMan, I saw this bad boy on the shelves, saw Steve Niles’ name and Frank Frazetta's cool painting on the cover and said, "Day-am! I's gots ta get me summa dat issue!" Took it home, tore it open and set to readin'.
I will say this: Dracula does in fact meet the Wolfman in this book...
Yep, he does...
He met him, alright…
Drac met the Wolf Man…
That's about it all you're going to get from this one-shot though. Now, I like Steve Niles’ work as much as the next comic book horror fan, but I’ve got to call a phoned-in job a phoned-in job here. The art's ok from Francesco Francavilla; kinda gritty, lookin’ like it was printed on parchment of some sort. But writer Steve Niles threads a dental floss thin plotline so loosely throughout this issue it literally took me two minutes to read it. I guess since the inspiration to this book isn’t the old Universal Drac meets Wolfy flicks and only a stretched out retelling of a famous Frazetta painting depicting the Prince of Darkness against the Child of the Night, there wasn’t much plot for Niles to plunge from. But even when Drac meets Wolfy the fight scene isn't really that spectacular and flashes by in about a page and a half. I guess the title was correct, though. Had it said DRACULA MEETS THE WOLFMAN AND FIGHTS A KICKASS FIGHT or DRACULA MEETS THE WOLFMAN AND DISCUSSES THE RISE AND FALL OF MODERN SOCIETY or DRACULA MEETS WOLFMAN AND HAS AMAZING BAT-WOLF MONSTER SEX, then maybe my disappointment would be more justified. No, eff that. This was a book that I paid three-hundred and ninety nine pennies plus tax for. Sorry, but I feel a bit cheated with this one.
But for what it was, and it wasn't much, the title of the book was accurate in that Dracula did meet the Wolfman in this issue. If you're looking for anything more exciting than that; look elsewhere. I guess I could talk more about this book in this review, but since the people behind this one didn’t really bother to put much story into it, I really don’t feel like putting much more effort into this review either.
GREEN ARROW & BLACK CANARY #11
Written by: Judd Winick Art by: Mike Norton and Wayne Faucher Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandTaking no time to even take a breath, GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY #11 jumps right back into the last chapter of the story 'A League Of Their Own.' Green Arrow and Black Canary are joined by a number of superheroes (including Batman and Plastic Man) to try and figure out who the mysterious Shadow League is being led by. The Shadow League had thought they were hired by the criminal mastermind Ra's Al Ghul only for Batman to produce a hologram projector that makes Ra's appear Princess Leia-from-R2-D2 style.
To start with the negatives of the issue, we are basically told in flashback how sniper Palmer Cokes comes to join this little Shadow League team. Here is Green Arrow wondering who the hell shot his son then snatched him from his hospital room and he has to endure some long drawn out story by the bad guys and the motives that drive them to be bad for the fake Ra's Al Ghul. It's the worst kind of monologing and I'm fairly certain a real world Batman would stop said bad guys mid-sentence with a good ping choi punch to the chest. The art by Mike Norton is a bit of a step up from the Phil Hester GA of old, but not by much, and this Green Arrow is a bit too cartoony for me.
The issue does have an amazing ending that really packs the punch. It's an ending that will have you drooling for the very next issue when you realize they will be possibly showing up in the next comic. It's quite the shame we had to all get through a boring "villain sums up the story" mid-section to get to the juicy finale, but once you read Judd Winick's end you are surely glad you went for the trip. While being the middle part of this story doesn't make this issue of GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY the most exciting, it will lead old and new readers foaming at your piehole for issue 12.
