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AICN COMICS REVIEWS: AVENGERS: X-SANCTION! HELLRAISER! BATWOMAN! Plus another AICN COMICS PODCAST!

Issue #39 Release Date: 12/14/11 Vol.#10
The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Advance Review: THE LAST BATTLE #1 One-Shot
AVENGERS: X-SANCTION #1
BATWOMAN #4
HELLRAISER #8
UNCANNY X-FORCE #18
ELDRITCH! #4
CARNAGE U.S.A. #1
CHARLEY’S WAR VOL. 8: HITLER’S YOUTH
DEMON KNIGHTS #4
’68 JUNGLE JIM #1 One-shot
THE GUILD: ZABOO #1
AICN COMICS PODCAST #8!


Advance Review: In stores today!

LAST BATTLE #1 One-Shot

Writer: Tito Faraci
Art: Dan Brereton
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: MajinFu


This is going to be another one of those gushing reviews so if you’re looking for the long and short of it I’ll put it this way: if you liked the first ten minutes of the movie Gladiator, you will love this comic. It’s the classic story of the rejected few against the established many; one you almost always know will not end well for the protagonists. It is deliberately paced quite slowly, with a narrative framing device that works well to enhance the eventual drama near the end of the story, a technique that both enhances the non-political message of the story and teases out the promised battle.

It’s about a man named Caius Rodius, a man whose past with Caesar isn’t quite clear, and whose relations with the Gaul people has become even murkier as the years of war roll on. Once a great Roman general, he quit battle only to find upon his return to Rome that battle is all he was good for. There is a particularly effective scene in a coliseum that illustrates this superbly without using any words at all, a highlight of the book. After being approached by Caesar himself, who serves as a framing device for the story, Rodius recruits a small team of specialized killers to assist him in one last mission to end the campaign in the north by assassinating a key enemy general. As comics go, this one doesn’t let historical accuracy get in the way of the story’s kinetic power. It’s got a few twists and turns, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The strength really comes from its presentation.

Folks who read good Marvel books may recall seeing Dan Brereton’s painterly style in the likes of IMMORTAL IRON FIST and PUNISHER, back when he was a lumbering monster (Frank Castle I mean, not Brereton). His work sets an incredible mood and piles on the atmosphere so thick you’ll think you’re reading a dusty pulp novel come to life. I knew from the moment I saw his name in the credits that the book was going to look good, and indeed it does. Every page is, in a word, lush.

A lot of attention is paid to historical accuracy in the imagery as well, from the costumes of the various characters, to their living quarters. The supplemental materials in back, including dozens of sketches by Brereton illuminate just how well-researched the project had become prior to publication. You can see it in the numerous little details in the book, like the detailed hilt of a sword or the way a northern warrior weaves his hair, which really brings the comic to life.

The tragedy of the story arises from its political intrigue, as the Roman Republic gradually shifts to Julius Caesar’s empire, and the pawns have no choice but to line up in preparation for a final assault. Tito Faraci gets special recognition for introducing these characters and giving the reader a sense of familiarity with many of them, particularly Caius Rodius and his crew, before dropping the bomb that is the big finale. It’s not hard to sympathize with these characters, even as we are shown their ugliest sides in the face of war.

The previously mentioned supplemental material is excellent, giving this 80+ page story that extra punch. I have always loved seeing how artists flesh out their creative process, and seeing Brereton’s various early designs and watching them evolve is an illuminating experience for any aspiring creator. The book is expensive, nearly twice the price of most other publications on the stand, but for the quality of work, and the precision and elegance of the storytelling techniques used to tell the story, this is really quite the fair price. So swords and sandals fans take notice; this just might be your favorite comic of the year.


AVENGERS: X-SANCTION #1

Writer: Jepf Loeb
Art: Ed McGuinness
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: The Dean


Wouldn’t it be amazing if Cable pulled this off and was actually able to stop Avengers VS X-Men from happening?

I would love to tell you that Cable and Captain America slug it out for the entirety of this issue, ending with a dramatic monologue from Cable which laments a tragic future where talented writers are forced to juggle too many characters across too many series, before he kills Captain America (who doesn’t deserve it, Wolverine should probably die for that), and starts a new era in comics where writers write stories, not events. This, of course, does not happen. AVENGERS: X-SANCTION does give you a Cap/Cable brawl, but it ends promising that we’ll be quickly rolling into a new event, that will most likely drag on and force you to buy too many comics for no reason at all.

There are plenty of Loeb and Cable haters out there, but I’ve never been one of them. I really thought I was coming into this event prologue with a fresh, optimistic point of view, but what I found was that despite a mediocre issue, the “event fatigue” I suffer from (a term that’s becoming as cliché as the events themselves – we all feel it, we still buy ‘em), needed something much more potent, more drastic, which this just doesn’t provide or suggest. Loeb accomplishes little outside of providing a very fast read, and even manages to make Cap seem like an idiot in the worst kind of way– he turns his back, struggling to free his shield from a wall, on an angry, powerful mutant who’s looking to kill him. I’m all for Captain America saying stupid things (“The trouble with girls is—they all act like females!” Tales of Suspense, no. 59), but making a mistake that ANYONE fighting for their lives would probably never make is hard to overlook for Marvel’s top soldier.

