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AICN COMICS REVIEWS BATTLE FOR THE COWL! PALIN & HILLARY! AMERICAN MCGEE'S GRIMM! WATCHMENSCH! + MUCH MORE!!!

#44 3/4/09 & 3/11/09 #7

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with a correction. When we get stuff wrong, we admit it. Seems I credited STINGERS #1 as written by Raven Gregory in Monday’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER Column. Looks like I was wrong. The book is written by Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha. The books still looks to be worth checking out. Sorry for the confusion.
I also just found out that I labeled the issue of TALES OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES as issue #51 when it was in fact issue #56. Again, my apologies.
And now, on with the reviews!

The Pull List (Click title to go directly to the review) BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL #1 FEMALE FORCE: SARAH PALIN #1 & FEMALE FORCE: HILLARY CLINTON #1 JLA: SALVATION RUN TPB AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #1 BATMAN: CACOPHONY #3 WATCHMENSCH #1 EX MACHINA SPECIAL #4 ASPEN SHOWCASE: EMBER #1 GRAPHIC CLASSICS VOL 16: OSCAR WILDE A Double Shot at R.E.B.E.L.S. #2 Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents MANGA SPOTLIGHT: SAYONARA, ZETSUBOU-SENSEI-THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING Indie Jones presents… CHEAP SHOTS!

BATMAN: BATTLE FOR THE COWL #1

Writer/artist: Tony Daniel Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Optimous Douche

I hate guys like Tony Daniel. Those individuals with the unique ability to write an engaging story, nail characterization dead-on, AND are able to draw fantastic images just make me think they are trying too hard in life. Also thanks to his stellar work on this title, DC is about to get a few more of my hard earned douche dollars each month, because for the first time in almost fifteen years BATTLE FOR THE COWL (BFTC) made me add the Batman books back to my weekly list of pulls. Yes, it was that good.
After reading every action soaked and introspective panel of BFTC, I couldn’t give a flying bat-fuck if Bruce Wayne is in purgatory, the Australian Outback or chomping on a blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse. To be frank, the longer he stays away the better. Over the years the universe that Batman inhabits has become more engaging and vibrant than the man himself. I think we saw this with the last movie; what stuck in my mind was Jim Gordon and The Joker, not ol’ gravel voice.
Someone at DC must agree with me, because BFTC is Gotham’s story, not Batman’s. Told from the viewpoint of Tim Drake (a Robin I like immensely, but have not spent significant time with since the horrific hologram heavy Robin mini-series in the early 90s), the story starts in mass bedlam. The petty crooks are performing petty crimes en masse. Arkham ends up in shambles and every inmate is now loose on the streets of Gotham guided by what I always considered a B-villain up until now, the Black Mask. To help bring some semblance of order to the complete chaos, Dick Grayson calls in the usual heavy-hitters when Bats goes MIA: Birds of Prey, Squire, Wildcat, Catwoman and Bat-Dyke.
There is quite simply not a moment to breathe in this comic, and I was elated at this prospect. While the ass-kickery was plentiful, the scenes where Dick struggles with whether to don the cowl provided an equal amount of more sedate drama. Some reviews are faulting Daniel’s portrayal of Dick for being far too brooding during this crisis, but even the most carefree people out there have their quiet moments of introspection when the shit truly hits the fan. I’m going to applaud Daniel for this choice rather than fault him. In my estimation this character choice helps to mature Dick and cements the gravity of the peril facing the original city he called home.
Assuming all of this wasn’t enough for 22 pages, Tim encounters a mysterious new gun toting Batman that is not part of the official “Bat-League”. After some intense sleuthing he discovers that this new masked man is packing a Batman grade arsenal, leaving everyone to question who this character is and “where did he get those wonderful toys?”
Between this book and the fantastic New Krypton story cascading through the Superman titles, the acrid taste of FINAL CRISIS and RIP are finally becoming a just a slightly annoying after-taste.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."