Every comic shop has them… battered long boxes jam-packed with dog-eared titles ranging from forgotten heroes of the 1970s to multiple copies of chromium-covered “collector’s item” comics from the Big Bust of the 1990s. But if you are patient, and dig deep enough, you just may find something special…
THE NEW UNIVERSE - Part 3: STARBRAND
Published by: Marvel 19 Issues Total $$$ Spent: $6.34 Reviewed by: BottleImpWe finish up our look back at Marvel’s failed experiment with STARBRAND, which can be considered the pivotal book in the New Universe lineup. Created and written by Jim Shooter (who was Editor-In-Chief at Marvel at the time and the driving force behind the New Universe) and drawn by John Romita Jr., STARBRAND centered around Ken Connell, an auto-body shop mechanic and motorcyclist from western Pennsylvania who is given the “star brand” by a mysterious old man whom he meets while biking out in the woods. The “star brand” (which is like a tattoo that the wearer can move to different places on his or her body, or even to another person) gives Connell seemingly unlimited power—flight, invulnerability, strength, energy blasts—the basic cornucopia of superhero abilities. Within the pages of the first issue the old man dies, is revealed to be some sort of alien, and another alien shows up in a spaceship to try to kill Connell and take the star brand from him. Connell uses his new powers to drive his attacker back into space, proclaiming, “I’ve got the power, and I’m going to keep it—if I have to kick every butt in the universe!” Hardly the humble, “with great power comes great responsibility” shtick here—although as the series progresses, Ken Connell does indeed wrestle with the burden of his powers. Along with trying to stop terrorists from detonating nuclear devices and dealing weapons (pressing concerns in those Cold War days of the 1980s, although it seems like we’ve come ‘round to those fears again in the post-911 age, doesn’t it?), Connell must deal with the return of the old man who gave him the brand and now wants it back. The basic plotline followed the standard superhero formula, though terrorists, foreign agents and more banal criminality replaced the costumed villains.
What made STARBRAND so different from ordinary comics was its heightened sense of realism, even with all the exotic trappings of aliens and cosmic powers. Shooter had made it known that he wanted the New Universe to do for comic books what Marvel had done back in 1961: bring the superhero out from the fantasy of the four-color page and closer to the world in which we live. And in STARBRAND, Shooter succeeded in a way that none of the other New Universe writers did. Ken Connell is a remarkably flawed character. Though he’s athletic, good-looking and intelligent, he has no drive to aspire to anything more than his dead-end job in the auto shop. And, to put it bluntly, he’s kind of a sleaze. He dates a beautiful woman with two kids and finds himself leering at their 17-year-old babysitter, not to mention every other piece of ass that comes into his field of vision. He’s friends with a woman named Debbie (inexplicably nicknamed “the Duck”) who’s saddled with the unfortunate double-whammy of being a few feathers short of a nest along with being slavishly devoted (to the point of obsession) to Connell. And how does Ken Connell reciprocate this almost stalker-like fixation? Are you familiar with the term…“fuck-buddy?” Marvel’s mainstream ladies’ man Johnny Storm looks as chaste as Sir Galahad by comparison. Connell still manages to come off as a halfway decent guy, however, as Shooter writes him as realizing his womanizing tendencies are hurting himself and others, but not being able to put a stop to them. STARBRAND also stood out from the rest of the New Universe line because of the artwork. John Romita Jr.’s slightly stylized and graphic drawing sense (though still within the bounds of comic book “realism”) is miles away from the more commonplace art that graces the majority of the New Universe titles, and emphasizes the point that this book is not your standard superhero fare.
Unfortunately, matters changed with Shooter’s departure from the New Universe (and Marvel) around issue #10. Some of the New Universe titles were axed, their characters relegated to guest appearances or back-up stories in the remaining titles. Plotlines were restructured to develop more cohesion between the books. And John Byrne became the new writer/ penciller for STARBRAND. Now, I’ve got nothing against Byrne—in fact, he’s one of my favorite “old-school” comic creators, and I love his work on X-MEN, SUPERMAN, and his brief stint on AVENGERS WEST COAST. But his artwork can only be described as…comic book-ey. All his faces tend to look the same, ditto hairstyles, bodies, etc.—which is fine for the spandex set, but his technique really jarred with the more realistic tone previously set on STARBRAND by Shooter and JR Jr. The story got more uneven as well—issue #11 ends with Connell blowing up Pittsburgh in an attempt to divest himself of some of the star brand’s power (which became the central thread tying together the plotlines of the newly revamped monthly New Universe titles as well as several New Universe graphic novels). He then vanishes from the main stage as new cast members are introduced and the star brand power is divided amongst them. Debbie the Duck is killed as Connell’s super powered baby rips itself out of her womb (the “Star Child,” an idea which seems to be inspired if not stolen outright from Alan Moore’s MIRACLEMAN, becomes the focal point of the last few issues of STARBRAND). Connell makes brief cameos as a long-haired power-hungry crazed-villain type, then as a putrefying corpse afflicted by religious mania, then as a healthy-again man (still convinced that he’s God’s instrument), and finally as a normal, sane man much as he was written back when the series began. It is revealed in the final issue that the “White Event” which gave all the New Universe characters their abilities was caused by the old man trying to rid himself of the power much like Connell did, and through a time-travel paradox worthy of “Star Trek,” the old man and Ken Connell are one and the same (which is actually fairly evident from the first few issues of the series, due mostly to JR Jr’s character designs). The old man, Connell and the “Star Child” agree to close off the time loop created by the star brand’s power by sacrificing themselves, and that’s that…except that the epilogue reveals that the star brand is now on another man’s hand, hinting that the cycle may just begin again.
