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Sean William Scott

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Comics With Spines

Dorothy #4
Dorothy #4 by Illusive Arts Entertainment

The focus in this issue is on the Scarecrow, as he relates the story of his origin to Dorothy in an effort to keep her mind focused on reaching the Munchkin city before she succumbs to the poisoned serpent bite she received last issue. The Scarecrow is here a far more tragic figure than is usually portrayed, and his back-story also provides many vital and useful clues as to just how different this version of Oz is from the traditional portrayals, and how it got that way, while still leaving plenty of mystery for future volumes. A quite neat trick is performed in this issue, actually, given the "brainless" nature of the Scarecrow and hence his unreliability as a narrator. It's never quite clear, precisely, what did happen or what it all means.

As usual, the appearance of the comic is simply beautiful, with an excellent blend of photography and digital effects that puts the book far above the stiffness and posed nature of most photo-comics. And the writing is excellent as well, with a good blend of sass and lonesomeness from Dorothy, and the Scarecrow's simple yet generous nature coming through clearly.

Ballast by Joe Kelly and Ilya

This short, breezy action comic has much to recommend it. Ilya's art has an attractive blend of harsh, angular features for the main character, Mason Krokus, and a softer, more rounded world around him. It gives him a strong contrast, setting him apart, visually communicating his outsider nature. The story is also an intriguing prologue to (presumably forthcoming) Ballast series. We are led to believe that Mason is simply a mercenary or assassin for hire, before the revelation is made that, no, Mason is actually compelled not to kill, due to a contract with a supernatural being. Simply put, whether or not Mason can keep his promise not to kill determines whether or not the world is destroyed.

It's a strong and promising premise, though if it has a flaw it is in that it's not quite clear whether Kelly simply trusted his readers to draw the correct implications from the story as to the nature of Mason's role and the identity of his supernatural watch-dog, or if he didn't feel the need to clearly explain it because it is addressed in the ample supplemental material that follows the story. In either case, it's a nit-pick on my part, and it didn't distract from my enjoyment of the story. And when a continuation of the story appears, I am interested in finding out what happens next.

Hip Flash: Mystery City
Hip Flask: Mystery City by Richard Starkings and Jose Ladronn

Jose Ladronn is one of those artists that I've been aware of for some time, but never really took the time to look at closely. I'm glad I did this time, as his work on this comic is simply beautiful. It's very much in the Euro-comics tradition, as exemplified by magazines like Heavy Metal back in their best days. It's a mix of smooth lines and complex details that draws the reader in and invites exhaustive examinations of the breathtaking visual panoramas.

The story, however, was a bit frustrating. Lots of material is introduced here, from a mysterious figure in a military prison, to a time travel experiment gone wrong, to the rapid escalation of a gang war, but before any one of those story threads can fully develop, the book is over. I wasn't frustrated by the lack of background information on any of the characters, as I trusted that should I want to learn more about why there are half-animal people running around a futuristic Los Angeles and why they don't like each other, the information is contained in one of the Hip Flask comics that were previously published. I'm intrigued by all of this, but I don't know if I'm intrigued enough to pick up the story in discrete chunks, when a trade compilation would yield a more satisfying experience.

Gunpowder Girl and the Outlaw Squaw
Gunpowder Girl and the Outlaw Squaw by Don Hudson

Don Hudson's western adventure focuses on two female outlaws who don't particularly like or trust each other. It's a brisk, fast read that keeps the action going, but still takes the time to get into the heads of the leads and show the reader where they came from and why they do what they do. They're both thieves and killers, but their circumstances and their period made them what they are, which makes them both sympathetic and their decisions, as bad as they may have been, understandable. They are also, it's worth noting, not that much different from those who claim to be on the side of "law and order," with the added benefit that neither the Gunpowder Girl nor the Outlaw Squaw are cruel or sadistic. It also, thankfully, avoids becoming a cutesy "girl power" story.