On top of that, the final “BLAM!” panel had zero suspense attached to it, as there’s no way in hell Captain America is dead again, especially since he’s touted as a main character in the upcoming event. More plausible is that AVANGERS: X-SANCTION number two opens with a pulled out shot of this final scene, where Cable’s gun has a flag hanging from it with “BLAM!” printed on it, and both he and Captain America are laughing boisterously. I said that Loeb gives us a fast read, and he certainly does. This may waste your time, but at least not that much of it. What keeps this issue from being totally worthless is that I like the ideas presented. I like Cap and Cable interacting and exploring their commonalities: they’re both soldiers out of time who are most at home on the battlefield, and that’s cool. I like Cable’s desperation: Hope is really all he has outside of living one battle to the next, and seeing him struggling through his pain to prevent any harm to her is touching. Loeb is at his best when he’s pulling at your heart strings in my opinion (SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS), and there’s definitely opportunity for that here. The timeslides into the future are the story’s strengths, and help establish why Cable needs to be doing this, as well as how far he’ll go for Hope. Maybe a better layout, or more between Blaquesmith and Cable could have elevated this from “whatever” to “good,” but we don’t get it, so…whatever.

Also keeping AVENGERS: X-SANCTION from being anything great is the art of Ed McGuinness, who has always been a bit over the top for my tastes. Depending on the colorist he’s paired with he can be alright, but the vibrant colors here from Morry Hollowell only emphasize that McGuiness thinks strong people are made of shiny balloons. The art does seem consistent for the most part from beginning to end, so if you’re a McGuinness fan this might be a nice selling point for you, but if not, there’s little to sell you on his abilities beyond your current opinion of him. This really isn’t a very promising start for the upcoming AVEGNERS vs X-MEN.

With the somewhat disappointing FEAR ITSELF event having just ended, the bar needed to be raised pretty high from the get go for Marvel to prove this event, let alone ANY event is worth your time right now, and AVENGERS: X-SANCTION achieves mediocrity at best. If you love Cable and want to see him take down Captain America with relative ease, you should buy this, but that’s really the only demographic being satisfied here. The overall idea presented is an interesting one that could be a lot of fun, so there is potential for AVENGERS: X-SANCTION to turn around, but issue one alone doesn’t leave me expecting much. This may be Loeb with a great idea that he just wasn’t sure how to start, so I’ll be giving the next issue a chance, but if you haven’t already purchased it and were on the fence about it, I wouldn’t recommend you do the same.


BATWOMAN #4

Writer(s): J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
Artist: JHW3
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee


Maybe I’m a sucker for a red-headed, gothic lesbian but the character of Kate Kane I feel is one of the more underappreciated characters that DC has going right now. In one run via DETECTIVE COMICS, Greg Rucka took a character that started out really as almost nothing but a “lipstick lesbian” she was pigeonholed as post-52 into a tortured, lonely, reckless soul, with a foot in some modern political commentary to boot. That run alone should be enough for any writer to build off of when it comes to shaping the future of character, which is why I was willing to give BATWOMAN a shot even with a co-writing crew of an artist I do not recall having written before, and a writer I was not familiar with at all. That willingness has so far mostly paid off I would say now that we are four issues in, though I am not finding the entire package of plot threads going on in this book as riveting as I still do Kate herself.

There’s roughly four threads going on in the pages of Batwoman’s own book here: The main case that she is working, that of the “Weeping Woman,” a recent fallout with her “sidekick” Flamebird, the pursuit of Batwoman by the DEO, and Kate’s relationship with Gotham PD’s Maggie Sawyer. All that sounds like a lot to the point where I think maybe it really is and that maybe the overall suffers for it. More to my criticism, the Weeping Woman aspect of this story, which is basically being used to guide and setup the other three, is not terribly interesting. Hell, reading this issue, I kind of forgot it was going on and what was the point of it outside of remembering some really great JHW3 art pieces back in issue two. There’s a bigger piece revealed here that gives it some tragic notes as well but, so far (to me at least), it has seemed more like a MacGuffin than something interesting enough to drive a story.

Now, as for those other three points, those are all great for the most part. While I did not exactly see much “chemistry” going on over the first 58 pages or so in this run between Batwoman and Flamebird, the events that transpired at the end of last issue were nice and dramatic. That drama then goes full blown abject horror with this issue given the events that come tumbling down on Flamebird’s head (or more aptly, slice through her midsection) and will have many a ramification, short-term and long. The shortest of terms of it all I think may be the best thing that has happened in this series, as Cameron Chase and Mr. Bones of the DEO take a pretty morbid opportunity to pursue their agenda off of Flamebird’s misfortune. How that angle played out was some pretty messed up and devious stuff and some great writing.

