GI JOE: COBRA #1
Writers: Mike Costa & Christos N. Gage Art: Antonio Fuso Publisher: IDW Publishing Reviewer: Ambush BugWhen I heard about IDW’s relaunch of GI JOE, I was both excited and leery. I was glad to see the talent IDW wrangled to tackle these books. The trifecta of writing action gurus Dixon, Hama, and Gage are a pretty formidable team. I’ve been impressed with Dixon’s main title, even though it is bit of a slow burner, and Hama’s GI JOE: ORIGINS looks to be a fun look at the original team and how they came together. But when I saw a third title in the works, with the title GI JOE: COBRA, I was thinking that IDW was teetering on the edge of over-exposing the property much like they have done with their TRANSFORMERS license and the ga-billion titles they have out there with the robots in disguise.
But I read the book and found it to be the absolute best of the bunch. Mike Castro and Christos Gage have taken the expansive GI JOE universe and put a microscope on one little corner of it and the results are fantastic. By focusing on one Joe operative, undercover con man Chuckles, the book offers a “Yo, Joe!” experience like no other.
I’ve written before about the GI JOE battles I created with my toys as a youth. I’ve also written about my deep hatred for the Chuckles figure and how the Hawiian shirted pretty boy was often used a as a hostage for more bad@$$ed Joes like Beachhead or Snake-Eyes to rescue. I’d wrap a rubber band around Chuckles’ arms and have Firefly and Storm Shadow put the douchebag operative under copious amounts of torture. They’d scream threats that usually ended with “you and that stupid shirt…” and I believe I had the evil Cobra forces enact waterboard torture long before I knew of the term. No one hated Chuckles more than me.
Imagine my surprise when I found this issue that focused solely on Chuckles to be the best GI JOE comic I’ve read in years. Castro and Gage make Chuckles a likable hero--one who is flawed only in the sense that he isn’t a military man. Chuckles is a con man. Even though he may piss off hard nosed soldiers like General Hawk, the crusty general does have a use for him, and deep undercover Chuckles goes.
This is as much a detective noir story as it is a GI JOE book. It’s more sophisticated than the other titles, and as you’d expect the ideology of black and white often merge into shades of grey here. The closest thing I can compare this book to is Ed Brubaker’s SLEEPER, which dealt with the same themes in the super hero world. Here, we get a seedy noir story set in the GI JOE universe and it’s exactly the type of story that isn’t what you’d expect from a GI JOE story and exactly what is needed to reinvigorate the franchise. In the 80’s, Larry Hama created an expansive world filled with fantastic villains and tough as nails grunts combating them. It’s about time someone explored some of the other areas of that world.
The deliciously noir-ish scratchings of Antonio Fuso seal the deal. This is my favorite comic to come along in some time and by far my favorite of the new GI JOE comics. I’m officially shelving my Chuckles prejudice for this one. Gage and Castro have made one of my least favorite toys as a child into one of the coolest reads on the shelves. I loved this book and can’t wait to see what kind of trouble Chuckles can get into within the COBRA ranks.
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.
SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #21 (SPECIAL EDITION REPRINT)
Writer: Alan Moore Artist: Stephen Bissette, John Totleben Inker: Stephen Bissette, John Totleben Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: WilliamI love love love what DC is doing with these special edition titles. Basically they’re reprinting important issues of past/current comics, and titling them under the “After Watchmen…What’s Next?” banner. In this manner they get to reintroduce some nice comics to a whole new generation, I get to read some comics that otherwise would’ve been missed, and they’re only $1 each. I give great kudos to DC for this genius marketing move, especially during a time when many comic book fans are pinching pennies everywhere, and hopefully other comic book publishers out there (I’m looking at you Marvel) follow this trend.
In any case it was due to this genius move that I came across this title. I picked it up because SWAMP THING had been a title I think I had only read once in my life, and because the name “ALAN MOORE” was so prominently displayed in 32 font on the cover. So I thought to myself why not, let’s see if this can be as good as the name Alan Moore promises.
So as I was reading this the other day it slowly dawned on me that I had read this issue before. Like reliving a flashback, I slowly began recalling various images seen in the pages. It finally hit me that this reprint was the very SWAMP THING issue that I had read years ago as a kid in junior high (it was printed within some DC “Best Of” book that I had one day found at my public library). With that neat little information now affirmed in my mind, it was time to see how well this issue had aged between all of these years.