FEMALE FORCE: SARAH PALIN #1

FEMALE FORCE: HILLARY CLINTON #1

Writer: Neal Bailey Art: Ryan Howe Publisher: Bluewater Productions Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Seems putting political figures in comics is the new trend these days, and most of the time these attempts to get to the fanboy vote have left me cold. IDW’s comics illustrating the two presidential candidates last year both left me wanting, mainly because both read like cooking instructions, bullet pointing the facts panel by panel, narrating the story with caption boxes instead of word balloons, and having very few scenes acted out in real time in favor of having them blandly told to the reader. Just because a book is a biography doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Bluewater Productions is trying to do this right with their FEMALE FORCE line of comics featuring prominent female political figures--Michelle Obama, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the subjects of this review, former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.
One of the things that really turns me off about the media is the bias. Newscasters, news writers, internet bloggers--it seems everyone wants to tell everyone else their own political beliefs and how yours is wrong. Personally, I feel my political beliefs are something private. I believe in the power of my vote, but I also have faith in my fellow man to make decisions without me having to cram my beliefs down his throat. When I heard that Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were each going to be receiving a comic book biography I was a bit leery, not because I lean particularly to the left or to the right, but because I feared it impossible for someone to talk about a Democrat or a Republican these days without resorting to inserting their own political agenda in there somewhere. I understand that no one has a Writer-Bot 3000 that guarantees no bias, but something that didn’t rip on one side in order to support their own would be nice. Something that left the decisions up to the reader would be preferred, but very unlikely.
So imagine my surprise when I had a chance to read FEMALE FORCE: SARAH PALIN #1 and HILLARY CLINTON #1 and found them to be a pretty fair treatment of each political figure. On page one of each issue the writer addresses the issue of media bias as well as his own. Writer Neal Bailey says he’s a liberal writer, but throughout the stories he’s telling here he shows he is a writer of better caliber than most seen in the media today by shelving his bias for the sake of the story (a talent also exemplified by Oliver Stone with his W and NIXON biographies—I still think those films weren’t as successful because people were expecting the guy to rip into these political figures, which he smartly didn’t, making them honest to gosh biographies rather than soapboxes). By addressing the white elephant in the room and owning his bias, Bailey smartly and simply tells the female politicos’ stories in a fair manner.
In the end of Palin’s issue, Bailey is open about his bias, but insightful enough to know that those who don’t agree with his views are reading this too. By talking about bias, Bailey deleted the icky feeling I usually have reading these political biographies whether the subjects of the book be Republican or Democrat. Although the writer’s affinity for Hillary Clinton is pretty apparent in Hillary’s issue, he also focuses on the rougher stuff, making it a much more accurate and honest portrayal of the woman and much less of a propaganda poster. In both books the artists preserves his integrity by being honest about his bias, his beliefs, and his earnest goal to tell both women’s stories as fairly as he can. For that, these books outshine all political comic books recently released.
FF: SARAH PALIN and FF: HILLARY CLINTON do occasionally suffer from the “telling instead of showing” syndrome that seems to be an ailment plaguing anyone who writes one of these political biographies. For each event in Palin or Clinton’s life, there’s a panel dedicated to it narrated by the writer. I understand that due to space restrictions there just isn’t enough time for all scenes to play out, and there were more panels with actual lines from Palin and Clinton in them here than in both OBAMA and MCCAIN’s biographies, so it ain’t all bad. Still, seeing scenes unfold is much more entertaining than having them told to us. If they wanted to reader to become more invested in the story, there could have been more panels with scenes rather than facts in these books.
The artist on these two books is Ryan How and his art is a real treat. He has a somewhat cartoony style, but it is fitting for the tone of the story. Howe’s characters look enough like the people they are depicting to be recognizable, but the artist takes liberties in making them somewhat caricatured, thus adding another level of enjoyment to this book.
Out of all the political books to come so far this year, Bluewater’s first two FEMALE FORCE issues are definitely the most non-biased and most importantly entertaining of all I have read so far. The writer took liberties with the narrative and actually used creativity to give us more than a graphic encyclopedia entry. He also had the nuts to challenge his own beliefs to write this story. I found it to be a surprisingly fun read--one that made me look at Mrs. Palin and Mrs. Clinton in a different light. No matter what your beliefs, if you’re tired of political agendas being shoved down your throats and just want to read something about a historical figure that doesn’t bore you to tears, FEMALE FORCE: SARAH PALIN #1 and FEMALE FORCE: HILLARY CLINTON #1 may just be the books for you.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over seven years. Check out previews to his short comic book fiction here and here published in MUSCLES & FIGHTS 3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Productions, including the just-announced sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series.

JLA: SALVATION RUN TPB

Writer: Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges Artist: Sean Chen, Joe Bennett Inker: Walden Wong, Belardino Brabo, Wayne Faucher Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: William

Yes yes yes, I know that I’m reviewing something that didn’t just exactly premier on comic book shelves this month. This TPB came out sometime in September 2008, but I never really came across it until my local comic shop recently added into their store. The description on the back of the cover, though, seemed very interesting. Imagine taking some of the biggest rogues within the DC universe, placing them on an isolated world, and letting them fend for themselves as they eventually split into teams led by Lex Luthor and the Joker. What happens in a scenario such as this, when you have such a tense situation that’s just begging to explode?
I very much liked this TPB, reading all of it as I was recently visiting the family this past weekend. I think this TPB is a good barometer of just who is a Lex Luthor or a Joker fan, as it showcases these two iconic villains in their prime. Lex Luthor is of course a calculating and rational man, while Joker is chaos incarnate. The both of them get stranded on this isolated planet, along with forty other lesser known villains, because they’ve all been deemed too dangerous to stay on Earth. Once they realize the situation that they’re in and the teams are formed, it’s only a race to see which team outlasts the other as they all strive to avoid the dangerous creatures on the planet and find a way back home.
Continuing my earlier analysis about this TPB indicating who is a Luthor or Joker fan, I say this because we get to see both the villains use their respective traits in order to recruit more members for their team. This is kind of like the good “Whose side are you on?” debate that recently affected the Marvel universe during their Civil War storyline. You have a team consisting of Luthor, Sivana, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and other calculating villains and you have a team consisting of Joker, Gorilla Grodd, Killer Croc, Solomon Grundy and other animalistic and unpredictable villains. Based on your own personal favorite villain traits, you’d probably be rooting for that team to win, I suppose. You even get to see a nice Luthor vs. Joker fight too.
Myself personally I’ve always been a big Luthor fan, so it was only natural that as I read the TPB I was rooting for his team to win. Considering he’s a villain without any superhuman powers (despite the cover showcasing his classic battle suit, it’s not in the book), his brilliant mind and expert leadership helps motivate the rest of his team as they collect resources to survive on and create the necessary machine that would transport them home. Of course Lex is not just doing this out of the kindness of his heart, but rather knows that he’ll need all available resources in order to find a way home. In fact he even sacrifices (albeit humbly) a few lesser known villains during the final stages of the escape of the planet.
Which brings me to Joker’s team. Who on Earth would want that nutcase as their leader? Do they not know how utterly unpredictable and vicious this insane clown is? At any moment Joker could probably decide to take out a gun and kill three of his teammates, and when someone asks him why he’ll probably state because he wanted to see which comical way they’d fall down. And these villains want HIM to be their leader? There’s a great part in the TPB where some third-rate villain named Psimon (who is supposedly a multi-level intellectual who has his brain exposed through a glass skull cap) begins calculating their best chances for survival, and Joker suddenly takes a rock and begins bashing his brains out as he goes into a semi-Dark Knight nihilistic monologue about survival. You see what I mean? These villains just saw a potentially good asset just killed right before their eyes, and they still want to be a part of his team?
If there’s one thing I can critique about writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges is that they had the tough task of trying to make a team led by the Joker seem like a sensible thing. When you have utter chaos and unpredictable homicidal tendencies, it’s a little hard to present that person as a reasonable leader who will help his teammates find a way home. The only other thing I have to criticize is the rather simple artwork by Sean Chen. It seemed very rushed, and it reminded me too much of the semi-sub par artwork that made up most of the Valiant comics during their heyday. There’s one chapter that’s illustrated by Joe Bennett, and it’s painfully obvious to see which one is better than the other based on the level of detail involved. Otherwise I recommend this good TPB for anybody interested in seeing a classic Luthor vs. Joker story.

AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #1

Written by: Dwight L. MacPherson Art by: Grant Bond Published by: IDW Publishing Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

I was completely unaware that there was an AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM videogame because, as always, I'm the last to the party since I never get an invitation. Luckily my invitation finally came via IDW and Dwight MacPherson with the release of AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM #1.
The idea behind GRIMM is simple: Grimm is a dwarf who brings dank and darkness wherever he goes. His purpose in life? To make those sweet fairy tales we know turn back into the darker, original versions from days of old. It's a fun sounding videogame and a great premise to start off a book with.
Grimm has finished his latest foray into a fairy tale book and has decided to move into greener pastures when he spies a typical comic book titled Freedom Friends. The comic has the Freedom Friends finding the League of Super Evil and launching into a fight that quickly resolves in the defeat of the evil team.
The plan? Grimm jumps into the book and makes his way to the Evil League's hideout so he can help baddies like Mime and Killer Cock (not what you are thinking, DIRTY BIRD, but still damn funny) finally beat the crap out of these sugar-sweety-sacharine-goody-three-shoes heroes. How? By making the villains into something super themselves. The end result? A battle way too good to be true with the villains launching into the ultimate attack plan that leads to a battle that almost brings tears to your eyes. Ladies and gentlemen it is time to root for the bad guys and its never felt so good to do so.
AMERICAN MCGEE’S GRIMM is one hell of a good time. Dwight MacPherson has never been more on top of his game then he is playing with Grimm and Grant Bond does an amazing job bringing the 3-D Grimm into a 2-D comic book world. The comic book is a parody but feels more like a HOT FUZZ parody then a NAKED GUN. If that makes perfect sense to you then it only makes perfect sense to pick this one up.
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. The first issue of his new WISE INTELLIGENCE miniseries can be found here.

BATMAN: CACOPHONY #3 (of 3)

Writer: Kevin Smith Penciler: Walter Flanagan Inker: Sandra Hope Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: BottleImp

For some reason, Kevin Smith tends to inspire a “love him or hate him” attitude in his readers. He’s obviously got a core group of fans who adore his comic book work while at the same time he cultivates a more vocal population (at least on the talkbacks on AICN) who seem to think Smith’s writing ranks one notch below the limerick that begins with “there once was a man from Nantucket…” In this case, I can’t really see either side of the argument—when all is said and done, CACOPHONY isn’t great. It’s not horrible, either. It’s just an…okay story. You know, the kind of story that we used to get on a more regular basis, before Batman became subject to the endless battery of hyperbole and “event” stories. But I digress…
Actually, I’ve gotta give Smith credit for tackling a question that is a mainstay of fanboy discussion circles; namely, why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker/let the Joker die? Smith’s reasoning (told in this issue) is a pretty fair answer; unfortunately, the method of execution (Batman and Joker discussing their situation somewhat rationally in the Joker’s hospital room) doesn’t score Smith any points for originality. Any fanboy worth his salt can’t help but notice the similarity to the Batman/Joker confrontation in Alan Moore’s THE KILLING JOKE, and it’s no contest who wins in a battle of words between Smith and Moore.
And on the artistic front, Flanagan is a capable artist. The narrative flows clearly, the page designs are good…nothing special, but not horrible by any means. Hopefully this series will bring him some more work on his own merit rather than just as a favor to Kevin Smith.
One final note: I love it that on the space on the last page usually reserved for the “next issue” blurb, you see the following: “Follow the adventures of Bruce Wayne as Batman in SUPERMAN/BATMAN and BRAVE AND THE BOLD.” Just in case we needed it made any clearer by the head honchos at DC that this whole “Battle for the Cowl” thing doesn’t change the fact that Bruce Wayne will always be Batman…just not in his own titles.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast. You can see some of his artwork at here. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.

