Hey folks, Harry here... so much to get to... have at it!!! And hit your store now!!
Hey Gang. Andrew from GrayHaven Magazine here. We have a ton of looks at some of the recent books to hit stores, include a positive review of DK2. We’re going to have a lot coming up on AICN Comics this week so brace yourselves.
Cicada – Original Graphic Novel
Written and illustrated by Josue’ Menjivar
Published by Top Shelf
Reviewed by Denny Haynes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I preordered Cicada, a 112-page, black & white original graphic novel by JosuÃ© Menjivar three months ago. Yes, I know that’s when most preorders take place, but on the strength of the other Top Shelf books that I had read, I had to order it.
Cicada came out in early December, and I started reading it in the car on the way home from the comic store. I do not recommend reading and driving, but traffic was backed up and I was curious to find out what the book I bought was about. There was no back cover text to give me a plot synopsis, so I just started reading. I sat in my car, in front of my apartment, until I finished it. It was a very emotional, moving, powerful story that caught my interest from the first page.
One of the strengths of the story is that it is told using a flashback method, with present day events triggering past memories. Are there any other kinds of memories? Obviously, the memories being recalled are on the main character’s mind, but JosuÃ© weaves the tale between past and present beautifully and precisely, and utilizing the backdrop of the Cicadas perfectly. Cicadas are locusts, which emerge every 13 to 17 years. They eat all the vegetation, they mate, and then they die, until the next brood comes.
Menjivar captures the deep loss and hopelessness of the main character, Thomas. Thomas is checking into a hotel to commit suicide due to the poor decisions of his past. Decisions made because of his deep seeded need to be liked. I was completely sucked into the story, opting to go into left turn lanes as often as possible so I could sit and read this book until the light turned green. Which is a testament to how good this story is, as I hate driving in traffic.
The art is solid. JosuÃ© did a fantastic job to ensure that there was no confusion between the past and present transitions, or the different characters introduced. Menjivar’s style fits well with the story, his proportions are good, and he utilizes the black and white format to its fullest, creating beautiful panels and pages.
I went in knowing nothing of the story and was completely surprised. I’d recommend anyone interested in picking up this book to read it with as little information as possible so you will be surprised as well. However, for those who would like a little more info, here’s a blurb I stole from Top Shelf Comics’ website. I’ll even put it in smaller type, just in case.
"Examining the emotional scars that infidelity can produce, this graphic novel intelligently relates the guilt that one man carries with him to the hibernation cycle of the cicada." I thought this story illustrated very well, though maybe to an extreme, the hurtful act of infidelity. I wasn’t expecting the major revelation, but you’ll have to read the book to find that out.
END SPOILER WARNING
Overall, this book pleasantly surprised me. From the story to the art, this book has it all. Top Shelf continues their streak of publishing quality original graphic novels, including Box Office Poison, The Soap Lady, A Complete Lowlife, Pistolwhip, Mephisto, and Goodbye, Chunky Rice. I look forward to more work by JosuÃ© Menjivar and hope you all give his book, Cicada, a chance.
Overall: 9.5 out of 10
The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1
Written and illustrated by Frank Miller with Colors by Lynn Varley
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Victor Destefano, email@example.com
I picked this book up expecting to be disappointed. Few things ever live up to a mass amount of hype and realizing just what preceded DK2, I thought this was all going to be a pitiful shot at the impossible. Trying to follow up a classic with another classic.
I'll go straight to the art first. Miller's been one of my favorites for a long time, but a bit of the art in this book seemed sloppy. Like he either rushed or just didn't really care. Still, the grittiness and the story telling were right on target and it all fit. Sure I saw a few 'bugs' in there, but if I picked DK2 off the shelf not knowing who the hell Frank Miller was or what he did in the past, I'd be blown away.
Lynn Varley's coloring did bring the book down a tiny bit. I loved what she did in the original Dark Knight Returns and 300, but here it looked too experimental and in a bad way. Too digital and too much like a Fruit Roll-Ups commercial. Definitely not a job worthy of having half of the back cover taken up with her name on it (it's actually bigger than Frank Miller's!).