And I must say that I’m still impressed by what I read. I remember thinking back then that this issue was so “talkie”, i.e. my young mind had wanted more action pages rather than pages filled with 30 balloons of dialogue. (Maybe that’s why that remained the only SWAMP THING issue I had read at the time). Reading it now, though, I get to fully understand how brilliantly Alan Moore’s expert exposition was presented here. You have your basic mystery announcing itself within the first few pages; you have some interesting flashbacks showcasing Dr. Jason Woodrue (i.e. the Floronic Man) dissecting a seemingly dead Swamp Thing in order to unravel how a monstrosity could’ve existed; and you have the final payoff nicely ending this wonderfully wrapped up story. There’s something to be said about the days when a comic book contained a great solo story within just 22 pages, something that is missed within today’s 50+ multi-issue events. The artwork by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben only adds to the fine quality of this issue too. I take it that the SWAMP THING title at that time was considered much more adult-oriented than its superhero counterparts, and the artwork greatly reflects this theme. Everyone here is drawn in a “real” and ugly manner, i.e. they’re definitely not portrayed in the clean method that other superhero titles were. “Let the art highlighting the rotten features of these characters reflect the environment this issue prevails in” is the motto the art tries to go for here, and it definitely works.
All in all I found this to be a great read, and if you haven’t given it a chance then I highly recommend it next time you’re at your comic book shop. Also it’s worth mentioning again that hopefully other publishers like Marvel mimic DC’s genius reprinting of these titles. I can only imagine how nice it would be to read the starter issue for the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” storyline for a $1 in my comic book aisle, or “Days of Future Past” or “ The Infinity Gauntlet” or “Secret Wars” and so on to name a few.
E-MAN: CURSE OF THE IDOL
Writer: Nick Cuti, Joe Staton & Randy Buccini Artist: Joe Staton Publisher: Digital Webbing Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerBack in 2006, my review for E-MAN: RECHARGED began like this: “Like a comfortable old pair of shoes, E-Man returns to the comics stands - albeit only for a one-shot. But beggars can't be choosers.”
I was tempted to start this review exactly the same, so I did. E-MAN: CURSE OF THE IDOL has actually been out for a few weeks, but life has continued to get in the way of my recommendation to the world of comic fans to pick up a copy or order one from the publisher.
E-MAN is one of those little gems from the 70s that kind of just disappeared because of the spotty distribution and crappy printing of the time. But yet, he always seems to pop up when I least expect him to. And once again, this one-shot showed up and took me by surprise. In honor of 35 years of E-Man, this comic includes a nice introduction by TwoMorrows' Michael Eury and an excellent interview/bio with the criminally underrated artist/co-creator Joe Staton.
Nick Cuti (along with Staton and Randy Buccini) have once again crafted a stand-alone comic book that could be a textbook on how to pace and unfold a mystery. It's a very densely packed comic such that I didn't even realize (or miss) that E-Man never appears in costume until near the end of the story. There is a specific tone for E-Man comics that is a unique combination of Cuti's writing and Staton's artwork and they honestly never miss a beat. This feels as fresh as the original 70s stories. In fact, the way they handle the continuity of 35 years is perfect. Everyone is exactly as they should be, they just dress more modern and have modern technology. But the concept of E-Man as an energy being taking physical form still works perfectly.
The tone is not near as slapsticky as, say, most of the E-Man series published by FIRST Comics in the 80s. This is a serious story that deals with the ancient Incan culture but also an intrusion into our plane of existence by Cthulhu-like creatures from the “dark” universe that infuses the dark energy that pervades our universe. Heady stuff, but it is treated with a light enough touch that it never feels heavy. E-Man (Alec Tronn), Nova, and Mickey Mauser are all fully involved and the character development is strong. The strongest aspect of the story for me was the relationship between Alec and Nova and the degree of trust Alec has in her and the inner struggle Nova goes through in keeping secrets from Alec. That could've been a one-note soap opera gimmick, but it felt real and right and functioned as more than just a perfunctory character moment but was essential to the development of the plot. Again, my hats off to the writing for this ability to craft a complete and solid story within the covers of this comic.