WATCHMENSCH #1

Written by: Rich Johnston Art by: Simon Rohrmuller Published by: Brain Scan Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

WATCHMEN has only been out for over a week and I'm already sick of looking at it. I went to the comic store just last night where there was shelves of available graphic novels, an 18" Rorschach figure ready for someone to buy, and so many other countless tie-ins that someone somewhere is laughing all the way to the bank.
I was laughing as well...but not at the amount of money DC is making from Zack Snyder's adaptation. I was laughing at WATCHMENSCH - a laugh-out loud funny, amazing parody full of witty writing and a solid look at the comic book industry. The book comes courtesy of Rich Johnston, who comic readers may be fully aware of thanks to his scathing gossip/rumor column “Lying in the Gutters”. Who better to point out the comic book world's fallacies than a man who has read most comic books, met most creators, and found most of the world's comic book information before you did?
Well, I was skeptical only because I'm a skeptic. But diving into WATCHMENSCH had me laughing from that very first 9-panelled page. Everything is ripe for the parody here - not just Watchmen but everything from The Simpsons to Ozzy Osbourne to comic book publishers who feel the wrath of Johnston's words and Simon Rohrmuller's art. Rohrmuller does his best Dave Gibbons impression here and it very much works for the comic. It's a simple approach best suited here to mock the Watchmen world and those who stand to profit off of it.
Because that's what this tale is about--not just a murder mystery but the mysterious Black Dossier and those involved in comic book contracts. Comic book contracts? That's right - Spottyman, a near dead ringer for Rorschach except for some awesome Orthodox Jew gear, is investing in lawyers while Johnston looks at how actual creators are screwed over for the rights of their comic books by those big comic book conglomerates who act like just because they publish it...they own it....FOR-EV-ER.
The best part of this book? I found this comic fifty times more entertaining then the actual WATCHMEN movie itself.
There was also a great article midway through the book titled 'Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow Stories' (taking its title from Alan Moore's famous 'Last Superman' story from the eighties) which is an immensely interesting look at Alan Moore's relationship to DC. The article is told as an article within the comic - just as WATCHMEN itself excerpted “Under The Hood”.
You get the feeling that Alan Moore's work will never be safe because it will always continue to be adapted for the big screen when, perhaps, it should simply stay within the comic book page. Was I myself looking forward to WATCHMEN? Yes. Did I enjoy the movie? I did. Do I think it should have simply remained a comic book and not a feature film? Yes. Does WATCHMENSCH make this a solid fact while pointing it out with sheer homage and parody? In spades. Johnston's amazing commentary on the comic book world hits the nail on the head and could be a great history lesson for those who know nothing about the politics of comics.

EX MACHINA SPECIAL #4

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan Artist: Leon Publisher: DC Wildstorm Reviewer: Optimous Douche

It’s virtually impossible to describe a Vaughan title accurately and make it sound interesting. Yet EX MACHINA, RUNAWAYS (the old RUNAWAYS, not the abortion that is currently sitting on the shelves) and Y: THE LAST MAN despite their indescribable nature have hands down been my favorite titles in recent years. Part of my love stems from the fact that each title has been an indictment of societal woes with a slight garnish of the fantastic or extraordinary. RUNAWAYS explored nature vs. nurture and asked whether we can rise above the trespasses of our parents. Y used an apocalyptic back drop to explore gender disparity and societal complacency.
EX MACHINA has been the hardest of all to come up with a pithy pull quote to sum it up tightly and succinctly. It’s served as an indictment of America’s two-party political system and more specifically our missteps as a country over the past eight years. What makes this title transcend being an episode of C-SPAN, though is that the main political figure, Mayor Mitchell Hundred of New York, just so happens to be able to converse with and control machines.
Starting with issue 40, though, Vaughan used his own vantage to tackle a new crusade -- eviscerating the comic medium. But the small inside jabs of issue 40 actually look like a gentle taint rub compared to the anal fist rape the publishers receive in this special. More on that in a minute.
Since issue one of this series any of the problems that have plagued the “city that never sleeps” could be easily extrapolated to our over-arching national woes. Crime, education and free speech have all been fodder for Mayor Hundred’s truly non-partisan approach to politics. This very special SPECIAL should make Al gore beam with pride, as Mayor Hundred takes bold steps to reduce NY’s carbon footprint by taking a page from the past on harnessing natural energy.
In traditional Hundred (Vaughan) fashion, he offers the smart approach to this dilemma by proposing to build massive windmills atop New York City skyscrapers. Naturally the naysayers crawl out of the woodwork claiming everything from inefficiency to the blight these propellers of efficiency would place on the gleaming New York City skyline. Even though by the end of the piece Hundred is left second guessing his plan, I have always applauded Vaughan’s choice to base Hundred’s political views by cherry picking the most admirable tenants of both the Republicans and the Democrats.
I’m sure the uninitiated are thinking, “Uhmm, Douche, this still sounds like an episode of Anderson Cooper 360--where are the damn super heroes?” Like past issues the super hero element of the book is told through flashbacks as Hundred places his job as mayor into the context of his days stopping crime. This delicate approach to the super hero elements of EX MACHINA has always been one of its greatest strengths in my opinion. Like past issues, a villain crops up that was affected by Hundred during his days as the jet-pack toting less than super hero, The Great Machine. This time around we are treated to a man that claims he can communicate with plants since imbibing some of Hundred’s blood, and the plants he talks to are thirsting for murder--almost like the plot of the last M. Knight Shamalamadingdong movie, except this made more sense and had better acting.
Leon does a fantastic job of keeping in step with regular artist Harris’ gritty real world tonality without outright ripping it off. Of particular note is when a greedy magazine publisher gets his comeuppance with a pair of hedge clippers through the eyeball. Sometimes gore is better left in a representational state rather than saturated in red and bleeding off the page.
Now, that’s my feelings on the book. Another fantastic chapter in a series that will be gone far too shortly assuming production schedules stay on track. Now, for that whole indictment of comic books I mentioned earlier:
During the “getting green” moments of this book a conversation arises about moving comic books to eco-friendly, organic, recycled, whatever you want to call it paper, and moving away from the high gloss card stock of recent years. I think a move like this would single handedly put the final nail in the coffin of the comic industry and I pray it never transcends fiction. I don’t know a comic collector alive that would pay more for a book (which we would if organic paper is like anything else organic) that was printed on the equivalent of toilet paper. I’ll agree things need to change within the comic industry, but I would start with editor blogs that they actually write, monitor, and respond to in an effort to get back in touch with the fan base. Once they finally get back to their readership of yore, then they can look at siphoning more greenbacks from our wallet while saving the earth.
I know this was merely a fictional conversation between fictional characters in a fictional world. But I can site many times when fiction has become reality. Please for the love of God and comics leave this idea on high-gloss, card stock paper for the here and now.