On the upside, the story was right on. The first few pages lead me to believe I had just shelled out eight bucks on total crap, but before I knew it, I was realizing how grateful I was that Frank decided to give the Dark Knight another go.
See, I've always dug the idea of Batman and Superman, but every time I tried reading one of the comics, I had to put it down because it was just too hokey or simple for my tastes. That's why I loved the first Dark Knight Returns and now this following effort. Frank takes those characters and, while still staying true to what makes them, them, he flips their worlds around making them into something much more interesting. The core elements that make the characters are still there, but they adapt to accommodate a drastically changed world and the result is awesome. Half of the DC Universe's heroes as terrorist trying to whack out Superman who's essentially the government's bitch! What's not to love?
And as with many other great Miller works, he threw in plenty of much needed shots at our anything-for-ratings media and, therefore, the population who takes (or demands) the bait. As in RoboCop 2, Dark Knight Returns, Hard Boiled and this, he's analyzed the systems used to deliver our news and entertainment and drew nice little caricatures of how they very well can end up a few years down the road. That, coupled with a pretty scary look at the future (or possibly present) world of politics, gives the book half of the charm and importance that makes it some really entertaining reading.
I demanded a lot from this book and I'm quite happy with what I've seen so far.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Fantastic Four 1234 #4
Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Jae Lee and Jose Villarruba
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by HDSchellnack@nodesign.de
Let us forget all the online hype surrounding Grant Morrison's general ideas about the dysfunctional FF family for a moment and talk about the actual work seeing print. I was a bit disappointed by the first three issues, in which Grant focused on Ben, Sue and Johnny and put in motion a kind of slow, kind of complicated and weird plot that I'm sure drove some people away.
Issue 4 brings all of it neatly and almost flawlessly together and is a great pay-off for those having the endurance to last through this mini-series. What is amazing about this book - apart from the lavish and appropriately dark and moody art by Jae Lee, with distinct, painterly and tonally very well designed colors by Jose Villarruba - is that Morrison gives us some glimpse of how psychedelic and innovative the FF COULD be.
Today most people tend to think of the FF as a retro-book, and the 12-issue FF-maxi-series by Erik Larsen nurtures such conceptions. But in fact, when Lee and Kirby worked on the book, it was one of the most daring, bold and strange books out there. Obviously in touch with the mind-expanding ideas and concepts common in the late sixties pop-subculture, Jack Kirby's concepts and pencils went far beyond the stale ideas offered in other comic books and thus made the FF completely unique. These were not super heroes; these were four people exploring the strange - and strange it was. That aspect has been completely abandoned by now, with the exception of a handful of John Byrne issues and perhaps the first two Lobdell/Davis issues. Now Morrison brings it back with a modern attitude, combining very classic FF moments with a complexity and narrative structure that makes the Four unique again.
As usual with Grant, strange concepts pop up come in vast numbers - quite too many to even mention here. When malleable Reed Richards physically stretches his brain, for example, in order to interface with a weird machination to fight a four-dimensional game of chess with Doctor Doom, he still has time to notice an "entirely new reality made of super conducting living material". (Which, of course, the FF are just about to explore at the end of the last book.) And I’ve got to agree with Johnny Storm - "Aww man, I love all these new higher realities.. the old negative dimensions and stuff just don't cut it for me."
Where the main series has gone completely retro, and probably will do so even more in coming months, Morrison here offers an experiment that brings the FF back to what they once were - a trip…. an experience and still very much a book about four special people with a very special kind of "family" relationship. Maybe it's also time to move the FF main book forward, to do with it what Marvel has done with other flagship titles in recent months… make the book singular and daring again. I think there are just a handful of people able to pull that stunt. Folks like Alan Moore (and isn't there a rumor that he's going to do Ultimate FF?), Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and of course Grant Morrison are all more than capable of doing just that.