The last plot point, the relationship between Kate and Maggie, has been worth it alone for how JHW3 played it out in the art of this issue via some rather sultry and passionate panels intertwined with Flamebird’s brutal outing. The contrast between these two events and what they represent between a burgeoning relationship and one that may be cut short, plus the artistic flare the use of black and white brought to the sexy-time scenes was absolutely fantastic, as have all of the art chores on this book. Let’s be real here, as I begin to wrap this up, if the tables were turned and I was 75% on the downside of this book instead of being three-quarters positive toward it, I’d still be buying because I am J.H. Williams’ bitch. What he does with a comic book page almost physically hurts me because I know I will probably never be that good at anything in my life.

So, in summation, I think BATWOMAN equals mostly good. I am not exactly down with all of the events occurring per se – and really it is just one plot thread that I’m not down with and that could still turn out to be interesting – but the main two grabs of the book, Kate and her messed up life and ungodly good art, are intact. I am also highly interested in the developing story with Chase and the DEO as I have always thought that was a corner of the DCU highly underused and can see how an organization like that could have huge ramifications on a character like this Batwoman. The two plots of the Maggie Sawyer relationship and DEO have been enough to bring this book from iffy status to me (from a writing standpoint) to very interested, and the implications of Flamebird’s predicament look pretty juicy as well. All I really ask of this title now is that the Weeping Woman story either ramp up or go away and that it continue to look gorgeous however any of this plays out. Either way, in twenty pages this book has jumped quite a few spots up my New 52 priority list and all signs are trending positive for that to continue.

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, Facebookand a blog 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.


HELLRAISER #8

Writers: Clive Barker & Chris Monifette
Art: Stephen Thompson & Janusz Ordon
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


This official continuance from where HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II seemed to leave off (any HELLRAISER film after that does not exist in this dojo) has been a treat to read. Just as BOOM’s 28 DAYS LATER series borrowed heavily from the original film and continued that story with the surviving characters in the comic, so does HELLRAISER here.

For the first eight issues of this book, we’ve followed HELLRAISER final girl Kirsty Cotton, trying to live a normal life but once again being pulled into an intricate chess game with life, death, pleasure and pain all at play here. Also reintroduced in this series is Tiffany, the mute teenage inmate of the Channard Institute with a knack for solving puzzles. Tiffany now travels around the world killing folks who seem to be on the path of solving the puzzle box before they actually do so. The third character at play in this series is Pinhead, of course, who is sick of being the high priest of Hell and wants to live as a human again. The premise and conflict here is strong, taking these characters in directions that seem like sensible evolutions of the ones we know from the films.

I had a chance to read the last four issues of HELLRAISER for this review and while the premise and conflict between the characters are solid, the pace is a bit slow here. I do love the beats achieved at the end of each issue as Kirsty inches closer toward Hell again while Pinhead seems to be pulling the noose tighter around her neck. Issue #8 brings things to an operatic level as Kirsty and Pinhead’s fates become more intertwined than ever resulting in a major change in the status quo by the end of this issue that gives an ending that is much more poetic and satisfying than even the ending of HELLBOUND.

The art here is strong as well depicting both the gritty, grimy, guttural depths of hell, as well as contrasting with scenes of sinful beauty; as any good HELLRAISER comic should. Chris Monifette is leaving HELLRAISER with this issue, but I believe the story goes on. I’ll be sticking with it since I’ve found the series to have that same flavor of sickness permeating the first two HELLRAISER films, yet missing in latter films. If you’re a fan of the series, I imagine you’d agree with me.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!








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UNCANNY X-FORCE #18

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Jerome Opena
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


UNCANNY X-FORCE has always played over the top, which is exactly how I like my black ops wet works teams. But with this latest seven-part the latest uber arc, “The Dark Angel Saga,” Remender and team have delivered the biggest, most bombastic X-Men epic for any X-title in recent memory. What struck me the hardest in this arc wasn’t the blood and mayhem we’ve come to expect from a team that counts psychos Deadpool and Fantomex amongst its members, no, it was the heart. This wasn’t just a battle against extinction, it was a battle for the team’s (dare I say) humanity. I’m an admitted dirty mutie lover…I’m also an unabashed fan of the Age of Apocalypse from which this story germinated, so keep in mind during this review that I speak from a tainted pulpit.

If you’ve had no exposure to X-FORCE (the current version – not the Cable years) this issue is not a jumping on point. Hell, even if you have had exposure to the first ten issues of this current incarnation, coming into this final issue cold would be like reading the last issue of the Dark Phoenix saga. What Remender created over the past seven issues of UNCANNY X-FORCE have redefined not only this series, but also forever changed the course of long-time players in the X-verse like Psylocke, Angel, Fantomex and Wolverine. Well all right, not so much Wolverine, but his part in this gives me a nice segue into the obligatory recap of the series to date. Spoilers ahoy, you have been warned.