ASPEN SHOWCASE: EMBER #1

Written by: David Schwartz Art by: Randy Green & Beth Sotelo Published by: Aspen Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

I have not read any sort of Aspen comic since FATHOM was published way back by Top Cow. That's not to say I didn't enjoy FATHOM - I LOVED the comic. I just never made that jump when Aspen broke off on their own.
So what would make me pick up ASPEN SHOWCASE: EMBER #1? It's not only a book that looks into the past of one of the universe's characters but it's a character I've even seen before. Usually this would be a 'quick skip' during my comic book buying Wednesdays except something is different this time. What's different? The name David Schwartz is on this cover. If you missed Schwartz's book MELTDOWN that he did last year you missed one of the best comic books that came out in the last ten years. MELTDOWN was so phenomenal that I'll read anything Schwartz writes which leads me right to the ASPEN SHOWCASE.
The book is a simple tale about a woman finding her son writing on the walls of her home and when he lies about it she sits him down to tell him why it's bad to lie. Usually parents will come up with some B.S. story and this one seems no different. To prove to her son why it's bad to lie she tells him so tale about a woman named Ember in politics on some other planet. What is she trying to do? Bore the kid to death?
But this is no simple tale of politics as we meet the beautiful woman who is trying hard to win an election against two stronger opponents. She is better than them but knows she won't be able to beat them until she decides to do whatever it takes to win. Does that include dismay, panic, lies, and murder? But of course it does!
The story hits close to home for the woman and the kid realizes that his lies could someday come back to haunt him. I'm not saying that the moral of the story is 'Don't lie or else you'll murder somebody' but the tyke does learn his lesson and brings us a little backstory on Ember.
Does the story kick ass? Absolutely. Should David Schwartz be writing more superhero books? Without a doubt. Having Schwartz aboard an Aspen book should be just as much a dream for their editors as it is for comic book fans. ASPEN SHOWCASE: EMBER is an amazing book from start to finish full of power, intrigue, and actual depth thanks to Schwartz. Onboard to bring this story to life is Randy Green, who helps bring the worlds of Earth and Perspecta to stunning life.

Schwartz has sold me with one book on the Aspen line and I look forward to picking up more of their books so I can submerge myself back into great storylines like that of EMBER or FATHOM. You'll be hooked just like me should you pick up this bad-boy.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS VOL 16: OSCAR WILDE

Adapted by: Alex Burrows, Antonella Caputo, Rich Rainey, Tom Pomplun Illustrated by: Lisa K. Weber, Nick Miller, Stan Shaw, Molly Kiely Published by: Graphics Classics/Eureka Productions Reviewed by: BottleImp