1234 offers, quite simply, the best FF I've read in a very, very long time - and with a somewhat less moody and dark attitude it is the perfect model for what the main book could be.
Written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Karl Moline
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Elliot Kane
Even if you are unfamiliar with the world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon's most famous creation, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had from reading the adventures of Fray, Slayer of the future.
In this bleak future world where mutations abound, no one looks twice at demons or vampires. They are obviously nothing more than extreme mutations to the populace at large.
Indeed, the demons are long banished...
But now they are back, and only one person can stop them from taking over a world where no one believes in them. Her name is Melaka Fray, and she IS The Chosen One.
In this issue Mel learns the true price of being the Slayer - in pain and loss. An accident of birth may just cost her everything she holds dear, and there seems to be nothing she can do to prevent it.
This is an emotionally charged issue that takes Mel through a lot of changes, and leads her to make a fateful decision that will affect not only her life, but also the lives of everyone around her...
Joss Whedon excels at creating strong female characters, and Mel is certainly no exception. She is distinct from every other Slayer we have so far seen, being more earthed than Buffy and less wild than Faith.
Karl Moline's pencils give Mel a look that is unique and faintly elfin. A long scar on her face adds a humanity to her character that many of the flawless beauties in comics lack, and makes her that much more distinctive.
Her world is brilliantly conceived, ugly as it is, with the grinding poverty of the people evident in the way they live and the conditions they must put up with. But somehow, as ever, humanity thrives.
Like all stories in the Buffyverse, Fray is basically about growing up and taking responsibility for your own life. It's also one of the best Slayer stories ever told.
Fray rules. No question.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
The Incredible Hulk # 34
Written by Bruce Jones and illustrated by John Romita Jr.
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by HDSchellnack@nodesign.de
In one word: Wow.
I'd never have thought that a post-Peter-David-issue of this book could excite me anymore. Even the highly talented Paul Jenkins didn't work for me at all, despite the fact that I absolutely love his work on Spider-Man. And now novelist Bruce Jones comes along and offers us a book that promises, on its cover "The Return of the Monster" yet doesn't really feature the Hulk at all. Indirectly he's there, sure, but he's intangible, like a force of nature. Jones instead focuses on Bruce Banner - and his banner isn't the soft weakling we all have gotten to know. This is a man on the run, sure, like in the old TV series, to the premise of which Jones returns in certain aspects, but this Banner is clever, street-wise, cool. From interacting with a mysterious "Deep-Voice"-kind of character to reacting cunningly disguising himself, Banner is a character you simply have to sympathize with at once. The whole style of the book is a modern 100-Bullets-style update of the classic Hulk approach - the only thing that maybe is a bit annoying is the inclusion of the taken Ghetto kids. But to see Banner consciously using the fact that the Hulk WILL come out whenever Bruce is attacked - thus making the Hulk a kin of weapon Banner can use… that alone is worth the whole setup.
There's nothing much to say about the art of JRJr - he's one of the best artists this genre has. Period. I'm just amazed that despite the fact that even ten years ago he was perfect, he still manages to surprise with a new look and some alterations of his style that make things even more wonderful. Romita, I think, is the definitive modern Spider-Man artist, and if this issue is any indication, he'll add the Hulk to his definitive list. Not because of how he draws the Hulk, but how under his aegis Banner all of a sudden is the utterly cool star of a big budget production, not the nerdy looser watching from the sidelines.
This is the first solid issue of Hulk after Peter David left the jolly green giant - and Jones and Romita succeed by being as different from Peter's approach as one could imagine, while being just as intense, personal, and solid. Offering more character insight in one issue than Startling Stories: Banner did in four, this could be the start of a Renaissance for a character who has suffered from a palpable lack of direction lately. While some may dislike the VERY Vertigo-esque approach editor Alex Alonso has brought to some of the books he edits, and while some may miss either the soft child-like innocent Hulk or the funny bunny slippers Hulk, I'm sure looking forward to see Jones give as more of Bruce Banner.
And man, I can't wait to see the Hulk - this is like discovering the character all over again.
Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Cliff Rathburn
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Drew Haverstock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Waid is a damn funny man, and his ability to slip in one-liners is second to very few. So when he tries to have Plastic Man convince a tyke that Santa is so cool that he’s in the JLA, a yarn begins ripe with opportunity. This entire issue has the feel that Waid just let it rip like a garage band, letting the tale carry him where it may and poking as much fun at our favorite icons as he could think of along the way.
His love for Plastic Man is undeniable. And since this is the end of his run, I have to say that he accomplished one of his goals with the JLA that he commented was vital for him to feel like he succeeded as a writer – make Eel O’Brien a character we can actually LIKE. Quick witted and always ready to cross the line of decency, Waid’s Plastic Man has been a treat for his entire run. Kudos to Mark for accomplishing what many thought was the impossible.
That being said, I don’t feel like Waid capitalized on all the possibilities this story presented. I loved Plastic Man’s vision of the league (being myopic has never been this fun!) and many of the side gags tossed in along the way. One of the best parts was how Santa’s powers were explained through the use of familiar Christmas tales. But in the end, there were too many things that didn’t work for me. (i.e. Santa looking his computer with comprehensive breakdowns on the naughty-vs-nice trends – it isn’t that original.)
Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest are the kings of major publisher humor at the moment, and I always wind up comparing anything that tries to be laugh-out-loud funny to their recent works. Here, Waid does an admirable job, but when combined with everyday artwork and some gags that just go "klunk" in the night, I’m left wanting more.
Waid’s run, short as it was, still counts as a HUGE success in my eyes, even with the inconsistency of Bryan Hitch. The book will miss them greatly.
Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly
Published by DC/Vertigo
Reviewed by Elliot Kane
This title is basically about the continuing efforts of Lucifer Morningstar to break totally free from the hand of his Creator. A supreme plotter with an awesome intellect, he outwits rather than outfights his enemies. He is the protagonist, but far from being any kind of hero...
A very good jumping on point for new readers, the current issue opens with a brief summary of past events that serves to set up the basis for the current story arc, 'Paradiso'.
It also introduces most of the main characters in the series in a way that does not feel forced or unnecessary, but fits in well with the overall story. New readers will thus be told who the characters are whilst those who have read Lucifer from the beginning will not feel they are simply going over old ground.
The best thing about this series is that it is totally character driven. Actions have consequences, and even the most seemingly insignificant character may well turn out to have an importance the reader would not suspect.
Events do not just happen either. Everyone from the title character downwards has their own motivations for what they do, and reasons for being who and what they are. Characters change and develop over time as their experiences teach them new things.
This issue is no exception, representing a significant turning point in the lives of Elaine Belloc, Jill Presto and the Archangel Michael.
The artwork is also impressive, capturing facial expression well and reflecting the overall tone of the story. The characters are distinctive and easily recognizable.
Lucifer himself, for example, is drawn as proud and commanding, whilst Michael is strong and noble, and Elaine clearly an innocent child. The art adds depth to each character by reflecting their personalities.
Lucifer is one of the best-written and well thought out comics available, and anyone who has not yet tried it should do so.
Score: 9 out of 10
Marvel Knights: Millennial Visions
Written and illustrated by Various
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Tony Thompson
Similar in nature to the X-Men: Millennial Visions special from last year, this one shot delivers a bunch of What If? / Elseworlds style takes on the cast of characters under the Marvel Knights banner. Everyone from Captain America to Daredevil to Cloak and Dagger are featured in a series of pin-ups accompanied by short text pieces detailing these "twisted visions of the future". With over a dozen artists (who also supplied the story ideas for each pin up), this book is host to a variety of artistic styles.
I must say I rather liked this book. It reminded me of a segment that Marvel Vision, an old advance preview publication put out by Marvel in the mid-90s, used to run. Not being a traditional comic book, I couldn't say it was the best comic of the year. However, many of the alternate versions of characters were intriguing, and I'd certainly love to see some of the artists explore their ideas down the line.