Hudson's art is exceptional. The action scenes are clearly depicted and easy to follow, and his figures are emotive and expressive. Body language and facial emotions are well done and recognizable, and the characters all have distinctive looks and mannerisms that make them easily distinguishable and unique. All in all, this is another welcome addition to the burgeoning recent resurgence of western comics.

Full Moon Fever
Full Moon Fever by Joe Casey, Caleb Gerard and Damian Couceiro

The central premise of Casey's and Gerard's comic, werewolves on the moon, is alone enough to make me favorably inclined to it. It's lucky, then, that the comic is actually quite good. It is well within the tradition of AIT output, the short, high-concept, "blockbuster film in comic form," and your tolerance for that, necessarily, will go a long way towards determining whether or not you find value in this comic. But not every comic needs to be a masterpiece. Comics can be fun, and that's what this book delivers. The story is unpretentious and gets into the action almost immediately, and then keeps that momentum going until the very end, pausing only briefly to insert some necessary exposition.

Damian Couceiro's art is certainly worth mentioning as well. His use of shadow, and heavy black inks, goes a long way towards establishing the mood of the comic. It creates a subtle mood of menace and mystery, with the werewolves only half-glimpsed or concealed in shadow for many shots, making their full-panel appearances even more effective. And his werewolves are truly excellent, possibly the best I've seen in comic form. The action scenes are chaotic, and occasionally a little stiff, but the chaos, I think, adds effectively to the overall atmosphere. His figures are, perhaps, a little too alike, though he does a good job of making facial features distinctive and unique. All together, this comes dangerously close to being a perfect comic by my standards: clever concept, strong pacing, good writing, and effective art, without any pretension or aspirations to be anything other than an entertaining read.
(Oh, and for the record, this was not a review copy. I paid my own damn money for this book, and every penny was well-spent.)


Young Magician Vol. 1
Young Magician Vol. 1 by Narushima Yuri

I picked this up more or less on impulse. It was a light week at the store, manga-wise, and I was in the mood for a horror story in a shojo vein. I'm not quite sure whether or not that was what I got. If it's a horror story, it's not very scary or thrilling. If it's a mystery it's not, well, mysterious. It's certainly very pretty, and has plenty of gore, if that's your thing, but the gore doesn't seem to lead to a stronger story or sense of danger. It mostly seems to be there to be shocking. The set-up could have come from any number of other titles: mysterious boy with no memory of his past faces a fateful destiny that is broadly hinted at by other characters, who themselves are not very well fleshed out. In short, it's an uninspiring beginning and reeks of many of the usual manga cliches.

And yet, despite that, I liked it well enough. The author's notes heavily imply that the tone and direction change somewhat starting in the second volume, and it's not at all unusual for a manga series to take a volume or two to work out the story and direction. There's certainly no indication of the surreal bent that The Wallflower takes from it's initial volume. So, I'll give the series another volume to impress me. This is one of the occasional drawbacks of reading manga. If I give an American comic two or three issues to draw me in, I'm only out about $12 if I decide I don't like it. With manga, that total is more like $20 to $20.

Chikyu Misaki Vol. 1
Chikyu Misaki Vol. 1 by Iwahara Yuji

With Tuxedo Gin drawing to a close, I think I've discovered my new "insufferably cute" manga to obsess over. This story of two young girls who befriend a shape-changing lake monster immediately drew me in with its charming and innocent artwork and its simple sense of fun. What's even more impressive is that while the story begins to take a darker and more serious turn even in this first volume, that strong sense of innocence is still carried over and heightened. As we have already so strongly bonded with the main characters, we feel genuine concern for them as we begin to realize the challenges that are in store for them, challenges that they themselves are still unaware of. It's a very strong and compelling opening volume. And it even does away with what would be the first major stumbling block. In any other series, the girls attempts to keep the true nature of their new "pet" Neo a secret from the adults would take up many, many volumes, perhaps even becoming the entire focus of the series. Here the problem is addressed before the end of the book, with the girls sensibly revealing the truth to the adults rather than attempt to concoct outrageous lies. Frankly, I loved this book.