Adapting a story from a written medium to a largely visual medium can be difficult—there’s the question of how much of the original text needs to remain intact (especially when it comes to descriptive passages) when the story can largely be conveyed through the images. In adapting books to comic books, there have been a lot of hits and misses through the years. On the plus side, we have EC Comics’ Ray Bradbury stories from the 1950s and P. Craig Russell’s work adapting everything from Edgar Allan Poe to Mozart opera. On the minus side, we have the well-intentioned but horribly-executed CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comics (also from the ‘50s). And now we have the GRAPHIC CLASSICS library, which includes work adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson, Poe, O. Henry and more. This latest volume features the stories of Oscar Wilde… how well is the witty gentleman’s work represented within? Here’s my opinion.
First up is the classic “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde’s take on the age-old story of the selling of one’s soul. The titular Gray remains youthful as he sinks further and further into depravity, while his portrait becomes more twisted and shriveled with each evil deed. Burrows and Weber make an excellent job of adapting Wilde’s prose here; the story remains intact through limited the use of the text and allowing the visuals to describe the action. Though I’m not a fan of Weber’s drawings (the cartoony, pseudo-manga style character designs have a definite “high school sketchbook” feel, and the gray washes of tone tend to look smudgy), the craft in staging the story is very good. There’s a nice sense of pacing and timing in the page designs that nicely complements the truncated text.
Next we have the best adaptation in this volume, “The Canterville Ghost,” a comical look at how the phantom of a proper Olde English Manor is stymied by a practical American family. Wilde’s satirical humor is at its best here, and Caputo has wisely left the bulk of the text intact, with Miller’s art providing the perfect supplement. Miller’s drawings are equal parts MAD Magazine (with especially healthy nods to Jack Davis and the late Bill Elder) and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN artist Kevin O’Neill. Great character designs superbly rendered in pen and ink hatchings married with Wilde’s hilarious tale—like I said, this story is definitely the highlight of this anthology.
“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” explores what happens when a man tries to escape his (supposed) fate. It’s a story that would fit nicely in an old EC suspense comic or alongside a collection of O. Henry tales. This moody thriller is well matched with Stan Shaw’s quirky, almost-expressionist art.
The last story in this volume is Wilde’s “Salomé,” and I’m sorry to say that it’s the one sour note in the whole anthology. Kiely’s art is flat and fairly bland, and the adaptation of the text by Pomplun reads more clunky than poetic. This is a case where a less rigorous adherence to the original material might have resulted in a more interesting comic, or maybe it’s just that the style of the artwork jars with Wilde’s more formal language. In any case, this last segment did nothing for me.
But that’s the risk you run with the anthology format, I guess—you’re bound to run into a story or two that won’t be your piece of cake. In any case, three out of four ain’t bad, especially at the relatively low price of twelve bucks for 140 pages of material. If you enjoy a helping of classic literature alongside your standard superhero fare, give the GRAPHIC CLASSICS collections a try.

A Double Shot at R.E.B.E.L.S. #2

Written by: Tony Bedard Art by: Andy Clarke & Jose Villlarrubia Published by: DC Comics Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland & Ambush Bug

RYAN: Jim Shooter is still kicking butt with Legion and Tony Bedard looks to bring more incredible space action to life with this second issue of R.E.B.E.L.S. It’s the return of Vril Dox, who has just barely escaped from a bunch of ugly alien types thanks to one Kara Zor-El AKA Supergirl. Sorry to say that barely escaped means these bad boys are right on their trail. But if you are expecting a team-up with Dox and Supergirl to beat the crap out of their would-be dispatchers you are in for a big surprise that no one could possibly guess. That’s because Bedard continues his long streak of writing the best space comics ever put down in the medium. Watching Vox try to rebuild his new R.E.B.E.L.S. team is just half the fun, as you never know what Vox is truly capable of – making him just as bad as some of the bad guys flying around. Which is good because being so bad makes for some very good comic reading indeed.
BUG: Went to hell and back to track down the second issue of this series. Seems it suffers from the second issue slump sales-wise. Too bad, because the story just got better with every page. I was expecting the group of mercs who were following Vril Dox throughout the first issue would end up becoming the new Legion team for the modern age. But it looks like I was wrong. Again, I thought that the Omega Men who showed up last issue would factor in. And Supergirl too. Wrong on both counts. And I love it. Not knowing what the hell direction this is going is a true treat, and seeing the teammates Dox has chosen for his team of ass kickers makes me smile. With only two members of the team secured, you better believe that I’ll be back for another issue to see who else is on the roster. R.E.B.E.L.S. appears to be a sleeper and those who have the brains to pick this issue up now will save themselves the trouble of scampering about after those hard to find issues when word gets out how cool Tony Bedard and Andy Clarke’s new Legion title really is.