Before I wrap this up, I have to give credit to Joe Staton for not allowing himself to be a static and unchanging artist. His ability to design panels in creative ways and cram a lot of visual information into each and every page is impressive. He is one of our best working cartoonists and while I do occasionally enjoy his work on SCOOBY DOO (definitely the best artist that comic has ever had), I ache to see him do something like E-Man on a regular basis. We have reached this point where it almost seems like to be successful as a comic artist, you have to have an obsessive need for realism or bug-eyed manga expressiveness. It would be nice to see more artists with cartoony styles like Staton get more work from the Big Two. Sure, there's Darwyn Cooke and even the unparalleled Amanda Connor working out there but not many more.
I was and am an E-MAN fan and I am happy, once again, to highly recommend that fans of comics track down a copy of this story and read it many times like I have.
Prof. Challenger is illustrator and "Renaissance Man" Keith Howell who is married with two kids, a dog and a cat. Headquartered in the Republic of Texas, he has a glorious ability to annoy people, the strength of ten men, and sometimes updates his website at profchallenger.com.
DARK AVENGERS #3
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Mike Deodato Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: steverodgersI have finally fallen under the spell of Brian Michael Bendis. I gave up on NEW AVENGERS soon after it started—the pacing felt awkward, the team felt wrong (I still don’t see Spider-Man joining up…and Wolverine? Please) and I didn’t buy into the way he was writing the characters. The book is selling like pot in a freshman dorm, however, so there are people out there who think it’s great, and good for them. Fortunately for me I am a guy who loves crossovers—love them: throw some heroes together, make them face impossible odds, get their asses kicked, regroup and then come out on top with some wild battle in space or whatever, and I am completely on board. Not wanting to miss out on another one (I didn’t buy SECRET INVASION--more Bendis Avengers), I decided to give Bendis another shot. I picked up DARK AVENGERS, and I am loving every madcap panel.
I ‘m seeing what folks are saying--that Bendis writes great dialogue; however, I just needed to see it being spouted by characters I don’t give a crap about. I don’t care what they sound like or act like, because they’re blank slates to me—I can just enjoy the way Bendis writes them without years of vested time and interest getting in the way. It’s refreshing. Instead of gnashing my teeth if everyone sounds similar, or says something that I think is out of character, I have Ares, Bullseye, Sentry, Marvel Boy, Moonstone, Wolverine’s goofy son in Wolvie’s kick ass old duds (I decided that “Daken” must be Madriporian for “needless comic book character”), and Norman Osborn with his splendid Ditko hair. They might as well be the Wolfpack or Kickers Inc.
The great joy of this book to me is the pure lunacy of the characters. For a comic called DARK AVENGERS, it’s awfully funny. Norman is flying around over Latveria as Iron Patriot in Iron Man’s armor painted like a flag, carrying Doctor Doom like Thomas Magnum teaching some beach babe how to swim. Bullseye is careening around in Hawkeye’s costume firing arrows into anyone in his path (in this issue he pegs Morgan Le Fey with like a dozen arrows and Norman shouts “Ten gold stars!”) and Venom is chomping on people and being a total nutjob. It’s splendid. Norman is just a pleasure to follow; his happy-go-lucky, flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, just-thrilled-to-be-here nuttiness is infectious. He’s so positive! I like Norman so much that even the nine-page (NINE PAGES) of dialogue between him and Sentry, which normally would have made me throw down the book and start mumbling like an old man about the way comics used to be, was totally enjoyable. He convinces Sentry that the Void isn’t real, he just needs some new meds and to eat some burgers. Problem solved! (Who needs Doc Sampson’s bullshit with advice like that?)
This issue has the Dark Avengers dealing with a pissed off Morgan Le Fey and her minions out to kill Dr. Doom, and the Dark Avengers can’t seem to kill her because she keeps coming back through some magical time-traveling each time they off her. The art by Deodato is fine with me; everyone poses mightily which fits the overall ridiculousness of the characters and Ms. Marvel (Moonstone) is absolutely fetching in her 1970’s costume. If you’re like me and gave up on Bendis, I invite you to give him one more try, and if you already think he is the cat’s meow, then jump on board and join the goofy fun.
BEYOND WONDERLAND #6
Written by: Raven Gregory Art by: Dan Leister Published by: Zenescope Entertainment Reviewed by: Ryan McLellandBEYOND WONDERLAND just continues to get better and better with each passing issue. Though the miniseries wraps with this very issue the story will continue with the final series in the trilogy shortly. But who cares about that since it is a ways off? I do, for one, because this issue ends in a killer cliffhanger like most good middle sequels should.