At the end, STARBRAND suffered from the same problem that plagued the rest of the New Universe: a lack of payoff. In his own title, Justice had vowed to punish the person responsible for the destruction of Pittsburgh. That confrontation never happened—instead STARBRAND just meandered around for a few issues before collapsing. The Star Child was used as the flimsiest of “deus ex machina” devices in the graphic novel, THE WAR (which is a whole other mess of disappointment). The interesting, complex person that Shooter crafted in the first few issues was replaced by comic book cliché.
Here’s the rundown of my picks for the best moments of this series:
As a final note, I’d just like to point out that when Warren Ellis revamped the New Universe in his “Heroes”-esque NEW UNIVERSAL, Ken Connell was transformed from a sleazebag womanizer to a whitebread high school football star who accidentally barbecues his girlfriend when he’s given the star brand. I think that sometimes we assume that comic book scribes today are much more daring and realistic in their approach to characterization… just goes to show you that sometimes those “edgy” writers aren’t quite as “edgy” as they’d like you to believe.
CHUNCHU: THE GENOCIDE FIEND Vol 2-3
Written by Kum Sung-Jae Illustrated by Kim Byung-Jin Released by Dark Horse manhwa Reviewer: Scott GreenJudging by how its high concept could be described, this Korean manhwa should be as invincible as its protagonist.
In its quesi-medievel age of warring, tribal nations, zipper adorned leather jackets and sexy plate armor, there are three people you don't want to mess with. "The first one! Very strong! The second one! Very fast! The third one! The demon's only son. Chunchu!"
Here's the story of a guy whose off day entails getting bound to a tree by barbs through the shoulders, impaled through the kidney, then locked in mortal combat with a couple of 300 year old sociopathic lovers. Essentially, it's FINAL FANTASY meets WOLVERINE - an angst ensemble of young adults, in elaborate outfits, armed with exotic swords, focused on an unhappy individual, made more unhappy by people sticking sharp objects through vital portions of his body. Fans of either, or both, will be pleased to find that the ingredients of this bloody cocktail complement each other. The full potency of the fantasy melodrama expected from Japanese role playing video games, and the bloody valor of an unstoppable, but not invulnerable hero carry into the manhwa.
Similar material has been mined for deeper significance. Given some of the predicaments inflicted upon its lead, in addition to FINAL FANTASY and WOLVERINE, the manhwa opens itself to comparison with Hiroaki Samura's BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. Unlike Samura's work, CHUNCHU is decidedly not a vehicle for exploring larger themes. Yet, if the series does not command thought, it does command attention. Packed with pitched emotions and bloody confrontations, each volume ends with a lament over the wait for the next.
Though far from consciously serious, CHUNCHU is not quite as outrageously giddy as the title might imply. "The Genocide Fiend" sounds like part of a string of nonsensical, offensive babble, or an XBox live handle, rather than an advertisingment for trashy fun, the way that Go Nagai titles are given names like "Violence Jack," "Hanappe Bazooka," or "Iron Virgin Jun," "The Genocide Fiend" is equal parts perplexing and intriguing.
While the manhwa itself is not quite so charged, it does seem intent on keeping its reader off balance. Events commence with a prophecy about how an emperor would father a cursed demon. As bad as that prospect might be for the empire, the issue (in multiple senses of the term) is complicated when empress gives birth to twins, where upon the demonically inclined newborn shoves the cursed spirit into the body of his innocent sibling. Years pass and Woolpaso, "The Original Son of the Demon" has become the brutal lord of his domain, while Chunchu, "The Cursed Son of the Demon" is a hunted, reviled swordsman in the renegade Mirmidon clan.