MANGA SPOTLIGHT: SAYONARA, ZETSUBOU-SENSEI: THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING

By Koji Kumeta Released by Del Ray Reviewer: Scott Green

I'll willingly admit that I'm a sucker for an irreverently critical, absurdist comedy. It's this bad: because I never watch TV, I don't bother to subscribe to cable, yet I've made sure that the comedy critique of TV programming THE SOUP is scheduled to record on my parents' Tivo so I can watch it when I stop by their place. Given these inclinations, it's been years since I've read a manga comedy that I've latched onto as forcefully as I have to SAYONARA, ZETSUBOU-SENSEI. The last one that comes to mind is Usamaru Furuya's SHORT CUTS. Like that collection of strips, SZS is a decidedly prickly affair.
Even if we're forced to watch a precarious downward spiral unravel in the day to day news, there's pleasure to be had in vicariously following the sharply written gallows humor of a terminal trajectory. In this case, I get the impression that SZS is kicking dirt into the open grave of situation comedies written by anime/manga fans for anime/manga fans. On the surface, SAYONARA, ZETSUBOU-SENSEI mirthfully shoots down the despair of its titular, suicidal teacher. Yet, even if we're laughing off that teacher's zany rants, reading the manga still feels like staring into the abyss. It's a smarter and more self aware trump for a type of story of which fans of these media should be familiar. As such, the series might as well be regarded as the literate, wickedly funny closing argument to a certain approach to anime and manga.
One day, on the way to class, pathologically optimistic school girl Kafuka Fuura (this is a pen name that phonetically suggests "Franz Kafka") sees something strange blowing from a blossoming cherry tree. The feet floating in the air turn out to be connected to a man in traditional kimono in the process of hanging himself. She instantly grabs the appendages to help the stranger. Her weight strangles him, but also snaps the rope. Despite his intentions, the man's first reaction is shock that the girl almost killed him. "What if I had died?!" Once the man is able to suppress his instinctual grasp on life, he's able to assume his defining pessimism.
This man is revealed to be Nozomu Itoshiki. Write the name horizontally, and the characters look an awful lot like you're spelling out zetsubo ("despair") in Japanese. Like Kafuka, we soon learn that Itoshiki-sensei is to be the home room teacher for Kafuka and a classroom full of other extreme cases, such as the obsessively formal Chiri Kitsu, incorrigible stalker Matoi Tsunetsuki, bandaged up presumed domestic violence victim Abiru Kobushi (the manga's names are all puns, and this one's the especially fun "to bathe in fists"). There are male students in the class, but as in the beloved Azumanga Daioh, the guys are largely just wallpaper.
Between Kafuka, Itoshiki and the rest of the girls, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei erects a funhouse of distorted world views. This goes beyond well defined personality traits or characters who think bit different. It's a host of people who are potentially pathological in their insistence on applying their warped perceptions to their daily routines. Part of the edge to this joke is that it reflects the point at which the multitude of school based anime/manga comedies has arrived. Instead of reflecting recognizable personality types from real experience, these stories have populated themselves with character types that are recognizable from other stories in the genre. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei revels in this echo chamber. For example, the degree to which EVANGELION character Rei Ayanami's bandages have become emblematic might be a bit disconcerting, but SZS has no problem gleefully appropriating the familiar markings of severe bodily harm for Abiru Kobushi.
You could call the meta gag in this comedy of oddly shaped perceptions "people watching for people who don't watch people." Appropriate to this shut in, media informed view of humanity, a favorite example of SZS's sense of humor is the manga's third story, "Beyond the Tunnel Was Whiteness."
This is going to sound a bit obscure and reference heavy, but the comedy broadcasts the points loud enough that the cultural end notes are only needed to confirm your assumptions. In other words, bear with me. The joke is funny even if it does work with a lot of examinations. To preface it, "hikikomori" is a term for people who have engaged in "acute social withdrawal." Putting aside sociological refinement, the idea refers to a social drop out who has given up on school or work, and instead confines themselves to their parents' house or apartment. Hikikomori have been a target for commentary and pop culture for most of the decade - the lead in ROZEN MAIDEN, the manga that is reputed to be a favorite of Prime Minister Taro Aso is one of a number of anime/manga with hikikomori protagonists.
"Beyond the Tunnel Was Whiteness" opens with school counselor Chie Arai (supposedly, you can mangle the name to read "Niichie," as in Friedrich Nietzsche) sending off Itoshiki to retrieve truant student Kiri Komori. Arriving at her house, Itoshiki finds Kafuka loitering nearby, explaining her presence by saying she lives in the neighborhood. The pair encounters a girl screaming from behind a barricaded door and a father imploring his daughter to speak to her teacher. Itoshiki offers the deadpan, rather obvious observation "this is an extreme case of hikikomori syndrome."
The comment sets Kafuka off... "Hikikomori... There's no way there could be a hikikomori living so close to me! That's so serious, you only hear about them on TV and in the papers." Having eliminated the impossible, Sherlock deduces that the improbable truth is that Kiri Komori is in fact a zashiki-warashi, a child like house spirit that brings good fortune as long as they reside in a house, but who bring ruin upon departure. So, Itoshiki and Kafuka take it upon themselves to ensure the prosperity of the household by shuttering Kiri Komori inside...a rather traumatizing operation.
What I find funniest about this sequence has little to do with familiarity with the concept of a hikikomori or a zashiki-warashi. First, it's cartooned sight humor. The odd couple pairing of spritely Kafuka and professionally pessimistic Itoshiki is the perfect launch point. When they begin flailing about, trying to set things in what they perceive to be the proper order, the manga really hits the right notes of clever zaniness. The second bit of hilariousness is the manga's abrupt bushwhacking of the potential to relate to hikikomori as a true phenomenon. Kafuka is quick to set us straight. This manga's not about dealing with reality. It's about smirking at the fractured reflections that bounce off the wall after too much news coverage, manga and demented interpretations.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over 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 again with another handful of comics from the fringe. This week we’ve got good old horror, insightful nuggets of wisdom, a new take on classic super-heroism, and a surreal mind-scrog. Are you brave enough to shed those Big Two shackles and check out the indie goodness below?

DEATH WALKS THE STREETS #1 Fangoria Graphix

Whereas Fango comics BUMP and BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE RAGE go for a lot of the shock and gross-out aspects of horror, DEATH WALKS THE STREETS has decided to take a more subdued, “slow burn” route. The first two issues of this miniseries (#0 came out a while ago under Fango’s now defunct Scream Factory banner) allowed the reader to get to know three would be crooks hoping to move up in the criminal underworld. They’ve got the skills to go far and a pretty good plan, but there’s something beneath the surface and just off in the periphery that oozes evil and the anticipation for the big satanic hoof to drop is palpable in this issue. Hints of demonic forces gathering are all over this issue. You just know something awful is about to happen, but writers James Zahn and Ban Brezinski don’t want to show their hand yet. I like the pace and tone of this one. Again Fango shows that they are not going for your typical horror story when it comes to their comics. The variety of their product says something about Fango’s versatility as a publisher. DEATH WALKS THE STREETS is a welcome addition to a line of comics that does printed horror right.