Speaking of the art, one of the most captivating aspects of this comic was the art. Whether it was the Black Panther by Sal Velluto or Elektra by Ryan Bodenheim or Dracula by John Totleben, this book was a beauty to behold.
The Black Panther piece informs us that there's a new hero in town. This Panther is apparently unrelated to T'Challa, and is female. She sports pretty much the same suit T'Challa currently wears (sans his occasional cape), but the suit looks almost better on her than it does on him. It's almost as if it works better on a woman, even though I've become accustomed to the King of Wakanda wearing it. Without any further spoils, I'll just mention that this Black Panther is not your traditional hero and yet, in a way, she's every bit the hero King T'Challa often finds himself being.
As the vision of the Black Panther has much in common with T'Challa, so too does the vision of Elektra. However, there seems to be a very big difference between real Elektra, and the millennial version. I'd go so far as to say I might very well prefer the millennial version more, as it seems to open the character up to more stories than ninja fights. All I'll say is that while still involving assassinations and martial arts, there's a large degree of science fiction that allows this Elektra to take part in much broader adventures than the regular MU version.
Gritty Urban Drama gave us the new Black Panther. Sci-Fi Martial Artistry gave us the new Elektra. Horror gives us...Dracula. That goes without saying, doesn't it? After all, vampires are the stuff of myths and legends. They're creatures of the night that we all know about, yet still manage to scare us. But it's the knowing of these creatures that helps make us fear them just a little less. The Millennial vision of Dracula is like no other take on the character. I don't want to give anything away, but I'd certainly love to read a book about a flying head named Dracula. And I certainly know that I'd be a little more scared of him too.
All in all, the aforementioned visions do exactly what I expected of them and more. They, like the visions throughout the book take existing characters and turn them inside out, altering them in subtle or even dramatic ways resulting in a new, almost cutting edge, version of the character.
The Punisher #6
Written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Drew Haverstock (email@example.com)
"I just want to go Hoooome…"
The pangs of a vagrant in an alley welcome us to Garth Ennis’ homage to a city he seems to truly love – New York. A town that, no matter how clean and pretty Rudy and his successor try to make it, won’t catch you when you fall down.
The focus this issue hits on a killer loose in NYC. One who has butchered a family and seems to continually evade authorities. And while this doesn’t seem too inventive, when you add one part Ennis, two parts Dillon and Palmiotti, and one Pondering Punisher – and you have one of the better character analysis issues churned out by the house of ideas in quite some time.
Frank harkens back to his days on the battlefield, reflecting on the things he was taught along the way not just by his outfit, but also by life itself. All of these revelations tie into the streets of New York, showing how thin the line can be between war and everyday life. In the end, we learn how Frank sees fit to paying back a debt owed to a falling comrade in arms.
What I love about this series so far is that even with the peeks into Frank’s mind that we get, the exposition doesn’t drown the art. Frank’s actions speak for themselves, and when the pictures are juxtaposed with the thoughts running through his mind, the words take on a whole new meaning. What one sees as a weakness, another can find to be strength. And what one person perceives as a killer, another can view as an obligation.
Beautifully crafted, this stands as yet another great addition to the line of solid Punisher stories being put forth by Marvel Knights. Keep up the good work.
Sandwalk Adventures #1
Written and illustrated by Jay Hosler
Published by Active Synapse
Reviewed by Cormorant
If there's a quicker way to kill interest in a piece of entertainment than to tell people that it's "educational", I don't know what it is. But I'm gonna be square with you guys and tell you straight-up that Sandwalk Adventures is indeed an educational comic. That and probably one of my favorite comics of the year.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, really. Writer/artist Jay Hosler is the smarty-pants behind Clan Apis, the brilliant comic miniseries about the biology of honeybees that came out a few years ago. Over the course of that five issue series, Hosler crafted a hilarious and even touching story revolving around honeybee life cycles, and since then I've been anxiously awaiting more material from him. I can feel your skepticism, but if you've ever enjoyed Schoolhouse Rock or Bill Nye the Science Guy or even that Animaniacs song where they name all the nations of the world to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance, well, you should understand that educational stuff can be pretty fun when dispensed with wit and imagination.