BEYOND WONDERLAND is full of tricks, surprises, and payoffs as any great homage to a classic fairytale should. The story remains beyond dark for the very pregnant Calie who has her hands VERY full has to deal with the Mad Hatter and the minions of Wonderland invading her life in New York City. For those unfamiliar with this series, these aren’t your Disney Wonderland creatures. Vicious, evil, and with their own sinister motives, Mad Hatter battles for his own twisted reasons while Calie fights for her life--not fun at all for a woman who is about to begin her contractions.
Raven Gregory has continued to step up his game with each subsequent issue of this series, making it one of my favorite must-read books from Zenescope. Gregory has mastered his characters and gracefully brings on the horror from panel to panel. He’s joined by Dan Leister’s phenomenal artwork – a man quite adept at making good girl art look positively amazing. There’s not many times you see a super hot pregnant lady in comic books, but Leister accomplishes this with ease.
As BEYOND WONDERLAND comes to a close and the cliffhanger boggles my mind, now is the time to run out and snag all of this great series before the next mini comes out to conclude this Wonderland trilogy. I’ve honestly never had more fun reading the classics being slain and you’ll never quite look at the Cheshire Cat the same again.
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.
STAR TREK: COUNTDOWN #3
Story: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman Writers: Tim Jones & Mike Johnson Art: David Messina Publisher: IDW Publishing Reviewer: Optimous DoucheIf J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK movie this May is the minty fresh take on Roddenberry’s brain child, then this four issue lead-in to the film is quite simply a final swan song to the universe that was. However, with the exception of Spock, this is not a series for those who love Tribbles over Q, or spanked one out to Uhura’s short skirt over Counselor Troy’s. This is a series for anyone whose soul ached over the fact the craptacular STAR TREK: NEMESIS was the rusty nail used in sealing the coffin of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
Spoilers ahoy, celestial travelers: you have been warned.
For the better part of two years we’ve been seeing leaked production shots, insider previews provided to Harry by J.J. himself, and a cavalcade of toys that would put George Lucas to shame. These little morsels of spoiler goodness have certainly whetted my appetite for the new Trek, especially in light of the fact we are experiencing one of the greatest Sci-Fi (or ScyFy®™ if you’re a branding whore) droughts in two decades (keep in mind I write this two days after the lackluster finale of BSG).
So, you can imagine how downtrodden my soul felt when the first issue of this movie prequel set the stage for territory we have traversed many times before in STAR TREK. The Romulan Empire’s sun is about to go nova and decimate their entire galaxy leaving them to question their isolationist ways. While the stakes are greater, a true Trek fan might find this set-up eerily similar thematically to STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY when the Klingon moon Praxis went kaboom and they were left relying on the good nature of their sworn enemy the Federation.
After thinking about things, though, this is STAR TREK. Danger will always come from a celestial body or be spurred by some cosmic force. Then I realized that the true beauty of STAR TREK has never been the macro story, but the characters and moments that are interlaced throughout the greater danger. Well, page for page and moment for moment the three issues of this series thus far have given me fangasms not felt since the first airing of the final “Next Generation” episode, “All Good Things.” (Please consult a STAR TREK fan if you don’t understand how high this praise is).
Despite this being a final swan song for the old Trek verse rife with guest appearances from Spock (no surprise there), Captain Data of the Enterprise (surprise for anyone who thought he was still as smart as a frakkin toaster) and Ambassador Picard, this series’ true focus is the genesis of the greatest villain in my opinion since Kahn – Eric Bana’s Nero.
Like Kahn, Nero has a rich back story, which in my opinion always makes for the best villains. Nero starts the story as a Romulan miner who makes the discovery about the finite nature of the Romulan star. Realizing that time is of the essence, he tries to reason with the xenophobic high council to enlist the help of their pointy eared nerdy cousins the Vulcans to abate this disaster. After much debate and a plea from Ambassador Spock, the council agrees -- begrudgingly. And this sparks the beginning of the end. The Romulan home world is not saved; Nero is driven mad with grief and given Borg technology to enhance his ship to exact his vengeance. Some of the best moments of issue 3 center around Nero’s grief and how he acquires his Borg enhancements via a shadow government installation established by the Romulans in the event of Armageddon.