THE SUPREMACY #1 Hard Way Studios

This book snuck up on me. It was way better than I expected. I’ve seen so many different incarnations of super heroes over the years that I think I’ve become jaded, but this is a good book. Pulsar is a hero in an apathetic world that is so used to crime that they don’t even blink an eye when one occurs. He finds himself at the beck and call of a big bad going by the name of Creutzfeldt (with a name like that, you know he’s a bad guy). But Creutzfeldt is good at the manipulation game and has quite a few agents (both good and bad) in play here. This first issue did its job in making this reader invested in the characters, setting up an interesting situation, and delivering with some phenomenal (better than indie-usual) art. It’s the art that makes this book stand out higher than the rest. The panels by Dwayne Biddix and Rob Lansley are phenomenally vivid and intense. All in all, this is a very solid debut from Hard Way Studios.

DEAD MAN HOLIDAY #2 www.deadmanholiday.com

This is not your typical comic book experience and I love it for that. In the intro to this issue of DEAD MAN HOLIDAY, the writer/artist Colin Panetta talks about the overuse of archetypes and his dedication to not use them in this story. So far so good. This story embraces that feeling you get when you just have to look behind you/don’t want to look behind you when you are walking around in the dark. Most of the issue silently follows a goggled adventurer through a dark creepy place as he uncovers weird happenings. I know it’s vague, but that’s the way this book is. And it’s good, too. Skeletons wearing super hero costumes, walking mud-things, flying jellyfish--this book has it all. Not what you’d expect from a comic and everything you want, if you’re looking for something you’ve never seen before. That’s what DEAD MAN HOLIDAY is.

LITTLE NOTHINGS: THE PRISONER SYNDROME VOL2 OGN NBM Comics Lit

There's a lot to like and a lot to learn from the tiny observations and vast wisdom that go into each page of LITTLE NOTHINGS. Each page seems to be a standalone snippet of some kind of mundane everyday occurrence as seen through the keen eyes of an eagle-man creature. The way the main character interacts with the world shows an insightful and sensitive viewpoint. Often neurotic yet rarely off base, these pages contain humor, sincerity, and sometimes a whole lot of heart. Writer/artist Lewis Trondheim keeps things simple in color palette and structure. The consistency from one page to the next is damn good. This is one of those books you can read a page a day for a laugh, a sigh, or a moment of introspection.

DAREDEVIL #116 Marvel Comics

This comic is chugging along at such a high caliber it’s hard to give it a review that doesn’t contiain the words “just buy it already.” Sure, I can go on and on about Brubaker taking DD to new heights, getting both the in-costume action and out-of-costume action near pitch-perfect. But I don’t feel like repeating myself one month after the next (too late--looks like I just did). This issue is great. It is. It brings Kingpin back into the mix. But the themes of this issue were clichéd. It’s the old “I tried to get out, but they pulled me back in!” line at play here. A necessary issue, but one that lacks the power of those before and hopefully those to come. With Fisk re-baddened and ready to bust a few Hand heads, Bru has a whole lot to play with after this issue. The phenomenal art by Aja and Bru’s excellent dialog make this one of the better “mobster tries to go straight, but can’t” stories, but it was hard not knowing how this one was going to turn out as I was reading it. A very good but predictable issue. - Bug

YOUNGBLOOD #8 Image Comics

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check out this website. Then look at Liefeld’s back-up feature in this issue of YOUNGBLOOD. Dear god, more than 15 years since X-FORCE and the man STILL has no clue how the human body works. (from the “next issue” space) “IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF YOUNGBLOOD: ROB LIEFELD RETURNS!”
We’ve been warned. –Imp

THE GOON #32 Dark Horse Comics

It looks as if, after a somewhat convoluted multi-issue arc, this 10th anniversary issue seems to be going back to basics, with the Goon as surly as ever, Frankie as inappropriate, and the Zombie Priest re-cementing himself as the Goon’s arch-fiend. Creator Eric Powell’s art has never been better and it was nice to see the evolution of the Goon Sketchbook represented in this issue. I can’t believe we’ve had 10 poop-tossing, monster-smashing, taboo-breaking years of THE GOON. Here’s hoping we have many, many more. - Bug

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAVIOR 28 #1 IDW Publishing

With WATCHMEN and all its children (legitimate or no), we’ve gotten a pretty full range of “what if superheroes really existed?” stories. But there’s always room for one more, right? Though so far SAVIOR 28 doesn’t seem to offer anything particularly new to say on the subject, this first issue nonetheless is an enjoyable read. J.M. DeMatteis knows how to hook the reader’s attention with a good mix of backstory, plot, and character development (with a little bit of gentle poking at comic book conventions, especially in regard to Savior 28’s supposed origin[s]), and Mike Cavallaro provides eye-pleasing visuals with a style that’s Kirby filtered thru Allred. Like I said, nothing innovative, but entertaining—and that’s good enough for me to see what happens next month. –Imp

THE WALKING DEAD #59 Image Comics

For those of you complaining about the lack of zombie action in this book, Kirkman delivers zombie action in spades in this issue. I was blown away by some of the events depicted in this book, and the intensity of the action made me reel back in my chair as I read this one. You absolutely cannot read this issue and not have some kind of kinetic reaction to it. The action in this issue would make a nun stand up and scream, “GOD DAY-AM!!!” That’s all I can say. That’s all I want to say. If you are reading this book, you know what I mean. If you’re not, well, shame on you. - Bug

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G


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