For as much as I’ve always enjoyed the action in the X-titles, what keeps me coming back year-after- year, issue-after- issue, are the relationships that bind these merry mutants together. The one thing Marvel has always done right is to allow relationships to mature, evolve and ultimately stick to those consequences with very few comic contrivances to reset those decisions. So, when it was discovered that Angel was the new embodiment of Apocalypse and the only way to save him and our reality was to traverse back to the Age of Apocalypse, I knew we would be in for some true emotional turmoil as X-FORCE came face-to-face with the doppelgangers of X-men past. Remender did not disappoint. While the main drama of X-Force trying to gather the “Life Seed,” the one item that can destroy Apocalypse was enjoyable, what truly gave this inter dimensional jaunt metal-poison-tipped wings to fly was the coming home of once again seeing fallen comrades like Nightcrawler and Jean Gray alive and well. Seemingly abandoned in this universe of hell by the Dark Beast, for the first time I felt the true love Wolverine had for Jean, even if she wasn’t his Jean. Our endorphins and pheromones apparently don’t change in alternate dimensions, and that goes for the embodiment of the Phoenix Force. Watching and listening to Wolverine struggle with his animalistic side versus his rationale side were some of the finest pages in comics this year. I applaud these pages not just as a fan of the X-men, but as simply a fan of comics.

The team obviously escapes to follow Dark Beast, and again Remender didn’t fuck with past consequences when he easily could have. I was truly ready for Nightcrawler and Jean’s AoA selves to join the 616 universe. Thank you for letting fallen comrades remain that way. It was also during this return trip as Archangel continued his plans for resetting human evolution that another relationship, which had been on a slow burn, finally came to a boiling point. I’m talking about the simmering lust between Psylocke and Fantomex. Given the fact that Psylocke was able to free Archangel from his prison of becoming the next Apocalypse and he is no longer Archangel and he no longer has any memories, I have no idea whether the relationship between Psylocke and Fantomex will have legs, but it certainly gave this final issue a deliciously bloody love triangle that added to the books overall emotional resonance.

I’m being purposely elusive on some of the book’s finer points, because I truly believe this will make for a stellar trade. Hell, I’ve probably already said too much, but with writing this good, crisp and fun it’s hard to keep cloistered all of the things that made this book so damn good. If you enjoy, action, reckless killing and some good old sci-fi type story telling you should have been reading UNCANNY X-FORCE since the outset. If you are looking for an X-men tale with consequence that stands on its own as a stellar piece of work, run now to get back issues of “The Dark Angel Saga” before they leave the shelves.

Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2012 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.


ELDRITCH! #4

Writer: Aaron Alexovich
Artist: Drew Rausch
Publisher: ComiXology
Reviewer: Lyzard


In my last review I said that Anya was “truly one of my favorite comic book characters.” So I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed an issue of ELDRITCH! that lacked her presence completely. ELDRITCH! #4, entitled “The Dream Quest of Ted Newbarn” follows the off kilter father of a monstrous babe that makes Damien from THE OMEN look like the Gerber baby. Before issue number four, Ted Newbarn had barely been developed. Not only do we get a much more well rounded character in this book, but also a better look at the relationship between him and his wife.

“The Dream Quest of Ted Newbarn” is all about the epiphany Ted has concerning his dark nature. Even after Owen blatantly tells him that “I am a monster, Mr. Newbarn. Your wife is a monster. Your baby is a monster. You are a monster, Mr. Newbarn,” Ted remains in denial. He attempts to appear normal, but after a trip to Willoughby and a run in with Chaston (last seen as the crazed leader of Owen’s cult in ELDRITCH! #2) Mr. Newbarn can no longer deny that normality is not possible for him or his family.

My last review predicted that ELDRTICH! #4 would “feature a major climax.” Rarely do I like to be wrong, but in this case I am quite overjoyed by it. The tension continues to build, which will only help in making the pinnacle of this story that much more epic.

Other issues I touched upon previously were the lengthy bits of dialogue. Chaston is long-winded, but it fits with his character. His grandiose speeches are akin to super villians who go on and on with their planned monologues, only to then be thwarted by the superhero. Outside of the character of Chaston, the long conversational pieces have grown on me. When scenes are lacking in monstrous activity, the dialogue provides the energy and impetus to continue the flow of the story.

Without these seemingly random bits of conversation (that permit me to say, remind me of Tarantino’s wordy work such as his famous Royale with Cheese exchange) this gem of homage would never have existed. When Mr. Newbarn converses with Anya’s dad, he begins to sing a Bobby Brown song from the GHOSTBUSTERS 2 soundtrack. Though the first GHOSTBUSTERS has a closer plotline to ELDRITCH! with the use of nefarious and other worldly gods, I guess the baby in the sequel ties in to Mr. Newbarn’s kid, though loosely.