I’ve given away enough at this point; just know that one more guest appearance occurs (I won’t say who exactly, “but take a look it’s in a book”), when it is discovered that the dying star emits an anomaly that threatens not only Romulan, but also the entire Alpha quadrant.
Before I officially close things out, I want to throw some love towards Messina’s pencils. Very often when trying to bring TV characters to the funny pages the result goes one of two ways. Either the rendering is so ethereal it could be anyone’s head form any TV series or the rendering is so photo realistic it ends up being downright creepy (think the covers of the last SERENITY book). Messina strikes that precarious balance masterfully between being able to recognize each beloved character without it looking like a cropped in Photoshop job.
As I’ve stated before, this book is clearly for the fans by providing what in essence is unnecessary back-story for the upcoming movie. I have full faith that the next issue will bleed into the opening sequences of the upcoming film and that anyone who might have missed this book will do just fine following along when the lights dim.
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."
Writer: Robert Kirkman Penciler: Ryan Ottley Inker: Cliff Rathburn Colorist: FCO Plascencia Published by: Image Comics Reviewer: BottleImpFor the most part, I think that we comic book readers tend to gravitate towards the new. I don’t think I’m out of line by assuming that most of us prefer the levels of writing, art, and overall storytelling found in the books published today versus the comics of the 1960s and ‘70s, let alone the Golden Age comics that started it all. In general, modern comic books (and I’m thinking from 2000 ‘til now here; let’s not dwell on the aberrations of the ‘90s) showcase a more mature grasp of the medium in both the scripts and the artwork than their predecessors. But there is one element you’ll find in those old comics that seems lacking in many of today’s books: the ability to jam-pack a hell of a lot of story into one thin stack of folded stapled paper. In the interests of showing off the art, going for a more “cinematic” feel, or just stretching a story as thin as it can be stretched, three-panel pages and double page splashes have become more and more common as the multi-panel page designs of the comics of old become more and more obsolete. It seemed like the old comic book tradition of action bursting on every page was dead and gone.
That is, until I read INVINCIBLE #60.
Kirkman gets it. And Ottley, too. They have given comic book readers a jolt to shake them out of the stupor of wading through pages and pages of talking heads month after month. There is more action and drama in the 32 pages of this issue than you’ll glean from the SEVEN WHOLE ISSUES of FINAL CRISIS! And you know what the amazing thing is? The story works. You have pages divided into nine or more panels, a huge cast fighting over multiple locations—
(Here’s the basic plot—multiple versions of Invincible have been culled from alternate dimensions and are wreaking havoc in order to discredit our dimension’s Invincible, all at the command of Invincible’s foe Angstrom Levy, and basically every superhero in the Image Comics roster is fighting the alternate Invincibles.)
—as well as jumping the reader’s viewpoint from one fight to the next, and goddammit it works! Kirkman and Ottley have crafted their story so well that it can be read, enjoyed and understood instantly—even with the multiple elements that the creative team had to juggle, they never let the story threads become confusing. And not only is this super-brawl easily comprehended, it is also compelling.
I started out reading old Batman and Spider-Man comics before I gravitated towards Marvel in a big way. After a while, my tastes shifted in DC’s direction, and they’ve pretty much stayed that way (although lately there’s been a definite shift back toward Marvel). I was never into the Image comics—that was when the worst of the ‘90s comic book bust was coming to a head—so I never gave a rat’s ass about the characters or their universe. But Kirkman and Ottley make their story so compelling that I can’t help but care about these characters I know next to nothing about. I can’t help but inwardly cheer as Pitt (that’s his name, right? The big gray thing with the chains?) rips one evil-Invincible’s head apart, or smile as another Invincible is taken down by Shadowhawk, Madman and his yo-yo. I can’t help but be moved by Rex-Plode, the hero with the stupidest name since “Strong Guy,” makes the ultimate sacrifice.
And all this for action and drama for $3.99! Suck it, Marvel (and to a slightly lesser extent, DC).
If you are a superhero comic reader and you still haven’t tried INVINCIBLE, smack yourself in the forehead and go read it. You don’t want to miss out on one of the best written, best drawn, best colored (can’t overlook Plascencia’s amazing color palette) superhero books published today—old-school action for the modern set.
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 athere. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.