Brother versus brother must be on the agenda, but the path to get there is more careening than a head on collision course. While the long haired, pretty FINAL FANTASY VII's Sepheroth-ish Woolpaso makes a few appearances in the mode of Machiavelli's Prince meets Enter the Dragon's Han, Chunchu is up to his eyeballs in depression, drama and distraction. Beyond the global consensus that the world should be rid of a Son of a Demon, there are specific people looking for Chunchu's extermination, from a young boy who blames Chunchu for his father's death, to a wily veteran looking to cash in Chunchu's head for the funds to atone for the wrongs committed as the captain of a legendary mercenary band. Then, there are the Mirmidons. Between the rage-aholic, the exiles, the poker faced mystery man and the simpleton trying to keep track of his severed finger, in the realm of unhappy families, this make-shift clan has truly found their own way to be unhappy.
CHUNCHU’s unsettled dance from one set piece to the next is anything but predictable. Rather than a story arc, it navigates a Candyland board path. If it goes from point A to point B, there might be a causal route between the two points, but that route is bound to be a convoluted one. While not always coherent enough to follow easily, it is spirited enough to be exciting; and, what it lacks in structure or introspection, it makes up for in a bellicose willingness to throw down. When characters start boasting of their martial prowess, or the reputation of others, ("My father told me this. If Shinji pulls out his sword, get out of the way..." "Do you know why the White Brigade was feared. We have this rule, you see..."), the manhwa reliably follows through on the implicit promise to initiate a rowdy engagement that is going to end with someone stabbing their foe with a blade clenched in their teeth or a thrust to the jugular.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for close to seven years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column here.
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here dusting off the old fedora for another installment of Indie Jones. This week, for your indie-centric pleasure, we have an ogre, an ex-spy, a horny cowboy, and a look at the grittier side of America. It’s enough outside the norm stuff to satisfy an indie-phile.
ABANDONED CARS HC OGN Fantagraphics BooksThis is a phenomenal set of short stories from writer/artist Tim Lane. Lane tells painfully honest stories about life, America, and how popular cultural icons have shaped the way we all live. The stories are more like character studies, as Lane follows his characters with an unflinching eye through uncomfortable and tragic scenarios. This book isn't the feelgood read of the year, in fact it's somewhat of a downer, but I was unable to put this huge 175+ page graphic novel down once I cracked it open. Many of Lane's characters tell tales of depression, loneliness, and loss. There were panels in this book that made my heart twist. Lane also peppers in references about Marlon Brando, Elvis, Stagger Lee, and many other American icons that helped shape a nation. The title, ABANDONED CARS, refers to something the author refers to as "The Great American Mythological Drama", which doesn't really refer to the American Dream as much as the pain suffered by those who believe in it. Lane's art is phenomenal as well. Told in stark blacks and whites, these short stories are moody peeks into the minds of the lonely, the heartbroken, the sad, and those brave enough to dream despite the odds stacked against them. The book runs $22.99, which is a bit lofty of a price tag (not sure when and if the book will be available in paperback), but it's worth every penny. I digested this book in one sitting because I wanted to be able to review it for you all after seeing how special it was. But this is one of those books that should be read slowly, through numerous sittings, paced over a span of time to really savor the beautiful art and the tragic stories within.
STINKY HC OGN Toon BooksThis is the second book from Toon Books that I've had the pleasure of reading. STINKY by Eleanor Davis is a fun little story about a Shrek-like bog monster who learns a lesson in sharing when a boy build a tree house on the edge of the swamp. Stinky's tour of the swamp is adorable as he introduces the reader to all of the sights, sounds, and especially the smells that he encounters. Although the main characters are similar, STINKY is much less acidic than SHREK and probably better suited for younger readers. I know when I was a kid, I would have loved to have been read this book. As with Toon Books’ last offering, JACK AND THE BOX, STINKY is a book that would be a great read for any comic reading father or mother who is trying to pass on their love of comics to their children. Your typical fanboy would scoff at the child-friendly nature of the book, but this isn't one for you. This is a comic book for children written with care and filled with characters that learn important lessons and make the comic book experience fun. If you're looking for a book that is safe for your kids to read, this is the comic book company for you. Recommended for children and the kid in all of us.