It is this sort of humor that keeps on bringing me back to ELDRITCH! While working on a feature film for the past few weeks, I decided to take a sabbatical. However, when the opportunity to review ELDRITCH! #4 came up; I had to make an exception. I haven’t come across a comic where I continuously anticipate the upcoming issue as much as ELDRTICH! since KILL SHAKESPEARE. My feelings towards the series have grown from unconvinced of its potential with issue #1, to hopeful after reading issue #2, then becoming a true fan following issue #3, and at last I am now a strong believer in Alexovich and Rausch’s genius!

Lyzard is actually Lyz Reblin, a senior screenwriting major with an English minor at Chapman University. Along with writing for AICN, she has been published twice on the subject of vampire films.


CARNAGE U.S.A. #1

Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Clayton Crain
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy


The American Dream…

Amongst the Spider-Ma rogues gallery, none one villain stands out as a cautionary tale quite like Carnage. Created as an attempt to give Venom a dark counterpart, Carnage was an example of the flaws within the system of the nineties. With the look of editorial apathy and with the character of a poor man’s Joker, Carnage is the epitome of mindless creations, a soulless cash grab. I have rarely found myself wishing for Carnage's continual existence, and usually count the days before he can disappear into the ether. Which is what makes CARNAGE U.S.A. so unique; an enjoyable Carnage story is a rather different feeling for me.

Writing: (4/5) Zeb Well's Carnage is front and center in this issue, and the usual flaws with the character are still present; he feels like a madman with a handicap, a character who doesn't have enough depth to really be explored. Zeb Wells doesn't do much to aid the character. But Wells instead focuses on brief interludes within the community of Dover, before and after the attack by Carnage begins. It juxtaposes the opening scenes of peace against the sheer brutality of Carnage's rampage. By creating this interesting a vivid stage for Carnage to play in, Wells makes an engaging story.In the background, the brief interludes between the heroes aren't quite as enjoyable. While Hawkeye is a laugh and Spider-Man is clearly himself, the rest of the small Avengers team present is very bland. They simply serve to help reinforce "Uh oh, Carnage is trouble", which is unnecessary with Carnage's actions within the comic. And, despite Well's good dialogue, Carnage still feels like a bit of a flat character.

Art: (5/5) Clayton Crain is simply marvelous in this issue. The art is consistent, bold, and engaging. The art seamlessly flutters in between the horrors perpetrated by Carnage during his rampage, and quieter scenes of the heroes preparing for combat. Crain doesn't allow one to overshadow the other; Emotions are palpable as Eric tries to save his family, and it looks just as detailed as later shots within the Avengers Quinjet. Every wrinkle seems predetermined completely. The coloring, the pacing, the framing, it all is great. This comic really looks good.

Best Moment: The symbiote spreading across Doverton.

Worst Moment: I really don't like Carnage.

Overall: (4/5) A better score then I ever expected to give an issue with Carnage on the cover. Kudos.


CHARLEY’S WAR (VOL 8): HITLER’S YOUTH

Writer: Pat Mills
Illustrator: Joe Colquhoun
Publisher: Titan Books
Reviewer: superhero


If there’s one thing I’m not incredibly familiar with its war comics. As much as I hate to say it, most of the focus of my comic collecting days was focused on superhero books. As I’ve grown older I’ve become interested in war comics but I can’t say they’ve been the kind of books that I actively seek out. I do have an old slipcase collection of the EC Frontline Combat comics that I pretty much considered some of the best comics out there so I felt like I had been exposed to some of the best that the genre had to offer.

Turns out I have a lot more to learn about war comics because much like the DARKIE’S MOB collection that Titan Books released earlier this year, this edition of CHARLEY’S WAR has exposed met to some more of the best wartime combat sequential storytelling I’ve ever laid eyes on.

For those not in the know (like myself) CHARLEY’S WAR is a comic that details the exploits of Charley Bourne, a young man who enlists in the British Army during World War I. Many of you out there may not have heard of CHARLEY’S WAR because it was a comic that was originally collected in a UK magazine called BATTLE PICTURE WEEKLY in the late ‘70’s to the early ‘80’s. It apparently has somewhat of a stellar reputation among British comic book creators and after reading this volume I can see why.

Writer Pat Mills and artist Joe Colquhoun do an amazing job of capturing the absolute misery that enlisted men experienced during the unfortunate mess that was WWI. While I read through this book I actually felt as if I was in the trenches with these soldiers. The writing and art in CHARLEY’S WAR are that absorbing. As a work of art, this edition of CHARLEY’S WAR is just astounding. It grabs you from the first panel and does not let you go. The only thing I can compare this reading experience to is the first time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY. Much like that somewhat forgotten Kirk Douglas film, CHARLEY’S WAR just transports you back to the hellish experience that the trenches of “The War to end all Wars” must’ve been.