Comics With Staples

Desolation Jones #3: The pace slows down considerably in this issue, as Jones spends much of this issue talking about porn with the daughter of his client. It feels, slightly, like a hiccup in the momentum of the story, but it speaks volumes about what is becoming a central theme of this series, namely the importance of connections between humans and the damage of emotional isolation.

Fell #1: I was slightly skeptical of this book, not having been terribly impressed with any of the previous work I had seen from Ben Templesmith, but this is truly an excellent book, probably the highlight of Ellis' recent work, and Templesmith's moody, muted colors and distorted figures add to the tone and mood immensely. It's hard to see the story working with a different approach to the art, in fact. It's a haunting, utterly effective and compelling story, with just the right amount of Ellis' cynical bite to keep it from becoming maudlin or overly tragic.

Supreme Power: Nighthawk #1: I only bring this up because I think it helps illustrate one of my usual observations about how gay people are portrayed in Marvel comics (namely, not well). And so while Marvel is being praised for it's portrayal of gay and lesbian teens in books like Runaways and Young Avengers (for effectively writing the lesbian out of the book in the former and making coy jokes in the latter), I think it's worth pointing out that Marvel also published this book, which portrays prison rape as a kind of poetic punishment, but also devotes a four page sequence to two effeminate "fruits" tricking in a bathroom before one is (presumably) killed. It's essentially a four page long fag joke that ends with the death of the homosexual so popular in dramatic stories.

The Bakers #1: This comic is beautifully illustrated, genuinely funny, and attractively designed. I shouldn't need to review it, or tell you how great it is. You should simply be running out to buy it yourselves.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #1: Garth Ennis truly hates and despises super-heroes, and it shows. It also makes for very funny and surreal piss-takes on the genre. That he also manages to include a genuinely compelling and complex character in Kev, whose growth (or lack of) is ably chartered in his series of Authority specials and minis makes this even more enjoyable.

Nodwick #29: I find immense enjoyment and humor in Aaron Williams' work, particularly in his ps238 series (the second trade paper-back of which, To the Cafeteria...for Justice! was recently released and is well worth your attention), but this issue of his fantasy series felt like a mis-step. I don't follow any of the various "pixel" comics, so even by the standards of a gamer-centric humorous fantasy series this felt overly in-jokey. Plus, the pixelated versions of the characters are merely hard to look at, especially given page after page of them. And sense the larger plot of the series isn't advanced in this issue at all, it made for a very frustrating and disapointing (and eye-straining) read.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1: To say that this issue was better than the Green Lantern: Rebirth series is probably the greatest understatement it is possible for me to make. And while it has far too much Guy Gardner for my taste, and too much time is spent tying this into to all the other things going on in the DCU right now, the comic actually pulls together nicely and serves as a satisfying introduction and prologue. What it could have used, however, was a stronger indication of what it is prologue to.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1: Reimagining the New Gods in an urban sci-fi/horror setting, remarkably, works. To be blunt, I've always thought the New Gods hokey and dated. They've never really worked outside the melodramatic original Kirby stories, and I frankly never really found them that effective then either. But I like what we see of them here. They feel more grounded in a recognizable reality, while still retaining an air of cosmic mystery. If anything, Morrison manages to reinstill some of the cosmic mystery and alienness of them. And anything that moves the Black Racer away from a knight on skis (which I'm still half-convinced was a joke on Kirby's part that nobody got) is a good thing.

JSA Classified #3: I'm enjoying this series a great deal. Why? Because it's funny. It's tongue in cheek and silly, yet still stays within the tone and setting of the DC Universe. And Amanda Conner's art captures that feel perfectly. It's simply a fun comic, and doesn't apologize for that.


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