The idea behind Sandwalk Adventures is to talk about God, evolution, and natural selection in as entertaining a way as possible, and here's how it happens: See, there are these two microscopic follicle mites living on one of Charles Darwin's eyebrows (stay with me here). Like all follicle mites living on Darwin's eyebrow, they actually believe Darwin to be their god and creator -- to the point of incorporating him into their amusing creation myth -- and the story kicks into gear when Darwin somehow overhears the two mites discussing him. At that point Darwin does what any rational man would do upon hearing voices coming from one of his eyebrows - he smacks his face until he knocks himself out. When the voices *still* won't go away, he resigns himself to answering their questions while taking a stroll along the sandwalk near his home, and existential wackiness ensues.
I can still feel your skepticism.
Trust me, when you've seen a few pages of Hosler's charming cartoony style, where Darwin looks something like Santa Claus from the yearly Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special, where follicle mites sport South Park-style faces, and where half the story takes place in the strange geography of an eyebrow, you'll see the appeal. It's science-meets-slapstick, and one page might have Darwin explaining the basic function of natural selection, the next might have the follicle mites griping about the fact that evolution didn't give them a rear-end ("We've got no tuchis!"). Fun stuff.
I hesitate to remind people that, yes, this is an educational comic, but it's worth mentioning that Hosler provides three pages of footnotes at the back of the book regarding Darwin's life and the biology of follicle mites, and even the footnotes are fun reading. They're sort of like a scaled-down version of Alan Moore's meticulous research notes in From Hell. And yes, Hosler is a genuine neurobiologist and professor, but don't let that scare you. He's one of those witty types you'd actually want as a professor.
If you're looking for something different, if you have any interest in Darwin and evolution, if you want a good comic to give to students, or if you just enjoy a fun story, you owe it to yourself to try Sandwalk Adventures. Hosler's been nominated for multiple Ignatz and Eisner awards, and here's your chance to find out why.
If you're still skeptical, check out some samples of Jay Hosler's work from his website. Here are some pages from Clan Apis: http://www.jayhosler.com/s01.html
And here's a cool little story about Hosler getting stung by a bee: http://www.jayhosler.com/kb1.html
Score: 10 out of 10
Ultimate Spider-Man #16
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Mark Bagley
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed By: Drew Haverstock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Right now BMB is the comic book equivalent of the Beatles. Just about everything he touches and releases is gold. And with USM #16, the hits just keep on coming.
While most previous issues have had a single focus ultimately, this is the first issue where Bendis seems to be throwing in a variety of sub-plots to keep the story going in the future. Here we find the hidden machinations of the Ultimate Doctor Octopus, learning that he wasn’t just the Osborn pawn that he was portrayed to be in previous issues. Along with that, we also are treated to the Crocodile Hunter on steroids – aka the new Kraven the Hunter. I have to admit that this idea really doesn’t do much for me, but the reality TV craze is undeniable and I’m sure Bendis will turn this situation into positive in the very near future.
Heck, the more I think of it, the more I realize how much new ground this book really covered. In addition to the above, SHIELD enters the picture, Gwen Stacy’s motivation for pulling a knife on Kong is explained, Sharon Carter is introduced, and Ben Urich shows us more in the ways of the newshound…. Whew. In short, there’s not a lot of time for Spider-Man. Normally I’m not a big fan of issues of this type, but all things considered, Bendis balances things out well.
And now onto Bagley. I’ve never claimed his work set me on fire, but I do think he deserves credit for his attempts to grow. I am finally starting to see him take on a greater variety of facial expressions, and the bodies of his characters are slowly but surely starting to be differentiated from one another. I still think he has a loooong way to go before he’s going to move beyond his current position of just above mediocrity, but I love the fact that it seems like he’s really making an effort.
In the end, we have a well-crafted springboard. One that I hope will bring another 16 issues of delight.