I do have to warn some of you out there that the title of this volume, HITLER’S YOUTH, is a bit misleading. While it’s true that a section of this book does deal with Charley Bourne’s battalion facing off against a young Adolf Hitler’s platoon in the trenches, much of the book’s focus is actually on the adventures of Charley’s cousin who is a gunner in a bi-plane squadron. So while the book is called CHARLEY’S WAR: HITLER’S YOUTH in my opinion it should have been called CHARLEY’S WAR: CHARLEY’S COUSIN, BI-PLANE GUNNER. But that doesn’t really matter to me because it was the bi-plane combat stuff that I actually found to be the most fascinating material in the book. Sure, it’s kind of interesting to imagine what Adolf Hitler’s early years were like in WWI but, in all honesty, I saw the Hitler character as somewhat of a caricature in the trench segments. Any sequence that involved Hitler could just as easily have taken place with some generic replacement character. Hitler’s presence isn’t exactly integral to the story sequences he takes part in. It’s my opinion that inserting Hitler into the strip was a bit of stunt casting. It doesn’t add anything to the book but it doesn’t serve as too much of a distraction either. But if you are buying this edition of CHARLEY’S WAR for some sort of insight into Hitler’s WWI years you won’t get it in the comic itself. There is a well written opening essay by Steve White that sheds some light on Hitler’s WWI service but I wouldn’t say that anything in the comic is going to be eye opening to anyone interested in Hitler’s early years in the army.

The title HITLER’S YOUTH is a bit deceptive (Deceptive may too strong a word, I mean Hitler is in the book.), it’s true, but the presence of a historical figure wouldn’t be the reason I’d recommend a book like this anyway. The writing and art here are fantastic and the storytelling is solid. This is the craft of comics at its best and that alone should be reason for picking up CHARLEY’S WAR. I’m so impressed by this book that it looks like I’m going to have to go out and track down the previous seven volumes. If you love war comics then CHARLEY’S WAR is a must own for you.

Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com and check out his blog at www.parttimefanboy.com. You can check also out his webcomics at www.babybadass.com and thediplomatics.com, which is currently in development.


DEMON KNIGHTS #4

Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Michael Choi and Diogenes Neves
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: The Dean


There are a couple of ways to go with this issue of DEMON KNIGHTS, but neither should be putting readers off buying issue number five next month. For those eager to get this winged horse off the ground, DEMON KNIGHTS #4 will leave you disappointed; not at all because it’s a bad issue, but instead because writer Paul Cornell sheds light on the endgame, rather than the next step or battle in the siege on Little Spring. If on the other hand you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the pacing, and are simply happy being able to sojourn into medieval DC once a month, then you may find this issue to be one of, if not the best of the four. With my first read through, I felt this review would surely be pandering to those in the disappointed category, but on my second, this became a very fun character issue exploring Shining Knight’s past, present, and future, with Merlin as our guide.

Opening right where issue three left off, Cornell brings us two panels toward what looks like will be a raged fueled ass kicking from Shining Knight before Merlin interrupts with a vision. I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of my comics talking to me, and Cornell’s mysterious, bastard of a Merlin leaps right off the page and down your throat in this one! By escalating conversations to heated arguments before they even start, and screaming the answers to questions we didn’t ask, Merlin comes off as someone so insane he must be omnipotent. “Everything I do, I do for a reason! The reasons aren’t obvious to such as you, so BOW your head!” Every speech teacher will tell you this is a poor opening to a persuasion piece, but what they don’t tell you in high school is that making no sense and yelling is often the best way to bend others to your will - something I learned on my own from the Ultimate Warrior. The Ultimate Merlin goes on to tell us/Shining Knight what “puts weight” in her steps, how to get silly ideas by watching lighting, why lava is a poor place to store your valuables, as well as insight into the name of our comic, DEMON KNIGHTS.
All of this plus another cliffhanger ending and a funny Vandal Savage moment make this one of the most fun issues Cornell has given us yet. What’s most surprising to me is how much I enjoyed this issue despite the total lack of any Etrigan, who was the sole reason I gave this series a shot in the first place!
While the writing of course is a key element in the surreal sense of involvement I felt in this story, guest artists Michael Choi and Diogenes Neves deserve a large amount of credit for this one. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have felt the same sense of interaction if Merlin’s old, ugly fingers weren’t pointing right at me, or his eyes drilling into me while yelling, “I live backwards!” I haven’t felt this intimidated by a strange old man since some homeless guy called me an asshole for smiling while having my picture taken.