GUS & HIS GANG OGN First SecondChris Blain draws and writes this infectious serial about a long nosed cowboy and his crew of outlaws. The group get themselves into their fair share of trouble outside the law by robbing banks and trains and causing all sorts of chaos, but what sets this cowboy yarn apart from the rest is the central focus on the relationships these cowboys form. It's interesting to see the human being underneath the bandana mask and the tall hat, and Blain does a great job of setting up situation after situation that goes against the macho bravado present in most Western tales. There are many ladies that grace the pages of GUS & HIS GANG, and each one of them seems to brand their mark into the hearts of these cowpokes. The book is set up in a serialized format where a set of characters are established, but one doesn't really need to read one tale in order to enjoy the rest of the chapters. Like a Sunday comic strip, there's an iconic visual sense to these characters. Sure there is a common theme going through the stories, but that doesn't stand out to be the most important part of the reading experience. The fact that this book focuses on the human side of the Old West makes it leaps and bounds more interesting than your common Old West fare. I especially enjoyed the stories focusing on long term relationships and "booty calls" in a day and age before technology made things more immediate. It's good to see that the friction, miscommunication, and confusion between the sexes aren’t a result of modern technology. Seeing Gus send letters to his chosen girl who offers more than her fair share of mixed signals was a treat. Like most of First Second's offerings, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes typical genres told in an outside of the box thinking mindset.
BUTTON MAN II: THE CONFESSION OF HARRY EXTON TPB 2000AD RebellionHaving not read the first BUTTON MAN serial, I was concerned at first when I cracked open this trade paperback collecting the BUTTON MAN II serial that ran through 2000AD Progs 904 - 918 circa 1994. But after the initial action sequence that occurs in the American Museum of Natural History, I knew it wasn't going to be necessary. Written by A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE writer John Wagner, this story has a lot of similarities with that book. It's about a man who is ready to end a life of violence and settle down and do what has been proven to be a difficult thing for an assassin time and time again: retire. Harry Exton finds himself back in the killing game for one last big hit by working as a Button Man (hit man) for a US senator. Back stabbing, cool spy gadgets, a noble dog, and a shitload of alligators follow in this extremely entertaining thriller. The grainy and sketchy art by Arthur Ranson adds to the tension. His art is of the old school variety where splash pages reveal montages through a character's history, reminiscent of Klaus Jansen and Gene Colan. This was a pleasant surprise and proof that some of the best storytelling is going on right under our noses across the pond at 2000AD. I've tried to cover as many 2000AD trades as I can, but the quality of this book makes me realize that I need to be covering more. This is a phenomenal trade collection and a must have for fans of the Daniel Craig Bond and Jason Bourne.
If you have an indie book that you think is cool enough for review here at Indie Jones, contact your favorite reviewer and let them know. Remember to be patient, if you send it, it will be reviewed. We’re getting to all of our Indie Jones and dot.comics suggestions as soon as we possibly can. Now, let’s see what Humphrey thought about Red 5’s ATOMIC ROBO…
ATOMIC ROBO: DOGS OF WAR #1
Words: Brian Clevinger Art: Scott Wegener Publisher: Red 5 Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeWhen the first ATOMIC ROBO miniseries came out, I spent weeks kicking myself over not having ordered it upon first sight. It's like my brain completely blanked on what it was being presented with. A book about a kick-ass, super-intelligent robot created by none other than Nikola Tesla himself? Sign me right the fuck up! I'd cuntpunt a nun to read that (of course, I'm always looking for an excuse to do that). And like I'd hoped, those six issues (well, five for me because I'm still missing issue #1 because I'm a terrible person) panned out extremely well. The character of Robo was immediately engaging, almost in a Hellboy kind of way but on the reverse, changing out the mostly supernatural for science fiction-y goodness. Now the second installment of ATOMIC ROBO books has made it's way to the stands and, really, I guess I'm just here to reiterate what an enjoyable book this is.
The first series of AR mostly played around in the present day with the occasional indulgence in flashbacks, but this one looks to be dedicated to fleshing out some of Robo's past. The scene is 1943 and - like any good adventure book of this type - the enemy are those damned Nazis. This time around those fun loving, genocidal miscreants have been found developing what are called "Laufpanzers" - a kind of walking tank - to further their schemes and for Robo to stomp down. After that all bets are off as Robo crashes down behind enemy lines to wage a little bit of personal warfare with some hot metal on metal action promised to go down in the very next issue, but there's also that fabled "human element" at play as american soldiers are off fighting the good fight just a few miles off. Explosions aplenty ensue.