Choi and Neves do an excellent job in matching dialogue to expressions here, as every word spoken in this issue comes from a face that appears to genuinely believe what its saying. The muted colors from Marcelo Maiolo during Shining Knight’s vision give a deafening effect to the action, lending to the idea that we haven’t just gone back in time, but have been taken out of time all together by Merlin. Both story and art are wonderfully blended here to convey this time outside of time sense that the story is happening now, 1,000 years ago, in my living room, and at Little Spring all at once - pure, fun, comic book fantasy.

A lot of your opinion of DEMON KNIGHTS #4 is going to come down to preference, but I’m grateful this issue came when it did. While still enjoying the run as a whole, I pretty much considered this an Etrigan title, with other characters occasionally interrupting my Etrigan time. Cornell now has me excited for issues devoted to characters I had only a passing interest in at best before, with Vandal Savage, Merlin, and Shining Knight. Can he get me to care about Horsewoman? That last page screams, “maybe!” But with its four issues, Demon Knights has me convinced I’ve invested wisely thus far, and the next issue can’t come soon enough. I just hope I can find the money I stored in that lava pit before it comes out.


THE GUILD: ZABOO #1

Writers: Felicia Day & Sandeep Parikh
Artist: Becky Cloonan
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


Stereotypes propagate because they are true, in part. The politically correct stranglehold currently asphyxiating our ability to see things like logic, reason and what’s in front of our fucking faces wants us to believe stereotypes are wrong, that they are untrue. Bullshit--this defies logic and is merely in place to make people feel better about their shortcomings. What makes more sense? A statement about a race, creed, lifestyle or whatever is completely unfounded and spreads like wildfire, or that a majority of a certain population did exhibit a collective behavior in multiple instances and that’s what made it spread like wildfire? I’m raising everyone’s collective ire because the web series THE GUILD from which this comic sprung is a cavalcade of stereotypes on geek culture centered around six players that devote way too much time and emotional energy to “The Game” – or as we call it in real life, World of Warcraft.

Specifically, this comic focuses on THE GUILD’s lead wizard and Cleric lust bunny Zaboo, a new breed of stereotype fodder I affectionately have dubbed the stunted man-child. We’ve all seen the stunted man-child before; they are the heroes in Judd Apatow movies, they are forty year olds wearing Ed Hardy t-shirts where the E and the Y wrap around their paunch, and there are a large majority of these almost-men playing video games and reading comic books. And yes, I count myself among this legion.

Now, stereotypes become dangerous when you label ALL people with a certain attribute. It would be untrue to say that ALL people that play games like World of Warcraft do so from their parent’s basement while getting yelled at by their mother to come to dinner. I’ll have everyone know that I played Warcraft for almost six years from my own basement and was yelled at by my wife to stop raiding and come to dinner. See, the stereotype is that most gamers couldn’t get a wife or a home. It’s not true for all…but it sure as shit is for most. Hence why the THE GUILD and its cutting satire on all things nerd is one of the few monetized web series out there with millions upon millions of downloads. If this shit wasn’t true, in part, it simply wouldn’t be this popular.

I think I’m so focused on stereotypes because they are especially potent when THE GUILD moves from live-action to comic form. Also, the potency becomes…potenter… because this is a prequel to THE GUILD season one. Zaboo, more than any other character in The Guild, has grown in spades emotionally over the past five seasons. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a man-child that should be out working instead of dealing critical hits all day, but he’s nowhere near the shellshocked freak he was the first time The Guild decided to meet face-to-face oh so many years ago.

THE GUILD has always held a wide straddle with feet firmly planted in the camps of reality and farce. Generally speaking the reality comes from our guide to The Guild, Felicia Day, or Codex as she is called in game. Codex lets us know how insane the Guild’s devotion is to the game mainly with her self-shot webcam openers that seem to almost lament the geektastic events that have or will transpire in the coming episode. The farce and absurdity comes from every other character in The Guild, including Zaboo. So when you focus a comic book on a character that is a stereotypical farce and remove the first-person voice of sanity what ensues is madness.

You must read this issue with your tongue stretching your cheek farther than a porn star with a sword fight in her mouth. I chose to not take any of the events as reality, but more as Zaboo’s perception of reality. Day and Parikh led me to this by opening the book with a pre-pubescent Zaboo using some school computer-lab time to find solace in a precursor to The Game from school bullies. Instead of some pixilated shots of Everquest, though, we see The Game as gamers see all games in our minds as we become more than pixels to transcend into honest-to-God heroes. Try as we might, though, real life always intercedes in game life. Zaboo’s bullies pull him from his state of bliss and almost electrocute him by making him French kiss an electrical outlet. Zaboo’s mother, a hilarious overbearing Mother of Indian decent (stereotype alert), takes him out of public school and we flash forward to Zaboo now 26 years old, in the 20th grade, and completely hooked on The Game.

There are two parts to Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game addiction: the grind or the treadmill of leveling your character and the social element. Personally, I was addicted to the grind and annoyed by the social element, which is why I was able to walk away from Warcraft with ease and find solace in games like the Elder Scroll series. Want to know why there are so many women playing MMORPGs? It’s the social element. Want to know the number of marriages, relationships and stalking that have resulted from this outreach by the XX chromosome? More than is humanly possible to count or track. Social desperation of gamers is a stereotype that does not fit all, but I have emphatic proof it fits most--Zaboo included.

Zaboo’s crush on Day’s character has evolved from online friendship, to real friendship, to almost romantic interest and finally back to friends throughout the course of THE GUILD series, but in these beginning days his love or online lust could not be squelched. So when Zaboo learns of Codex’s emotional turmoil during a private chat session he decides to take the brunt of this issue to escape his mother and finally meet his pixilated love in real life.

Zaboo plans his escape from his house in true nerd fashion and here is where one of the most inventive parts of this comic comes to life. As readers we are asked to partake in hilarious mini-games that help Zaboo with everything from selecting the best items for his trip to the best escape route past his Mother to the best lie to tell the bus terminal agent to get a ticket since Zaboo has never held a job and so on. Yes, it’s meant as a blatant breaking of the fourth wall, but I chose to view it as we’re seeing things from Zaboo’s point of view. As a gamer I have viewed real life tasks at times as bonus and power up opportunities. A few years ago my team at work had a really good year. I got them all a 20 sided die where every side was a 20. Since my team consists of all normal human beings, my reference was lost. But had I one gamer on the team, they would have gotten the joke and I would have given them emotional XP for it.

You can’t take anything in THE GUILD or THE GUILD: ZABOO seriously, yet thematically everything is serious and real, which is part of the series’ allure. No, I don’t believe Zaboo’s mother has secret tracking devices on him, but I believe that Zaboo believes his Mother has tracking devices on him. Even the most mundane moments in life seem extraordinary when told or viewed through the lens of someone with a hyper active imagination.

THE GUILD: ZABOO is not for everyone. Obviously if you like THE GUILD and don’t mind an absence of Codex, this comic is for you. If you love RPG games (not just MMOs), you will appreciate how this book is delivered and find quite a few chuckles seeing your own mind at work on the pages in front of you. If you’re solely a fan of comics and never played an MMO or an RPG, well for starters I can’t believe you read this far, but more importantly THE GUILD comics are not for you. Again, this is a peek into a world you might understand from the stunted man-child standpoint, but how this man-child thinks is in XP and critical hits, not in spandex and heavy dialogue.


’68 JUNGLE JIM #1 One-shot

Writer: Mark Kidwell
Artists: Nate Van Dyke & Jay Fotos
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: MajinFu


Zombie stories work best as social commentary that allows us to examine human behavior through a gore-covered lens. By placing characters in a place of horror, we can reflect on our own trauma, and if we’re lucky, come out on the other side with a slightly better understanding of the human condition. So why does combining zombies and war feel so exploitive to me? In a way, it was inevitable. The combination of zombies and a wartime scenario make perfect sense as duel reflections of trauma, especially in the realm of pop culture, which seems continually happy to retread old subjects.

The story’s introduction is played as straight grindhouse-type war movie, complete with curse-ridden dialog and murky colors, making the ultimate appearance of the zombies a little more shocking. I still found their inclusion on the story acted more as an afterthought than any kind of detail that drove the plot. Most of the horrific imagery in this comic pertains to the consequences of war rather than ghouls, making the eventual zombie presence less impressive. The bottom of page one is festooned with a row of heads lined along the branch of a tree, a man’s throat spills blood in gruesome detail, and several people are riddled with bullets, including a child. All of these things communicate the horrors of war without requiring the presence of zombies, but combined with the ghouls it feels like overkill.

The visuals by Jay Fotos and Nate Van Dyke are suitably gritty, usually closing in on the gorier moments while pulling back for the character bits. The color palette of the comic is notably bleak, with sudden splashes of red across the page. It suits the material well.

As the story progresses, the titular character’s evolution becomes the most compelling part of the comic. There is a very humanist slant to his origin story and while the “passing of the torch” moments felt a bit ham-fisted they were still reasonably executed. I think the biggest problem with the writing is none of the characters get much characterization at all, and many of them are reduced to caricatures before having their faces eaten off or getting shot to pieces. Maybe this is a problem that will be settled in future ’68 issues to come but if this one-shot is any indication of the characterizations to come, I wouldn’t hold my breath.


AICN COMICS PODCAST #8

Ambush Bug here. The below hour-long conversation took place between myself, Matt Adler, Optimous Douche, KletusCasady, and our host Johnny Destructo of PoptardsGo.com as we talked about SUICIDE SQUAD #4, AVENGERS ACADEMY #23, THE BOYS #47, DEMON KNIGHTS #4, BETTY & VERONICA #257, BATMAN & ROBIN #4, and other bits of general jack@$$$ery!


Looks for more of the Holes rambling about comics on Poptards in future AICN COMICS columns!


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

Remember, if you have a comic book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.

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