And really, not wanting to be brief with this review or downplay the book, but it really is just well executed and energizing book. Robo himself is a mite enjoyable lead, the book is always brimming with action and of course a dab or more of humor either stemming from our mechanical frontman himself, or at his expense. If there was anything "negative" I could say about this is that I don't think Robo is quite as amusing when he's by himself like he is in this issue, unless the circumstances for it are call for hilarity like the, uh, "Stephen Hawking" incident from last series (one of the best moments of comics I've read in the past year) I've found Robo is at his best when interacting with a crew around him, like his Tesladyne cohorts. I'm assuming the plan for this current story is to have him meet up and interact with some of the grunts we saw doing their Normandy impression throughout the issue, so I guess I'm just saying he sooner this happens the better.
Other than that, the only other issue I'd like to see addressed is that I hope this arc as a whole takes some time to give us maybe a little more insight into Robo's past. Besides "He's a robot created by Tesla that hits shit a lot", we don't really know a terrible lot about the shiny little guy. I just think maybe a little more history other than what kind of enemies he's beat down in the past or adventures he's had wouldn't hurt at all. But as you can tell, these are just minor little complaints, more tertiary wants on my part than anything, and even if these things were to never occur this would still be one of those rip-roaring good times and an overlooked gem of a comic book that anyone would enjoy.
SECRET INVASION: THOR #1 Marvel ComicsThis was a pretty exciting issue. I'm always a bit scared reading a spinoff of a book I am enjoying in fear that it won't be as good. JMS is kicking so much @$$ with the ongoing THOR title, I didn't know if Matt Fraction could do a story set in current Thor continuity and pull it off. But I should have known better because Fraction has been doling out some THOR-oughly good stories with his series of one-shots set in Asgard's past over the last few months. This issue begins with a bang as Beta Ray Bill does his best ARMAGEDDON impression and crash lands in the heart of Asgard. Loki does a great job of amping the paranoia, and Thor shows his noble side by defending his friend with the horsey face. This SI spinoff looks more promising than the disappointing Fantastic Four tie in, even though Doug Braithwaite's art is a bit too light and scratchy for me. - Bug
THE HELM #1 Dark Horse ComicsThe premise of this book made me laugh enough that I was actually very hopeful that it would be good. As the cover says, “What if you had a magical superpower and it hated your guts?” And you have a shot of a fat ass redneck reaching for a magical helmet with a golden face on it that is yelling at him, “You are the worst hero ever!” I love the dynamic: a dimwitted but, hopefully, likable hero paired up with a magical partner who just haaaates him. Based on the cover, the book might just be an unexpected bit of kick ass fun.
Yeah. It’s not kick ass fun. It was actually not much fun at all. It just so misses the mark. The problem is there is no one likable in this book. Given the sort of gimmicky comic premise they go very broad in most of the plot points. They hammer home how miserable and horrible our hero Matthew’s life is in a way that is over the top, but not really funny. Within a minute we see his harpy of a girlfriend dump him and his insanely angry boss fire him. All of it is over the top but none of it is funny. And when Matthew hooks up with the magical helm, again, we get more angry resentment but not in a way that is funny. The problem for me is Matthew. They really failed to make him a likable or sympathetic character. And for any of this to work you really have to like the guy on some level. You need to be able to root for the guy. I didn’t feel that need. Instead he’s just a big punching bag for all sorts of hate and mistreatment who I could not muster an ounce of sympathy for. He needed to be a good guy in some way where he could serve as the one beacon of positive energy in the book. As it is there is nothing positive in it. It’s just a ton of over the top angry pissy characters all abusing one dumpy sad sack. Could have been a bit of fun but it just isn’t. - Jinxo
THE LAST DEFENDERS #6 Marvel ComicsI was leery of this series when it first came out. Much as I loved the loopiness of the “Too Many Defenders” storyline many years ago, and similar stories since then, I never liked them being cast in the mold of lovable losers, misfits who succeed despite themselves. And that looked to be where this was going. But I was wrong. Suffice to say, we were thrown a curve at the end that made almost the whole series look worthwhile, and simultaneously made me wonder what great heights a future series could aspire. This was genuinely clever. Impressively clever. Kudos to Mr. Casey. If they pick this series up, so will I. The world, especially a post-registration world, needs more heroes like the Defenders. - Rock-Me Amodeo